Last season's big Lian Yu episode, "The Odyssey," had me reveling in the pleasures of Diggle and Felicity meeting and talking over a wounded Oliver in the Arrow Cave while simultaneously thinking, "Boy, those explosions sure were nifty!" and complimenting the performances of Manu Bennett and Stephen Amell. I liked "The Odyssey" just fine (even though it was arguably for the "wrong" reasons), and I'd probably recommend it (alongside a few others) to anyone who needed some convincing to watch the show. Knowing/expecting that there'd be a similar episode in Season 2, I was enthusiastic but also cautious, as I was worried I might feel the same about "The Promise" as I did about "The Odyssey."
And so it's with some sense of relief, then, that I can say that "The Promise" was a much better episode than "The Odyssey," on both a character level and on an action level. I mean, there were explosions on a boat, and when are explosions on a boat not cooler than explosions in a big empty field? But on a more serious note, the better action sequences weren't what elevated "The Promise" beyond its island-centric predecessor for me. What really made the episode successful was that the characters and the action intersected, and in a way that served a purpose beyond facilitating explosions on a boat.
Our lack of exposure to Slade's feelings for Shado should have been a barrier to accepting Slade's arc, but Bennett's been able to sell Slade's pain well enough that even the pre-Shado death stuff—stolen glances and Bennett somehow managing to look like an awkward and lovesick teenager were all we really had—that I can get behind his feelings of loss and betrayal and subsequent thirst for revenge. Arrow getting Slade to this point by using Ivo's "Pick one to die!" contrivance, like I said back in my review of "Three Ghosts," was a sloppy way of getting the desired result of Slade losing it, but I credit Bennett with making sure the dramatic truth of that situation wasn't twisted as a consequence.
The explosions and the arrows and the bullets were all neat and looked great—I loved the slow, long (for this show) take of all hell breaking loose on the deck of the freighter—but what mattered was Slade finding out about Oliver's decision to save Sara instead of Shado. That was the real explosion, and the episode really benefited from the change in the flashback narrative's status quo, with Sarah back on the island with a bunch of escaped prisoners, Oliver locked up in a cell, and Slade running the ship.
This is all very exciting, and I'm looking forward to what this hollowed-out Slade will do. He wants Oliver alive so he can suffer, but how much pain can you inflict when you're on a boat? Slade can torture him, sure, but that's not going to force Oliver down into the pits of despair that Slade has been living in for weeks (months?) now. What's more, while we know how this story ends—as we have since the pilot—we don't exactly the know the steps involved in getting there, and I'm eager to see how things play out, and the lengths to which both Island Oliver and Island Slade will go.
You know what else was exciting? Thea leading a guided tour of the Queens' collection of 19th century American landscape paintings. I know, right? Had the entire episode been nothing but Oliver and Slade trading small talk that doubled as threats, I would've been just over the moon about the episode. I admit to a degree of bias as I do love these sorts of situations where completely innocent characters—in this case, Moira and Thea—have no idea that they'e wandered into a Harold Pinter play being staged around them by other characters. The obliviousness just ratchets up the tension and menace, because you worry that it could break at any moment and that those innocent characters might get hurt. So when Sara and Roy arrived, and Oliver asked, "So. What would you like to do now, Mr. Wilson?" I sort of flipped out from all the fun.
I'm also flipping out because I'm just so glad that Oliver finally knows Slade is alive. Last season, Oliver's encounter with the Dark Archer gave Oliver a target, but a target he couldn't actually do anything about because he didn't know the Dark Archer's identity or plan. Slade's appearance did the same thing, except Oliver knows Slade, and he knows exactly what Slade is capable of, what Slade's goal is. Slade is going to loom over everything else for the rest of the season, and for Oliver, "everything else" will just be a distraction from preventing Slade from burning down his entire life.
– So Ivo was looking for a cure for his wife. Yawn? I mean, the writers just played that card with the Clock King last week, albeit with a sister instead. Either way, not all that interesting. Ivo as an evil bastard is just more engaging.
– I appreciated director Glen Winter upping the lighting differences between the present day and the flashbacks. Flashbacks were their standard gray desolation, while the scenes in Queen Manor and even the Arrow Cave were brighter than the show usually goes for, down that to golden light in the early mansion scenes.
– "Tell me, does your family spend much time on the water?"
– "I told you I'd come back." "Fantastic. We're saved."
– "What's the biggest gun you got down here?" [Diggle plunks down a massive rifle case on the table] "That might work." I liked the cool and collected atmosphere in the Arrow Cave what with training happening and Diggle and Felicity bringing back lunch.
– "That's a particularly firm handshake you have there, son."
– Arrow is off next week, so we'll meet back here on March 19 to discuss "Suicide Squad." While we wait, may I suggest you watch this trailer for the upcoming episodes over and over again? Small-ish spoilers, obviously, but also nothing that hasn't already been announced in articles and interviews. Plus it's just really well put together.
What did you think of "The Promise"?
AIRED ON 5/14/2014
Season 2 : Episode 23