With the possible exception of the show’s always operatic season finales, tonight’s “Suicidal Tendencies” might well be the most ridiculously ambitious story Arrow has ever told. It’s an episode that starts with the second wedding of Diggle and Lyla and ends with the murder of yet another Starling City mayor—seriously, that’s the third in as many seasons, which is more than enough to tilt the killing of an Arrow mayor from plot move to running gag. In between all that, we have the secret origin and the final (for now, at least) demise of Deadshot, a crazy-ass Suicide Squad mission even by the standards of crazy-ass Suicide Squad missions, the unmasking of Oliver to Ray Palmer, a pair of big showdowns between those characters in and out of costumes, and some serious progression of the Felicity-centric romantic storyline, more business with the League of Assassins, all while a battered Malcolm Merlyn is presumably still chilling at Oliver and Thea’s place, binging on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or whatever.

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If “Suicidal Tendencies” were 80 minutes long, maybe even just 60, it would have a legitimate chance at living up to its outsize ambition. But at the standard 40-something minutes, this episode is dangerously overstuffed. It isn’t even as straightforward as saying that the Starling City and the Kasnia sequences should each have been given their own separate stories, though turning over an entire episode to Diggle and Lyla would have been intriguing. Even so, I can see why it makes sense to pair these plotlines, with the more action-oriented intensity of the Kasnia sequences providing a welcome though still high-stakes change of pace from the more emotionally charged drama unfolding in Starling City. As soon as we move away from the wedding, “Suicidal Tendencies” is about as tough as an Arrow episode can get without actively imperiling the entire city. Indeed, that sustained intensity is a big reason that the episode works as well as it does, even if there just isn’t enough space here to execute every story beat properly.

The biggest misstep here comes with the Deadshot flashbacks. Now, as indicated by the post-episode card, which pointed viewers toward the website for the Wounded Warrior Project, Arrow told Floyd Lawton’s backstory because it wanted to highlight veterans’ issues. This is a story that demands nuance and sensitivity, particularly considering what we already know about Lawton’s story arc means there is little room for a proper redemption. Whatever grace he achieves at episode’s end is as a reformed supervillain, but as a returning soldier and a readjusting husband and father we see only the dark side. The very fact that Arrow is telling the veteran’s story with Deadshot means we end up seeing a relatively unexplored aspect of the returning soldier, namely the fact that not every veteran can set aside the trauma he or she accrued on the battlefield, and not every family is equipped to survive and move past such damage. More than that, not every family should; there simply isn’t a happy ending available to the drunken, violent Floyd Lawton we see in the flashbacks, and it’s near impossible to argue his family isn’t better off without him. There’s nothing inspirational about Floyd Lawton’s story, as any more heroic aspects only come into play once he’s become Deadshot.

That’s not necessarily a comfortable or reassuring narrative to explore, and, whether by design or by accident, it’s cool that Arrow would be willing to go down that path and present a veteran in such a wholly unpleasant, if not necessarily unsympathetic, light. But that’s a story that needs space to breathe, as it represents such a radical tonal departure from Arrow’s usual narrative repertoire that the audience needs some extra time to get used to this storytelling approach. A show can be an action thriller, a soap opera, a superhero show, and a gritty issues-oriented drama, but it’s damn hard to be all those things in the space of a single episode, particularly when the last one is simultaneously the least organic fit, the most difficult to pull off, and the most awkward one to miss the mark on.

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Michael Rowe and Erika Walter are perfectly serviceable as the Lawtons, given their limited screen time in the roles, but they really aren’t up to providing the kind of instant, lived-in chemistry or the emotional complexity necessary to make Floyd’s breakdown scene work. Neither the script nor the performances know enough about these characters to move them beyond the cliché, and that greatly dulls the impact of what could be a powerful scene. Rowe, it must be said, has really grown into the role of Deadshot since his bland debut way back in the show’s early days, and that’s kind of the point: Most of the recurring actors on a show like Arrow need time to discover their characters and figure out how to bring out the most in them. Floyd the tortured veteran is a radical enough departure from Deadshot that Rowe ends up a bit at sea with the character.

The flashback of “Suicidal Tendencies” represents its trickiest element, and it ends up being the episode’s major misfire. What that all means is that aspect of the episode commands outsize attention in this review relative to its overall significance to the episode, which might explain why I generally quite like this episode, even after devoting a solid chunk of this review to the bit I enjoyed least. Just about everything else about the Suicide Squad subplot works fine. The congressman’s desperation to engineer a legacy-making hostage situation is ridiculous, but only really in the sense that such over-the-top political gamesmanship isn’t quite the sort of thing we normally see on Arrow; once again, that moment isn’t quite in the right context to work seamlessly, but it’s more readily compatible with the show’s narrative style than the flashback business with Floyd. Otherwise, the use of Deadshot and Cupid works well, with Cupid’s affable but unmistakable insanity providing a nice counterweight to the increasingly earnest Deadshot. Seriously, that guy better not be dead for real.

As for what’s going on back in Starling City, I can’t imagine anyone complaining about the show’s increased focus on Felicity is going to be all that happy with how the show handles the first fight between the Arrow and the Atom. Routing the story through Felicity’s conflicted feelings ends up working well—at least for those who are open to the show’s soap opera-inflected plotting—as it takes what could otherwise be a fairly rote recitation of superhero ideals and instead anchors them in what Felicity’s feelings for Ray should mean. Maybe Oliver ends the episode still believing that Ray’s more idealistic quest for justice is doomed to failure, but he does at least grant that the best chance for success lies with Ray being willing to fight the good fight with Felicity by his side. There’s a chicken-and-the-egg thing at work here: Does Ray find it in him to trust Felicity because he’s a genuinely different kind of vigilante, or is it that very capacity to trust that makes him something distinct from the Arrow? And what does it say that it takes Oliver to point that fact out to him? Much like the Flash, Ray Palmer’s Atom is now positioned as a more idealistic alternative to this universe’s original hero, yet it’s Oliver who does so much of the inspiring and teaching. Sooner or later, he’s going to learn his own lesson. Maybe then the transformation from the Hood to Green Arrow will be complete.

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Stray observations:

  • “And afterward, we’ll make strong, beautiful babies.” Not quite how I saw that sentence ending, honestly. Still plenty creepy though.
  • “He hasn’t killed anyone in nearly two years.” “That really is not your best argument.” Rarely has a single exchange so perfectly captured how ridiculous serialized shows can get if you stop to think about them. I mean, Felicity’s line makes perfect sense if you’ve watched all of Arrow, but man is it lacking as a rhetorical gambit.
  • “He’s flying around in a weapon looking for a man who has already killed eight people.” One thing I do really enjoy is that, as with Black Canary, we fast learn just how woefully unprepared Ray is for the job he’s taking on. He might have an awesome suit, but he’s completely untrained, and Oliver is quickly able to get past the initial gadgets and take him down. That refusal to let everyone become an instant expert at fighting is always much appreciated.

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