This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 5 Episode 16
At long last, Arrow Season 5 has cut all the foreplay, faffing about ,and stalling to deliver an incredibly satisfying one-on-one bout. As if that wasn’t enough, “Checkmate” rewarded viewers for investing in the mayoral aspect of the show with an impressive and intense political drama.
The night wasted no time catching the characters up to speed following last week’s surprising reveal that Adrian Chase (newcomer to the cast Josh Segarra) wasn’t the surprising new anti-hero to arrive in Star City, Vigilante, as his comic book namesake implied. Instead, he’s the new dark archer in town, Prometheus. Our hero figured it out with a brief trip to a foreign country to have a chat with his former mentor Talia, who identified herself as the daughter of Oliver’s Season 3 nemesis Ra’s al Ghul. Needless to say, she’s pretty pissed off about Green Arrow killing her dad, so she confesses to training Chase and later reveals a deeper loyalty to the psychopath. Just like that, the hero is set up for a no holds barred battle against the man who he thought was going to be his new best friend in the mayor’s office.
However, when he confronts District Attorney Chase, he learns that the villain is using his ex girlfriend, Susan Williams, as a human shield. This opened the door for Chase to walk about the office and taunt Green Arrow’s cohorts in plain sight. Arrow has had a lot of creepy and powerful villains over the years, but Segarra’s performance brought something really different to the table. It’s one thing for a villain to monologue left and right to a hero in a mask. However, for him to do it directly to not only the hero’s daytime persona, but the mayor of the city, brought an extra element of villainy that Arrow has been sorely lacking. The show has skewed more toward a Dark Knight Joker in its villain roles rather than a Silence of the Lambs Hannibal Lecter.
Chase isn’t gleeful as he uses an innocent woman as a human shield, but rather a man dedicated to some sinister plan and cause that’s yet to reveal itself. Within that mystery lies the principal baddie of Season 5’s true chills. A particularly interesting moment came when Chase beat Oliver to the bedside of Captain Pike, who got a blade to the gut from Prometheus after Oliver turned over evidence of his true identity. After a stiff season of watching Green Arrow feel neutered in his role as mayor, it was nice to see that persona be the one grabbing someone by the lapels and threatening to put an arrow through that person’s heart.
That’s right folks, in the ever-changing opinion of Oliver Queen on taking life, he’s swinging in the “pro” column when it comes to the man that’s been tormenting him, his loved ones, and his precious city. Multiple times he threatens to kill the man, and for good reason. Chase reached peak levels of villainy in this episode by killing his own wife. Her presence at the “final showdown” was clearly not part of the plan, and it’s clear that he loves his wife, but his devotion to this mysterious plan is just too great for him to abandon it and turn himself in over the likes of her.
Sadly, the episode didn’t get into specifics about his plan, only revealing that he wants to help Oliver discover who he truly is, whatever that means. Presumably, based on the theme of the Russian flashbacks in this episode, that he’s not more than a dark killing beast – but who knows?
So, with a decent hero vs. villain setup, it’s time to talk about the B-story in “Checkmate,” which got way more in depth about what Felicity is flirting with by joining Helix. All season long, the super-hacker has been slowly sipping the kool-aid of a mighty rogue cell that’s wielding more processing and surveillance power than the NSA or any nation with a government. So far, they haven’t seemed that bad. They helped get Diggle out of jail and assisted in identifying who Prometheus really is. However, they’re starting to ask what Felicity is doing for them. While it’s a fair question, their first request is for her to violate a ton of really good Homeland Security laws about hacking their drones. She does it without question, and agrees to do a lot more in order to save Oliver once Prometheus and Talia get their hands on him.
It’s time to examine what the prospect of Felicity going too far down this rabbit hole is. Following the death of Laurel last season, Felicity is now the only recurring female lead that hasn’t been bumped down to recurring, spun off, or straight up murdered. That doesn’t mean Felicity is too precious to put through controversy and trials, but it does mean that protecting the integrity of her character is key. I’m not so sure how potentially terroristic acts are doing anything but tarnishing the only still-chipper person on Team Arrow. It’s an interesting road to take the character down, I’m just wondering how many hits fans’ perception of Felicity is going to have to take before it reveals its overall point.
In any case, “Checkmate” as a whole was far and away the best episode of Arrow this season. It struck a tone of gritty violence and high-society stakes that has fallen by the wayside as the show strives to pivot to a more light tone like that of The Flash. Chase is the most charismatic and scary villain the show has seen since Deathstroke and the fact that his plan is motivated by something personal rather than the usual money and power gestalt is more than enough to get me excited for the hostage/captor dynamic that he and Oliver find themselves in now.