This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow: Season 5, Episode 17
I’ll be the first to say that, for four long seasons, the flashbacks on Arrow have not been my favorite part of the show. Yes, meeting Slade Wilson was fun, but they’ve been an unfocused and often shoehorned mess for the most part. However, with the gimmick on its final year, the true tragedy of the show seems to be that it has just hit its stride in terms of knowing how to tell these stories.
Last year was the most egregious example, when Oliver meandered on Lian Yu and learned magic for the first time. It was so boring and unnecessary that I had to look up almost every reference made to it in the most recent episode because it was that forgettable to me. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case for the gritty and well-parsed Russia plotline that’s been running throughout Season 5. Now, it seems to have taken its final bow, and it was quite a show.
Armed with the increased star power of action star Dolph Lundgren, episode 17 titled “Kapiushon” decided to change up the format and focus heavily on the final chapter of Oliver Queen’s five years away before the show began and make the B-plot his capture that topped off last week’s episode. For once, I have to admit that the show accomplished two things that it constantly boasts it can do, but never delivers. The first was actually making me believe that Oliver has a reason to be the dark and brooding figure that we all met in 2012. The second was delivering an episode that made Arrow worthy of its title as the darkest installment in the ever-growing DC TV universe.
Before we dive into the culmination of the Russia story, let’s get to the show’s darkest place to date with the story of Adrian Chase – also known as the villain Prometheus – torturing our title hero in an effort to get him to confess his big secret. It was an intense and thrilling collection of torture and mental manipulation as the villain beat, stabbed and burned Green Arrow without giving him a clear idea as to what information could make it all stop. Actors Stephen Amell and Josh Segarra deserve a lot of credit for their tense and high-energy performances, especially the moment when Oliver finally utters the words the villain has been waiting for… Oliver Queen is a killer who did it all because he liked it.
The implication of this is that, in 2012 when Oliver dressed up as a symbol and hero to do his vigilante work, it was all a lie. This means that Diggle, Felicity, Thea, Laurel and everyone that’s ever had the misfortune to cross paths with the hero, all did so on the basis of a lie. The Green Arrow was temporarily unmasked as a killer that was going to go on a killing spree whether it was guided by his father’s list or not. As far as I’m concerned, this was one of the best storylines on the show ever.
Then we travel across the ocean to Russia, the year before Oliver was rescued from the hellish island of Lian Yu. I’ve been mostly ignoring the flashback plotline this season for two reasons. One, the story is always small yet takes the entirety of the season to play out. So, it gets boring not knowing what’s going on quicker than most. Second, they very rarely go anywhere. This episode was an exception as it, for once, played like a real crime drama amongst people that I actually believe are criminals.
Anything was possible except the deaths of Anatoly or Oliver, and the road we took to get there ended up being full of twists and turns that I didn’t think this show had in it. For example, Malcolm Merlyn came out of nowhere, to show that he was more involved in Oliver’s storyline than fans previously thought. Although his role boiled down to a cameo, he played a pivotal role in the big twist at the end (Kovar lives!)
The real success of “Kapiushon” is being the only episode to believably play with Oliver’s internal struggle of whether or not he’s a killer. How did it do this? Simple, it leaned into the fact that the character has killed a ton of people, and used to do it without real hesitation. Frankly, his sanctimonious “there’s always another way” policy is only about three and a half years old. He apparently wracked up a large body count before becoming all zen about life and it’s important to show that. It puts the world of this show in a more realistic place. I admit realism isn’t always fun in a superhero show (Nolan’s Batman is the exception, not the rule), but it’s necessary to establish stakes.
The series is full of one-off episodes that ultimately ended with someone on Team Arrow deciding that they are good guys and aren’t going to succumb to their killer instincts after all. That’s why this installment was so good. It took that topic, but ended it with Oliver admitting that he’s a killer, he enjoys it and is ready to stop allowing good people to rally behind him. Meanwhile, it accomplished all this while peppering in some incredible fight scenes, gun battles and cold-blooded murders. If that’s not superhero drama we can all get behind, I’m not quite sure what is.