Thursday, May 18, 2017

Arrow 5x22 Review: "Missing" (Heroes and Villains)


"Missing"
Original Airdate: May 17, 2017

I can't explain why, but I love when heroes and villains are forced to team up in order to defend the people they love against a bigger threat. Actually, I can explain why I love it. It's because we're so used, in fiction and real life, to seeing people as strictly good or strictly bad. And while it's hard to argue that Malcolm Merlyn and Slade Wilson are good-hearted people, they are team players when there is something important on the line for them. Oliver is desperate in "Missing." because Adrian Chase's crew has kidnapped the entirety of Team Arrow. And in his desperation, he has a few people left to turn to. What happens when the people who usually have Oliver's back are gone? He seeks out the people who have turned their backs on him.

I really loved the penultimate episode of this season because it pretty naturally explores this idea that life is messy and so are our legacies. Relationships are an essential part of life, and trying to exist without them because you believe you're protecting people is actually doing more harm than good. Team Arrow is kidnapped because Chase believes Oliver infects everyone he loves; the innocents (or mostly-innocents) have to pay for the sins Oliver has committed. And when they do, Chase can prove once and for all that Oliver is just a killer — that he is not the kind of man worthy of the title of hero or the mantle of the Green Arrow.

So when you bring villains into the fold whose legacies are now marred by the heinous things they've done, you set up a really interesting parallel in regards to redemption. Maybe one act of heroism can sustain a legacy, even if it's been riddled with terrible things. "Missing" doesn't dive too deeply into these questions but they're still there, bubbling just below the surface. So let's talk about why I really enjoyed this episode and what I'm looking forward to in next week's finale.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SIX-YEAR-OLD OLIVER QUEEN


The most meta parts of the episode were in regards to Oliver's birthday. Thea and Felicity throw Oliver a surprise birthday party, and he muses that he can't remember the last time he celebrated a birthday (haaaa, show). Furthermore, when the team wonders why they haven't celebrated before, the quip of always having a city-wide crisis usually happens in May is brought up (haaaa, show). Felicity gets a cake with a cartoon version of the Green Arrow on it — also containing the number six because it seemed more logical to order a Green Arrow cake for a child than a grown man — from Lord Mesa Bakery (haaaa, show). And the team talks about how now that Chase is locked up, they basically get to have summer vacation (haaaaa, show).

I enjoyed the scene with Oliver's birthday because it reminds us that these characters actually do, occasionally, have normal things happen to them. Like birthdays. Oliver hasn't had much to celebrate over the years, between all of the death and villains trying to destroy Star(ling) City. But "Missing" is finally the chance to change that. The Big Bad is defeated before the season finale. Everything is awesome! Everyone can relax!

And the two people relaxing the most into their natural patterns? Oliver and Felicity. I've said before that recently I'm starting to warm back up to the idea of Olicity returning. This episode didn't drive the needle much in terms of story, but "Missing" did remind me exactly how adorable and adorably awkward those two can be. Felicity's ruse for Oliver's surprise party is asking him to dinner. Alone. When Thea gets wind of this, she mercilessly teases Oliver about dating Felicity again. It's a cute moment of sibling banter that reminds me why Thea is sorely missed on this show.


At the birthday party, Oliver and Felicity are conveniently (and purposefully) left alone by the rest of the group (they all ship it) to make heart eyes at one another and whisper for a minute or two. Besides the obvious eye flirting and smiles and tie-touching, Felicity tries to get Oliver to open up and relax. For the first time in forever, the team has defeated evil and there's a promise of happiness on the horizon. That happiness also includes a potential reunion between the two, as Felicity hints that they could take things slow but that she's open to returning to their relationship — one step at a time. This seems to ignite hope in Oliver, and that's something he still desperately needs. Even though it seems like Oliver has put the past and Chase's words behind him, there's still a part of Oliver that remembers what it feels like to lose. And so of course, he clings to the little wins.

They often tell you that in leadership: find the little wins. After so many challenges and so many losses and so much pain, Oliver finally believes he's turned a corner. He's caught Chase. Things are moving forward with Felicity. The team is okay. Thea is back in town. Oliver knows that something is amiss but he wants to desperately to believe that life is okay — maybe for the very first time in a very long time. So he ignores the part of his brain that tells him something is wrong, and he holds onto the hope of happiness.

It's only after Felicity is cleaning up the birthday party that the team realizes something is very, very wrong.

