For a show that’s built on the rather efficient structural hook of a kill list, Arrow has been awfully coy about explaining why it is a dusty old ledger is the guiding force behind Oliver Queen’s revenge. Yes, the last earthly possession your father gives you before handing off the responsibility of redeeming his soon-to-be-dead ass would have significance for most, but there’s always been something of a mystery to why it is Oliver follows the list with such dogmatic fervor. It’s completely blank the first time we see it in an island flashback, which only further clouded the question of how a spoiled trust fund babe with an empty pocket journal turned into Starling City’s angel of corporate death.
The ongoing mystery of what happened to Oliver on the island, and how it’s affecting him now, is proving to be the area where Arrow’s footing is surest, with last week’s focus on the personal and professional stakes of a deeply damaged vigilante making for the show’s best episode yet. “Legacies” has less mythology to add to the ongoing narrative, but begins to unravel how much more complicated Oliver’s relationship with his father became following the death of Robert Queen. Seeing as it’s the engine driving the entire show, it’s certainly for the best that we’re finally getting insight into the hero’s motives that’s more textured than Massive Daddy Issues.
Well, sure, Papa Queen left his son with a pretty extensive grocery list of amends to make, but so far, it’s only been hinted at what exactly the sins of Queen Industries are. Further exploration of the Tempest conspiracy on Moira’s side of things last week might even make you think that Robert was a patsy for some greater evil, and that maybe Oliver had been charged with righting the wrongs of those controlling the Queen clan, not those committed by the family themselves. Thankfully, “Legacies” doesn’t shy away from complicating things, and confirms that Oliver grew a rich asshole because it’s what runs in the family.
The rusted out Arrow-cave gets its backstory revealed in the process, as it turns out it used to be a bustling source of industry in the city, that is, before Mr. Queen shipped all the jobs to China, and screwed his employees out of severance benefits. Among said wronged was Derrick Reston, who’s spent his unemployment years forming a family troupe of machine gun-totting bank robbers. Seems the family that sprays-and-prays together, stays together, having successfully hit banks all across the area, with their opening remix of the two big heists from Heat even including the shooting of a cop.
Digg, having advanced his partnership with Oliver to include shirtless sparring, suggests Oliver avenge the fallen officer by taking down the thugs responsible before they leave town, a request Oliver flatly denies. His mission is about curing the root causes of crime, not just the byproducts of it. Put another way, “Opening Line-up of the Starling City Bank Robbers” isn’t on the list, so it’s not his problem. This sets up another gulf in understanding separating how the two view their operation, as Digg’s definition of a hero includes the stopping of bad guys not directly situated along Oliver’s warpath.
Despite Oliver’s protestation that he isn’t in fact a hero, his involvement is inevitable. Granted, getting there requires a visit to the shot cop’s wife, who might as well have been an actor hired by Diggs to express every cliché cop-wife concern, but it’s an important development. Even if he doesn’t know they exist yet, Oliver can’t go after the Tempest members forever, as his conflict with John Barrowman will have to come to a head well before the series is done. It’s good then, that the episode starts to transition the show into a more traditional comic book story, where every week offers a new criminal or bad guy to stop, and doesn’t always need a grander narrative to promise bigger things are coming.
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