[This is a review of Arrow season 5, episode 3. There will be SPOILERS.]
Despite being named after one of Billy Joel’s mid-eighties top-ten singles, the big takeaway from ‘A Matter of Trust’ is really the appearance of former WWE superstar Cody Rhodes. The man who did battle with Arrow star Stephen Amell in the ring a year ago, as his alter ego Stardust, has now found himself on his opponent’s turf. The result is an episode that walks a fine line between episodic and serialized, as Rhodes’ villain Derek Sampson certainly fits the bill of a “villain of the week,” and yet the circumstances that find him in the story at all are mostly a direct result of the season’s ongoing concern of Oliver assembling Team Arrow 2.0.
Last week’s ‘The Recruits‘ stumbled a bit in a way that is familiar to frequent Arrow viewers. It was the classic error of trying to fit too much into a single episode, leaving certain threads underdeveloped or too reliant on thematic elements common to the series. Oliver’s hasty recruitment of Ragman was mostly just awkward – which, to be fair, is pretty much what you’re going to get when you bring a guy named Ragman onto the show – as the hour’s attempt to play the dad-related origin card was unsuccessful in making the tattered hero into someone the audience was suppose to care about.
More successful, however, was the introduction of the new Team Arrow, and Wild Dog in particular. While Rick Gonzalez’s Rene Ramirez has the basic temperament of an angsty teen on a premium cable series, it’s clear that Arrow sees him as the standout character to watch while Oliver builds his new vigilante super group. At the moment, it seems as though the series wants to highlight the temperamental qualities of both Oliver and Rene, and to demonstrate the ways in which both are perfectly suited to their extracurricular activities, but not necessarily the ideal members (or, in Oliver’s case, leaders) of a team. In that sense, both characters have a long way to go and a promising arc set out in front of them. While Oliver has already been the leader of the first iteration of Team Arrow, Diggle, Speedy, and Black Canary weren’t nearly as green and didn’t rely on him as both a teacher and a leader. This time, Oliver’s task is far greater, as he also has to educate his recruits how to be vigilantes, while also figuring out how to make them into a functioning team.
That clash sets up a good portion of ‘A Matter of Trust.’ It gives both Oliver and Rene their own storylines, and although Rene’s continued disinterest in playing by anyone’s rules but his own feels a bit like a rehash of last week’s Team Arrow encounter with Ragman, the consequences here do a better job of fleshing the character out and contrasting him with (or comparing him to) the Green Arrow. The continuing development of Wild Dog also benefits from there being a distinct antagonist throughout the hour, one who isn’t a misunderstood hero waiting on coincidence to turn him toward the proverbial light. As such, Rhodes as Sampson gives the hour precisely what it needs in order to maintain its focus and to better understand the similarities and differences between two men trying to become better heroes.
The episode doesn’t entirely succeed in mining the depths of Oliver’s contentions relationship with Rene, nor does it fully commit to the idea of there being consequences for his actions beyond inadvertently imbuing Sampson with superhuman abilities, thanks to a dunk in a vat of chemicals presumably used to manufacture his Stardust drug. The scene is reminiscent of the violent incident that transforms Jack Napier into the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, which, whether intentional or not, makes for an interesting nod to a film in the DC Comics cinematic library. Like certain other elements in the hour, though, the nod seems to be just that: a cursory gesture at something that ultimately goes unexplored.
This recurs a few times throughout the hour, resulting in Sampson getting short shrift in terms of an origin story or an arc that includes a compelling second act. This is unfortunate as Rhodes gives an energetic performance that hints at Sampson being something more than just an unstoppable killing machine. There’s some personality there that would have been interesting to explore, especially when the drug dealer smirks his way through revealing his new abilities to his crew. Instead, Sampson is relegated to a mere physical threat, one that is easily tracked down and dispatched by Oliver and the new Team Arrow – once Ollie has finally learned to place enough trust in them they can provide the appropriate backup he needs in order to get the job done.
Finally seeing the team gel to the degree they can take out a threat like Sampson is a step in the right direction in terms of the season’s plot, but even then, the hour has so much going on that it’s not just Sampson who winds up getting the short end of the stick character-wise. The hour also marks the first time that Curtis suits up as Mister Terrific, and yet the moment garners little more than an explanation as to why his jacket says ‘Fairplay’. The same is true for Evelyn, but she hardly has an established personality, let alone a season-long history with Oliver and Felicity. As far as this being the unveiling of Mister Terrific as Curtis’ crime-fighting alter ego, it misses the mark in terms of emphasizing the significance of it, and instead opts for the familiar cursory examination of the character’s evolution.
Although it misses the mark in terms of imbuing characters and character moments with greater depth, ‘A Matter of Trust’ is a more focused hour than last week’s ‘The Recruits.’ Its emphasis on a single thematic element is carried convincingly throughout the various plot threads, from Team Arrow to Thea’s handling of Quentin Lance’s hiring to Oliver becoming a member of the Bratva in flashback. But a thematic throughline doesn’t necessarily give the episode everything it needs to be memorable. As such, this third episode gets points for staying on task, but it still feels as though it loses sight of the trees for the forest.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with ‘Penance’ @8pm on The CW.