[This is a review for Arrow season 2, episode 19. There will be SPOILERS.]
For an episode that jumps dramatically from more grounded, humanistic elements like Officer Lance recognizing the immense emotional burden the Arrow is under to the freewheeling sci-fi craziness of S.T.A.R. Labs, 'The Man Under the Hood' still manages to hit enough beats to offer a busy, sometimes ungainly, but still entertaining episode of Arrow.
With the battle against Deathstroke and his mirakuru-enhanced army on the horizon, 'The Man Under the Hood' progresses that portion of the plot in mostly satisfying ways, allowing Team Arrow a chance to engage with Slade in a manner that goes well beyond making menacing faces at one another, and issuing pointed threats before tearing off in an Italian sports car. The confrontation in Arrow HQ makes for a great set piece that demonstrates Slade's incredible abilities, and heightens the overall sense of danger with regard to Deathstroke's plans for the former guests of Iron Heights he freed not long ago. In other words, if Oliver, Sara, and Diggle can be tossed around like rag dolls by a single (highly trained, sure) man with mirakuru in his blood, the thought of a dozen or more being let loose on the streets of Starling City becomes a frightening proposition indeed.
But the episode isn't just about the confrontation between Slade and the man who tried to kill him five years ago. There're several more threads involving confrontation (and the possibility of confrontation) woven through the plot. Through these various situations simmering in the background, Arrow succeeds in finding room for nearly every character to have a moment – either big or small – but there are questions of just how substantial some of them manage to actually be. For example, the episode is peppered with plenty of tiny Arrow-centric character moments, and yet the writers still attempt to shoehorn in a considerable amount name-dropping by introducing Danielle Panabaker's S.T.A.R. Labs employee, Caitlin Snow, and using her appearance to initiate a somewhat clumsy conversation about the still-comatose Barry Allen, forcibly expanding the universe of a series that has yet to even air its pilot.
Beyond some well-staged action set pieces and some in-network product placement going on, 'The Man Under the Hood' also manages to factor in Laurel's response to finding out the Arrow's true identity. Laurel's arc has been something of a rough spot over the course of the season, and considering her willingness to blackmail a superior to get her job in the D.A. back, the decision she makes with regard to that knowledge comes as something of a surprise – at least in terms of where the narrative seemed to have been taking the character. In that sense, the speech given to Laurel by her father winds up working to reframe the Lance family dynamic in terms of accepting what's become of Sara – and by extension, Oliver – with the added drama of everyone keeping the secret from one another.
While the Quentin-Laurel conversation works to move the characters forward by establishing their level of involvement with regard to Starling City's vigilantes, Laurel's easily won battle to set her father free is another unfortunate example of certain ungainly elements sprinkled throughout the episode.
It's a busy episode to be sure, and while all the beats didn't necessarily strike the right tone, it still managed to work in several great action sequences that included a terrific takedown of Slade, and the supposed death and ressurection of Isabel Rochev. There were also a handful of smaller, well-executed moments like Laurel's decision to keep Oliver's secret and Thea's painful recognition that the stasis in her life she'd worked so hard to achieve has ostensibly been destroyed.
Those moments will likely have a greater impact later on, making any perceived awkwardness of the episode worthwhile – at least in terms of laying the groundwork for some potentially important character arcs to come.
Arrow continues next week with 'Seeing Red' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: