[This is a review of Arrow season 2, episode 20. There will be SPOILERS.]
Too often, the death of a major character can wind up feeling arbitrary and reflexive. But character death is also a surefire way to get people talking about, responding to, and weighing in on what just transpired, so it becomes paramount that the event goes beyond the shock of the moment, and carries with it some significance that will alter the course of the series and the behavior of the surviving characters beyond the exit of whoever it was who drew the short straw.
That can be doubly hard on a series like Arrow, which is not only loaded with dying characters throughout a given season, but it is also firmly entrenched in the comic book genre – a field well-known for seeing death as something of an obstacle that can sometimes be overcome. And yet, with the surprising late-in-the-episode murder of Moira Queen at the hands of Slade Wilson, ‘Seeing Red’ seems to have pushed aside those concerns to deliver a truly impactful and significant death that will undoubtedly color the progression of both the primary characters and the series as a whole for some time to come.
The death of the Queen family matriarch leaves many questions as to how the ever dwindling ranks of a once powerful dynasty is going to pick up the pieces – no matter how contentious her relationship with her children often was. In setting up her memory, Moira was established as a fierce gatekeeper, willing to do the unimaginable to protect her children and their future. Although her intentions were good, the means by which she saw them come to fruition often brought about a more problems than anything else – lest we all forget her involvement in Malcolm Merlyn’s plan to rid Starling City of what he perceived to be the scourge of the Glades. In other words, Moira had become well known for the myopia that afflicted her when forced to make a decision that could potentially impact the lives of her children.
So, in that regard, ‘Seeing Red’ sets up parallel threads showing Moira’s children-first policy by having her contemplate dropping out of the mayoral race to focus on fixing her relationship with Thea, while a flashback sequence sees her paying off a young woman who claimed to be pregnant with Oliver’s child. This asks the enormous question: Is there a son or daughter that Oliver doesn’t know about growing up in Central City? But it also adds a compelling wrinkle to Moira’s legacy – especially as it pertained to her idea of being a good parent.
Overall, as far as setting up the character’s willingness to make “sacrifices” – a word heard quite often over the course of the hour – for the good of Oliver and Thea, the Arrow writers did a great job in showing how those decisions can sometimes be murky and questionable in both their morality and logic. But it also helped assuage the potentially cloying nature of Moira’s willingness to die at the hands of Slade Wilson, by first framing her as a flawed individual who sometimes acted in a less than noble way, for the benefit of someone other than herself. That is a Queen family trait it seems, and for the writers to focus on the conflict between imperfect action and righteous intention, her death felt not only surprising and meaningful, but it established a nice synergy between her and Oliver.
Despite the pay off and the monumental ramifications that will set up the season finale, for the most part, ‘Seeing Red’ was a clever exercise in misdirection. Much of the episode was spent dealing with Roy running amok on the streets of Starling City, roughing up anyone who got in his way, including Sin. While it was primarily intended to be a distraction, Roy’s rampage also has some lasting effects. For starters, in addition to hospitalizing dozens of people, he managed to kill a police officer – which raises all kinds of questions regarding the future of the character, should S.T.A.R. Labs find a cure for the mirakuru. Moreover, in attempting to bring the violence to a halt, Sara comes to the conclusion that she’s not ready to be the kind of hero Oliver is – her desire to kill Roy in order to bring an end to the destruction puts her at odds with the Arrow’s mission, so she recuses herself for the time being. With Slade still on the loose, Sara’s decision seems to come at a bad time, but also hints at a return, possibly with a “friend.”
That sense of misdirection and laying the groundwork for the finale left ‘Seeing Red’ an effective but imperfect hour, as the intent of the story line was clear, but the delivery occasionally came off as clunky and littered with somewhat formulaic character beats or actions. Moira’s handling of Oliver’s girlfriend was a little heavy handed and overly fateful at times, but it was tempered by a surprisingly emotive and affecting performance by Amell in the final scene of the flashback. Other elements, like Moira’s admission of knowing Oliver’s secret raises all sorts of questions, but overall it felt more or less tacked on to shore up their relationship with some impact prior to her demise. And speaking of impact, the out-of-nowhere-broadside of the Queen limo should officially put a moratorium on such an event acting as a transitional device.
Small issues aside, the episode should be commended for delivering a surprise and giving it the weight it deserves. Susana Thompson will be missed – even if she winds up in a flashback here and there – but the potential consequences of her departure have given her the impactful send-off she deserves, and Arrow an unexpectedly heavy event on which to set up the finale.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with ‘City of Blood’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: