Arrow: Time of Death review

The Clock King comes to Arrow in the form of Prison Break's Robert Knepper in an action-packed episode. Here's Mike's review...

Let’s not waste any time and jump right into our review of this week’s Arrow, “Time of Death,” shall we? After all, “Time of Death” did us that same service by coming out of the gate strong with a caper opening that served as an effective introdudction for William “Clock King” Tockman (guest star Robert Knepper) and delivered us a nice look at the inner workings of a Kord Enterprises building! Just the knowledge that the employee patches at Kord Enterprises are a nice shade of blue should be enough to bring smiles to some comic fans’ faces. Hell, it worked on me. This review contains spoilers, so don’t say I didn’t warn you…

“Time of Death” opens with William Tockman maneuvering two goons through Kord Enterprises in pursuit of a “skeleton key” codebreaking device that would allow him to open any safe in the world. I was rather hoping it would be a flash gun or the plans for a giant beetle-shaped aircraft, but I’m surprisingly confident that Arrow will get us there eventually. Anyway, I digress. Knepper plays Tockman well, and doesn’t get into the dreaded “Oh, I’m playing a supervillain? Time to get KOOKY!” trap that so many actors fall in to (notably guilty of this was Arrow‘s insufferable Count Vertigo), and instead is as menacing and precise as a clock-themed supervillain should be. “Proceed at 1.3 meters per second,” he tells them. You disobey this guy at your own peril, and he later stabs the crap out of these two clowns for not following his instructions to the letter.

A nasty shootout ensues, the goons get away, and we’re off to the races. Now, here’s where things get tricky. “Time of Death” is a surprisingly light on plot episode, concerned more with reestablishing Sara as “alive” in the context of the Lance family, and doubling down on the idea that Sara as Black Canary is indeed here to stay with the Arrow team. There’s a fun training scene with Ollie, Diggle, and Sara that ends with the three of them comparing scars, while Felicity sheepishly reflects on her own lack of them. It’s light, but effective, and if you had any doubt whatsoever that this core team is enhanced by adding more members, this is the episode that should dispel them once and for all. In particular, there are some nice moments between Felicity and Diggle and another touching moment with Oliver and Felicity at episode’s end. However adorable Felicity’s crush on Ollie is, their friendship is much more important than their attraction. Furthermore, I now genuinely believe in the chemisty between Ollie and Sara, both as lovers and as crimefighting partners.

And what crimefighting they do! They’re alerted to Tockman’s existence when the bodies of his guys, who were stabbed to death with a weaponized minute hand (this should be lame…but it’s actually cool), turn up. Ollie and Sara sneaking out of Sara’s “welcome back from the dead” party to investigate because they got the same call that Detective Lance got was a nice, tried-and-true superhero trope. It gives way to a great motorcycle chase, some legit ass-kicking from Black Canary, and a fairly thrilling bit with Green Arrow trying to stop a bus before it collides with a train. Much later in the episode, there’s a bit where Green Arrow slides down a flight of stairs before unleashing what appears to be a bolo-arrow that was so badass that I had to watch it twice. The stunt fights on Arrow are now consistently as good as anything you’re gonna see in any mega-budget superhero flick, and Caity Lotz is every bit as convincing a superhero as Stephen Amell is. And there’s still kind of a novelty factor seeing a pair of street-level superheroes in costume whupping on dudes week in and week out.

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This is where I usually might complain a bit about the ongoing Lance family soap opera. Alright, you’ve got me, I AM going to complain a bit about it, but not as much as I ordinarily would. For starters, the addition of Sara as a regular has not only improved the superheroics, but it’s made for some more interesting Lance family time. Ollie and Detective Lance share two very different “moments” together, one touching and fun, the other, somewhat uncomfortable (but still fun). One of the best moves that Arrow has made was to turn Mr. Lance into more than a smoldering, bitter rival for Green Arrow. I’d like to see how far they can go with this. You’ll note I haven’t praised Alex Kingston as Dinah Lance, here. That’s because once again, they’re wasting a terrific actress in an impossibly boring role.

Yes, Laurel remains the most dislikable, irritating, unsympathetic character on this show. Yes, I’m glad that now that all the finger pointing (and finger wagging) is out of the way with the Lance sisters, hopefully we can get on with the ass-kickings. But you know what? Katie Cassidy absolutely nailed it this week. For as much as I have to brace myself for much of what I don’t like about Arrow whenever we get into “soft-focus Laurel” time on the show, Ms. Cassidy was dynamite. She elevated all of her scenes, none of which were the most brilliantly written, and gave her character some fire and backbone again. Hell, she deserves an Emmy for maintaining a straight face when Ollie barks this gem at her: “I was concerned about your well-being while you were trying to get my mother the death penalty!” Seriously, folks…with dialogue like that, surely they must be joking, right? It sucked the air right out of what were otherwise impressive performances from Stephen and Katie.

