Arrow’s resurgence remains one of the great unexpected joys of this television season. A big reason for this season’s success, and certainly a big part of why tonight’s episode works so well, is down to the pacing and the variety of the storytelling. The show is moving swiftly through its plots, as we’ve already dispatched Tobias Church and made Prometheus the new main enemy of Team Arrow, at least for the time being. And while a lot of the story beats here might appear familiar—Oliver is unnecessarily secretive, driving a wedge between him and a teammate—the sheer number of teammates means it’s easy for Arrow to mix things up. While previous weeks have mostly focused on Oliver and Wild Dog’s disagreements, tonight brings Artemis to the forefront, and that swap alone gives the episode something different to set it apart. “So It Begins” doesn’t hit the highest highs of last week’s beautifully directed episode, but no matter: It’s still a fantastic hour of television, with each part of the episode clicking together to show the many battles, past and present, that are in store for Oliver.

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Beyond what it says about Prometheus’ motivations, the return of the list is an excellent opportunity for Team Arrow to grapple with the true nature of their leader. While calling Oliver a serial killer never quite sounds right—he doesn’t have the psychological compulsion you typically associate with serial killers—there’s no real sense in litigating that once more. Instead, the reactions are what are interesting here. Wild Dog finds none of this all that surprising. Curtis has his misgivings, but his greater familiarity with the original Team Arrow makes it all easier to rationalize. Rory is none too pleased, but he’s somehow the most well-adjusted person on the show, even though all his loved ones died in a damn nuclear explosion. Artemis is the one who struggles the most, and the show is nicely nuanced in the argument she makes. It’s not that any specific thing that Oliver does makes it impossible for her to fight alongside him, but each new revelation makes it more difficult. For Evelyn Sharp, fighting alongside the Arrow is an ongoing act of cognitive dissonance. Looking past the fact that he abandoned her parents in Damien Darhk’s house of horrors is hard enough, but she can’t stomach being told not to kill by the same man who was once the murderous Hood.

Oliver reckoning with that part of his past could so easily have descended into the same repetitive melodrama the show got mired in last season, but the episode is intelligent in how it plays out the conversation between him and Diggle. When he says he feels stuck, it’s a rare instance where that sentiment doesn’t feel like it mirrors the show, as has so often been the case in the last couple seasons. As Diggle points out, the very fact that Oliver’s secret past as the Hood—and it still feels weird to me that anyone can’t just connect the dots between the Hood and the Arrow and the Green Arrow, but sure, let’s roll with this—would shock the team so much indicates how much he has changed. There’s room to be skeptical of how cleanly Diggle delineates between good and bad kills, as it can be terrifyingly easy to cross the line from one to the other, but the idea that Oliver kills as last resort where once he killed as first resort is a solid distinction to make. For the time being, all Oliver’s concerns ring true, yet the show is also able to address them satisfactorily enough to keep the episode-specific story moving.

Part of that is down to the fact that where previously it was really hard to buy Oliver’s weekly bouts of uncertainty when dealing with teammates he had fought alongside for years, the whole thing makes far more sense when considering a new team he’s still in the process of training. How much should Oliver really be expected to tell the recruits? Should he really be expected to tell them all the details of his past, especially when it’s questionable how much of it is even still relevant? The most straightforward answer is there isn’t any one straightforward answer, and all that matters is what his team demands to know in order to keep fighting with him. Oliver’s decisions repeatedly compromise his position with those he ought to be building trust with, and it’s only his timely save of Evelyn from Prometheus that restores whatever connection they once had. Arrow is always going to stack the deck in favor of its protagonist—observe Evelyn volunteering that she was a jerk afterward, when that wasn’t strictly necessary—but enough ambiguity remains overall to feel the show is genuinely exploring more uncertain terrain for its characters. Oliver is genuinely trying to change by bringing in the recruits, and even he is still finding out what it means to now share his crusade with four people he hasn’t spent years building a bond.

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Then there’s what we learn about Prometheus himself. Arrow has always had a wonky relationship with the deeper aspects of its own history, with Oliver’s kill-happy first year long feeling like an odd fit with the more traditional crime-fighting that came after it. But it’s been so long since Oliver was the Arrow, let alone the Hood, that it’s easy to think that the narrative statute of limitations has expired on those parts of his character, but the exploration of the Hood we see tonight likely isn’t going away, given Prometheus’ motivations. If all this holds, Prometheus is obsessed with Oliver in a way that no villain has been since Slade Wilson back in season two. And much as villains who exist solely as a dark mirror of their heroic adversaries can get tiresome when overdone, Arrow really hasn’t gone to that well very often, and the only other major instance helped give the show its best season. That Prometheus has gone to such preposterous lengths to confront Oliver with his past misdeeds—and that he appears to know about a list that even Arrow hasn’t mentioned outside of the flashbacks in years—is particularly intriguing, given the final reveal that he’s a part of the Star City police department.

Everything else about “So It Begins” is just resolutely solid. Thea and Quentin continue to make what should be the most banal political subplots compelling, with the show subtly but definitely casting the two as the surrogate father and daughter figure that each desperately needs. Felicity comes clean to her boyfriend about her relationship with the Green Arrow, which gains only approval. The Russian flashbacks remain massively entertaining, with Dolph Lundgren making his debut as the terrifying Konstantine Kovar and Oliver dusting off his old douche persona in the surface of Bratva. Once more, Arrow isn’t necessarily doing anything revelatory—though it feels like we’re close to that sort of territory with what it’s doing in the Prometheus story—but every storytelling move it makes is logical and well-considered in terms of its characters, and there’s a real sense of forward progress with each episode. Keep it up, Arrow.

Stray observations

  • I guess the ending is suggesting that Lance might be Prometheus? That feels like it just has to be a fakeout, all things considered, but I’m a little scared to see how things play out from here. Not because I don’t think Arrow can pull off something shocking at this point, but just that I’m invested in Lance remaining on the up and up.
  • There are some great dumb arrow tricks in this episode, including the return of the tennis balls and Oliver shooting an arrow into the barrel of a gun. More of that wouldn’t be amiss.
  • Sorry this is going up so massively late. I’m hoping it won’t happen again, but I think the last couple days have taken a lot out of me. And that’s already more than I wanted to talk about things in what should just be an Arrow review, so moving on.
  • The great Arrow/Justified convergence continues with Johnny Crowder himself, David Meunier, making his first appearance as the head of the Bratva. Since I’m mostly familiar with him playing a feckless criminal lowlife, he’s surprisingly charismatic and believable as a much more powerful crime boss.
  • I appreciate Thea picking up on Oliver very specifically saying he hadn’t done anything with the sexy evil reporter… yet.

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