Tucked away amid last week’s love letter to Felicity Smoak/written surrender to “stupid” Arrow (AKA: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Dramatic Weight of a CW Comic Book Show, and Love the Blonde), I hinted at how a new show starts to come into its own once it stops feeling the need to pile on new characters, ideas, and devices every week, and starts making due with what it already has. Anything worth making an episode out of should probably be good for more than 44 minutes of material, and once writers begin combining, and recombining the elements that have already been established, stories start to form around the players, and not the other way around.
“Dead to Rights” opens and closes with extreme instances of the latter style, beginning with a new character that’s brought in just to kick off the week’s plot, and ending with another new face that awkwardly sticks her foot in the door just as the episode is trying to close up shop for the evening. After last week, I was cheering for Arrow’s goofy procedural side to swallow up its more ambitious, but underachieving serial half, like a pair of fetal twins fighting one another for survival in the womb. But the exciting 30-odd minutes sandwiched between this week’s abrupt bookends make the argument that Arrow’s split personalities can both be equally strong, so long as they keep their distance from one another.
This week begins pretty much how most others would end, with Oliver duelling yet another assassin with an affect (in this case: knives), one that’s been hired by the sinister powers that be for some greater purpose. The tourist is dispatched of in combative fashion, and crossing his name off the list would be enough to call it an episode most weeks. It’s not entirely clear how it is Oliver knew Barrera (a minor DC thug) would be coming to town, but his pre-emptive strike creates a bigger question out of who it was the man was hired to kill. His heavily encrypted cell phone gives Team Arrow an answer bomb that will take some time to go off, but most viewers will know that the appearance of the bladed Spaniard was a direct result of Moira’s own pre-emptive strike last week.
Using China White and the Triads as a means of coming at Malcolm was a signal that, yes, the writers on Arrow do have a memory, and that they’re trying to create a city with permanent residents. “Dead to Rights” then doubles down on this new love of continuity, by bringing Deadshot back into the fold, an early adopter of this TV season’s big fascination with crazy dudes only getting crazies once they’ve lost an eyeball. The geek cortex of my brain got a real kick out of seeing Deadshot throw on his signature eye augmentation, but the bigger thrill was in knowing that when you tie disparate, but parallel elements together, the pairing is often more interesting than either thread alone.
Bringing Tommy and Oliver’s shared daddy issues to a head this week really exemplifies this idea, using material (theoretically) more substantial than a villain team-up. Tommy’s character rehabilitation began with the revelation of his parentage, because there’s sympathy to be found in an annoyingly glib club rat if his dad is a heartless bastard, especially if said dad also happens to have city planning ideas inspired by Nero. It’s pretty much the Osborn family relationship from Spider-Man, where a maniacal father only responds to his desperately unloved son with critical disappointment (that, of course, leaves Oliver to take up the Peter Parker role).