Arrow: “Guilty”

(Episode 3.06)

TV Reviews
Arrow: “Guilty”

Well, this was bound to happen eventually. After roughly a season and a half of consistently solid, if occasionally uneven, installments, Arrow hits its first dud with “Guilty.” On the brighter side, considering how many episodes the show must churn out every year, it’s very indicative of the creative team’s skills that this doesn’t happen more often.

It occurred to me while watching the episode that the notion of Roy (possibly) being Sara’s killer was shocking to me primarily because I haven’t really thought much about Roy this season. In the wake of his separation from Thea, Roy has sort of become this weird extra body in what I still very much consider the Team Arrow Trifecta of Oliver, Diggle and Felicity. Ultimately, however, even that dramatic turn is squashed by the episode’s end, leaving us with a heavy-handed attempt at paralleling Oliver and Roy’s strained relationship with a similar dynamic between a couple of thinly drawn supporting characters.

The episode begins with Oliver invading a den of criminals only to discover them all dead, and hung from the ceiling. He quickly puts together that there’s another vigilante out there who, unlike him, has no moral boundaries. Oliver soon finds a suspect in Ted Grant, Laurel’s trainer/new mentor. Apparently, at another point in time, Ted also moonlighted as a vigilante—going as far as to beat a drug dealer to death (a point that Oliver frequently emphasizes throughout the episode). Ted admits to regretting his past, but claims that someone is setting up the crime scenes to look like his handiwork.

Indeed, the real culprit behind this spree is Isaac Stanzler, Ted’s former crime-fighting partner. Apparently the relationship went sour and, while Ted retired his lifestyle, Isaac appears to have gone to the other extreme.

Rather than this being an issue of good vs. bad vigilantism (a topic that was sufficiently covered in previous seasons), the writers clearly want to draw major parallels between the Oliver/Roy and Ted/Isaac dynamic. There’s even a scene late in the episode’s climax when Isaac makes a comment to Roy about how Oliver will use him, and eventually abandon him. Of course, it’s a logical way to structure the hour, but it doesn’t really have the intended impact precisely because Oliver and Roy have not had much of a relationship this season. The one major potential conflict they’ve faced is Roy lying about Thea’s whereabouts, and that didn’t end up affecting them much at all.

Not helping matters is the fact that the actor playing Isaac—I hate to say it—is also not very convincing. I rarely like commenting on actors’ performances, since so much of the final result is based on writing and the director choosing the right takes, but there’s something so stilted about his portrayal. Even in a show as pulpy as Arrow, where there’s a bit of leniency when it comes to performances, the actor’s choices are a bit odd. Line readings alternate between monotone and angry, and his facial expressions often seem out of touch with the lines he’s saying at the time. Again, it may not be his fault, but it doesn’t do the episodes any favors.

Likewise, the revelation that Roy was not responsible for Sara’s murder—rather, the dreams resulted from a suppressed memory of killing an unlucky policeman during a Mirakuru blackout last season—comes with its own problematic set of issues. Besides general convenience, Oliver’s cover-up of this incident seems incredibly hypocritical. So it’s okay for Roy to unwittingly murder a police officer (who, I might add, probably had a family of his own), but him killing Sara, while in the same mental state, would have resulted in banishment from the team? I know Sara obviously meant more to the team but, damn, that’s cold.

Then there’s the Hong Kong material, which continues to feel as extraneous as certain Island flashbacks from Season One. Here’s hoping the writers eventually develop a purpose, like what they eventually found with those Island mini-entries. That’s not to say there’s not notable stuff here, most notably an exchange where Oliver’s handler claims Waller doesn’t want him to kill a target, to which Oliver responds, “That’s refreshing.”

Also, Cupid makes a cameo at the end of the episode when she ends up killing Isaac. I can just picture the Green Arrow comic book fans jumping up and down in excitement while the more casual fans scrunch their face in confusion…

“Guilty” marks a low-point for the season that will hopefully be rectified in the coming weeks. Given how quickly the show shoots through stories, I imagine we’ll be moving on to more interesting plotlines, before the mid-series finale hits.

Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.

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