Damn you, Arrow. Knowing this episode was next, I did my duty as a reviewer and refreshed myself on a lot of Helena Bertinelli’s history and whatnot over the Thanksgiving holiday. Had I been aware that I should’ve brushed up on my on Merlyn the Archer knowledge instead, I WOULD HAVE DONE THAT.
So I guess we should talk about that first, then? The whole John Barrowman’s Well-Dressed Man being Tommy’s dad thing? I'll admit that my jaw hit the ground a bit at the reveal, and I’m big enough to admit that I’m a smidge disappointed he’s not Maxwell Lord (kudos to those 54 of you who thought he was either an original character or some other DC Comics character in the poll a while back). However, I’m also rather excited about the narrative avenues this opens up for the show.
When Arrow started, I purposefully sat on the Merlyn thing since I knew some folks might be interested in seeing Tommy fall from snarky rich dude to master archer and rival to Oliver, and that Merlyn—unlike, say, Deathstroke—wasn’t as widely known outside the comics fandom, so it would be a pleasant arc for viewers fresh to the property.
But now there are two possibilities for the series to introduce a major Green Arrow baddie in its own way, two characters who may develop (or who already have) reasons to go after the Hood on their own terms. This was a clever reveal that will pull the rug out from under folks who just watch the TV series and folks who know the comics fairly well. I can dig that.
While John Barrowman being Tommy's dad was the big reveal in the episode, the real meat of the hour was the introduction of Helena Bertinelli, otherwise known as the Huntress in the comics (though not in the current DC continuity, but that doesn’t really matter). In those pages, Huntress has always been a bit more violent, a bit more volatile, a bit more willing to kill than other heroes since her mission was always to exact revenge for the murder of her mob family at the hands of families in the mafia. As a result, Helena moved between being a murderous vigilante and a hero respected by the cape-wearing community.
On Arrow, Helena’s operating in a similar vein, targeting her own family this time to get revenge for the death of her fiance. It’s a nice-enough modification that keeps the character true to the source material while still offering a new interpretation, something I’m always happy to see.
This interpretation also forced Oliver to confront his personal sense of his mission, his own methods for cleaning up Starling City. Diggle was not wrong when he called Helena a “killer” and a “bad guy,” and so Oliver must reconcile her extreme behavior, his attraction to her, and the fact that there’s a person who understands, on some level, his mission, someone who understands him.
It’s that understanding that makes their dynamic interesting. Both Oliver and Helena are able to be themselves around each other and allow their emotional scars to show, to “tell the truth.” But it’s also the reason why Oliver no doubt thinks that he can guide her onto his path. Their shared pain connects them, and while we don’t know who taught Oliver to channel that pain (no island flashback this week, in a break from the typical episode structure), it’s clear that Helena didn’t have that, and it’s the reason she got lost in her quest for revenge.
This is also likely the reason Stephen Amell and Jessica De Gouw have a bit more chemistry with one another than Amell and Katie Cassidy do in the bigger romantic moments. The restaurant sequence especially clicked for me, though I feel that De Gouw struggled to find some footing during the final scene in her bedroom. I’m not sure exactly what went wrong there, but it felt just a tad overbaked.
That portion of the episode did have some stumbles, though. Having Helena quote Oliver lines from the pilot episode felt a touch heavy-handed, even with my high tolerance for that sort of melodramatic repetition. I likewise wondered why Helena, who couldn’t shoot straight according to Quentin, could hold her own in hand-to-hand combat. Seems like a weird disconnect in what was likely self-taught training. I just assumed that learning to shoot would likely be easier than developing crazy island fighting skills.
Tommy and Laurel continue their courtship, and it’s cute. Tommy’s trying really hard, but I can understand why since he’s clearly very into Laurel. Arrow has sort of struggled with the show-and-not-tell aspect of their past relationship since we don’t get flashbacks for them (thank goodness for that, since it would clutter up the episodes), but I do like how the show is trying to shift past that problem with Tommy wanting this to be sort of a do-over attempt. We’ll see how things go now that he’s completely cut off from all that Merlyn money.
There were some nice bits with Moira and Thea, and Thea and Oliver, and Moira and Mr. Merlyn, so those elements of the show are coming together, though none of them were the focus of the episode. But they didn’t feel completely extraneous to the episode either, like Quentin’s unnecessary drop-by warning to Oliver about Helena, since Diggle had basically said the same thing. They were good character moments, and I’m happy to see Arrow better integrate those.
– Of course, the Tommy/Tommy’s dad thing also could end up mirroring the Lex/Lionel thing from Smallville, which I’m sure that some of you will have strong opinions about.
– How did Quentin have a bug on Frank? Are the feds sharing information with the Starling City police? Did I miss a beat somewhere? That seemed sloppy and sudden.
– What was with the muzak during Tommy and Laurel’s date? After the solid music choices for Oliver and Helena, it was jarring.
– I’m always happy to see Tahmoh Penikett, but did he have to go so soon?
– “The rich man’s Lindsay Lohan.”
– “He seems like a real stand-up mobster.”
– “You're supposed to be going undercover, not speed dating.”