Few Arrow episodes are driven quite so unapologetically by the past as tonight’s “A Matter Of Trust” is. It’s not just the show’s past that the episode seizes on, though what there is of continuity generally crops up in the more dramatic storylines. Elsewhere, though, we get a ton of references to things that have nothing to do with the world of Arrow. Former WWE superstar and current indie wrestling sensation Cody Rhodes shows up as the episode’s featured villain, finally returning the favor after Stephen Amell got wrapped up in an in-ring feud with him that culminated at last year’s SummerSlam. We get wrestling references both oblique—Rhodes’ Derek Sampson is a Stardust dealer, in homage to his former WWE persona—and more obvious, as Terry Sloane, DC Comics’ original Mister Terrific, is reimagined as Curtis’ favorite wrestler. Hell, even the climactic fight between Sampson and Oliver has a more wrestling-inflected feel to it, with Green Arrow doing some solid grappling and locking in some serious holds to win the match (or the fight, whatever).
Now, if you don’t follow professional wrestling, I can’t imagine you give a shit about any of this. But let me submit the following: All the in-jokes and wrestling homages are indicative of an Arrow that is no longer taking itself quite so damn seriously, and that general outlook suffuses the rest of the episode. Oliver is on the hopeful, upward swing of his arc—I’m not mad enough to think there isn’t unimaginable pain and torment still to come for him—and he occasionally allows himself to loosen up a little. The simple decision to trust his team and go into battle with them is a more dramatic manifestation of this, but it’s the same basic principle: Oliver isn’t spending entire episodes blaming himself and tearing himself down before finally relenting. Sure, he’s still going to get angry and be unreasonable in spots, but Wild Dog is a strong enough opposing presence that such reactions can be warranted, and Oliver is much better about quickly recognizing when it’s time to move on. By the end, he’s even complimenting Rene on his hockey mask, in another out-of-universe reference to Amell’s role as Casey Jones in the Ninja Turtles reference.
Admittedly, I’m not asking for Oliver to be the fulcrum of the show’s comedy. He just needs to not actively block levity from elsewhere, and he accomplishes that handily tonight. Curtis remains the main source of comic relief these days, and he’s on fine form tonight. Credit to this generally self-aware Arrow that Evelyn openly mocks the idea that Curtis was ever an Olympian. That original throwaway detail was meant to be part of the justification for Curtis becoming Mister Terrific, but let’s be real: The justifications at this point are that he has the comics-approved surname Holt, that he’s really good with gadgets, and that Echo Kellum is really damn likable as a performer. Those are all perfectly fine reasons! The new Team Arrow is taking shape nicely: Ragman is the superpowered heavy hitter, Wild Dog is the vigilante bruiser, Evelyn is a fearless fighter, and Mister Terrific is kind of a doofus but way better in a fight than he really has any right to be. As long as Curtis is surrounded by four credible fighters, which he is, Arrow can play a little fast and loose with the plausibility of his credentials.
Elsewhere, the Diggle plotline moves right along with John ending up behind bars for his supposed crimes. Here we learn of one of Arrow’s sneakier strengths, as I didn’t doubt for one second that Floyd Lawton had somehow survived against all odds. After all, it’s not like John imagined his brother coming back from the dead! Because Deadshot isn’t obviously a figment of Diggle’s imagination, “A Matter Of Trust” has the luxury of working methodically toward that realization, and it underscores just what a bad state John is in when Lyla forces him to realize he’s been hallucinating Deadshot this entire time. What initially feels like just another fun cameo reprise for a well-liked character—or, hell, maybe even a full-on resurrection, now that Suicide Squad is over and done with—ends up having important things to say about Diggle. I’ll admit I still don’t really feel the grief of Diggle killing Andy, perhaps because the show was never able to get Andy over as anything other than a conniving H.I.V.E. bastard, but Floyd pointing out all that rage Diggle once directed toward him now must rebound right back on John himself. That’s a cold line, and it’s brutal yet unsurprising when John tells Lyla to give up on him, because he already has.
Also, the flashbacks really are legitimately good so far this season. I’ve talked before about how much fun Anatoli is as an ongoing presence in the flashback, but I think it’s more than that. At their best in the first and second seasons, the flashbacks represented an ongoing conversation with the present-day segments. Oliver’s struggle to survive his first year on the island mirrored his efforts to figure out what kind of vigilante he would be as the Hood, and of course his adventures with Slade Wilson and Sara in his second year ended up converging in heartbreaking fashion with his present-day activities in what was then still Starling City. But running around Hong Kong for Amanda Waller and messing with magical totems on the island never really connected with what was going on five years later in any meaningful way—give or take the occasional simultaneous John Constantine guest spot—which rendered the whole enterprise inert. The Bratva flashbacks, on the other hand, sync up very nicely with Oliver building up his team, and Anatoli presents a gray enough morality to keep us guessing as to just what our hero is getting into with this latest adventure… and how he will apply what he learns back then to his borderline psychotic training in the here and now.
Finally, there’s Thea. Her stint as chief of staff is interesting, as there’s always the question of why the hell we should care about anything she does in a non-vigilante role, especially when she’s going through just about the most hackneyed plot about the vulture press imaginable. The answer so far is that Willa Holland is good enough in the role to make this compelling, and the show does appear to have something in following Thea’s honest attempts to do the right thing in a world where she can’t just punch things really hard. The moment at the end where she confronts the journalist says it all, as she makes it clear that she might no longer be a crime-fighter, but she absolutely remains someone not to mess with under any circumstances. I can’t honestly imagine the show is going to have Thea stay away from her old life forever, but what we have seen so far suggests this isn’t going to be a complete narrative cul-de-sac. I realize what I’m about to say is trite as all hell, but what the hey: Tonight’s episode is called “A Matter Of Trust,” and once more I feel oddly comfortable trusting Arrow again.
- I’m glad that Cody Rhodes’ Sampson technically survived, as I think Rhodes has potential, particularly if they let him get ever more menacing and unhinged in subsequent experiences. In Stardust, Rhodes committed to a character that… well, the Joker of the WWE is too much, even as a theoretical ideal independent of the haphazard booking, but it was still a damn good, legitimately unnerving character, even if he did kind of hate playing it. So yeah, Rhodes has potential as a recurring villain, especially when he can absolutely bring the physical side of things to his fights with Oliver.
- Felicity telling Rory the truth about Havenrock is a good move, if only because it doesn’t drag out a whole lot of Felicity angst—which I honestly don’t mind that much, but I’m keenly aware of how fragile Felicity’s spot is in the eyes of fans. I’m not at all sure where we go from here, especially since Rory feels so ill-defined beyond “A nice guy, a bit like Barry Allen maybe,” but let’s just keep things moving, I say.
- For a second there, I legitimately thought that Russian mom was glad Bratva had killed her son. I’m prepared to believe Russians are that metal. Glad to be wrong though!