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Arrow breaks Captain Lance

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Somewhere along the line, Detective Officer Captain Lance went from going after those who were mobbed up to their eyeballs to being the man who was mobbed up his eyeballs. (Or possibly H.I.V.E.-d up to his eyeballs. Whatever he’s up to, it’s to his eyeballs, is the point.) The season-opening reveal of his alliance with Damien Darhk—and his at least tacit role in the execution of the rest of Star City’s remaining leadership—represented perhaps the most shocking betrayal in the show’s history, for this was supposed to be the one character who didn’t compromise in pursuit of justice. He always had his demons, to be sure, but when he stood in judgment of Oliver or Laurel, he almost always had at least a point. His turning on Team Arrow last year was brutal, sure, but it was also motivated in large part by the team’s decision to not tell him about the death of his daughter, so it’s hard to judge him too harshly for that.

Given all that, though, it does kind of make sense that Arrow would corrupt Lance in the way that it has. After all, he and Oliver never quite forged that Commissioner Gordon and Batman relationship that appeared a natural outgrowth of their respective decisions. Instead, Lance always made the most sense with respect to Oliver as an ever furious moral compass, someone who would force into the open whatever latest bad thing Oliver was doing that needed talking about. But now that Oliver has become the Green Arrow, and he legitimately appears far more balanced and self-assured than we’ve ever seen him before? Well, there isn’t much point to the Lance we’ve known up to this point, which in turn opens the possibility that “Beyond Redemption” explores tonight: What if it were Oliver sitting in judgment of Lance? The episode makes the role reversal explicit, as Oliver specifically asks Lance whether he now sees in Oliver’s eyes the look he has given for the past three years.

And let’s be real here: As much as Lance has suffered, and as much as he has generally had his heart in the right place, it was high time Arrow called him out on his bullshit. There never really was a logical reason for Lance to ally himself with the likes of Damien Darhk, and “Beyond Redemption” acknowledges that almost by elision, as Oliver forcefully cuts off Lance as soon as he tries to frame this as some way of protecting his daughters or securing the safety of the city or some nonsense. The only real answer here is one that makes all too much grim sense in the context of all we know about Lance and his past issues with substance abuse: Faced with despair, Lance had a moment of weakness, and he made a really bad decision. It’s a decision that, based on what little we’ve seen of his interactions with Darhk, he already regrets, but that doesn’t unmake the decision. He’s got to live the consequences of his actions, just as surely as he made Laurel live with the consequences of concealing Sara’s death and he never let Oliver live down, well, everything he ever did.

The way “Beyond Redemption” chooses to externalize this moral dilemma is just about the most deliriously Arrow thing ever: By having Lance come this close to putting a bullet in his resurrected, possibly soulless daughter’s head as she’s chained to a wall, based on the advice of the mystically superpowered, maybe immortal leader of H.I.V.E. That scene is the emotional fulcrum of this episode! In that scene, Lance essentially decides that there are certain lines he just won’t cross, and he is done mistaking ruthlessness for righteousness. That isn’t to say Darhk is wrong in his advice—he doesn’t know John Constantine is set to guest star next week, after all—and this is actually by far the most human and compassionate we’ve seen Darhk be during his time on the show, as Neal McDonough selectively dials down his scenery-chewing to convey just how terrible the Lance family’s situation truly is. But the problem lies with Darhk’s underlying perspective: If the only way to put Sara out of her misery is to turn Lance into something between a monster and an empty husk, which he would surely become if he killed his own daughter, then it just isn’t worth it. Better to live with the consequences, no matter what hell may come of letting Sara live (and, again, Constantine’s on the way, but Lance doesn’t know that), than to destroy whatever last shred exists of Lance’s core decency.

This is all ridiculous, pulpy stuff, to say nothing of Lance’s subsequent speech to the renegade cop about what wearing a police uniform means. Particularly in the early going, when Arrow was still figuring out what it was doing with its core cast, Paul Blackthorne has been one of the show’s most consistently entertaining presences, putting on an American accent straight out of the most hardboiled detective novels with a black-and-white morality to match. The rest of the cast members have grown in their roles to the extent that Blackthorne is no longer quite such an outsize presence, but he continues to effectively split the difference between genuine pathos and something more over-the-top and unserious. When Lance starts rambling about Justice—capital “J,” and no mistake—the actual things he says are so operatic and overblown that they might even verge on parody, except Blackthorne commits so completely to what he’s saying. This is just who Lance is, and it works on its own terms, sitting surprisingly comfortably with the more self-aware wise-cracking of much of Team Arrow.

It’s a clever move to have Lance betray the team and be discovered so early on, and not just from a plotting perspective. Yes, having Lance go undercover in Darhk’s organization—and I’ll guess this won’t be the last time Lance’s loyalties are called into question, as Damien Darhk can be quite persuasive—is a great way to get him more actively involved in the series narrative, as well as to bring Darhk closer into the show’s core story for the season. But this is also essentially a way to tell a relapse story for Lance, with all the self-doubt and struggle that come with that, without having Arrow attempt to tell a literal addiction story that it just isn’t set up to do well. (Don’t believe me, go watch any of Laurel’s scenes in the second season.) It was easy to buy into Lance as Star City’s one incorruptible element, yet this was always at odds with the most important thing we knew about his past. Being an alcoholic didn’t make Lance a bad person, and it’s worth pointing out that I’m not directly comparing a disease with Lance’s actions here. But both are indicative of the same kinds of flawed decision-making and inability to handle a world seemingly collapsing all around him, and this storyline provides Lance a way to redeem himself very much within the context of the kind of superhero storytelling that Arrow is all about.


Stray observations:

  • There was enough to say about Lance here that I decided to give the other characters a rest for the week. But I do continue to love this new, more laidback Oliver, and I’m actually legitimately excited to see where his mayoral campaign might take him. Politics appears to be a good look for Thea, too.
  • Seriously, folks, we’ve got a cross-network, post-cancellation crossover coming up next week, as the Green Arrow calls in John Constantine to save Sara (and Thea, hopefully). I didn’t watch Constantine when it was airing and I’m not sure I’ll have time to watch it before next week, but I’ll try to at least sample a bit of it between now and then.