[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
If there was ever any concern that Arrow might run into trouble by shifting so much of the season's weight to the mystery of Sarah's murder, then one of the issues might be that it would produce a disorganized episode like this one.
There's nothing inherently wrong with what 'Guilty' is trying to accomplish with regard to strengthening the relationship between Oliver and his sometimes-taken-for-granted sidekick; it's just that the level of nuance and charm the show has become quite good at delivering is a little harder to find in this episode. This is an adjustment episode. It exists to reestablish Roy Harper's role in the Arrowverse, which, in and of itself, is actually a good idea.
Roy spent much of last season tagging along with Thea and moonlighting as a bargain basement vigilante, or being an unstoppable rage machine powered by mirakuru. The objective was clear and the intentions were good: find a way to bring Roy onto Team Arrow and give Starling City another color-coded, bow wielding vigilante. That means Roy became Oliver's protégé, his responsibility and his partner. Unfortunately, the season has struggled to find time to examine that dynamic, and to differentiate it in a meaningful way from the relationship Oliver has with, say, Diggle. The result, then, is Arrow struggles to establish why the hero-sidekick relationship is important, outside of some pointed dialogue.
The episode really began last week when Roy dreamt he killed Sara by throwing several arrows into her chest. There's a bit of a cheat in there, since the scene recreates Sara's death from the season premiere, but from Roy's perspective, leading the audience to believe the character has knowledge of an event he wasn't actually present for. But once Roy takes his concerns to Felicity and, later, the rest of the group, the question of Roy's culpability takes a backseat to the question of whether or not Oliver should cut him loose – which Diggle suggests with a completely uncharacteristic lack of empathy or loyalty to one of his teammates.
In order to make the struggle with Roy's alleged mistake seem more meaningful, the episode develops a direct correlation between what is important for its character focus, and what's driving the episode's larger narrative. To accomplish this, 'Guilty' uses Laurel's training with Ted Grant to set up a similar teacher-student scenario. The conflict, however, is derived from a series of gangland homicides that are intended to make Ted look like a vengeful vigilante. The twist is that, six years earlier, Ted actually was a vengeful vigilante, complete with a troubled sidekick named Isaac Stanzler. After Stanzler went rogue and killed a drug dealer, Ted abandoned him, resulting in his inevitable return to hold Ted responsible for what had become of him.
There might have been an interesting way of presenting this information – which likely would have involved more direct interaction between Oliver and Roy – but instead, the episode shifts its focus to Ted and Isaac, hoping that their failure will serve as a cautionary tale for Arrow and his would-be sidekick. It is safe to say that the audience would have easily picked up on the comparisons, but for whatever reason, the episode doesn't trust viewers enough to do that, resulting in an unfortunate level of hand holding that undermines the efficacy of what its trying to accomplish.
Characters draw too many immediate conclusions about one another, particularly Ted Grant's reading of the Arrow-Red Arrow (or Arsenal, now) relationship as failing. The problem is, the story conveniently proves him right initially. But that convenience means the "truth" of Ted's analysis doesn’t carry any real weight, since it's delivered through an undeveloped proxy like Stanzler and, to a lesser degree, Ted himself.
Moreover, 'Guilty' doesn’t do itself any favors by having Roy disappear for half the episode after his confession results in yet another outburst by Laurel – who, unlike Diggle, at least responds in a way that's consistent with her characterization. The intent, of course, is to offer Roy the chance to prove himself late in the game by taking Stanzler on and telling Oliver not to abandon him. Of course, Oliver responds in a way that suggests how strong their relationship actually is, but such a conclusion does little to justify the transparent interplay between disgraced sidekicks underlining the situation.
Still, the episode should be given some credit for at least addressing Roy and Oliver's relationship, and for continuing its focus on Laurel's quest to join the ever-expanding roster of masked heroes running around Starling City. Neither is totally convincing just yet, but making an effort to legitimize both arcs is certainly a step in the right direction. And who can really be that disappointed in an episode that manages to bring the boxing glove arrow into the fold in such an amusing way?
While 'Guilty' may have missed the mark in terms of its approach to the Oliver-Roy dynamic, it at least made the effort to put a marginalized character in the spotlight for an hour. Even if the only takeaway is a heavy-handed reminder that the Arrow has a responsibility to his sidekick, it might be that the series can build something more substantial from this misfire later in the season.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'Draw Back Your Bow' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: