At points, tonight’s episode plays like a meta-commentary on Arrow’s big comeback season. As Rene argues and Oliver later repeats, the reconfigured Team Arrow exists to give people second chances, and its unlikely success mirrors the show’s own success in pulling out of a couple seasons spent in the storytelling doldrums. After all, a viewer could have been forgiven at the outset for thinking the best way forward for Arrow didn’t involve adding the C-list likes of Mr. Terrific, Ragman, Artemis, and Wild Dog—and honestly, saying Wild Dog is on the C list is probably generous. Yet the new recruits have brought out the best in Oliver in a way that previous iterations of the team, through no fault of their own, frequently struggled to do. He is coming into his own as a leader because the inexperience of the recruits forces him to, but also because their interactions don’t carry the same baggage that those with Thea or Laurel or even Roy necessarily did. Rebuilding Team Arrow has given Oliver a second chance to make a first impression as a crime fighter, and so far the results have been very, very impressive.
The flashback sequences similarly read as Arrow calling itself out. Genre television stalwart Lexa Doig is on hand as Talia—Talia al Ghul, specifically, though I’m guessing we won’t actually hear that last name said in past Oliver’s earshot—to show Oliver the error of his ways. Sporting a surprisingly plummy English accent that apparently comes by way of The Crown, Talia points out the blindingly obvious: Oliver’s journey during his five lost years make no damn sense whatsoever. His father gave him his mission, and he’s been more or less in a position to carry it out since… well, maybe not the moment Slade Wilson and Sara apparently died, given Amanda Waller’s interference, but somewhere around then. Yet he has been content to do literally anything else, getting himself mixed up in tedious espionage and supernatural capers. And while the presence of a trio of great character actors—not to mention the sheer audacity of the long-promised “Oliver becomes a captain in the Russian mafia” storyline—has made this year’s flashback season more fun than the last couple, the guy still has to become the Hood sooner rather than later. It’s good that Arrow has made its flashbacks compelling again before Talia shows up, as otherwise she would completely blow up their spot, but her addition finally has the past and the present ready to connect up and close the circle.
The message, repeated in both timeframes, is that nobody is ever lost forever, that there is always a way back from the darkness if a person is willing to fight their way out. “Second Chances” is intelligent in how it uses the past to inform the present here. In many episodes, the two timeframes directly mirror each other, with Oliver facing a threat that is similar to one he dealt with five years ago. That isn’t a bad way to do things, but still more compelling is what we get here, as Oliver passes on a lesson he learned from Talia as he tries to reach Dinah Drake, the would-be new Black Canary. It’s similar to how the show last week saw Oliver echo a point made by David Meunier’s Bratva leader. But tonight is still more effective as we already have some sense of just how hard-earned Oliver’s wisdom is. The flashbacks actually matter here because they offer some heft to what would otherwise come off as empty, judgmental pronouncements from Oliver. He’s not out to lecture Dinah because he’s some self-appointed arbiter of what vigilantes should and should not do—indeed, he’s still more than happy using lethal force.
Rather, Oliver reaches out to Dinah because he already knows what she ends up having to learn through bitter experience: Vengeance offers little satisfaction and still less by way of healing. She may have gotten justice for her lover’s murder, but it’s a hollow victory, one that only lays plain how much she made these decisions for her own well-being and not for his memory. Which isn’t a bad thing! But it explains why, after all that, Dinah seeks out Oliver and accepts his offer to join the team, because all that’s really left for her is to try to move forward and build something in the future. It’s an open question how successful she will be. She is carrying years’ worth of trauma, and the reconfigured Team Arrow does consider that for every success like Rory there’s a failure like Evelyn. Dinah could go either way, and for all Oliver’s promises otherwise, it’s not difficult to see how this is all still wrapped up in his need to redeem himself after all the ways he failed Laurel.
While Oliver looks to the future, Felicity ends up having to reconsider her past. Given her nigh magical hacking abilities, it makes sense Felicity would be a bit of a legend on the dark web. Some of the criticisms leveled at her by her admirer ring true: Felicity has gone corporate, and even her work as Overwatch has an inherently authoritarian aspect that is hard to square with what she used to believe in. It’s hard to imagine anything good will come of Felicity’s clandestine return to some aspect of her old life, but I continue to welcome storylines where Felicity makes active choices and men aren’t involved, give or take a wisecracking Rory on the sidelines. Arrow has generally done decent work exploring Felicity’s hacker side—all the stuff with her dad didn’t set the world on fire, but it was solid enough—and there’s good narrative logic in exploring just how Felicity could so completely turn her back on her past, and whether she really has left all her past life behind.
Everything about “Second Chances” is just so resolutely solid and well-considered, as has become the norm for Arrow episodes this season. The recruits are all coming into their own, and Oliver has strung together multiple episodes now without revisiting old traumas just for the hell of it. Rather, he has become adept at putting himself forward not just as a leader to his team but also as someone determined to see the best in people, to save those he can even as he takes down those he can’t. After a couple years of faltering momentum and uncertain choices, Arrow has regained its energy, and the show is just easy to watch in a way it frequently hasn’t been in recent seasons. That ease of viewing doesn’t mean the show can’t touch on complex ideas—it doesn’t do it all the time, but it has the capability—but rather that Arrow just knows what it wants to be and can convey that on a consistent basis. The show gave itself a second chance this season, and it’s sure making the most of it.
- All right, I’m officially missing Thea and Quentin. Bring back the heart and soul of Arrow, dammit!
- I’m also going to need a Katrina Law-Lexa Doig team-up of Nyssa and Talia posthaste—assuming Law’s commitments on the new Training Day show don’t preclude her putting in an occasional guest appearance.
- Rene tying Tobias Church back into the Hub City story is a nice bit of continuity to the beginning of the season. That he’s willing to put up with all the metahuman silliness in order to foil drug dealers is also a great touch.
- Same goes for the Captain Singh cameo (and what I suppose is very technically a Barry Allen cameo). Too bad we couldn’t have had Quentin call in from rehab to vouch for Oliver, but I guess the Flash will do in a pinch.