Arrow TV Reviews

TV Review: Arrow, “The Promise” (S2/EP15) – Do We Buy Slade’s Evil Turn?

To read our other Arrow episode reviews please go here.

The Promise
“Is that any way to threaten your brother?”
  • Airdate: 3/5/2014
  • Director: Glen Winter (Smallville, Arrow)
  • Writer(s): Jake Coburn (Arrow, Gossip Girl) & Ben Sokolowski (Arrow)

Last week, Arrow took an episode to mostly pause a moment to re-assess the show’s 3 central families (the Queens, Lances, and Team Arrow) while introducing a purely motivated villain whose skillset beautifully created an interesting conflict with Felicity.  It ended with a killer cliffhanger, which we’ve had to wait a week to see pay-off but future season 2 binge-watchers will get to see immediately.  So, what did happen next after Oliver returned home to find Slade Wilson meeting with his mother in the Queen Manor den?

THE PLOT RECAP –

Guess Who’s Coming to Maybe Kill Your Family –

Slade official reason for visiting is to donate to Moira’s campaign.  Oliver is such a poor host that as soon as Moira is gone for a split second he attempts to stick a knife in Slade’s neck. Of course, Slade blocks the attack (he’s superhuman now, duh), and could very clearly snap Oliver’s neck then and there.  Instead, he’s happy to meet Thea, who gives them all a tour of the Queen family art collection throughout the mansion.

The Promise
Don’t really know if we knew this before, but Thea is a apparently huge art lover

Freaked out, Oliver calls Felicity, who, thinking he butt-dialed, places it on speaker in the Arrow Cave.  Luckily, Sara is around, hears Slade’s voice, and instantly freaks the f out.  She gathers Team Arrow to storm the mansion and protect Oliver and his family without, of course, Thea and Moira having a clue as to what’s happening.  To them, Sara and Roy just randomly show up within seconds of each other.

The Promise
With his forces gathered, Oliver politely asks Slade what he’d like to do as code for “We will kick your ass, old man”

Slade leaves cordially, probably because his own backup stops Diggle from sniping him once outside the mansion.  Plus, he pulled it off – his whole, secret plan was to tour the mansion for the purpose of placing mini-cameras everywhere.  Now, he can spy on a very large, mostly empty mansion, which Moira has now warned Oliver not to visit as often if he’s going to be so rude (but, wait, doesn’t he live there?).

Meanwhile, Back On the Island… –

Sara, Oliver, and still-friend Slade decide to burn the box containing the Mirakuru before taking over Ivo’s ship.  Wait, burn the box?  Does that sound stupid to you?  It is.  Anyway, Oliver creates a diversion and gets caught and taken to Ivo’s ship on purpose where he pretends to be affected by Ivo’s truth serum (Sara gave him an antidote).

The Promise
Ivo falls for it, and sends all of his men to the place on the ship Oliver lied in claiming Sara and Slade were hiding

Sara and Slade then literally parachute onto the ship, Slade leaving to kill the guards, Sara to free the prisoners, and Oliver to kill Ivo.  Oliver hesitates, and Ivo’s ranting about Shado is overheard by Slade, who pretty much mentally goes bye-bye, leaving just the Terminator behind.  Sara and several other prisoners escape off the ship to the island, but Slade keeps Oliver as prisoner, taking over as ship captain.  He cuts off the hand Ivo used to shoot Shado, and basically does the Bane from Dark Knight Rises thing – Oliver only has his permission to die once Slade has broken him physically, mentally, and spiritually. Oh, and also, Slade kept the stash of Mirakuru– that box Sara and Oliver burned was full of dirt.  I told you it was stupid on their part.

THE REVIEW

In the comments section one of my earlier reviews, site reader BEFASTORDONTBE said of Arrow, “It’s easy to enjoy the show despite the plot holes when the show actually has something interesting to show you.”  So, the question with “The Promise” – one of the show’s most technically accomplished episodes yet – is whether or not it was particularly interesting because boy howdy were there some serious plot holes:

  1. Would Sara and Oliver really be so stupid as to not inspect the box containing the drugs before throwing it in a fire?  At the very least, you’d think Sara wouldn’t have just blindly accepted the box from Slade without checking since she doesn’t completely trust him what with his Mirakaru-rage.  Plus, what kind of box was it?  Would it really burn in a fire?  Did they decide against simply throwing the drugs directly into the fire for safety concerns, e.g., the resulting fumes would be dangerous to inhale or something?

    The Promise
    So, when did Roy discover Sara was Canary?
  2. Roy and Canary met earlier this season, but at her Queen Manor party last episode Roy didn’t seem to know Sara was Canary.  However, here they are training together in the Arrow Cave before departing to help Oliver.  Obviously, Roy is part of the team so of course he’d find out about Sara, but that feels like something we should have seen rather than happen off-screen.
  3. So much rides on Slade’s love and anguish over Shado that it seems all the more glaring how relatively little they did to establish their connection prior to her death.

