Arrow 5×16 Review: 'Checkmate'

Perhaps the most difficult thing that anyone can do in life is admitting that they’re wrong. Even when they know they’re wrong; even when they know that people know they’re wrong. It might sound like the simplest thing in the world, but it’s never easy owning up to a screw-up.

But it has to be done. And Arrow has to do it.

There has been a trend of these superhero shows owning up to their mistakes and redeeming themselves – if not setting themselves on the path to redemption. From The Flash to Supergirl to Legends of Tomorrow, there has been recognition of what was wrong and there has been an active

While Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow are both two shows that I enjoy immensely this season, that was not the case last year. I did enjoy Supergirl, but it didn’t have as great a grip on itself as it does now. There’s obviously been an intent to focus on the things that make Supergirl successful: focusing on the characters, the strong moral lessons, exploring character dynamics that make sense, and bringing in new faces that actually add to the narrative in a positive way.

Legends of Tomorrow, on the other hand, was a show that was all over the place in its freshman season. And do you want to know the best part? Executive producer Marc Guggenheim actually admitted that they screwed up. Now, he didn’t call the first season a disaster, but he did recognize that they got lost in their own narrative.

And you want to know the next best part? They actually did something about it. They fixed it. And it’s working. So damn well. Legends of Tomorrow actually feels like a new show.

It’s been weird for me to watch Arrow and The Flash struggle this season with its own identity, which includes the questionable heroism of its heroes. More than anything it’s been frustrating because these are two heroes that we’ve gotten to spend the most time with, and we’ve witnessed their journeys to becoming the heroes we know they can be, and we’ve watched as they became something other than themselves.

Interestingly enough, The Flash took the first steps to redeeming itself and Barry Allen in its latest installment, “Into the Speed Force.” The most important thing that it did? It admitted that it was wrong – well, as close as a show can come to admitting they were wrong.

The Speed Force acted as this divine force that sounded more like the people, including myself, who have held Barry Allen accountable for his selfish decisions this season. Those same people, myself included, are the same people holding Oliver Queen accountable for his mistakes.

Then, The Flash showed its hero choosing to accept the consequences for his decisions. Basically, Barry Allen actually took ownership of what he did and subjected himself to the consequences that should come to him for creating Flashpoint. It was like my prayers had been answered. Finally, Barry Allen was set back on his path to redemption.

I wrote it in my The Flash review (which you can read here), and I’ll say it again: I need Arrow to deliver a similar episode where Oliver is forced to confront similar circumstances. Obviously, it’s not going to be in the Speed Force. Obviously it’s not going to be the Speed Force reminding him of his mistakes. But perhaps Oliver’s abduction is leading to this divine moment of intervention.

Here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter how far gone these heroes get. Redemption is never an impossibility. It’s always attainable. But it’s something that our heroes need to fight for. They need to do one of the hardest things in the world – both for heroes and us normal people. They need to admit that they made a mistake.

Oliver Queen has been virtually unrecognizable this season. For a hero whose heroic journey is supposed to be coming full circle this season the hero has gone missing.

But if there’s anything that Oliver Queen has proven over the course of five seasons, it’s that he’s capable of redemption. If there’s a show that has preached the theme of redemption, it’s been Arrow. So it’s entirely possible.

Call me an optimist or just someone that is feeling encouraged another superhero show’s accountability, but I believe that Arrow is capable of that redemption.

It’s not something that’s going to be immediate. I’m not expecting everything to be fixed in a single episode. That’s not only unrealistic but impossible. But what I do expect – hopefully sometime soon – is indication that Arrow is working toward that redemption for Oliver Queen and this show.

Arrow needs to show me that it’s working towards that. Then I might rediscover my belief in this show and be reminded of this redemption that Arrow has always delivered.

Your move, Arrow.

Let’s break down Arrow’s latest hour, “Checkmate,” which quite frankly didn’t anger me so much as it bored me.

Thanks For the Abduction

You know things have gotten bad when your hero deserves abduction. More than that, when a portion of the audience approves of said abduction. But there are good reasons why this (hopefully) will turn out to be a great thing.

In a weird way I find myself rooting for Prometheus. Not only because I find him incredibly intriguing (which I do) but because our hero is no longer the hero. Oliver has become the villain of his own story, and at this point I won’t hide the fact that I take great satisfaction in watching Prometheus give it right back to Oliver. I find myself sympathizing with Prometheus than Oliver.

Do you see the problem?

There are a lot of reasons why I believe that Oliver being abducted could be a really good thing. Perhaps this could be the beginning of Oliver’s redemption as a character? We’ve seen a very uncharacteristic version of Oliver that appears to have been abducted by the Dominators episodes before they did it the first time.

Oliver needs a swift kick in the ass. He needs a reminder of the person he used to be. Somewhere along the way – through this Prometheus garbage and mayoral stuff – he’s lost himself. He’s chosen a woman he met five minutes ago over his sister and the love of his life (Felicity.) He made no attempt to protect his Green Arrow identity a secret from this reporter (when red flags should’ve been waving all over the place.)

I don’t recognize this character.

So from what I understand, Prometheus and Talia al Ghul abducting Oliver is supposed to do more harm than good. But I’m thinking (praying at this point) that the opposite proves to be true. That in isolating Oliver, wearing him down, throwing crap in his face that this will reawaken the Oliver that has been dormant this season.

