Arrow: The Promise review

Is "The Promise" the best episode Arrow has ever done? Quite possibly. Here's our full review...

Ladies and gentlemen, Arrow has successfully taken it to the next level. They’ve teased us a few times this season with a handful of great episodes, a significant helping of good ones, and mercifully few subpar ones…with most of those episodes coming in this inconsistent second half of season two. We might be past all that, though. “The Promise” might very well be the best episode Arrow has ever done, and true to its name, it fulfills every bit of the promise we’ve seen from this show’s best moments, even going all the way back to season one. There is no way to review this one without spoilers, so please be advised before continuing. Now, let’s party…

After last week’s terrific reveal of Slade Wilson at the Queen home, we pick up right where we left off. Ah, but there won’t be any costumed superheroics in this episode. How is this possible? How can what I just called potentially the best of all Arrow episodes not have any of the elements that have elevated this season beyond its occasionally tedious CW adventure soap roots into the pantheon of great superhero television? It’s hard to believe, right? But it’s true!

“The Promise” is told almost entirely in flashback. This is the most island-centric episode of the season, if not the entire series. Anything in the present is confined to the Queen home, with the tension between Oliver and Slade threatening to immolate everyone else in the room. We’ve had our moments with “present day” Slade peppered throughout this season, but mostly, he’s been the Slade of the island with better clothes, some awesome facial hair, and that iconic eyepatch. If you were hoping there would be a little more to modern day Slade eventually, you’re in luck.

Manu Bennett delivers on Slade Wilson in such spectacular fashion here, that I could see him making the jump and bringing this version of the character to a big-screen DC Comics movie (we’ll leave the discussion about whether Arrow does or even should tie into any cinematic DC Universe for another time). This is absolutely Slade’s episode, and while we’ve had the occasionally above average villain show up on Arrow (recently Robert Knepper’s great, but somewhat underserved Clock King), this is the first time I’ve watched and gotten that “definitive” feeling from one of them. Slade, for the purposes of political fundraising, I suppose, has mostly ditched the growly monotone which is his usual default on the island. Slade Wilson has finally, officially made the jump from his comfortable soldier-of-fortune archetype to that of a proper DC Comics supervillain. Just as we’ve seen Green Arrow’s origin story drawn out over the course of a season and change, so have we seen Deathstroke’s. This might be the first time in superhero TV/movie history we’ve gotten so much time with our main antagonist (Lex Luthor on Smallville doesn’t count, mostly because of how shy that show was about delivering on the superhero/supervillain dynamics).

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Slade and Ollie spend all of their non-flashback time trading glares and veiled threats. “All that time on the island…it must have been hell for you,” Slade smirks. Stephen Amell has a knack for surprising me with particular moments, sometimes with unexpected comic timing. Here, the over-the-top tension is almost played for laughs, since everyone in creation is in on what’s going on except for the always-scheming Moira Queen. “So, what would you like to do now, Mr. Wilson?” Ollie asks through gritted teeth. It’s a throwaway line, and the intensity is absolutely there, but it breaks the tension just enough at just the right moment. I think we’re going to have some historically good fun with both of these guys before the season ends. Anyway, on to where the real action happens…

The vast majority of “The Promise” is on the island, as Sara, Slade, and Ollie prepare the final assault on the Amazo. It’s interesting how both Ollie and Sara at least consider the possibility of failure, while Slade, the seasoned warrior, believes in absolute victory. There are some binaries at work here. Ollie admits that he wants folks to know that he’s not the same idiot he was before the wreck (ironic, considering that he’s forced to adopt that persona again on his return), while Sara wants to be remembered as she was, not how she is. Slade, on the other hand, doesn’t give a damn…he just wants revenge for Shado. As you can imagine, that sets up a particularly awkward moment for these guys later on.

The assault on the Amazo is good fun. I’m not totally sure that I buy the parachute idea, but the overall plan to get Ivo and company expecting one thing while something else entirely is coming was cute. The action isn’t as flashy or graceful as the usual superhero punch-ups we’ve been seeing on the show, but that wasn’t the point this time. We all knew that Slade was gonna learn the truth about how Shado died, and we probably had a good idea of how it was gonna happen (hell, Sara TOLD us earlier in the episode), but they still managed to make it work well enough. I would say that Ivo ended up having the last laugh here, but Slade took care of that, too. That guy thinks of everything!

How good is “The Promise?” Regular readers of my Arrow reviews know how howlingly, hilariously stupid I find the whole Moira “recently tried for capital murder” Queen for Mayor plot. I’ve pounded this one at every opportunity. Despite the fact that Slade’s very presence in these last two episodes hinges entirely on Moira’s mayoral campaign, I didn’t even blink. Sometimes you’ve gotta take a punch, and for episodes like this one, and to see Manu Bennett absolutely take Slade Wilson to the next level was absolutely worth it.

Arrow has often had problems sealing the deal. Some of that is to be expected. It’s a show about the DC Universe, for cryin’ out loud, it’s never going to be Breaking Bad. Not tonight, though. “The Promise” answered enough questions and delivered enough balls to the wall action (with a bona fide “holy shit!” moment or two for good measure) that it could have qualified for season finale status. I can’t remember any episode of this show driving so much of the plot forward as aggressively as this one. That’s doubly impressive considering how much of that was actually accomplished in flashback! If this is any indication of the momentum they’re gonna take into the next few episodes (and allow me to remind comic book fans, those three episodes are entitled Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, and Deathstroke), then we’d better buckle up.

And how about that last shot of Slade? 

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DC Universe Watch:

– Who cares? Who needs easter eggs when you’ve got an episode as fast-paced and satisfying as this one? Oh, alright…there might have been a couple of things. Let’s see…

– Anatoli “KGBeast” Knyazev (David Nykl) is back! He’s a fun character, and now that he’s on the island proper with the rest of the gang, I expect we’ll be seeing more of him in coming weeks. Eventually, we’re bound to find out how Ollie hooked up with the Bratva, and Anatoli will probably play a huge part in that.

– I wonder if Anthony Ivo is going to develop a sudden and necessary interest in cybernetics?

– The miraclo…ahem…I mean, mirakuru, of course…hasn’t been destroyed. I suspect we’re gonna see plenty more of it.

– Kinda cool to see Deathstroke shaking hands with a Teen Titan, wasn’t it?

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– I’m drawing a blank on Hendrick and Thomas Flynn, and our mutual friend Google isn’t much help, either. Help me out, folks! 

– As usual, correct me if I’m wrong on these, and let me know in the comments if I missed one! Also…anyone know what the Japanese lettering on the burning box of mirakuru said?

Read all of our Arrow coverage here!

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4.5 out of 5