Actually, that last part isn’t really a plot hole; it’s just a serious storytelling problem.  The plot holes I found annoying, but I could deal with them when “The Promise,” particularly the Queen Manor scenes, was so perfectly tense and suspenseful.  It’s the villain’s motivation that is throwing me.

Of course, it’s not like the comic book film/TV genre is really known for giving us villains with compelling motivations.  Heck, Malcolm Merlyn’s motivation last season amounted to little more than, “What part of the dead wife card aren’t you guys getting?”  However, at least with a dead wife being the person motivating his villainous machinations there was an implied level of affection and intimacy.  As far as the show actually depicted, Slade’s dead woman was basically his buddy’s girlfriend who nursed him for a while and used her own body to warm his own on a cold night, but in a non-sexual way.  Now, all in her name he is carrying out a plan he started 5 years ago to figuratively burn everything Oliver loves to the ground, salting the Earth to ensure it never regrows. This is a seriously disproportionate response, and I’m not willing to just give it a completely free pass because the Mirakuru has somehow warped Slade’s mind.

It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode (“The Fatigues,” season 8) where Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) keeps promoting rather than firing a morbid, army fatigue-wearing, deep-voiced employee:

Later on, Elaine asks him what the heck is really up with his army fatigues and psychotic imagery only for him to surprisingly respond, “I went out with this woman on a couple of dates.  I thought she really liked me, and then things kind of cooled off.”  She gives him a spot-on “WTF!” face before asking, “That’s it?”

For me, Slade Wilson has the “That’s it?” of villain motivations, which would be fine if he was a villain of the week, but as the big bad of season 2 it kind of undermines quite a bit of what has gone down this season.  Which is interesting to me, considering that “The Promise” finally delved into Dr. Ivo’s (the continually fantastic Dylan Neal) motivation.  It’s pretty much what we’d guess – he’s doing all of this to save a sick wife, whose is either 100% passive-aggressive with him on the phone, or (more likely) has a condition which impairs her memory.  That I can buy just as I could better buy Slade’s anguish over Shado if they’d done more to establish those two.  That relationship is now the centerpiece of the villain’s plans, yet any intimacy between the two prior to her death was crucially left mostly implied rather than outright stated.

Which is all a shame because if you ignore all of that (or if you’re cool with Slade’s motivations) “The Promise” was a truly stellar episode.  The concept of the villain revealing him or herself at the hero’s home was played for brilliant tension when Glory did it on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but here Arrow took it to a whole new level by stretching out Slade Wilson’s housecall to last the entire episode as opposed to a single scene.   Granted, with this type of scenario where every line of dialogue for the hero and villain carries a hidden meaning you can possibly amuse yourself with wondering something like, “How did Thea not pick up on the obvious tension between those two?” or what must Moira have thought when Slade told Oliver he doesn’t believe in moving on after a loved one dies.  However, the way everything in Queen Manor was staged (directed/edited/choreographed/acted) was fantastic, particularly the way in which Roy, Oliver, and Sara had effectively circled Slade by the end.

In fact, there seemed to be something slightly different to the directing and cinematography in “The Promise,” with the lighting in Queen Manor and more tight shots than normal brilliantly creating a claustrophobic atmosphere.  As a result, not a single punch was thrown but when Team Arrow converged on Slade in full force it was a heroic, Rah Rah sight to behold.

The action sequences on the freighter were uniformly impressive, and Deathstroke in action was truly full-on Terminator.  This was a very flashback-heavy episode in general, but it was mostly us getting to see stuff prior episodes had already told us would happen, with some slight new twists (Sara back on the island with other escapees, Oliver left on the freighter with Slade).  The moment Slade discovered the truth about Oliver picking Sara over Shado was beyond crucial.  However, even then the present day material is what best held my attention as it presented more immediate tension, albeit tension periodically informed and enhanced by Slade’s deteriorating mental state in the flashbacks.

THE BOTTOM LINE

“The Promise” was one of Arrow‘s most tense, action/flashback-heavy episodes to date, particularly of season 2.  It changed things up with the character pairings and settings in the flashbacks, which is the show’s least compelling element.  It, arguably, didn’t really accomplish nearly as much in the present, but damn was it well-executed, Amell’s unease around Slade in Queen Manor until Sara and Roy showed up being a real standout.  As per the episode title, now that Slade has made his most public move yet in the present the show is promising us some crazy cool ramp-up between Team Arrow and Slade from this point forward until their inevitable climactic battle, presumably at season’s end.  Of course, like “The Promise,” there will probably yet more plot holes, and character motivations which give us pause.  However, also like “The Promise” then something will blow up real nice, Amell will blow us away with how he plays a scene, whichever romantic pairing we favor will have a nice moment, and we’ll just have to go with it.

