Warning: This is a recap and contains spoilers, so do not read this until you have watched the episode. For information on how to watch it, click here.
The double cliff-hangers of last episode left us in no doubt as to what to expect from Episode 11, with the teased introduction of not one, but two new female characters – namely, an all-new Black Canary and the eagerly awaited appearance of Batman villain Talia al Ghul. The surprise is just how tightly the show ties those two elements together, using both introductions as an opportunity for some intriguing course correction.
In tribute to just how enormously the flashback sequences have improved on Arrow, let’s start off with them. As we saw in the cliff-hanger, Talia al Ghul (Lexa Doig) shows up and tells Oliver she’s been looking for him. After helping him exert violent revenge on various Russian mobsters – including a bit, offscreen, where Oliver savagely beats a man to death with the butt of his gun and emerges covered in blood – Talia takes Oliver to task over his father’s list, chastising him for wasting his time since leaving Lian Yu, when he’s got a perfectly good revenge quest to be getting on with.
The clever side to Talia’s argument is that it also applies to the show itself, effectively copping to the fact that the two previous seasons’ worth of flashbacks (Hong Kong, Lian Yu again) were extremely disappointing and a waste of everyone’s time. In fact, it reads like Talia coming in and going: “Okay, everyone, look, we’ve only got 11 more episodes this season before we catch up to Season 1, Episode 1, so let’s get a move on – somebody get this man a Hood costume.” And that’s pretty much what happens: Talia gives Oliver a great speech about how he has to “give the monster a name” (referring to his savagery) and “become something else” (tying in with the opening narration to each episode), at which point she hands him Yao Fe’s hunting outfit (not quite sure where she got that from, but let’s move on). Then, we finally get a moment that Arrow fans have been waiting for: Oliver donning the Green Arrow costume for the very first time and Talia offering to train him.
Speaking of which, is it possible that Talia is going to turn out to be Prometheus, out of revenge for Oliver killing her father? That would make a lot more sense than anything we’ve seen so far, although why bother with a disguise? Whatever happens, it seems certain that Talia will be making an appearance in the present day scenes in some form before the end of the season.
Meanwhile, in the present day sequences, Oliver is applying lessons he learned the hard way with Talia to his recruitment of the new Black Canary (Juliana Harkavy), also known as former Central City police officer Tina Boland. The opening of the episode gives us Tina’s origin story – vicious gangster Sean Sonus (Steve Bacic) kills her partner (as in both colleague and lover) in front of her, just as the particle accelerator explodes, giving both Tina and Sean meta-human powers. And since Tina is screaming in anguish at that exact moment, hey presto, that’s how she gets her sonic scream powers that just happen to be exactly the same as that gizmo Cisco knocked up for Laurel.
So, Team Arrow discover Tina’s existence and reach out to her, but she’s only interested in one thing: enacting violent, bloody revenge on the man who killed her partner. Oliver agrees to help her bring Sonus to justice if she’ll hear him out on the idea of becoming part of the team. This leads to some fun sequences of Team Arrow fighting Sonus, who has a sort of vertigo-inducing power that’s handled quite nicely on screen with weird camera angles and so on.
The most interesting moment of the episode occurs when Tina comes face to face with Sonus and is about to kill him. Oliver gives her the “Don’t murder him, you’re better than that” speech we’ve all heard a million times before… but she ignores it and kills him anyway. (Maybe Oliver shouldn’t have asked her what her dead partner would want her to do, without actually knowing what sort of person her dead partner was. Turns out, he’d be totally fine with it.) This is intriguing, because those scenes almost always go the other way on TV. What’s really surprising is that this action doesn’t immediately mark out Tina as a wrong’un who needs to be punished by the end of the episode. Instead, it ties in with things that Oliver has had to learn the hard way, about the emptiness of vengeance. It’s a neat link to the flashbacks too, which have Oliver right at the beginning of his path, heading towards that lesson.
Sure enough, after discovering that the sleepless nights don’t magically disappear once you’ve straight-up murdered your partner’s killer, Tina shows up at Oliver’s office – oh, right, he revealed his secret identity in a bid to get her to trust him – and asks to join Team Arrow. Second chances, you see?
Up until this point, you could be forgiven for thinking Oliver was going to abandon this all-new Black Canary idea, but no, apparently not. The kicker comes when she reveals that Tina Boland was actually her undercover name and that her real name is Dinah Drake, which, as all good comics fans know, is the name of the Golden Age Black Canary in the comics. So buckle up, Arrow fans, Dinah Drake is here to stay.
As for Felicity, she gets her own intriguing new plot direction, when she pops onto the Dark Web, intending to find something to help get Diggle out of jail, and is contacted by a hacker named Kojo Sledgehammer (Kacey Rohl from Hannibal). In a nice casting touch, Kojo doesn’t look like your average grungy TV hacker and instead seems like a normally dressed, slightly geeky young woman, who fan-girls a bit over Felicity, saying she was a hero of hers back in her hacktivist phase. (Rory’s bemused reactions to Felicity talking about her Goth phase are the icing on the cake.) Anyway, Kojo tells Felicity she’s part of a group called Helix and she gives her a flash drive she nicknames Pandora’s Box, which apparently has all kinds of crazy stuff on it and will no doubt be Important For Later. Felicity certainly seems all fired up about it.
It will be interesting to see where this particular plot takes Felicity, but one thing is clear – she’s a vastly more interesting character when she’s off doing her own thing, freed from having to take orders from Oliver or react to whatever the rest of Team Arrow are up to. For the moment, though, Pandora’s Box has an immediate purpose, in that Felicity uses it to get Diggle out of jail. (Really, Diggle’s in and out of jail so often at the moment that someone’s going to nickname him “Yo-yo” if he’s not careful.)
All in all, this is one of Season 5’s most enjoyable episodes to date, with some promising new plot elements and a certain amount of course correction, both in streamlining the flashbacks and drawing a line under the Laurel Lance business after last episode. It also has some quality action sequences, particularly the bit where Oliver attaches himself to a helicopter and flies around a rooftop whacking bad guys. Come back next week when Team Arrow take a day trip to Russia!
Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
– Gimmick Arrow Watch: Exploding arrow! Or Oliver just got really lucky when he shot at that helicopter.
– Still no Quentin and Thea. We hope they get let out of the plot cupboard soon – Arrow just isn’t the same without them.
– Talia hasn’t revealed her surname to Oliver (or the audience) yet, which is probably just as well, as the writers are going to have a job explaining why he didn’t know who Ra’s al Ghul was back in Season 3 otherwise. Maybe he’ll put it all together when she turns out to be Prometheus.
– We’re a little undecided on New Canary so far, but we like her “costume warehouse fire sale” line about Oliver and company’s superhero outfits. Lord knows Arrow can use more sass and Dinah seems to have it in spades.
– Another nice little moment – Oliver’s disgusted reaction to Rene eating massive burgers. What’s the matter, Oliver? Don’t you like food?
– We also get an odd little cameo from The Flash’s Captain Singh (Patrick Sabongui), when Oliver phones him up for information and The Flash whizzes in (red blur only, no Barry) to confirm Oliver is legit. This is part of a couple of similar crossover moments on the other CW shows this week, the best of which had Cisco and Gypsy vibing in and out of Supergirl’s Earth 2 on The Flash.
Arrow Season 5 is available to buy and download on pay-per-view VOD.