Man, Arrow has really been hitting those CW buttons lately.
Returning from a month-long hiatus, the show wastes no time diving back into the more soapy, high drama tendencies that the network is known for. In fact, I’m almost positive that if you cut out all the superhero/action-based sequences from “Time of Death,” you’d still be left with a pretty solid “pretty white people with problems”-esque hour.
“Time of Death” picks up shortly after the events of “Heir to the Demon,” which found Oliver and Sara rekindling their old romantic flame. This news, of course, is yet another dagger to the heart for Felicity, who must now deal with the fact that her longtime crush is not only with a beautiful woman who is his physical equal but also her equal in terms of a comprehensive knowledge of technology and science. Her feelings of inadequacy are established in an early scene where she walks into the headquarters to find Oliver, Diggle and Sara sparring. And, yeah, if ever there was a quicker way to make anyone feel bad about themselves, it’s pitting a shirtless Oliver and Diggle, with their bulging muscles and scars, against the equally toned and scarred Sara. (The three even share a very humorous moment where they compare of battle scars.) Felicity’s self-loathing is only intensified when a villain named William Tockman, aka, Clock King (get it, “Tock” man? Gotta love the Golden Age stuff) begins orchestrating a series of robberies. Upon trying to hack his system, Felicity falls right into the villain’s trap, allowing him to hack into their systems and destroy the entire computer grid.
Of course, Felicity eventually redeems herself in the climax by using Tockman’s techniques against him, downloading the same program to his cell phone, thus causing it to explode and disable him. From here, we are treated to one of the season’s most adorable scenes—a wounded Felicity hopped up on Oxycodone. Now much more uninhibited than usual, Felicity directly addresses her fears to Oliver that she’s no longer “his girl,” to which Oliver gently replies that Felicity will “always be my girl.” The Oliver/Felicity shippers are going to have a field day with that one….
Meanwhile, Oliver and Sara are still trying to figure out how to handle their new romance, especially with Laurel being in the state she’s in. Also, lest we forget, Oliver is still giving his mother the silent treatment after discovering her lies about Thea’s real father. The complications of this secret estrangement soon becomes problematic when Thea begins noticing the clear tension between the two and tries to find out what’s wrong. Considering how much time the family will have to spend together in the wake of the election, I reckon it’s only a matter of time before the truth comes to light. And, speaking of the truth coming to light, the proverbial cat comes flying out of the bag when Oliver ends up attending a Laurel family dinner and an unstable Laurel quickly realizes that the two are back together. Needless to say, dramatic yelling ensues.
If it feels like I’m giving preference to the episode’s non-superhero plotlines, it’s only because the episode clearly chooses to emphasize it. Despite a fairly fantastic performance from Prison Break’s Robert Knepper as Clock King, the storyline ends up feeling fairly generic and underdeveloped. Halfway through the episode, we learn that not only is Tockman suffering from a deadly disease, but also he’s stealing money to help his cystic fibrosis-afflicted sister. And by “learn” I mean that we’re told so because Felicity and Sara dig up dirt on him. We’re never treated to a scene of Tockman interacting with his sister or even mentioning her until the final confrontation. Ultimately, Tockman is an interesting villain who feels like he’s had his potential squandered in order to make room for Dynasty-level melodrama.
This focus on relationships, however, leads to one of the more powerful scenes in the season so far. After Laurel has made a scene at dinner and walked into the hallway, Oliver goes to confront her. Rather than being his usual compassionate self, however, Oliver turns the tables on Laurel and delivers some cold, hard truths. “I’m done taking the blame,” he says. “Go out. Get wasted. I’ll pay for it … I have loved you for half my life, but I’m done running after you.”
While Stephen Amell is not typically asked to do much more than brood and kick ass, these moments of quiet intensity show how he can rise to the acting challenge when given some good material to munch on. It’s a brutal monologue, but Amell delivers it in such a way that you never feel as though he’s being overly mean or condescending to Laurel.
In the wake of this, Laurel finally swallows her pride, reconnects with Sara and begins attending AA meetings. It’s a somewhat abrupt end to a long-running storyline that felt like it was moving towards something a bit more substantial. Yet, considering how many plotlines the writers have to resolve in the next batch of episodes, it’s probably good they have one less to concern themselves with.
Island-wise, Oliver, Slade and Sara must watch as a potential rescue plane is shot down over the Island. Sara comforts the dying pilot, who tells her that he will be leaving behind a daughter. Eventually, the pilot succumbs to his injuries, and Sara ends up keeping the small picture of the daughter that the man was carrying around. From here, it’s very much hinted that Sin is the orphaned child, which explains why Sara ended up trusting her as a confidante when she made her way to Starling City. Honestly, with a title like “Time of Death,” a part of me was hoping that the titular death would involve someone besides a one-off character. Then again, I’m sure if the writers ever decided to kill off a main character, they certainly wouldn’t telegraph it in the title.
Compared to recent episodes of Arrow, which were brimming with subplots, “Time of Death” comes across as a bit more streamlined and simplistic. And, though it signals several significant steps in the season-long arc, including the beginning of Laurel’s recovery and the last-minute encounter between a present-day Oliver and Slade Wilson, it can’t help but feel a bit like the writers trying to bide their time until the next big climax. Granted, such fodder would be nearly impossible to avoid with a (I presume) 24-episode order, and it’s to the credit of the episode’s writers and director that this installment still manages to feel every bit as fun and watchable as previous stories. As I said in an earlier review, the writers are simply now beholden to the higher expectations that they have established. There are certainly worse problems to have.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.