THE NOTES

Thomas Flynn and Sara Lance
Thomas Flynn and Sara Lance

1. I was positive the priest/preacher with his own Mr. Jingles-esque (from the Green Mile) pet mouse was a comic book character.  For one thing, it seems like almost every random side character on Arrow has some comic book origin.  For another, they made a point of highlighting him as semi-significant new island character.  However, his name is Thomas Flynn, and I can find no trace of a DC comic book character with that name.

2. I previously argued, “Am I the only one who finds it kind of funny every time someone on this show utters the word ‘Mirakuru‘?  They’re taking it so seriously when the word literally translates to “The Miracle,” and is clearly a bogus comic book miracle drug that gives people superhuman powers.”  So, I was particularly amused this week when Oliver just cut through the BS and called it “a miracle drug” in the island flashbacks.

3. Slade is asked by Moira if he has a wife or any children, and he indicates he doesn’t.  Things may have changed since then (or he could be lying), but hadn’t he mentioned having a wife and child during island flashbacks with Oliver?

4. When Sara descended down the stairs at Queen Manor I initially misread Slade’s reaction to mean that he did not know she was still alive until that point.  Of course, he knew – he just hadn’t actually seen her yet.  He clearly seemed like he wanted to rip her throat out on the spot.

What did you think?  Like “The Promise”?  Hate it?  Love it? Let us know in the comments section.

All of the pictures used in the above review, unless otherwise noted, came from CWTV.com © 2014 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

NEXT TIME ON ARROW

8 comments

  1. With the Olympics interrupting the regular TV schedule I forget Arrow was back last week. So I watched two Arrow episodes yesterday back to back!

    “So much rides on Slade’s love and anguish over Shado that it seems all the more glaring how relatively little they did to establish their connection prior to her death.” I also wish more time was spent on their relationship. We’ve seen the injured solider falling in love with the woman who nursed him story line before but because it’s become a pivitol motivation factor it would have nice to establish that better. Having said that, Manu Bennett is doing a great job at making me believe his anguish.

    “Arrow took it to a whole new level by stretching out Slade Wilson’s housecall to last the entire episode as opposed to a single scene” – I loved the tension and the double meaning behind their conversations. I liked how Roy’s firm handshake made it clear to Slade what he’s capable of. It would be too soon for an all out fight between these heroes and villain but looks like there will be consequences to what happens next with Diggle. I’ve seen the Suicide Squad photo with Diggle as a member so I’m curious how’s that going to develop.

    1. It did occur to me that the most optimal viewing method might have simply been to watch these last two episodes back-to-back what with the way they “The Promise” picks up at the very moment the prior episode stopped. In fact, Arrow is a great binge-watch – that’s how I watched the first couple of season 1 episodes (on Hulu) when it first started, and my part-time site contributor watched the entirety of the first season over a week this past summer and now she’s struggling to get into the second season, preferring to just wait and watch a bunch in a row.

      Slade – I didn’t give Manu Bennett enough credit it in my review. Of the reviews I linked to in Second Opinions, only TV.com actually took Arrow to task on seriously dropping the ball on giving Slade a good enough reason for this twist. However, they argued that Bennett was still delivering a fantastic performance, and though they were few he did play those stolen glance moments from very early in the season enough to register as important but not too much to be bizarre and comical. Plus, although the motivation is lacking the moment he learns Oliver’s secret is played as effectively devastating for Bennett, as the show failed on the Shado front but not on how hard it has tried to establish Slade and Oliver as being almost brother-like. So, the actor is definitely up to the task. If only they’d give him a bit more to work with.

      Slade’s housecall – It’s kind of funny what people respond to. I’ve seen several others who primarily responded to the island flashback stuff in this episode, barely spending anytime discussing everything at the Queen family mansion. I guess I can see why because there was a ton of (literal) action on the island as well as the long-awaited moment where flashback Slade became the villain. However, to me the real tension and interesting character play was at that mansion. The most exciting moment – even with an exploding/crashing ship in flashbacks – for me was when Oliver, Sara, and Roy circled Slade at the mansion, and Oliver asks him, “What would you like to do now, Mr. Wilson?” It’s too early for him to answer in kind, but now I can’t wait to see those three take him on.

      I didn’t nitpick this in my review although I guess I could have, but it was a bit odd at the very end fter Slade assures Oliver that Diggle has been taken out but is still alive that once he was gone Oliver didn’t set out trying to find/contact Diggle. I figured Diggle had just been knocked out by a Brother Blood acolyte under instructions not to kill, but if you’re right and it was actually setting up the Suicide Squad ep. I too will be very curious to see how that plays out.

