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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Arrow: “The Odyssey”

Illustration for article titled Arrow: “The Odyssey”
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There’s no point talking around it: “The Odyssey” takes the big confrontation from the end of last week’s episode and postpones it indefinitely. Oliver has taken Moira off his list of suspects, while the blood sample that could have incriminated him has been destroyed with a wave of Felicity Smoak’s magic, computerized wand. At first glance, this all feels dangerously close to Arrow pushing the reset button, but that isn’t really the case. After all, Felicity now knows Oliver’s secret and agrees to join the team, albeit on a temporary basis—or, at least, that’s what she says now. And, on a more fundamental level, Oliver’s refusal to investigate his mother further isn’t simply a bit of narrative convenience. Diggle’s warnings make it clear that Oliver still isn’t thinking straight when it comes to his mother’s potential involvement in the mysterious undertaking. He’s making a big mistake, one that likely will end in a whole lot of damage and bloodshed by season’s end. Delaying the payoff like this is the kind of trick that can really only work once, or else it seems like the show is too craven to follow through on its own setup, but “The Odyssey” spins one hell of an episode out of making the weaker dramatic choice. This episode is the one time that trick can work, and it works with aplomb.

In fairness, it’s a little difficult to call an episode cowardly when it opens with Moira shooting her own son. That opening scene functions as an effective illustration of the larger conundrum Oliver faces. He isn’t really wrong when he points out to Diggle that Moira is the first person that the Hood went after who begged for her life for what are theoretically selfless reasons. There’s obviously no way Oliver can keep his act up when Moira is invoking his own name as a reason not to hurt her, but it’s possible that Oliver might have also thought twice if, say, Frank Bertinelli had asked him to think of Helena (or, to really press the point, if some other criminal had begged the Hood to think of a family member of theirs who Oliver didn’t happen to be having sex with). Moira doesn’t react like all the other hardened criminals Oliver has dealt with before, and the episode leaves it ambiguous just why that is. There’s no question that she’s not an entirely willing participant in Malcolm’s schemes—Walter is still missing, after all—but she’s always shown a flair for self-serving rationalizations. And it’s not as though she hesitated to fire her gun the instant the Hood let down his guard.

Of course, all that is merely prelude to the episode’s main plot, which shifts the focus back five years to Oliver and Slade Wilson’s big escape attempt. The island flashbacks have never really been a strength for the show, if only because they have never been allowed enough time in any given episode to add up to something substantial. Here, the bulk of the episode is devoted to the beginning of Oliver’s transformation into the Hood, as Slade Wilson eventually accepts Oliver as a fellow soldier who could help keep him alive.  Oliver’s actions here suggest that we’re witnessing the mirror image of his arc in the present day; when given the opportunity to kill one of Fyers’ men, he refuses, instead opting to knock out the henchman. To survive on the island, Oliver is slowly but surely beginning to sacrifice his humanity, something he will only reclaim when he finally gets back to Starling City.

Compared to the cold-blooded killer of Arrow’s early episodes—and Felicity and Diggle’s conversation tonight makes it pretty clear that the Hood still kills, at least on occasion—this is a version of Oliver closer to what’s generally considered conventional superhero morality, as he tolerates Slade Wilson’s willingness to kill but can’t bring himself to do likewise. Stephen Amell does a nice job of conveying Oliver’s growing competence in combat, from his amateurish displays early on against Wilson to his clumsy, briefly effective bout with the air traffic controller to the surprisingly brutal takedown of the henchman in front of the injured Wilson. It’s a quick transition, admittedly, but Amell is able to at least sell that there has been a transition, and show how Oliver could make the fundamental breakthrough that would set him on the path to become the Hood.

The flashback also manages a surprising amount of tension as Oliver and Wilson put their plan into action. I hadn’t quite realized until now how wise a decision it was to make Oliver’s exile on the island last five years, because it basically allows the show as much creative freedom in the past as it does in the present. Obviously, Oliver can’t die, but then it’s not as though he’s likely to die in the present either; otherwise, there wouldn’t be a show. But anything else is on the table, especially since we already know Oliver does get off the island eventually. While I probably should have realized that it’s too early in Oliver’s journey for him to leave the island, that still leaves plenty of things uncertain: Slade Wilson or Yao Fei could be killed, Oliver could be captured and tortured again, Fyers could regain the upper hand with some new insane twist, and so on.

The nighttime raid is a thrilling sequence, and it’s an amusing touch that Oliver first proves his value to Wilson not with his brawn, but with his brains, even though this playboy version of Oliver has barely used the damn thing. As Oliver himself points out, it’s a bit of a ridiculous coincidence that the mercenaries use the only book Oliver read in college as the source of their challenge code—and it does stretch credulity that Oliver is actually able to quote the rest of the line—but I’m willing to allow the occasional ludicrous bit of plotting, and not just because this is a superhero show. The brief exchange in which Oliver suddenly realizes he got the quote wrong and whispers back the right words goes a long way to making the moment work, thanks in part to Amell’s quietly frantic delivery of the right words.


Back in the present, Diggle and Smoak spend the episode keeping Oliver from dying of his gunshot wound. “The Odyssey” slides past Felicity’s discovery of Oliver’s secret so quickly that it’s hard to register how big a deal this is, but then it’s not as though Felicity is entirely surprised—as she puts it, she’s blonde, but she’s not that blonde. Oliver’s incapacitation gives both Emily Bett Rickards and David Ramsey a chance to have some in-depth conversations, and Ramsey in particular makes the most of the opportunity. Diggle’s monologue about the Afghan warlord he had to protect against his better judgment beautifully encapsulates why a man with such an obviously strong moral code would tolerate the more lethal side of Oliver’s vigilantism, and Ramsey absolutely nails the scene.

This episode opens up Felicity as a character, moving her beyond all-purpose tech nerd and deliverer of awkward one-liners to someone with her own beliefs and goals, and Rickards handles the deepening of the character well. The reveal that she will work with Oliver in order to find Walter is potentially tricky, as it roots one recurring character’s motivation in the fate of another recurring character we see for weeks. It might be too weak, but Rickards makes the simple explanation that she wants to find Walter because he was nice to her work because Felicity is so clearly a decent, straightforward person. Indeed, the great strength of “The Odyssey” is its ability to tap into the show’s characters and reveal why they are who they are. The episode may have wimped out on the big cliffhanger, but this is the rare bait and switch where the result is still worthwhile.


Stray observations:

  • I’ve already praised the acting from the regulars, but seriously, how great is Manu Bennett as Slade Wilson?
  • So apparently the island storyline has its own big ongoing mystery, just like Starling City and the undertaking. I can’t say I’m particularly excited about this, but the prospect of another major supervillain on the other end of Fyers’ phone could prove interesting.
  • As you may have already read, Arrow got renewed for another season, which wasn’t much of a surprise. More interesting is the first official change to the regular cast for season two, which I think you’ll agree is very, very good news.
  • “Wow, everything about you just became so unbelievably clear.” It’s rare that a single line has to do quite so much heavy lifting, but that really does seem like the only reasonable reaction Felicity could have to finding out Oliver’s secret.
  • In all seriousness, Billy Wintergreen has to be the least threatening villain name ever, right?