In a lot of ways, "Betrayal" reminded of me "An Innocent Man," an early episode of Arrow that I didn’t particularly like because the case of the week was really underbaked, and it more of a vehicle for exploring Oliver’s sense of mission. At that point, the show wasn’t quite up to the task of integrating those ideas as part of a fully realized whole. I had a similar issue with "Betrayal" in that our villain’s plot was clichéd as hell (and a real waste of an actor who plays menacing really well), and again the show wanted to dig into larger concerns, this time regarding issues of trust. The difference is that, with nine more episodes under its belt since "An Innocent Man," the show had more ongoing story to help buttress a lackluster case-of-the-week.
Arrow has struggled to integrate its supporting cast beyond Diggle into Oliver’s vigilante activities, and that's been a sticking point for the series' narrative momentum on an episode-to-episode basis. Laurel and Tommy in particular tend to feel like they’re on a totally different show sometimes; while I defend this aspect of the series to a degree because these are characters with lives outside of Oliver’s, Arrow hasn’t made my defense very convincing or compelling.
"Betrayal" didn’t change that, as the fight between Laurel and Tommy—over her lying about going to work and instead meeting up with the Hood—wasn’t really predicated on anything that's come before for them. As a plot, it would’ve likely worked just as well two or three episodes ago as it did here. Sure, maybe Tommy was a bit on edge with regard to trusting people’s intentions after that disastrous dinner with his father, but that wasn't referenced as a motivation for his frustration with Laurel’s behavior. Indeed, it was actually more that Laurel is drawn to bad boys, which is an issue for them given their respective track records and personalities, but again, I’m not sure how convincing that particular point was. I generally prefer the Tommy-and-trust-issues reading myself. But their conflict, and Laurel’s abduction, transformed Oliver’s vigilantism into a cause of tension in their relationship. We learned that Tommy’s not crazy about a guy in a hood shooting arrows into people, which finally gives him something in common with both Quentin and Malcolm (albeit for different reasons), and hopefully we’ll see that play out a bit more in upcoming episodes.
Speaking of Quentin, there was yet another big argument between the Lances about, well, everything. A lot of it felt like well-trodden territory, so Quentin using Laurel as bait (I’m glad we didn’t have to wait long for that phone-bugging to pay off) freshened things up and helped to flesh out Quentin’s obsessive behavior by giving him a slightly finer parallel to Oliver’s obsession/mission. It also awarded Quentin a plot beyond hunting for the Hood, as he can now go after the mole inside the police force.
In more interesting plotting, Oliver and Diggle dealt with the ramifications of the new notebook, and what it meant for Oliver’s mission and his family. I appreciated Oliver’s faith in Moira (goodness knows he’s needed it survive the transition from island life to family life and Hooding up) and his willingness to come around when presented with evidence of Moira’s duplicity, but what I really appreciated was Diggle being significantly more active in this episode than he typically has been. I’m half convinced he locked up Moira’s regular driver in some random locale just so he could spy on her. Every now and then it’s easy to forget that Diggle is a competent guy in his own right, so watching pursue Moira and throw off Malcolm’s security guy was very welcomed.
Plus it resulted in what was probably one of the show’s more dramatic and awesome moments as Oliver burst in on Moira in the Queen Consolidated building to have an “arrowside chat,” and said his “You have failed this city!” mantra while leveling an arrow at her. That line has never really worked for me, but I liked it here because she’d failed more than Starling City in this instance, and it gave that silly line some weight.
Arrow's Starling City plots are typically about the moment when things collide, as we have more information than any of the characters at almost any given moment (though that’s rapidly changing). In contrast, the island flashbacks operate differently because we have very little information, and as such, they’re significantly more twisty. I figured it was Slade Wilson (Deathstroke’s real name) in the crashed airplane just before he revealed his identity due to the costume styling, but what do we make of his story about there being another member of his Australian intelligence crew, and that he was the one who tortured Oliver? I’m not sure I buy it, but like I said, the island flashbacks withhold information, and are much harder to pin down.
But the show's multiple storylines are beginning to coalesce across the board, and hopefully in very productive and exciting ways. We’ve got a buzzy new phrase to hang Malcolm’s big plans on, Moira’s secrets are catching up with her, Tommy and Laurel are potentially hitting rocky shores, Quentin is isolated both personally and professionally, and Oliver now has to face what it means when his mission gets personal.
– I suppose a quick mention of the Cyrus Vanch plot as a whole is warranted, even if it was pretty terrible. I love David Anders, and he was completely wasted here. I liked Cyrus's plan to fill in the criminal underworld vacuum by taking down the Hood, even if it, and the execution of it—abducting a person who seems important to the hero—has been done to death, because it made sense given Oliver’s activities in Starling City. I even liked that he counted all the arrows in the quiver, as it was a nice character detail in a character without much detail (though how he pulled that off using news footage is beyond me). I can only hope that Cyrus returns at a later date, and that Arrow really gives Anders something to do.
– Lots of little nods to DC writers and artists in this episode. First off, George, Vanch’s lawyer, worked at Wolfman and Perez, a nod to Marv Wolfman and—wait for it—George Perez, the duo behind DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths story. There was also the Winick Building, named for Judd Winick, a major writer in contemporary Green Arrow comics.
– Iron Heights Prison is located in Keystone City, the Flash’s home city, in the comics.
– “I hope George has gone food shopping. I’m famished.”
– I appreciated that Laurel was able to take down Vanch’s goons before getting tasered. I was worried she was just going to revert to abducted-damsel mode, but there’s self-defense-class Laurel in full form.
– So that was, what, like 20 dudes arrow’d or stabbed at Vanch’s mansion?
– "I'm the vigilante. You're the cop." "Doesn’t mean I have to read the bastard his rights, though." ACTUALLY QUENTIN, IT DOES. Unless you’d like the arrest tossed out on a technicality? I mean, you have a lawyer in the room, for Pete’s sake.
– If you’re interested in reading the current Green Arrow comics, I’d suggest picking up the issue that went on sale today, issue No. 17. The title has really struggled to find its footing, and No. 17 is an attempt at a soft reboot. It’s written by Jeff Lemire, one of best scribes currently at DC, and as such the series probably more potential than the series has had. Just know that it’s not in the same continuity as Arrow, so don’t go in expecting similarities beyond a dude in a hood shooting arrows.