Arrow Review: “Dead to Rights” (Season 1, Episode 16)

Oliver and Tommy hashing out their family baggage over fried catfish plays up how much each wishes they were in the others shoes, with one envying the other’s (brief) time with an idealized father, and the other wishing they still had a father at all. Among Arrow’s better-handled running themes is how easily corroded the images we create for people we look up to can be, especially when you really start getting to know them. Oliver laying out his complicated feelings towards his own father pushes Amell’s acting ability, but there’s inherent pathos to watching people who have known each other a long time only just realize their defining histories make them more alike than they ever thought.

Equally important though, was that this wasn’t just speeching for the sake of speeching. Their talk serves the important plot purpose of getting Tommy where he needed to be for the night’s big finale. What’s so great about “Dead to Rights,” is that just about every scene does this, building all the plots towards the episode’s climax, one scene at a time. Tommy starts the episode hating his father, as per usual, but each scene he’s in moves the character’s emotional state in a forward direction that’s necessary for making the climax climactic. Meanwhile, the more mechanical players China White and Deadshot agree to a partnership, come up with a plan to take out Malcolm at an awards ceremony, and then execute on that plan. It’s simple, but effective. Finally, Diggle and Smoak are sidelined cracking the cellphone, but it gets Oliver into the action, whereby he unwittingly saves the man who nearly killed him a few months ago.

The momentum this week operates at a series peak, because plots A, B and C, are all running on different tracks, but converge in the same place. The setpiece finale works gangbusters because there are about a half dozen different motivations vying for your favor. You want Malcolm done in to get Moira out of danger, but not without him first getting a payback beatdown from Oliver. You want Tommy and his father to reconcile, even though that’ll inevitably end poorly for poor, stupid Tommy. And you want Oliver to come clean with his best friend, but not if it means his arch(er) nemesis has a potential new weapon with which to attack our hero.

Oliver exposing his true identity to Tommy was a well-executed moment, though coming on the heels of Smoak finding out who’s behind the hood just a few weeks ago, Oliver’s getting a little loose with his ultimate secret. It’s a game-changer for the two, and a really strong grace note for an episode that hammers home their relationship, before changing it completely. Tommy thinks he’s gotten short shrift from Oliver’s deception, but he’s gotten off easy. Malcolm surviving will undoubtedly bite the Queen family in the ass, starting with Moira, who’s now on rat-patrol in a pool of four suspects. Oliver’s just been given the best reason for why his job isn’t about trying to save everyone, and he doesn’t even realize it.

“Dead to Rights” would have been a high watermark for the season, were it to run two minutes shorter. Closing on a moment of intense emotional betrayal isn’t enough of a cliffhanger apparently, so they throw in Laurel’s mother showing up out of the clear blue sky, to reveal that, OMG, Laurel’s sister might still be alive! Just when Arrow starts to use all its tools properly, it feels the need to throw a wrench into things, because someone thinks audiences prefer a contraption with a million independent parts, to a well-oiled machine. We’ll find out next week if this last-second twist is meant to be part of the greater Arrow tapestry, or just a jumping off point for another ridiculous case of the week. After back-to-back episodes delineating the strengths of each, I’m not sure which I’d prefer.

  • Stray Thoughts

-Island Flashback: Not much ground covered here, although Fyres’ arsenal turns out to be more intimidating than once thought, and Oliver is now a tech-whiz with radios, for some reason. That being said, the intercutting to the flashbacks was very well done this week, matching regularly with shot composition, and plot points.

-Speaking of Oliver’s growing skillset: I can buy him speaking foreign languages, but a Triad accountant claiming Oliver’s accent was “definitely Chinese,” is just gilding the lily.

-Upshot to Mama Lance being played by Alex Kingston: mini-Doctor Who reunion!

-There’s some really excellent, tonally consistent background music this week, which further contributed to the episode’s unified feel.

-Malcolm’s two-minute dissertation about the exact method in which is wife died is probably the best/worst speech ever given in acceptance of a charity award.

-Digg is more than a little pissed that Deadshot is still alive. Connections!

-Which was more of a sledgehammer to the head: dressing Laurel and detective Hall in opposing colours, or Laurel pointing out that her family used to own a canary.

-So Malcolm has his own father figure that put him on the side of the crazies. If his plan is to save the whole by damning a part of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if his mentor turned out to be a certain DC big bad who’s name rhymes with Jazz Pal Pool.

-Malcolm’s penthouse doubles as his secret lair. Say what you will about the guy, he’s got more style than Oliver.

-Ab-tastic Workout of the Week: Island Oliver struggling to do pull-ups was a great gag, but Manu Bennett shows us what a gladiator’s workout is like. I’d probably be okay with past Oliver accidentally sending Slade through time if it meant he’d show up in the present day stories.