When Oliver said Thea reminded him of someone, well… he didn’t name the parent I thought he was going to. Thea has consistently shown herself to be one of Arrow’s most compelling characters, the one supporting player with the requisite depth to feasibly transition into the protagonist role if Oliver were ever to move on. Or, as we see flashes of tonight, she could just as easily become an antagonist, because that is some seriously ruthless shit Thea pulls in ending Susan Williams. This is hardly the first time Arrow has explored the darker side of Thea, but before it’s always been in the context of being Malcolm Merlyn’s daughter. His tutelage brought out her harshest impulses, got her brainwashed into killing Sara, and eventually left her in a situation where her bloodlust drove her to kill.
The basic premise of all of Thea’s past interactions with her father was that she was fundamentally a good person, but she had just enough of Malcolm in her to leave her vulnerable to crueler temptations. This is why the show never really skipped a beat when transitioning her to full-fledged hero status as Speedy. Everything bad about Thea was essentially external. Here, though, we see more clearly than in any previous episode that Thea has an internal darkness all her own. As such, as much as I initially thought we were seeing Thea reveal she’s still very much Malcolm’s daughter, it makes far more sense to draw the connection to Moira instead. After all, it’s not like Thea put an arrow in Susan Williams, which is absolutely how Malcolm would have sorted the situation. The kind of serpentine chicanery Thea gets up to here, impressive not just for savagery but also for how damn complicated the whole enterprise sounds, is straight out of her mother’s playbook.
It’s perceptive then for Arrow to have Oliver reject Thea’s initial claim that she screwed up. As Oliver says, Thea made a choice, and she knew exactly what she was doing. Even if Thea doesn’t understand precisely how bad it is to frame a reporter for a plagiarism scandal on that sort of scale—she basically just sent out Susan’s journalistic burn notice—she absolutely knew the purpose of her stunt was, as she put it to Lance in the most delightfully smug way, to take out the trash. Left to the viewer’s interpretation is just how much Thea’s personal enmity for Susan factored into her scorched-earth strategy. And if that is a factor, then her motivations are so utterly that of the disgusted little sister: Thea might not hate all of Oliver’s girlfriends, but goodness does she hate this particular girlfriend. And that too sounds pretty Moira of her, if she did let her disapproval of Oliver’s life decisions guide her own approach here. It can sometimes be frustrating when a show is a little too obvious about who the protagonist is and how all the other characters make their decisions based on that one person—Arrow can certainly be guilty of that—but it’s a legitimately great character detail how much Moira and now Thea operate on the assumption that Oliver must be saved from himself.
And, in fairness, Oliver is such a damn moron sometimes. Mostly, he’s a damn moron whenever romance is involved. On balance, it’s probably marginally better for Oliver to work on the assumption that he can find love while balancing his demanding double life as a vigilante and a mayor instead of, you know, just sort of aimlessly moping around the Arrow Cave, but it takes a special kind of idiocy to believe he had “handled” the situation when his girlfriend—a journalist, no less!—asked him if he is the Green Arrow. It’s legitimately laudable that Oliver has reached a point in his development where he can see a real distinction between the man and the mask, but he lets that hard-earned clarity of self cloud his judgment when dealing with everyone else.
It’s not just with Susan, either. I’ve said it before, but I still don’t really understand how someone even vaguely paying attention couldn’t work out that Oliver is the Green Arrow. After all, the Hood showed up at exactly the same time Oliver returned from the island, and he was even arrested way back when for being the Arrow. (And yes, I know Roy pulled that shockingly ingenious stunt to get him off the hook and Colton Haynes off of the show. But still, I don’t really get how people don’t still think Oliver is an obvious contender to be the Green Arrow.) It gets particularly implausible in this episode, as he doesn’t even bother to change up his platitudes when talking to Captain Pike in his various identities. Maybe I’m reading in too much of my knowledge here, as all the things that appear obvious to a clued-in viewer are quite reasonably not clear to the average Star City resident, but this all still speaks to just how cavalier Oliver has been in mixing his work as mayor and as the Green Arrow. His handling of the cover-up is sloppy enough that it wouldn’t be surprising if the truth had come out even without Prometheus (presumably) forcing the issue.
These might sound like criticisms, but they aren’t really intended to be. They are more like observations of Arrow’s particular idiosyncrasies, because this is absolutely a ludicrous show at times. But I’m not too bothered by any of these, because episodes like “The Sin-Eater” are so entertaining. Tonight’s episode doesn’t quite have the discipline—or, failing that, the mad ambition—to be great television, especially when the big return of three past adversaries doesn’t make nearly as much of an impact as it ought to. On that score, it doesn’t help that Liza Warner is the least memorable of the three—Cupid and China White are tough competition, to be fair—even though her connection to Lance makes her the most heavily featured.
But like all good, solid Arrow episodes, there’s a well-developed theme that the actors are able to elevate with smart performances. The notion of the titular sin-eater is a good metaphor for both Oliver and Lance’s predilection for blaming themselves for everything that ever goes wrong, but thankfully the script doesn’t let the characters get mired in self-loathing like they once might have—indeed, it’s a clever touch to have Thea snap Lance out of his funk, which in turns makes it hard for Oliver to fully accept Lance’s advice when he is told its ultimate source. Stephen Amell has long been a major asset for the show, but a particular development this season is how he’s able to convey Oliver’s newfound emotional maturity, at least when love interests aren’t involved. “The Sin-Eater” doesn’t do anything we didn’t already know Arrow could do, and it steers perhaps a tad too readily into some of the show’s sillier conceits. But no matter: Like pretty much every other episode this season, the episode is a rollicking good time, an entertaining slice of superhero pulp. And with business set to pick up next week as Oliver stares down impeachment, that’s more than enough to keep things humming along.
- Fun fact I noticed while double-checking the episode title on Wikipedia: The writers (Barbara Bloom and Jenny Lynn) and the director (Mary Lambert) for tonight’s episode are all women, which is still all too rare, especially in genre TV. So that’s cool.
- Please don’t tell me we have already moved past the Talia portion of the flashbacks. Anatoli and Russian Cousin Johnny (he has an actual name, but whatever, I’m leaning into the Justified reference) are super fun, but I need more of Lexa Doig’s over-the-top English accent in my life.
- Curtis has a new jacket! That’s… still not busting out the damn T-spheres, but I guess I’ll take it?
- General reminder to never pay attention to the grades, but for what it’s worth: This was a more fun and almost certainly better episode than last week’s admittedly dopey gun control PSA. To the extent that there’s any meaning to the higher grade for last week’s effort, file it under the “mad ambition” thing I mentioned earlier, even if said ambition was pretty much a misfire.