Arrow S05E03 “A Matter of Trust” REVIEW
Essential plot points:
- While his new team watch back at the lair, the Green Arrow chases a dealer of a new designer drug, Stardust, across the rooftops in order to find out his supplier — before dropping him off the roof.
- The Green Arrow receives a message from Billy Malone, a sympathetic police officer (and Felicity’s new boyfriend) that the same person that murdered an anti-crime task force cop had also warned Church off — because he wants to kill Oliver himself.
- Meanwhile Thea is trying to deal with a journalist doing hit pieces on Oliver’s appointment of Quentin Lance as deputy mayor.
- Rene and Evelyn track down the headquarters of the main Stardust producer, Derek Samson – but rather than call for back-up, Rene decides to take on Samson himself. In the ensuing fight, Samson is dropped into a vat of contaminated Stardust and dies.
- Oliver learns from his new District Attorney, Adrian Chase, that he had been about to flip Samson until Rene’s intervention. Furious, he confronts his new recruits about not being ready.
- Rather than make things better, Thea only makes things worse when she tells hostile journalist Susan Williams that Quentin was her appointment, not Oliver’s, as she goes on to do another hit piece about the administration.
- Samson comes back to life during his autopsy – the contaminated Stardust having left him immune to pain – and gathers his old gang together to expose them to the same chemicals, building an army to take over from Church.
- Oliver realises he needs help, and calls his team together, ready to trust them this time. Together the recruits take down Samson’s gang while Oliver battles Samson. Eventually he manages to incapacitate Samson, before leaving him for the authorities.
- Now trusting his new team, Oliver takes them to the Arrow Cave for the first time. In awe, they see the costumes of the old team, before watching as Mayor Oliver gives a press conference backing Thea, confirming Lance and talking about having faith in his team.
- Felicity works up the courage to talk to Rory about what happened, telling him she was responsible for the missile hitting Havenrock. He storms out in shock.
- Meanwhile Diggle has been transferred to prison in the US, awaiting military trial. Lyla is trying to work out how to get him out, digging into the background of the commanding officer who framed him. In his cell, Diggle begins hallucinating conversations with Deadshot, who he once thought had killed his brother Andy, as he comes to terms with his guilt over shooting Andy himself. He tells Lyla not to pursue her efforts to free him, but she turns to Oliver to bust him out of jail
- And in flashback, Oliver learns more about the Bratva’s sense of brotherhood — one of the fellow “recruits” who died last week was a murderer and his death was retribution. Anatoly asks Oliver to trust his new brothers, and he agrees to as they begin to cut him with knives.
After two episodes getting the band together, Arrow finally goes all out to give us an episode showing how the new team will work, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how Oliver copes with a relatively inexperienced team he barely knows.
To do that, we get a story that feels very much like something out of the first couple of seasons — a relatively slight villain of the week who has the unenviable role of looking menacing for a few scenes before he and his henchmen are taken down.
But with so much going on elsewhere, it makes a degree of sense to make the villain storyline something that’s pretty straightforward and simple; Derek Samson is there to effectively play a training dummy, a villain the gang can face while they get used to having the stabilisers off.
At the moment, Curtis aside, there’s not much to make of the new gang. Rene’s a hothead and Evelyn’s young. Beyond that, we’ve not had much background or character work to help us get more of a handle than that. Certainly the depth of introduction that Dig, Sara, Laurel, Roy or Thea had is absent. This may be a side-effect of trying to introduce all the characters in one go, whereas giving them more time to both recruit and integrate the team would have allowed each character an episode to breathe and establish themselves.
Then there’s Ragman. It’s hard to know what to make of Rory, not least because Joe Dinicol’s performance is either one of bemusement when not suited up, or entirely obscured by costume and vocal treatment when he is. That they’re addressing the 1.6 megatonne elephant in the room is good, and that it looks like there will be lasting repercussions is better.
A lot of this episode obviously plays off the shared history between Stephen Amell and Cody Runnels, which makes it curious they don’t actually get to share more than a couple of scenes together, instead relying on nods and in-jokes to the fact the pair had a pro-wrestling match together.
Runnels, who left the WWE to partly pursue a career in acting, looks comfortable in this kind of setting. He’s no Dwayne Johnson, but he’s got a physical presence and a fun charisma that lends itself to a comic book villain role, with an ending that hints at a return in future.
The big surprise, though, is the return of Floyd Lawton, better known as Deadshot. Arrow had its own version of the Suicide Squad, but wrote them all off a couple of years ago as the film version entered production. The DC cinematic universe’s first dibs appeared to have ruled out any of the characters returning — hence Arrow’s version of Amanda Waller being killed off last season — but someone somewhere must have reconciled the two.
The payoff though – that Dig’s imagining Deadshot being in his cell as he reconciles his feelings about Andy – works thanks to some nice performances, not least from the ever reliable David Ramsey, which is just as well because the core concept is a raging cliché; even Aaron Sorkin succumbed to it in the final run of The Newsroom.