The island flashbacks were brief, and, I have to say…weak. Despite a great looking plane crash sequence (which happens as the castaways tried to flag down a passing small aircraft), all we get is a meaningless coincidence that exists to set up Sara and Sin’s relationship. “Please, strange castaway on a remote Pacific island, you must track down and look after my daughter in the unlikely event you ever get off this godforsaken lump of ass. I am now going to die conveniently.” Seriously? This is the best the Arrow writers could come up with for Sin and Sara’s backstory? Remember how annoyed I got with them for talking about (rather than showing us) what sounded like a fascinating story involving Sara and Nyssa in the last episode? This doesn’t exactly help matters. Here’s an idea! Instead of hammering us over the head with ill-advised subplots like Laurel’s after school special worthy addiction issues or the “Moira Queen, Your Favorite Mass-Murderer For Mayor” campaign, why not take an extra five or ten minutes an episode to at least pretend you give a damn about your supporting cast?

Which brings me to the next issue: William Tockman is a great villain, Robert Knepper plays him to perfection…but it feels like he was hardly in the episode. While we seemingly couldn’t get rid of the irritating Count Vertigo, Clock King doesn’t get nearly enough screen time in “Time of Death.” The time spent on this week’s ultimately insignificant island flashbacks could have been better spent with Tockman. While we’re TOLD what his motivations are (thanks, Felicity!) it would have been nice to get even a hint of an impression of what Tockman’s own illness (and his sister’s illness) actually mean to him. Might these have something to do with his obsession with time? There was a lot more to be told here, if only they could have been bothered to do it. 

But the final scene was awesome. With Arrow season 3 now a certainty, if Slade is going to be the big baddie that looms over the proceedings next year the way that Brother Blood has this year, well, you can sign me up for that and pre-order my Arrow season 3 blu-ray right this very minute.

So, I’m conflicted about this one. Well paced, with plenty of action, some well-written dialogue (despite the clunkers outlined above), and the promise that some of the mushier stuff can now be put behind us, and it should be full speed ahead for the rest of the season. On the other hand, too many coincidences and an underdeveloped villain (who really has serious potential) who relied a bit more on my current TV pet hate, “magic hacking” than I might like. For a little while, it looked like we were in for the best episode of Arrow since “The Scientist,” but it just wasn’t to be. All in all, a good time, though, and there’s still enough time left this season to pick up some of these threads and make “Time of Death” look even better in retrospect. 

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DC Universe Watch: This one wasn’t an easter egg fest…despite my hopes of catching a glimpse of something in the Kord Enterprises building. But “Time of Death” was a brisk, entertaining episode (despite its flaws) so it didn’t require too much propping up with fan service. Still, if I missed anything (it’s been a long week, folks…sorry), give me a shout in the comments, and I’ll happily update this section!

UPDATES! Thanks to NotBob in the comments for this one. There’s a movie ad on the side of the bus that Green Arrow saves. The ad? It’s for a Blue Devil movie. Now, this may seem like your average, every day easter egg…but…might we see Blue Devil on Arrow? No, wait…come back! I’m serious! Check it out: In the comics, Blue Devil is Dan Cassidy, a movie stuntman who ends up trapped in a Blue Devil costume after a supernatural encounter. So, basically, there’s a Blue Devil movie getting made in the Arrow universe right now (with your typical movie hype machine in place…imagine what a nightmare the internet must be like in that world!). It’s likely that the guy in the Devil suit for that movie is Dan Cassidy. You see where this is going? Does your head hurt, yet? C’mon, Arrow writers…PLEASE make this happen. Here’s Marc Guggenheim’s tweet on the matter, complete with the Blue Devil image.

— Marc Guggenheim (@mguggenheim) February 27, 2014

Now, there were others (and thanks again to you good people in the comments for helping me out), like Sara’s old job working at Oblivion, which was a nice touch, or the fact that Tockman suffers from MacGregor’s syndrome, the same disease that nearly kills Alfred in Batman & Robin…which…ummmm…why they would referene that flick, I’ll never know. But there we are!

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3 out of 5