Arrow took a week off after revealing the identity of Prometheus in ‘Fighting Fire with Fire.’ The episode made the disclosure that the man hunting Oliver since the start of season 5 was actually his newest pal and presumed face behind the mask of Star City’s newest crime fighter, Vigilante. Subverting the audience’s expectations like that may serve Arrow well in the weeks ahead, as the series cruises toward an uncertain season finale tasked not only with fulfilling the current story arc of Oliver questioning his legacy as a hero, but also bring the flashbacks full circle, placing Ollie back on Lian Yu, waiting to be rescued.
That’s not a particularly tall order by any stretch of the imagination, as every other season in the series has built to a climactic confrontation between hero and villain. This time, though, it seems Oliver is made privy to Prometheus’s identity well ahead of the final run, but not necessarily his plan. That’s the way things sometimes go with villains whose modus operandi is to slowly break their opponent through strategic strikes, often times hitting them where it hurts the most: the isolated side of their super heroic alter ego. So far this season, Adrian has taken to bringing his adversary low without necessarily bringing the fight directly to the Green Arrow. This hiding-in-plain-sight strategy allowed for a slow burn, as Prometheus followed a similar trajectory as Oliver, first being dubbed a silly name based on some basic descriptor – i.e., the Throwing Star Killer – before finally divulging his preferred moniker. It also made Prometheus’ objective as much of a mystery as his identity. For all Oliver or anyone else knows, Adrian’s just gunning for a vigilante he sees as deficient in his task of protecting Star City, but there has to be more to it than that, right?
As ‘Checkmate’ seeks to point out, there is; but uncovering the answer is all part of the larger game the villain is playing. So when Oliver turns to an old ally for help in learning more about his newest rival, the answer will be one that potentially deepens the mystery of Adrian’s motivations and personal grudge against the Green Arrow.
While there are still some details to be worked out, having Prometheus’s identity out in the open and the character actively antagonizing Oliver – this time by kidnapping Susan Williams and threatening to kill her – actually works wonders for the season’s arc. The last few weeks have moved without urgency, making Adrian’s war on Team Arrow a welcome change of pace. With both the audience and the characters fully aware of who’s been pulling their strings all season long, there’s nowhere for the series to go but a direct confrontation, making ‘Checkmate’ one of the more propulsive hours Arrow has seen this season, and certainly the most propulsive since returning from winter hiatus.
The episode’s narrative thrust is enough to keep the hour moving at a nice clip, and with Susan’s life on the line there’s a modicum of tension involved, considering she’s not a member of Team Arrow. Still, Prometheus turning Oliver’s new girlfriend into bait and a tool to use against him isn’t the sort of trick someone who prides himself on being “ten steps ahead” the whole time should be doing, and for Oliver to be goaded into action so easily by Adrian and his cartoonish ploy does deflate the hour’s accomplishments to a certain degree. After all, how many times has Arrow put a character – ancillary or otherwise – in a similar position only to have Oliver act in precisely the same fashion? After the way Susan was treated the last few weeks, it’s a shame Arrow didn’t have more in store for the character than to become another victim tied to a chair waiting for the hero to come save her.
Still, the show is not without a sense of irony, as Oliver winds up in a similar situation after his brawl with Prometheus goes south on account of Talia al Ghul. Arrow set the twist up in the opening sequence, turning Talia into both a surprise for Oliver – given that she’s technically his sister-in-law and he (whoops) killed her father. But the entire sequence moves so quickly, it’s difficult for the viewer to get their bearings. Arrow‘s concept of geography and time being what it is, it’s unclear whether or not Talia’s very Batman Begins-like ninja training lodge is just outside Star City limits, or if Oliver’s trip to get some answers about his self-appointed arch nemesis means the city’s tax payers are footing the bill for some international travel. But that’s the least of the opening’s issues, as Talia goes from one of post-shipwreck Oliver’s oldest acquaintances and his one-time mentor to his mortal enemy pretty quickly. The series isn’t one to warn viewers about narrative whiplash, but even this turn of events feels sudden. And with the Adrian Chase/Prometheus payoff having been so satisfying, seeing Talia join the “you killed my father” grudge match more than a full season after her father was killed (and just a few episodes after she was introduced) doesn’t inspire confidence that the writers have a plan for her beyond the power of her name.
To that end, ‘Checkmate’ was a step in the right direction as far as the season’s overarching storyline is concerned. Certain details like Susan being relegated to a pawn and Adrian murdering his own wife to keep her from becoming a tool that can be used against him mostly canceled each other out, while the flashbacks continue to use up time that could be spent making Felicity’s trouble with Helix more intriguing and the sense that she might be in over her head a little more convincing. There’s reason to believe the show will find a way to make Helix into an exciting subplot (or more if the Prometheus issue is designed to wrap up earlier), but for now its positioned too far in the back for it to have as much of an impact as the series might like.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with ‘Kapiushon’ @8pm on The CW.