  2. 3. I distinctly remember early Slade saying that he had a wife and a son back home.
    4. I also thought that Slade was surprised to see Sara alive, but of course he had to know that she was alive, in Starling City and that Oliver had thrown a party for her so he should have expected to see her there. I don’t know what that look was about.

    Three more things I wondered about:
    – Does Moira find it hard to get good staff? Some of Slade’s cameras, like those on the picture frames, would be hard to catch but anyone dusting around the Queen Mansion would easily have found others.
    – Why are many of the rooms in the mansion locked up, and why doesn’t Moira have a key to them?
    – What are they trying to say about Ivo? On the one hand, they’re telling us he is doing his experiments to try to save his sick wife, on the other he was so cruel in this episode that there is no redeeming him. (I changed channels during the torture scenes, I found them off-putting and unnecessary.) I really hope he doesn’t turn out to be Felicity’s father.

    This was a wonderful episode technically and Stephen Amell was rightfully proud of the work he and the others did. But with these last bunch of episodes, I’m coming to realize that the action part of the show is what I’m least interested in. I miss the humor and the storytelling of the fall episodes, I miss what Diggle and Felicity brought to the Team and for some reason, I expected something more from the Slade/Oliver confrontation. Maybe it was the fact that they kept moving back to the flashbacks which pulled me out of the present day conflict, or maybe it was something about the way Sara/Roy/Diggle/Felicity acted but it felt less than I anticipated.

    1. I forgot to add, it’s too bad that the show has Oliver sleeping with every available woman because it would have made more sense in terms of Slade’s obsession with revenge if Shado had been sleeping with Slade and only training Oliver.

      1. By their way of thinking by having Slade never having hooked up with Shado nor having gained the chance to even properly express his feelings to her that made her death all the more tragic and his grieving that much more poignant, at least from Slade’s point of view. He’s not grieving what he had but something he never got the chance to have. Plus, Oliver’s guilt is all the more pronounced that he was instrumental in Shado’s death despite having an intimate relationship with her. I think that dynamic could actually work if they had just done way beyond one brief night scene in the wrecked plane and a bunch of stolen glances to establish Slade’s affection for Shado, even though Manu Bennett is acting the hell out of the material (I mean that in a good way). However, what you described could also work as well because it would obviously be tragic for Slade to lose his girlfriend, and Oliver could still feel guilty having kind-of, sort-of betrayed his mentor/friend.

        But that’s one thing in the comics that wasn’t there in the first season that the writers clearly wanted to correct – despite his long-lasting relationship with Black Canary, Oliver in the comics can be a bit of a playboy. So, going into this season they joked their new philosophy was that almost any female character was a potential love interest for Oliver. They weren’t lying. Thank God Thea is still his sister, albeit half-sister. I feel kind of bad for criticizing them on this point, though, because it still feels like we’ve actually seen very little of Oliver sleeping with anyone, probably lower than the CW show average. However, his number of partners does keep going up.

    2. 3. Same here. I also thought that at some point this season in the flashbacks Oliver said something to Slade like, “Do it for your son back home.” This doesn’t necessarily mean the show forgot about that. There’s no reason to completely trust what Slade says. So, for now, I have this as “that was odd” kind of thing which will only turn into a legitimate plot hole if in fact Slade’s wife and son are never again mentioned.

      4. My take on Slade’s moment with Sara at the mansion was that he was genuinely surprised to see her, and although he knew her to be alive through the papers actually being in the same room with her instantly brought up anger issues he tried to hide but his face gave away. I’ve read others argue that he was supposed to be all the more annoyed and angered by what he would see as the grave injustice of Sara and Oliver getting to be alive, happy, and in a romantic relationship all after Oliver’s choice brought about Shado’s death. So, to see them so brazenly affectionate in front of him would be a sight he wasn’t quite ready to behold.

      -Moira’s staff – that is pretty funny. I hadn’t thought of that mostly because other than the beloved family maid in the show’s pilot who got her couple of scenes with Oliver we rarely if ever see any wait staff at that mansion. You’re right, though – surely some of those cameras would get noticed.
      -Dr. Ivo has been played beautifully, I’d say, by Dylan Neal so far, but he’s pretty much just been a standard mad scientist type. It was about time we learned why he was doing what he was doing, giving him a tried-and-true comic book motivator – the dying spouse/family member. That was the Clock King’s same exact motivation last episode, just his was a sister and Ivo’s his wife. I don’t know that they were trying to say anything more than that, though. I could see where you’d think maybe he’s being set up as Felicity’s dad, but the villain from the island showing up as a surprise in the present even though Oliver thought he had died has kind of already been done with Slade. That doesn’t mean they won’t do it, but that they shouldn’t, and I hope they don’t.

      This was probably their biggest action episode of the season, and if that is not what you tune in for then this would have been a tough one to get into. Also, anyone who struggles to care about the island flashbacks would have found over half of “The Promise” as a waste of time.

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