Isolation – when Oliver isn’t being tortured, that is – could be a very good thing. It gives one time with one’s thoughts. It forces you to think about the person you are, the people that matter most to you, the important things. Oliver really hasn’t focused on the important things in his life this season.

Honestly, I’m looking forward to this next flashback-heavy episode if only because I’m looking forward to watching Prometheus break Oliver down and see if this is the moment that Oliver begins to fight back.

Felicity’s Motivation With Helix

When it comes understanding a person’s motivation you have to understand the person. So while it half annoys me and half joys me that Felicity’s motivation in her involvement with Helix is Oliver, it makes sense because that’s whom Felicity is.

Felicity Smoak is a strong, empowering, caring woman who would fight to the ends of the world to protect those that she loves. That’s never been a secret. It’s never something that she should ever apologize for. It’s what makes Felicity, Felicity.

While I set out hoping that Helix wouldn’t stray to somehow be focused on Oliver, the thing I’ve realized is that it’s still about Felicity it just happens to involve her feelings towards her loved ones – and Oliver is one of those loved ones.

The closer you look, the more you begin to see what brought Felicity’s descent into Helix on (besides all of the pain that she’s endured for the past year, which was the driving force.)

What began Felicity’s spiral into Helix? Diggle.

What’s continuing Felicity’s spiral with Helix? Oliver.

The most important people in Felicity’s life have been in danger in some way – whether it was with Diggle being incarcerated or Oliver in more ways than one. Felicity has always fought to protect these two men because she’s just that damn amazing. Even when some people (*cough* Oliver *cough*) don’t deserve it, Felicity will always do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of those that she loves.

And as if she wasn’t already helping Oliver before, things have gotten a little more drastic now that Oliver has been abducted. We already saw Felicity’s immediate urgency when it came to using Helix’s resources as a means to get any lead as to where Oliver was being held. There’s nothing that’ll stop her from saving Oliver. And let’s be honest, we all know damn well she’s the only one that can do it because she’s the only one who’s been able to do anything at this present moment.

Prometheus’ Endgame?

I don’t know if I’m supposed to like the Big Bad as much as I’m starting to like Prometheus. Sure, it definitely has to do with the fact that Oliver is acting like an idiot and Prometheus is against him. But it also has to do with the potential of his ultimate “endgame” and how it plays out.

Prometheus is someone who has already proven that he is intelligent in more ways than one. This is something he’s been planning for some time, and he’s so well-versed in it that he remains 10 steps ahead even when Oliver begins to think he has the upper hand on him.

The guy is good.

But ultimately I’m beginning to wonder what Prometheus’ endgame is? And I’m not just talking about how he envisions this ending – because honestly I think he just wants to keep destroying Oliver’s life until Prometheus is killed or Oliver is killed. I also want to know if there’s a “grand final act” that Prometheus has up his sleeve that might serve to drop our jaws and our hearts?

Here’s the thing, I’m having a hard time believing Prometheus is so smart when he likened Susan’s importance in Oliver’s life to that of his deceased mother, best friend, and childhood friend. Susan is in no way as important as Moira, Tommy, and Laurel. She’s not even as important as the ink stain on my jeans.

So why has Prometheus gone through all of this trouble to use Susan as leverage? Was it because the writers forced him, much like Oliver, to believe that this useless reporter actually means something? Or was this misdirection on Prometheus’ part as he looks to the future and the more important targets such as Felicity, Diggle, and the off-screen Thea?

I’m really praying for the latter because I’d hate for an intelligent villain like Prometheus to be cheapened by some choppy writing on the Susan front. But also because it would make sense. It would show just how good a game of manipulation that Prometheus can play.

I am so ready to watch how this plays out.

Six Things

  1. Was anyone else actually relieved that Prometheus had Oliver kidnapped? Because at this point I feel like Oliver needs to get the shit kicked out of him. Sometimes you need to smacked around a little bit to remember who you are. And God, if anyone needs that right now it’s Ollie Queen.
  1. Why am I not surprised that Felicity making deals with Helix revolves around Oliver? Don’t get me wrong, I understand that that is the kind of person Felicity is – that she is willing to go to extremes to protect those she loves. But at the same time, this version of Oliver is not worth it.
  1. Dare I say it – but Oliver and Felicity actually had a good conversation. I’ve gotten so used to these conversations where Felicity is apologizing for no reason or Oliver is going to Felicity for relationship advice that I nearly forgot what these conversations were like. Oliver told Felicity that he was “worried.” Not about Susan but about Felicity. He showed a genuine concern that reminded me that that is the real Oliver. So why are we keeping him bottled up?
  1. Does Prometheus actually believe that Oliver’s feelings for Susan rival that of his feelings for Moira, Tommy, and Laurel? I’m just saying. Yet alone people that are still at Prometheus’ disposal, like Felicity and Diggle? I know Arrow has wanted us to give a damn about Susan (they try to get us to feel that way every episode). But isn’t Prometheus supposed to be smart? Doesn’t he know that Susan is the last way to get to Oliver?
  1. I’m currently Team Prometheus/Talia when it comes to taking on Oliver. It’s pretty sad when I feel more of a connection to the villains than I do to our supposed hero. I’m hoping that Arrow eventually finds a way to fix that. But for now, I’m Team Bad Guys.
  1. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I have to say that Prometheus is turning out to be a villain that I’m intrigued with. Like – gasp – I actually like him. A lot of that has to do with Josh Segarra’s portrayal as he’s blending this scary calm demeanor with the craziness that he lets out when needed.

Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.