Stars: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Paul Blackthorne, Colin Donnell, Susanna Thompson, Colin Salmon, Willa Holland, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, John Barrowman, Manu Bennett
Writer: Bryan Q. Miller & Lindsey Allen
Director: Michael Offer
Network: The CW, airs Wednesday Nights
Original Telecast: April 3, 2013
This week’s episode of ARROW doesn’t bludgeon us with unrelenting bleakness the way last week’s did. In fact, “Unfinished Business” is a fairly slight episode overall, and most of it doesn’t leave much of an impression. But one thing it did do quite well is continue the difficult conversation it began earlier about the appropriate level of comfort Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) should feel when killing people with arrows while dressed up as his hooded vigilante alter ego. And it’s a conversation I’m frankly surprised ARROW’s creators want its characters to continue, since it has the potential to undermine the premise of their vigilante show. So while I wasn’t thrilled with this week’s episode, I was kind of proud of it.
“Unfinished Business” opens with a hopping dance floor at “Verdant,” the nightclub Oliver owns and his best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) manages. But there’s trouble in party central as one of Verdant’s club-goers, clearly tripping out of her mind, wanders into traffic and is killed by a car. The authorities, in the form of Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) are suddenly very concerned that the deadly street drug “vertigo” has returned to Starling City’s party circuit, and Det. Lance immediately puts the heat on Tommy to find out whether he’s the one who put vertigo on Verdant’s menu. Since Tommy is dating Det. Lance’s daughter, Laurel (Katie Cassidy), this is obviously a difficult line of investigation for him to pursue, but he knows he’s completely justified in doing it, and, ultimately, so does Laurel.
Oliver and his partners in vigilantism, John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), are on the vertigo case as well, and Oliver suspects the villain known as “The Count,” (Seth Gabel) who created vertigo, then suffered a mind-altering overdose of his own drug a few episodes back, is somehow responsible, despite being currently locked in an insane asylum. Diggle’s mind, however, is elsewhere. After learning that “Deadshot” (Michael Rowe), the super assassin who killed his brother, is still alive and committing murders for hire, Diggle is obsessed with getting justice, and willing to pursue his own side investigation and let Oliver handle vertigo and The Count. The “Unfinished Business” of the title refers both to Diggle’s quest to take down his brother’s killer and the fact that Oliver was unwilling to put an arrow into The Count the first time, and now apparently must contend with the fact that The Count has re-emerged with a more deadly version of his drug.
Deadshot and The Count were both one-note villains and two of my least favorite so far, so the prospect of our vigilantes pursuing both of them again didn’t excite me very much, but I did find one thing notable about these storylines. I was oddly gratified that this was the first ARROW episode to break the seal and finally have characters refer to other characters by their superhero/super-villain name. Oliver, Diggle and Felicity all refer to Deadshot as “Deadshot” in this episode, and not his “civilian” name, (which is Floyd Lawton or something). So does this mean we are moving closer to an ARROW universe where Oliver’s alter ego is called something less forced and clunky than “the hood guy”? One can only hope.
The best parts of “Unfinished Business” have to do with Tommy, and the fact that his character has emerged as a kind of voice of reason now that he also knows that Oliver is the man under the vigilante’s hood. In this episode we learn that Tommy not only bribes a city official to forego the inspection of Verdant, (since the club is also the hooded vigilante’s base of operations and houses Oliver’s secret basement lair), but he actually surprises Oliver by secretly camouflaging the basement lair by making it look like an ugly storage room right before Det. Lance and his officers show up with a warrant to search it. So Tommy saves Oliver’s bacon, but Tommy’s not at all happy that his friendship with Oliver has compelled him to aid and abet Oliver’s illegal crusade this way. Tommy hates that Oliver extra-judicially kills people in the course of bringing down the city’s villains, and he’s wracked with guilt over being a part of this operation. So much so that he quits working for Oliver at the end of the episode.
