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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Arrow struggles to make sense of its wonkiest plotline

Illustration for article titled Arrow struggles to make sense of its wonkiest plotline
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There’s a real fine line between recognizing nuance and just straight-up making excuses. “Code Of Silence” too often finds itself on the wrong side of that line, as it tries to sort through just what to do with Oliver’s secret son. The result is an episode that, like most Arrow episodes this season, remains a solid enough delivery mechanism for bone-crunching action and enjoyably earnest relationship melodrama. But there’s something deeply weird at the core of this episode. At best, what we’re dealing with here are the inevitable knock-on effects of one initial strange decision. At worst, what we get here could portend the implosion of what has generally been a very solid bounce-back season for the show. Because, my goodness, there are a whole bunch of ways this whole secret son plotline could end in complete disaster. And “Code Of Silence” isn’t exactly promising in that regard.

Let’s back up a moment to understand how we get to “Code Of Silence.” It’s worth pointing out that the very existence of Oliver’s son came out of a plotline that really had nothing to do with Oliver himself—“Seeing Red” introduced William’s mother Samantha Clayton to illustrate how far Moira Queen would go to keep the family’s dirty secrets, including from the rest of her family. As such, it’s perhaps not surprising that Arrow hasn’t quite figured out how to deal with William and Samantha in a way that directly connects with Oliver, because that wasn’t their original narrative purpose; they were plot devices in the concluding chapter of another character’s story. Samantha’s insistence that Oliver keep William’s existence secret from everybody in his life, Felicity very much included, never made any sense, because it didn’t connect with anything we know about Oliver. The “Legends Of Yesterday” two-parter had to gesture vaguely at the idea that Oliver is too much a scurrilous playboy to be openly a part of William’s life, which required Arrow to ignore that it hasn’t really given any indication that Oliver is still pretending to be his old self since he sold Verdant—if anything, he sure appears to have remade himself as a plausible mayoral candidate, which would put a whole different spin on the existence of a secret lovechild.

It’s hard enough to come up with a justification for Samantha’s proviso that makes sense intellectually, let alone plays emotionally. (Funnily enough, there would have been one explanation that would have made sense for Oliver and audience alike—if Samantha had somehow found out William’s father was the Green Arrow, with all that implies about the danger Oliver would be in.) What it sure feels like we’re left with is a plotline that exists just to blow up Oliver and Felicity’s relationship for a deeply contrived reason, particularly when the deleted timeline from “Legends Of Yesterday” showed that precise explosion. Tonight’s episode is doing one of two things. It’s possible the show is taking every last opportunity to hit the audience over the head with how destructive the reveal of this secret will be, as Donna Smoak and Captain Lance repeatedly point out how damn honest Oliver is. That would fit best with how the show has handled this plotline thus far, with Felicity making occasional comments about her trust in Oliver just to really up the dramatic irony.

The other possibility is that Arrow is planning a narrative swerve, with Felicity being far more understanding in this timeline than she was in the previous one. Certainly, “Code Of Silence” advances a whole bunch of arguments that really, really look like attempts to let Oliver off the hook for keeping William’s existence a secret. Felicity’s chat with Donna about how she needs to trust Lance does no one any favors, as the show throws out the internal logic of those characters and their relationship to serve the show’s larger needs. As Donna made clear to Lance in the campaign office, her time with Felicity’s father has given her a perfectly tuned bullshit detector, and she’s not about to let someone lie his way into hurting her once again. Given all that, it’s strange that Donna wouldn’t push back at all when Felicity suggests Lance might have a good reason to keep things from her, and it’s Donna, not Lance, who needs to show more trust. Felicity takes onboard what Donna has to say, shows some initial support and comfort for her heartbroken mom, and then tells her the man who won’t be honest with her knows best. That’s, to put it mildly, not a great message!

I don’t want to go too far with this point. That’s a purposefully uncharitable reading, no question, and I don’t think that’s the message Arrow intends to convey with that scene. Felicity’s actions here make perfect sense within the internal logic of the show’s storytelling, even if they do resemble more destructive behaviors in the real world. The critique I’m making isn’t a moral one but rather a narrative one: Arrow so badly contorts itself to make Oliver’s secrecy appear halfway palatable that a bunch of characters have to act really, really weirdly, and in that case those actions have some uncomfortable connotations. Arrow even appears to recognize the actual takeaway from all this, as it’s ultimately Lance, not Donna, who takes the initiative and comes clean about his secrets.

More harmless but just as dumb is the scene between Oliver and Thea, in which Thea goes from digging for the truth to insisting Oliver keep the secret practically in the same breath. If the Queen siblings were being sensible, they would recognize an obvious truth: If Thea could figure this all out with that little effort, what are the odds Felicity could solve this mystery the same minute she learns of its existence? Thea isn’t so much Thea here, but rather the official permission Oliver needs to keep the secret until the narratively appropriate moment.


I’ve gotten a little worked up by this episode’s flaws, far more so than I was while actually watching the episode—part of what comes with doing 1,200 words’ worth of pondering, I guess. “Code Of Silence” has its fair share of successful elements to offset those storytelling missteps. Damien Darhk remains a fantastically fun villain, even if I do wonder how H.I.V.E. functions at all when he just straight-up kills people who mouth off about his wife. (Which, fair enough, as these things go.) The planned attack on the debate is a solid thing to build the action sequences around, and the opening segment with Team Arrow chasing down Mrs. Darhk’s car is nicely done. Hell, as much as I struggle with a lot of this episode’s character-based storytelling when it comes to Oliver, Lance’s presence remains a serious asset for the show, and there’s genuine pathos to his faltering love story with Donna when it’s not being used to prop up Oliver’s story. There’s more than enough to think that, even if Arrow is making a misstep with its handling of the William storyline, the show still knows what it’s doing otherwise. That’s not the worst state of affairs.

Besides, there’s always that ending. William’s story may not be all that interesting when it’s just a source of angst for Team Arrow. But when Damien Darhk directly inserts himself into the story by possibly killing Samantha, kidnapping William, and introducing him to his daughter as her new live-in playmate? Damn it, Arrow, I can’t stay mad at you.


Stray observations

  • Oliver declaring Curtis “Terrific!” was so wonderfully cheesy. Only question now is whether we get a glimpse of Curtis in the Mr. Terrific gear by the end of the season. And I’m still all-in for him being a part of a second-season Legends Of Tomorrow cast, if it’s indeed true that that show would change its expensive cast each season. If I’m dream-casting that, I’ll go out on a limb and say I want Mr. Terrific, Megalyn Echikunwoke as the live-action version of her Vixen character from the CW web series, maybe Diggle and/or Lyla, possibly Nyssa, one of The Flash’s minor speedsters (Jay Garrick, Wally if they go down that route)… and Manu Bennett back as Deathstroke.
  • You know, Arrow, I had totally forgotten Parker Young wasn’t in this episode as the campaign manager until you drew attention to it. That whole “had to be out of town with his sick mother” thing was just so transparently thrown off.
  • I’m not even sure what we’re doing with the flashbacks at this point. I thought the show was trying to show an early measure of Oliver’s redemption, but now it looks like we’re getting into this really grim territory where Oliver embraces his inner killing machine. If I cared about any of this, I think I’d be depressed by how bleak and nihilistic it is.
  • I’m going to go ahead and assume Oliver won the debate because of his inspiring stance on swimming pools.