IT TAKES A VILL(AIN)


It takes a very special kind of villain to get other, lesser villains to do his bidding. Even though he's locked up in Arrow's version of Reddington's box on The Blacklist, that doesn't mean things are smooth sailing for Team Arrow. In fact, their nightmares are just beginning. Because Black Siren and Evelyn (show of hands if you forgot Evelyn still existed) along with Talia al Ghul are picking off members of the team one by one.

Renee and Dinah (who are absent for the episode) are the first to get taken. When Curtis goes to check on Dinah, he is kidnapped too. As the remaining Team Arrow begins to grow smaller by the minute, Oliver begins to panic and — shocker — blame himself for the way that things went wrong. After Curtis, Thea and Lance are the next to get taken (while in a safe house), which leaves us down to the OTA. It's important that they're the final three standing, because if there's one thing Adrian Chase knows it's this: Oliver is nothing without Felicity and Diggle. They're his rocks and his conscience. They're the best parts of him, and Chase knows how to manipulate the OTA to do exactly what he wants. It's incredibly smart, and makes me wonder exactly why Chase's motivation still seems to be so lame.

For someone as incredibly intelligent as Chase, his villainous backstory has always struck me as a bit weak. Damien Darhk had his faults, but at least he had some sort of master plan. While Chase holds all of the cards and isn't boring because his plans aren't known to us, the viewers, the central motivating factor (seeing Oliver break down and become a killer) doesn't seem like a very villainous motive. If Chase is killed at Oliver's hands, which is what he seems to want, perhaps he assumes it will start a chain reaction leading to Oliver's eventual demise. But that never quite made sense to me: Chase wouldn't be around to watch Oliver suffer, and that seems to be most of the fun for our season villain. I love that Adrian Chase enjoys watching Oliver squirm, and I love that he's so smart and fifty steps ahead. But the reason he's fifty steps ahead and the ultimate plan still feels really flat to me. Couldn't Chase have wanted world domination AND been an incredibly psychologically manipulative villain? Sheesh.

I will say though that this probably is the closest thing Arrow has gotten to a "some men just want to watch the world burn" villain — we're not really asked to side with Chase, for the most part, or even to understand him. We're just meant to watch as his plan unfolds and Star(ling) City's finest crumble around Oliver.

But back to the OTA, for a moment: Oliver tells them that the best thing they can do is leave the city and not tell him where they're going. If they stay, he'll just worry about them. If they leave, he'll be able to focus on finding Chase and saving the others. Because they're desperate to help Oliver, Felicity and Diggle leave. It's only when they're driving out of town that Felicity realizes that them leaving might just have been Chase's plan all along — and they played right into it. I love Felicity dearly, but she really should have seen that one coming. So Diggle and Felicity are captured by Talia and her League of Assassin cronies.

And that leaves Oliver, all alone, with instructions on what to do next: if he doesn't let Adrian get away on a helicopter alone, Adrian's given explicit orders to all of the villain lites to kill Team Arrow. Oliver definitely can't have that happen. We would have no season six!

While struggling to figure out what to do next, he gets an unexpected visitor...

MALCOLM, MALCOLM, MALCOLM


... that's right! In from the ceiling drops a very stealthy Malcolm Merlyn who's gotten a haircut since we've last seen him on Arrow. (I stopped watching Legends of Tomorrow but I assume the haircut thing happened somewhere in that window of time/space.) Why has our favorite villain dropped by, you ask? Because a little birdie told him that Thea had been kidnapped.

(No seriously, it's never established how Malcolm actually knows this, right? So I'm going with "a little birdie" as my answer.)

Oliver, ready to strangle Malcolm for all of his past sins, decides that killing the person who can help him — the only person who is offering assistance to help him find Thea and the others — would be a bad idea. So he begrudgingly decides to let Malcolm help him. While they're trying to figure out exactly what Chase's play is, Malcolm gets to drop some sass and wisdom on Oliver. It's at this point that our brooding hero (I love that Malcolm has zero patience with Oliver's brooding) talks about how Chase wants to prove that Oliver's relationships with people doom them to things just like this — kidnapping, torture, and death. But Malcolm delivers the moral message of the episode which, if you ask me, is always weird. He tells Oliver that relationships are what make us human and by cutting yourself off from them, you're essentially preventing yourself from being fully-realized as a person. People need other people.

Preach, Malcolm. Preach.

