Stars: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Paul Blackthorne, Colin Donnell, Susanna Thompson, Colin Salmon, Willa Holland, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, John Barrowman
Writer: Geoff Johns
Director: Glen Winter
Network: The CW, airs Wednesday Nights
Original Telecast: February 27, 2013
“Dead to Rights” is another action-filled ARROW episode, but its most engaging scene is action-free. Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) takes his best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) out for Chinese food and the two of them discuss whether or not Tommy will attend an awards ceremony in honor of his estranged dad, Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman). This scene was moving in an unexpected and impressive way.
To say that Oliver and Tommy have mixed feelings about their fathers would be an understatement. Before committing suicide, Oliver’s father was involved in an extensive criminal conspiracy that he guilt-tripped his son into engaging in mortal combat against, pretty much ruining any chance Oliver would have of a normal life. Tommy’s father became a ghost after a street criminal murdered Tommy’s mother when he was eight. And unbeknownst to Tommy, Malcolm Merlyn is now the head of the same criminal conspiracy that consumed Oliver’s dad, and while Malcolm spent decades ignoring his parental duties, he was also plotting to kill thousands of innocents as part of an as-yet unexplained plot to “clean up” Starling City. Neither of these fathers deserves an award.
And yet, at the restaurant, Oliver explains to Tommy that, despite his misgivings: “Your dad is… your dad.” Oliver wants Tommy to go to his father’s ceremony in hopes of repairing their fractured relationship, which Oliver will never be able to do with his own father. And his plea is effective; Tommy relents and agrees to go to the ceremony. This makes this scene especially tragic, since we know Tommy’s dad is actually a murderous criminal and not worth the emotional investment Oliver wants Tommy to make in him. But there’s a terrible reflex that does not allow a child to believe the worst about their obviously selfish, unfit parents, and it betrays them both here.
To fulfill his own father’s final wish, (to “right my wrongs”), Oliver has had to lie to nearly everyone he cares about. He’s even lying to Tommy right then and there. Oliver didn’t choose that restaurant because he likes the dumplings. Oliver knows that The Jade Dragon is also a front for the Chinese Mafia, and he’s actually on a reconnaissance mission to find out why that organization had purchased the services of a deadly contract killer that Oliver (in his role as the hooded vigilante) killed earlier. Oliver beats information out of some Triad goons after telling Tommy he’s stepping out to use the bathroom in the brief action sequence that immediately follows their heavy conversation.
The rest of “Dead to Rights” is spent building ominously to what we’re lead to believe will be a tragic conclusion to the awards ceremony. Oliver’s mother, Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) knows what Malcolm Merlyn’s truly is, and has hired the Chinese Mafia to kill him while he’s receiving his award. The slow, tense build up to this assassination attempt is very effective, and while the conclusion isn’t as tragic as it initially seems it will be, (I was getting a feeling that Tommy was going to take the bullet meant for his dad), ARROW keeps the suspense going up until the very end, and the fall-out from “Dead to Rights” does fundamentally change things for everybody in a satisfying way.
Some other observations about this episode:
- ARROW finally started bringing back some of its recurring villains this week. China White (Kelly Hu) has already made multiple appearances, but this is the first time since “Lone Gunman” (episode 3) that we’ve seen Deadshot (Michael Rowe), who is the new assassin contracted by China White to shoot Malcolm Merlyn. China White gives Deadshot some kind of (convenient) electronic eye thing to restore his ability to aim, since he apparently lost an eye in his last battle with the hooded vigilante. Deadshot isn’t much of a character still, but China White is getting a little stronger and makes up for it. There’s a nice visual gag when we see her infiltrating the awards ceremony with black hair, presumably having taken off the white fright wig that’s part of her super-villain costume. But later, when the knives come out and she needs to fight the Hooded Vigilante, we see her remove her black hair, because that was the wig.
- There’s a nice, suspense-building moment during the award presentation when Moira, while watching Malcolm at the podium and anticipating his imminent murder, is horrified to see Tommy in the audience, and realizes she’ll now be killing this man in front of his son. Of course, that’s not enough to make her call the thing off, either.
- Dinah Lance (Alex Kingston), the mother of Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) shows up for the first time this week to tease the audience with the idea that Laurel’s sister (and Oliver’s ex) Sarah may still be alive. Since we don’t know anything about Sarah or what might have actually happened to her, it appears that the only thing that her arrival would bring to ARROW is a new complication in Oliver’s already complicated romantic life. But I can’t say I’m looking forward to that particular development by itself, so the revelation that she might be alive didn’t do anything for me. Hopefully if Sarah is alive she has something besides this to bring to the table.
- ARROW has a character take another out-of-the-blue jab at a random pop culture target this week, and this time it’s the band FALL-OUT BOY that emerges with a bloody nose. (I have no idea who ARROW will be throwing elbows at next week, but for some reason my money is on the 90’s sitcom FAMILY MATTERS).
So, all in all, “Dead to Rights” was one of ARROW’s strongest episodes to date. All of its conflict and violence arose between friends and family members who are hiding deadly secrets from one another, which gave it an emotional heft that many previous episodes did not have. It also helped build a sense of growing dread for the time when those secrets are finally revealed. Let’s hope ARROW continues down this path in the coming weeks as well.
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Article: TV Review: ARROW – Season 1 – “Dead to Rights”