When you’re doing a good job protecting your city and carrying out your father’s wishes, you start to feel invincible, like you there’s nothing you can’t handle. But then you get beaten, and you get beaten bad, and it rattles you to your emotional and mental core (thankfully, your physical core is still okay because you’re able to do your salmon ladder reps). It’s tough to bounce back from a defeat like that.
And that’s how we found Oliver, who took six weeks off as the hood to try and get himself back together, both physically and mentally. He couldn’t do the little tennis ball trick, and he hadn't been crossing names off the list. On top of that, there’d been less than nothing about Walter’s disappearance. Nothing from Diggle’s contacts with various investigative agencies, and nothing from Oliver’s link to the Russian mob (thought the show had forgotten that, hadn’t you?). Things were seeming rather dire for Oliver’s career as a protector of Starling City.
Since his return, Oliver had been ignoring the trauma that he experienced on the island and funneling that denial into his crime-fighting. But then he suffered a blow that forced him to deal with his issues because it struck him at a place where he felt safest and the most in control. If he wants to continue working through the list and improving Starling City, he has to fight through barriers and not lose sight of his goals. That he was able to do so in "Burned" indicates that he may just be ready to start dealing with other issues as well.
It may also mean that he’s ready to move away from being a vigilante and become something more heroic. Oliver seemed to respond well to the crime stats that a news pundit rattled off on the TV, and to the fact that his actions at the gala were considered heroic (we’ll circle back to that). Coupled with his actions against the Reston bank-robbing family, he can see himself doing things that help Starling City beyond taking down people on the list.
But we got there in a really ham-fisted way, didn’t we? While Diggle provided the necessary analysis of Oliver’s behavior, it took Laurel saying “Our feelings... our fears, they control us, not the other way around” for everything to sink in, for Oliver to realize that he allows his fear to paralyze him. It’s what led to the admission that he’s worried about dying because of the pain it would cause those who care about him, because they’d go through that trauma of loss again. And it was all spelled out for us, and with a nice little bow as Oliver, facing Garfield Lynns at the gala, told the arsonist and murderer that his problem wasn’t that he was afraid to die, but that he was afraid to live.
Lynns and Oliver are (half-baked) inversions of each other: Lynns was surviving purely on revenge in the same way that Oliver had been using his father’s list to drive himself forward, but now that Oliver has something to live for, there’s more to be done, and being the hood isn’t his only responsibility. It was a telling moment when Oliver offered to help Lynns instead of putting an arrow through his head—an acknowledgment that Oliver needs help as well—but did he really have to just stand there while Lynns set himself on fire? Was that heroic? Or did the show sacrifice an admittedly barely drawn character for the sake of thematic parallelism? It felt very much like the latter, and I was not crazy about it.
While Oliver was coming to grips with his defeats and trying to find a new path, Moira wasn't handling Walter's disappearance all that well, even though she’s responsible, in one way or another, for it. But I like that it forced a confrontation with Thea. Say what you will about Thea’s perceived-of-as-selfish behavior, but she was on the money here, and her speech about Moira no longer asking her to do things sort of summed up her problems: There’s no expectation for Thea, no one wants her to be anything, so she’s turning to bad models (pre-island Oliver) and it’s not working for anyone, least of all her. Hopefully this development continues a trend of Thea improving her life, but I have my doubts.
NOTES & QUOTES
– The island stuff wasn’t very compelling this week, as it felt more like gear-turning for that plot (Oliver needed a way to infiltrate Fyers’ camp and got one) than a strong commentary on the events in the present day.
– “What did that prove?” “That this is one sturdy desk.”
– Another Stagg Chemicals mention in this episode. Is it too much to hope that we’ll see Simon Stagg at some point?
– DC Comics hat tip of the episode: Nodell Tower was likely named for Martin Nodell, one of the creators of Alan Scott, the first Green Lantern.
– If you’d like to do a little prep for next week’s episode, check out the Arrow digital comic, Issue 4. It’s about a major event from Diggle’s time in Afghanistan. I’m not sure how canonical these comics are intended to be, but for 99 cents, you can’t go too wrong.
– I’ll go ahead and type this for some of you now, and hopefully we can all move on: “But Firefly’s a Batman villain! This just proves that Arrow is a cheap knock-off without a single original idea, and I hate it, even though I watch it every week!” Do you feel better? Good. I actually rather liked this take on the Firefly character (he’s a special effects pyromaniac in the comics), and was hopeful for more than just that one scene at the gala for him to be able to speak and have a voice.
– I want to thank Nick for filling in for me last month, and on short notice. I hated to miss the last episode before the winter break, but when it feels like a xenomorph is about to burst out of your abdomen, it’s important to prioritize.