And, here’s the point I was making earlier: Tommy’s right on the merits. Arbitrarily dispensing death with arrows, even when the people taking the arrows are presumed to be bad, isn’t something Oliver should be doing, and not something he should have enlisted Diggle or Felicity in, and rational people should discourage it. In real life, each arrow that strikes an unsuspecting henchman in the chest while they’re patrolling the perimeter of a bad guy’s hideout (a scene we’ve seen many times from ARROW) would be a deeply problematic act, since Oliver’s life isn’t threatened in that moment and there’s no way for him to assess whether the guys he’s killing are really hardened killers themselves. Presumably it could be their first day doing a job they are about to discover they have no taste for and will soon quit. Oliver precludes whatever redemption is possible for these men by killing them. He’s also subjected Diggle, Felicity, and now Tommy to the possibility of decades in prison for being his accomplice. He should feel bad about this.
Now, obviously ARROW is not real life, and I’m well aware of the difference, but after years of watching TV shows and movies about vigilantes stack the deck in favor of the vigilante’s worldview by portraying their villains as uniquely, unambiguously evil and the justice system as inherently useless, it’s nice to see ARROW let Tommy voice the appropriate amount of contempt for all this, (even if I know Tommy’s worldview ultimately won’t win out, and ARROW will likely be stacking the deck in favor of Oliver’s again soon). It’s just a little re-assuring to know this debate apparently makes its way into the ARROW writers’ room on a semi-regular basis.
It’s somewhat disappointing, though, that the finale of “Unfinished Business” tries to engage with the issues it’s raising, but doesn’t quite get it right. While Oliver had suspected The Count was behind the new wave of toxic vertigo, he’s only half right. The Count’s psychiatrist at the asylum was actually the culprit, after reverse engineering vertigo from a biopsy taken from The Count’s kidney. The Count is still insane and remains strapped to a chair for the final showdown between Oliver, (in his hood) and the Psychiatrist and his Goon. When Oliver is captured, and the Psychiatrist removes his hood and learns his identity, we know then that both the Psychiatrist and the Goon are dead men walking, so that Oliver’s secret can be preserved for another week. And, sure enough, after Diggle kills the Goon using a defibrillator to the head, (and then saying “Clear,” which I really can’t complain about, because, hell – James Bond is jealous of that line), Oliver then kills the Psychiatrist.
The way Oliver’s killing of the Psychiatrist is staged, however, leaves something to be desired. As a drugged and groggy Oliver flounders on the floor before the Psychiatrist, who holds a scalpel and taunts him, saying that Oliver “won’t be able to shoot a single arrow” in his condition, Oliver puts three arrows in the bow and shoots them, which is more than enough to do the trick. This is framed as a necessary act for Oliver, but it’s only made necessary by the fact that this guy knows his secret identity and can’t be allowed to reveal it. At the moment the arrows are launched, the Psychiatrist had stopped in his tracks, and his tiny scalpel is clearly no match for Oliver’s bow. This scene could have been staged differently to give Oliver less of a choice in the matter, but it wasn’t, and it makes you wonder if Tommy isn’t onto something, and this wasn’t an execution.
“Unfinished Business” tries to clean this up by showing Oliver struggling with a decision to put another arrow into The Count, who’s still strapped to a chair, but he can’t bring himself to kill a helpless prisoner. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t redeem Oliver’s activities as much as ARROW wants us to think it does.
I’d previously written that ARROW didn’t seem to be designed to sustain a high level of darkness over many episodes, but I’m coming around to the idea that ARROW may need to get darker in order to take the vigilante justice that is its central idea more seriously. The events of the last two episodes make me believe ARROW could become a bleaker show as its characters are forced to reckon with the moral consequences of Oliver taking the law into his own hands. And suddenly that doesn’t seem like a bad thing to me at all.
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Article: TV Review: ARROW – Season 1 – “Unfinished Business”