And through it all, Oliver continues to tell Adrian Chase (you know, in between beating him up) that he will find another way to save his friends. He will not stoop to Chase's level and he will certainly not set him free to save Team Arrow. Malcolm is aboard the whole "not killing people" thing and wants to help Oliver. There's one minor hitch in the plan though: Oliver discovers that Adrian has taken William. Now things have changed.

It's one thing to threaten the lives of the people he loves. Felicity and Diggle and Thea in particular mean more to Oliver than he probably could ever explain. But to take a CHILD? To take HIS child? Oliver cannot let that go. The boy is innocent, and William's abduction brings a whole different layer of complexity to this moral dilemma than before.

And still, Adrian Chase lives.

BACK TO THE ISLAND


After Malcolm and Oliver fight their way through security detail, they let Adrian Chase get on the helicopter by himself, because they know it's the only way to save their loved ones. Before he goes, Oliver tearfully asks why Chase had to involve William — an innocent. Chase fires back that Oliver involved Chase's wife in all of this, and she was innocent too. (Conveniently, Chase leaves out the part where he killed her...)

As Chase hops onto his ride to freedom, Malcolm and Oliver return to the Arrow cave to try and figure out exactly where Chase is going and where he has taken Team Arrow. Fun discovery: Lian-Yu! Because of where they're headed and what they are up against, Oliver has called in his villainous and/or morally ambiguous reinforcements. And I love it. I love it so much. I cannot express to you how great it is that these villains and sorta-villains get the chance to redeem themselves by playing for the side of the good, while also still having their baggage and issues. Redemption is going to look different for each of these characters, and I look forward to what sacrifices will be made in order to earn it next week.

Nyssa returns, much to Malcolm's anger. She's there to help and Oliver drops a bombshell on Nyssa — Talia is fighting on Team Prometheus. I don't know about you, but I'm ready to watch an al Ghul sister throwdown. Also joining Team Oliver? A friendly face we haven't seen in quite some time: Slade Wilson.

Oliver's first and perhaps greatest enemy has returned. And Oliver needs him to help bring down a villain that's bigger than all of them combined. I love Slade — out of all of the Arrow villains, he is probably my favorite — and I look forward to watching Oliver and Slade interact again.

What I found to be so interesting about this penultimate episode was that it bookended the series really well — it would have been a very fitting penultimate episode for the series. (And it makes me wonder if the show went this route just in case.) The story of how Oliver got to become the man we meet in season one is almost over. We're seeing the final days of his torture and torment before returning home. This episode sees that parallelism in full-swing, with the return to Lian-Yu. Even our villains are being bookended — the series began with Deathstroke as the main villain and it is ending with him as an ally.

Oliver's whole journey this season has been about legacy: what kind of legacy will he leave behind. How will people remember him? And is that different from how people will remember the Green Arrow? It feels like next week's episode could have been the series finale, culminating in the answer to that question: Who is Oliver Queen?

Because when you think about it, the show constantly opens with: "My name is Oliver Queen." Oliver always introduces his name, but not really who he is; he only talks about what has happened to and around him. He must become someone and something else, but who was he originally? Who is the core of this person? It's something he has struggled for years to determine, but I like the fact that it's taken a huge villain and an alignment with some former foes in order to get Oliver to think about that question and its answer.

Here's to hoping that next week we get the opportunity to see Oliver's legacy truly come to life.

And now, bonus points:
  • Usually I would love if we got three female villains teaming up and kidnapping people but somehow Arrow made it all so boring. Also I'm still not a huge fan of Black Siren.
  • "When did you become all zen-like and well-adjusted?"
  • Thea is truly the biggest Olicity shipper and it's pretty adorable.
  • "You getting major Isabel Rochev flashbacks right now?" "Yup." "You remember how we handled that, right?" "Yup." #TeamDiggleAndFelicity4Ever
  • I am still bored by the flashbacks, though this week's were decidedly more tied to the theme of the episode. Past!Oliver gets dosed with a drug that reminds him of all the pain he's faced. The worst pain, however, is the mental pain. Our villain, Constantine, wants Oliver to kill himself. And it seems like Oliver is considering it — he hallucinates Yao Fei and the mentor's disappointment in his mentee — until he sees Laurel, who tells him how much everyone loves and needs him. The flashbacks work fine, I guess, except that we know Oliver won't die. So my investment in that plot was waning.
  • "It takes a special kind of idiot to get dumber with time." Have I mentioned how much I LOVE Malcolm Merlyn? I do.
What did you all think of this week's episode? Sound off in the comments below!

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