This week’s Arrow opens with Oliver stringing a bad guy upside down and forcibly interrogating him with his modified gruff voice. Honestly, any second I expected Oliver to straight out scream, “Swear to me!” (I promise that’s my last Nolan-Batman reference.)
In any case, Arrow returns to the air after its fantastic mid-season finale that saw the reveal of Slade as a Big Bad, the accident that will turn Barry Allen into The Flash and—most importantly (to Green Arrow fans, at least)—the introduction of Oliver’s Arrow mask.
As the episode opens, Oliver is still hot on the trail of Brother Blood (or, as he only knows him, the “Man with the Skull Mask”). His ongoing investigation, however, is interrupted when an anti-government terrorist codenamed Shrapnel (Sean Maher, who—after Summer Glau—marks the second Firefly alum to appear on the show) begins setting off explosions across Starling City.
Cue the return of Felicity Smoak, who has been visiting a comatose Barry as he recovers in a Central City hospital. Though Felicity and Oliver exchange polite pleasantries at first, their reunion soon hits a sour note when Felicity loses track of the bomber during a chase and Oliver chides her being off her game. What’s more, he cites her concern for Barry as the reason for her clouded judgment. Here’s where I felt the episode went slightly off the rails. Though it’s been established that Oliver’s obsessive nature can occasionally result in him acting uncaring and insensitive, his extreme reaction suggests something deeper. The obvious answer would be that Oliver is jealous of Felicity and Barry’s relationship.
If you recall, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the reveal earlier this season that Felicity was nursing an unrequited crush on Oliver. It felt like a shorthand attempt by the writers to elevate the character beyond computer expert/comic relief. Considering how many women and relationship issues Oliver has balanced over the course of only two seasons—Laurel, Sara, Shado, Huntress and, in a one night stand, Isabel Rochev—I was hoping that his team could serve as an effective neutral ground for that kind of business. As I write this, I am aware that this is a show that airs on the CW, a channel that has staked its claim on attractive individuals hooking up and then having obstacles thrown between them. (To be clear, as a Vampire Diaries fan, I have absolutely no issue with this model.) Nevertheless, shoehorning in sexual tension between the two seems like a bit of overkill when you have a man literally detonating bombs around the city. That should be enough excitement right there.
Elsewhere, Roy Harper is still haunted by what was done to him at Brother Blood’s hideout. Though Thea jokes that he’s just as brooding as ever, it’s clear that something is changing in him. This become all the more apparent when a sharp shard of falling glass barely injures him and, later on, he is able to block a rigging tower from falling on Moira using only his back. I’m not entirely sure where the writers will take this plotline (Roy’s gaining abilities that will help him become Oliver’s sidekick?), but I’m intrigued by the possibilities.
This week’s Island flashbacks mainly serve to highlight the crazed, angry villain that Slade will later become. Newly rejuvenated from the Mirakuru serum, he displays a newfound temper that quickly escalates to violence—as when he grabs and lifts Oliver by the throat during an argument, nearly choking him to death in the process. It’s not hard to believe, once he learns that Oliver is partially responsible for Shado’s death, that he will turn on our hero in the most extreme way.
Perhaps the most surprising element of “Blast Radius,” however, concerns the use of Laurel. As I’ve stated in earlier reviews, Laurel always seems to be the weak link of the show. The writers never seem entirely sure—outside of instigating love triangles or acting as the damsel in distress—what to do with her character. It’s become all the more apparent this season, when they flat out wrote her out of several episodes. Granted, her discovery only solidifies what we’ve known for the past few weeks—Sebastian is evil and can’t be trusted—but the very notion that it’s Laurel who stumbles upon this knowledge gives her an active role in the proceedings. For once in the entire history of the show, she actually now knows more than either Oliver or her father.
In spite of its positive merits, “Blast Radius” sits as a somewhat minor Arrow episode. Part of that, however, might simply stem from the fact that this is the first episode after a lengthy winter break, and my unrealistic expectations were perhaps clouding my immediate judgment. Personal issues aside, it’s still a fun, engaging hour that just so happens to fall within a season that has been (for the most part) uniformly excellent. And while I feel bad ragging on an episode simply because it wasn’t great, it makes me happy to realize that the writers have succeeded in setting such high standards for the show. Who would have thought a show about a ripped young billionaire who shoots arrows at villains would have engendered such strong feelings?