There's no denying that "Arrow" has consistently been oh so good and addictive since the series premiere, but there was something about Wednesday, Feb. 27's episode 16, "Dead to Rights," that took things to a whole new level. It may have been the show's craziest episode yet—and could end up being the wildest one of the season.
Saving the enemy. Unbeknownst to Oliver (Stephen Amell), he saved the man who put him in the hospital in "Year's End" when he learned there was a hit out on Malcolm (John Barrowman), and it would be going down at the benefit honoring him with the humanitarian award ("What, they ran out of actual humans to give it to?" was his son's response upon learning about it). This was the same benefit Oliver's words ("At the end of the day, your dad is your dad," he told his friend, admitting that while his father had made his share of mistakes, he'd do anything to have him back) had helped convince Tommy (Colin Donnell) to attend. And so Oliver bowed out early from his night with McKenna (Janina Gavankar) once Felicity "Code-breaker is my middle name. Actually, it's Megan" Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) hacked an assassin's phone and got Oliver the name of the target and headed to the benefit, where China White (Kelly Hu) and her men attacked, with Deadshot (Michael Rowe) set up across the way.
While Oliver took care of some of China White's men and faced off with China White herself in a confrontation halted by McKenna's interference, Malcolm fought and killed a path to his office to the safety of his panic room for himself and Tommy and had just opened the room with his Dark Archer equipment inside when Deadshot struck. Malcolm closed the door on his way down, and when he stood back up, Deadshot took his shot. Though he had been wearing a vest, Malcolm was still hit, and it was Deadshot's poison that got Tommy talking to Arrow. "Why should I trust you?" Tommy demanded, gun aimed at him. "Because you always have," Oliver said as he lowered his hood. It wasn't the time for questions (that would come later), and after setting up the blood transfusion to buy Malcolm the time he needed, Oliver escaped, none the wiser to the fact that he had just saved the Dark Archer.
The Undertaking. Leading up to the benefit, Malcolm announced that the Undertaking they had set for themselves was only months from fruition. "There's hope on the horizon for everyone in Starling," he told the others. "We won't fail this city." And at the benefit in his speech, he told those in attendance, "The truth is I haven't done enough for this city, my city. I failed it, but I promise you I am not finished yet. I promise you that this city will be better for all of us."
Checking in with the "Lost" Odyssey. Though not much time was spent flashing back to the island, there was enough for Slade (Manu Bennett) to get in a "Gilligan's Island" reference ("If you go into the forest and gather as much bamboo as you can find, we could build ourselves a boat") and for Oliver to fix a radio enough for them to listen in on the soldiers' frequency even though they couldn't call out for help. That was when "The Odyssey" once again came into play as they overheard something about Scylla (a monster in one of the four nightmare chapters) and upon scouting out the camp, found that it was very bad news: a missile launcher that could start a war.
Now, let's take a look at what this episode meant for each character:
Oliver Queen It has been a struggle since returning from the island for Oliver to balance his duties as Arrow with his public persona and (recently) with his relationship with McKenna ("It's slim pickings for us vigilantes," he quipped when Diggle pointed out it wasn't the smartest idea to be involved with the cop hunting him down), but despite their busy lives, they've agreed to try to make it work. But while his love life may not be crumbling, his friendship with Tommy very well may be after "Dead to Rights." Tommy did have a lot of questions after finding out that his best friend has been hiding quite the secret since his return, but he only had one as they stood outside his father's hospital room. "Were you ever going to tell me?" With Oliver's "No," Tommy walked away, leaving him standing there with an expression that pretty much said it all and has to be recognized as one of the more powerful moments of the entire episode (and Stephen Amell has to be acknowledged for it).
The Merlyns This was, without a doubt, Tommy's episode, and Colin Donnell couldn't have done a more brilliant job from beginning to end. "Arrow" has shown that father/son relationships are tough, and that couldn't be more true for Tommy and Malcolm, something that this episode addressed head-on. But there were signs of changes in their future, the possibility for what Oliver didn't get the chance to do with his own father. Even without the glimpses at the Merlyns' relationship in past episodes, Tommy's reaction upon seeing his father at his birthday celebration said it all as he turned down his invitation to the benefit:" "Sometimes the people that you want there the most aren't. You taught me that. Multiple times." But despite Malcolm disappearing on Tommy for two years after his mother's death and returning cold, it seemed like he did want to make amends. "All I ever wanted for you was happiness," he told his son when he told him about the benefit, and when China White's attack began at the event, he immediately looked for Tommy. "I wasn't leaving until I knew you were safe," he said as he led him upstairs. And after he was brought to the hospital, Malcolm admitted he wasn't a good father and had been lost after losing Rebecca. But that was changing as he told Tommy, "I'm not going anywhere," and began explaining what happened to him in those two years. He had met a man who helped him find a purpose: making the city a better place for everyone, especially Tommy. Before he could tell him more, they were interrupted, but that wasn't the end and Tommy could be more open to hearing what his father has to say than Oliver after their conversation in the hall. Could what brings Malcolm and Tommy closer together be what drives Oliver and Tommy further apart?
It's because of John Barrowman that the character of Malcolm Merlyn presents a real conundrum. On the one hand, when Malcolm shows up, it generally means bad news for someone, but on the other hand, it means more John Barrowman on the screen. And that's all because of Barrowman's excellent portrayal of the character. Now, with the father/son relationship moving in a new direction with these events and questions Malcolm still needs to answer for Tommy, it means a chance to see more opportunities for Colin Donnell to stand out and more reasons to be wary when Malcolm pops up on the screen.
Moira Queen So much can be said with just one motion or one glance, and that was the case for Moira (Susanna Thompson) as her hand shook when she picked up her earring before the benefit and when she saw Tommy while Malcolm spoke. And by the end of the episode, Moira was in an even tougher position than in the beginning, with Malcolm still alive and determined to take down the traitor among them.
The vigilante team There wasn't much from Diggle, but one of the best shots of the episode was him walking away, the light in the distance, after Oliver told him about Deadshot. And as for the final member of the team, Diggle began training Felicity because he'd feel better if he knew she could handle herself with what they did. Watching their dynamic develop over recent episodes has just been a bonus of bringing her onto the team, and having her around could be just what he needs after he found out about Deadshot.
Laurel Lance And in the same episode that featured a photo of Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) and Sara with a black canary, Laurel (Katie Cassidy) received a visit from her mother, as she was on her way out the door, and Dinah (Alex Kingston) had news that couldn't be put in an email or postcard, no matter how strained things were between them: "It's about Sara. …I think she may be alive." So while Laurel didn't have much in "Dead to Rights," it introduced quite the storyline to come.
Overall grade: A. "Dead to Rights" was pretty much a perfect episode. It was fast-paced, had multiple surprises and amazing fight scenes, and was just the type of episode you would expect to see before a break (there are no new episodes of "Arrow" for a few weeks). In many cases, the timing was spot-on (including Oliver returning to the table at the Chinese restaurant and his "check, please") and that includes the amount of time spent with flashbacks to the island, and there were a number of spectacular sequences, including the shots of everyone before the benefit. Everyone in the cast brought their A game for an episode that deserved it, and with great writing from Geoff Johns and directing from Glen Winter, it should definitely top or at least be near the top of the list of best episodes of the show's first season.
"Arrow" season 1 airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW. What did you think of "Dead to Rights"?