It's not uncommon in superhero narratives for the hero to confront a copycat of some variety, an individual who notices that the hero is cleaning up a city and decides, "Hey, I can do that, too." All you need are a costume and some gadgets, after all. (This has even sort of happened in real life.) Inevitably, the hero will confront this person, and explain that what he's doing isn't for amateurs, or find out that the copycat's reasoning is misguided and/or some sort of reflection/refraction of the hero's own catalyst for donning a mask and becoming a vigilante. The hero, regardless of the conclusion of the story, may appear reflective about his methods as he realizes that his mission has made him a symbol of the city he protects, and with that realization comes a certain degree of responsibility. Then, in the next installment, it's back to beating up muggers and stopping super villains from poisoning the city's water supply.
With "Salvation," Arrow offered its particular spin on this narrative as a former resident of the Glades kidnapped people who had, to borrow Oliver's phrasing, failed the Glades in some way: a slumlord, an ADA who didn't seem interested in prosecuting criminal activity in the area, and, of course, "gangbanger" Roy Harper. The self-styled Savior then broadcast his victims' final moments on the web before shooting them. (There were a few more victims planned, as you can see on the show's pretty lousy attempt at a website tie-in, Glades Betrayed. It was essentially just a gloried countdown clock to tonight's episode.)
Like Helena, the Savior was something of Oliver's making, though Oliver was of course not as directly involved in the Savior taking up a cause. It was Oliver's presence as the Hood that provided the realization that Starling City needed saving, and that the Savior was not alone in his desire to do something. All three—Oliver, Helena, and the Savior—were motivated by grief over the loss of a loved one, and they set out to do what they can to fill that void. Oliver goes around yelling at (mostly) rich people and killing people. Helena wanted to dismantle her father's organization and then kill him. The Savior wanted to avenge his wife's death by cleaning up the Glades. But without Oliver's activities, did any of it happen?
The episode ultimately wasn't interested in that question (which is too bad, because it was an interesting question, and another popular superhero narrative), preferring instead to shift the focus to Oliver's struggle to escape a metaphorical island, to remove himself from his isolated state of being. That was a running concern this week; Diggle said he'd become a bit too obsessed recently, and the Savior experienced his own feelings of loneliness in both his life and his goal of cleaning up the Glades. The melancholia also surfaced in Roy's plot, as he insisted that no one would miss him if he died and rejected the idea that Thea seemed to genuinely care about him. Even Felicity got in on the action, lamenting that everything she experiences as a member of Team Arrow can't be shared with anyone.
I do feel like this was something of an oddity, however, since Oliver has made legitimate attempts to try to have a life outside his activities as the Hood. You all probably know by now that I love good thematic work, but I also want that thematic work to be build on a solid foundation of character work, and "Salvation" sort of stumbled on that front. We can read Oliver's break-up with McKenna as a motivator in his uptick of hooding up, but it just didn't feel like it was something that the episode wanted to consciously acknowledge.
But hopefully Arrow will at least follow through on the episode's final development of Oliver reaching out to those around him. He offered Felicity a safe space to share her emotions about what she's experienced (though I'd go to Diggle with that sort of thing long before I'd go to Oliver), and he also asked Laurel to basically hang out. I did really like that scene between Oliver and Laurel. Once again, Stephen Amell really hit the right notes, and even as the scene cut from him trying not to break down to a shot of his back, as he turned, there was a consistency in his "trying not to let this get to me" face and his "oh, someone's talking to me, I need to be happy" face. We've all made that face at some point or another, and Amell landed it. Laurel's "Why?" at the sudden invitation was body blowing, but surprisingly appropriate, so the episode won points for consistency in its character actions.
If there's one big thing that I did really love about "Salvation"—and on the whole, I did like the episode a good deal—it's that, again, the Glades rose to the forefront. As an audience, we've known that the Undertaking is very connected to the Glades for a while, but now Team Arrow is aware, and it will hopefully keep that plot moving forward a bit. I also appreciated how the Savior's case allowed this development to happen. It made for good narrative connective tissue.
But the other reason I loved it is that it pushed Arrow's Oliver closer and closer to that notion of social justice. I talked about it a bit when Roy was first introduced, so I won't rehash my thoughts, but I'm very eager to see how Arrow plays this card, and what ramifications it might have for Oliver's mission going forward. At this point, Oliver stopping the Undertaking and saving the Glades means potentially big things for the focus of Season 2, and I like that the show seems to be building toward the classic representation of the Green Arrow character as opposed to starting there. Provided that's the goal, of course.
Let's close with the Lances, as they too fed into this isolation theme. They've all been estranged from each other since Sarah's death, and Dinah's (continued) conviction that Sarah was still alive brought them back together, or at least it brought Quentin and Dinah back together. While Laurel decided to reveal the truth of the matter in the worst possible way—by having the woman in the photo be at CNRI and springing it on her parents in public—that this sudden family love was ultimately based on a falsehood meant it wasn't going to last. But it did bring them together long enough that Dinah's guilt over not doing more to stop Sarah from getting on the boat in the first place didn't split them all apart again. I'm not sure how much of Dinah we'll see going forward, but I'd rather the whole thing result in Quentin and Laurel having some new conversations.
– The island stuff was fine. I enjoyed Shado beating the crap out of Fyers' men and then Fyers himself. And she's got the inside track on what's happening with that missile launcher (they picked a terrible hiding place, clearly), so that's moving on. I do find it interesting that since "The Odyssey," the island flashbacks have become their own plot as opposed to parallels with the main action. That's not a criticism (entirely), but I do like symmetry.
– Also: Manu Bennett does a fantastic confused face. I mean, look at it! It's great.
– "Why do you have a gun?" "Because I’m no good with knives."
– "I asked him to leave me alone. In my loud voice."
– "Should be home in a flash." Funny, funny, funny. (Remember: Central City's the home city of the Flash.)
– Let's talk transmedia storytelling for a moment: This week's digital Arrow comic has Diggle reaching out to a woman he knows who has super-extensive intelligence connections, and he asks her to investigate Lian Yu. I'm sort of frustrated by this. The comics are, according to the show's producers, canon. This allows them tell some stories that they otherwise wouldn't be able to (Oliver and Diggle head off to Russia at one point), but this particular development feels like one that probably should've appeared in the show. Goodness knows it would've given Diggle something to do, but I'm also wondering if this thread will surface in the future somehow.
For the record, I'm generally not a fan of transmedia storytelling. While I've enjoyed the comics and how they've illuminated certain things, like why Quentin became an alcoholic (it was cliched, but it also made me like Quentin a bit more), I also don't feel comfortable discussing them in these reviews because I'm not sure how you'd all respond to me casually mentioning anything that occurs in them, or treating them as common knowledge. They're not really spoilers, and so far they haven't really impacted the show in any real way, but I feel like this most recent issue is something that has the potential to do so, so let me know how you feel about me bringing it up, even if it's just in a notes section like this. It'll save some of you 99 cents, at least.