Likewise the political stuff going on. Oliver running for mayor and then suddenly dropping out last season felt like a good way of putting him in the firing line for Damien, and then the producers getting themselves out the corner they’d painted themselves into. But going through with it is making for some flimsy storytelling. We’ve had four years of boardroom shenanigans and manoeuvring at the various incarnations of Queen Industries. This feels like it’s just swapping one board for another and so far little of it’s landing. The obvious thing to do — how does the most visible figure in the city maintain a double life — seems to be getting ignored for a paper-thin version of The West Wing, or Boss without the shagging and brain tumours.
That odd tone seems to be symptomatic of the show as a whole this season. It feels like this year’s Arrow has switched focus back to Oliver and the team compared to last year, where the focus was so heavily on Damien Darhk. Part of that was the performance of Neal McDonough, which was so large and charismatic it dominated proceedings. Without that kind of big bad — indeed, Prometheus and Church are both absent this week — there’s a feeling of something missing.
In some ways that’s not a bad thing; taking the show back to its core story after four years of expansion into magic, metahumans and nuclear explosions isn’t to be dismissed. But a bit more impetus and a little less shoe-gazing would be appreciated from hereon in.
- After us making the point about Wild Dog’s hockey mask the last couple of reviews, nice to see the producers making the same joke (for those who don’t get it, Stephen Amell played hockey mask wearing vigilante Casey Jones in the TMNT: Out of the Shadows film earlier this year)
- There’s a different sense of physicality to the fight sequences this season, which continues with Samson’s brawls with Wild Dog and Oliver, both of which are a lot more punchy than before.
- Samson sliding along the arrow to free himself is a great, gruesome WTF moment.
- Arrow doesn’t tend to do a lot of slo-mo action shots, which look such a cliché when done badly, but we get two here and they look awesome. Fair play to the choreographer and DP for pulling it off.
- Maybe it’s just us reading something into it, but there’s a weird, almost homophobic vein to a couple of Rory’s digs at Curtis, not least when Curtis reveals he used to idolise wrestler Terry Sloane. Perhaps it wasn’t intended, but it feels a bit odd.
- What in the name of all that’s sensible is going on with Curtis’s costume. We thought the mask Dig wore as Spartan was terrible, but the one Curtis is wearing is… absolutely baffling. We know it’s comics-accurate but on screen it looks bloody stupid.
- Cody Runnels’ stunt double, clearly visible a couple of times, looks so unlike him its like something out of Face/Off.
- So genuinely the only impact to Arrow from the “Flashpoint” timeline tweaking is the gender flip of Baby Sara to Baby John Jr? I guess it’s hard to make significant changes to the show and characters based on something happing in another show, but that feels like a cop-out.
And the Random:
- So, Cody Runnels then. For those keeping score, that’s two wins Amell holds over him now. If you don’t know who Runnels is, he wrestled in the WWE for the best part of a decade, before quitting earlier this year. Originally wrestling as Cody Rhodes (as he’s the son of legendary ’80s and ’90s star Dusty Rhodes) he adopted the persona of Stardust – hence the drug’s name in this episode. Last year he started a feud with Stephen Amell, a huge pro-wrestling fan, that originally began online but ultimately spilled into the ring as he and King Barrett faced Amell and Neville at the WWE’s second biggest show of 2015, Summerslam. Amell and Neville won, and the Arrow star looked pretty decent in the ring, with him and Runnels becoming real-life pals in the process. It’s worth tracking down the build-up to the match, which was surprising great fun.
- Nice to see them not kill Samson off here either, so a return for Cody’s not off the table.
- Adrian Chase,in the comic books, becomes Vigilante, DC’s equivalent of the Punisher, who originally used non-violent methods to defeat criminals before taking less care about collateral damage. The opposite of Olly’s arc in Green Arrow, really…
- Michael Rowe’s return as Floyd Lawton is amusing, given the hype this year around the tiresome Suicide Squad movie — making Samson’s origin (being dunked into a chemical vat, à la the Joker and SS’s version of Harley) even more fun.
- A lovely piece of retconning sees Terry Sloane referenced this week as “Mr Terrific ‘Fair Play’ Terry Sloane”, a popular babyface wrestler Curtis liked growing up. Sloane was, of course, the original Mister Terrific in the DC comics universe.
- There’s a curious number of Shakespeare references this week. Although Tupac never made any of them.
- Gregory Smith previously directed season three’s “Nanda Parbat” and last year’s “Taken” (the episode with Vixen in it) and “Genesis”. His dad, Maurice, is the producer of a ton of low-budget thrillers and exploitation flicks, including Flesh Gordon Meets The Cosmic Cheerleaders, which is exactly what you’d think it is…
Review by Iain Hepburn