Arrow S05E11 “Second Chances” REVIEW
Essential plot points:
- Three years ago Tina Boland was being held prisoner by gangsters in Central City. As they shoot her partner in front of her, the STAR Labs particle accelerator explodes, and its metahuman-creating wave hits her just as she screams…
- Back in the present day, Oliver is rejecting candidates put forward by the team for the new Black Canary, frustrating the team, until Curtis reveals he’s heard of a metahuman with a Canary Cry taking on gangs across the USA.
- Adrian Chase meets with Oliver and Diggle, revealing he’s been told of an NSA file that exposes General Walker’s dodgy deals.
- Felicity gets straight on with digging into the NSA’s files, while the rest of the team head to Hub City, where the metahuman has been spotted.
- They find her on the roof top, where Oliver tries to recruit her to the team, but she wants none of it. They start digging into her background, and discover she was a detective with Central City PD, and is hunting down the man who killed her partner – Sean Sonus.
- At the lair, Felicity breaks into the NSA server but discovers the files that she needs have been removed, putting Diggle’s future in jeopardy.
- Curtis tracks down Tina to an apartment where she’s torturing one of Sonus’s gang. She kills him with her Canary Cry, but more of the gang have tracked her down. While Rene holds them off, Oliver follows a fleeing Tina and confronts her, offering to help her as he understands the pain she’s going through. But she uses her Cry to incapacitate him then escapes.
- Felicity continues to try and track down the NSA files, looking for their digital footprint. She’s contacted online by a mysterious figure, Kojo Sledgehammer, who appears to know her former hacker name and offers to help if they can meet in real life.
- Tina tracks down Sonus and confronts him, but he has metahuman powers of his own that make her go dizzy and collapse. As he prepares to kill her, Oliver and Rene arrive, and manage to stop him. He uses his powers on them and escapes.
- Curtis realises Sonus and Tina’s powers are linked by the particle accelerator explosion, and modifies the sonic dampener they used on Black Siren and Tina to take on the gangster.
- Felicity meets with Kojo Sledgehammer, who turns out to be another hacktivist working with a group, Helix, that was inspired by Goth Felicity’s former hacks. Kojo gives her a USB stick containing all the files on Walker, in the hope of inspiring Felicity to take up hacking again.
- Oliver reveals his secret identity to Tina, to get her trust, and eventually persuades her to work with the team to take down Sonus.
- They track Sonus down to a rooftop, where they take on him and his gang. Eventually Tina corners him and pulls a gun on him. Oliver tries to reason with her not to kill him, but when he asks what her former partner would want, she guns the gangster down.
- Chase is sent the NSA files and uses them to persuade the JAG to suspend the charges against Diggle, allowing him to be released on bail. Felicity, however, starts digging into all the other hacked files from Helix.
- Tina visits Oliver in Star City, and reveals her own real name – Dinah Drake. They’re both looking for a second chance, and she joins up with the team.
- In flashbacks to Russia, Talia reveals she trained Yao Fei and says she wants to help Oliver. She coerces him into take down one of Kovar’s associates in brutal fashion. After this, she produces his father’s list and says he’s been hiding from his duties in killing the people on it. To motivate him, she gives him a green outfit, hood and bow…
So, what to make of “Second Chances”?
On the one hand, it’s a straightforward episode about the team recruiting a new member — something we’ve seen so many times in the past five years that now it’s become almost rote. The vigilante in question is confronted by Oliver and co about their actions; a tragic backstory is discovered; they do something bad; then it doesn’t improve their feelings so they seek redemption on the team instead.
But on another, “Second Chances” is almost a meta-commentary on the show. This season, as we’ve noted before, has been about unpicking some of the perceived damage to the Arrow “brand” (from some aspects of fandom) deriving from the fact that it’s too soapy now and more concerned with relationships than the brutal vigilantism that made the show’s name.
Whether you agree with that depends, of course, on how your fandom’s bread is buttered, but there’s a lot of very on-the-nose comments in the episode about folk moving on from their past, finding themselves again, and looking to their future. Oliver, Felicity, Dinah and Rene all make reference to it in varying degrees, and it feels like someone’s trying to make a point about the second half of this season moving on.
To cement that, we see in flashback the genesis of the Arrow himself, as Talia al-Ghul — played by Lexa Doig sporting another of those ridiculous accents that only comes from sticking a pin in a spinning globe and hoping for the best — gives him the hood, outfit and bow we see him wielding in the first season.
So, after last week’s shenanigans with Black Siren, it almost feels like this is, to misuse a Hollywood phrase du jour, a soft reboot.
With that reboot comes yet another member of the ever-expanding Arrow team, as Juliana Harkavy joins the crew as the new Black Canary, this time, a metahuman one with a natural Canary Cry caused by her screaming as the particle accelerator exploded.
It’s an obvious but effective way of bringing her into the fold, with an interesting new backstory to fit the original comics character into the format of the show (although we remain disappointed we’ve not had the rock star Black Canary incarnation from the comics of a couple of years ago).
There’s a couple of weird things that don’t quite land in the episode though, not least the Talia/Oliver flashbacks in Russia, as we see her motivating him, through murder and prompting his memories of his father’s list — to return home and become the Arrow.
As we know from earlier this season that Prometheus knows of the List and has also apparently been trained by the same person as Oliver, the implication appears to be that Talia is either Prometheus with a Michael Dorn voice-changer or is responsible for creating Prometheus. And looking at the origin of the name suggests some interesting candidates for that…
The other thing that doesn’t land is the whole hacktivist thing. We’ve already seen pain-pill popping Felicity confront her gothy self last year, getting all that out her system. Yet a loveably quirky hacker gives her a USB stick and an appeal to her inner Snowden, and suddenly she’s conflicted again. It goes so far away from what we know about Felicity as to be laughable.
That said, both these moves, and Diggle’s apparently easy spring from prison thanks to leaked NSA files, seem like the first steps in ongoing plots rather than moments in their own right, so it’ll be interesting to see where the show takes them. But for now, as first steps, they feel slightly stumbling and awkward.
It’s a shame, too, that comics villain Discord — for that’s who Sonus is, a regular foe of the Green Arrow and Black Canary from the comics — is dispatched quite so easily, as the set-up for him to be an ongoing nuisance in the background would have been fun.
All that isn’t to say “Second Chances” is a bad episode. It’s not, in any way. It’s fantastically paced, Juliana Harkavy looks to be a good addition to the cast with an interesting character backstory, and the fight sequences — including the climactic rooftop battle involving dozens of thugs and a helicopter — are well-staged by debutant director Mark Bunting and the stunt crew. But it rarely rises past “above average”, and after a run of strong episodes immediately pre- and post-Christmas, above average is a step backwards.
- Rick Gonzalez continues to quietly steal his scenes as Rene, with a lovely line in pissed-off exasperation, be it at Oliver’s decisions, facing metahumans or even just fighting folk (“I am going to get to use my guns, right?”). Also, fair play to Gonzalez for managing to even attempt to eat those burgers. Seriously, they make Solita’s Big Manc burger in Manchester look like party food…
- Hopefully this isn’t the last we see of Kojo Sledgehammer, the fan-girl hacktivist played by the brilliant Kacey Rohl, who turns in a wonderfully quirky performance as the Felicity wannabe. Rohl was great in Hannibal and the US remake of The Killing, so it’s great to see her here.
- The gag with Barry, the Post-It note and Captain Singh – lovely. (It was certainly a lot better than the crappy Flash cameo in Suicide Squad – ed.)
- Rory and Rene still sporting the scars from their previous scraps with Black Siren last week is a nice touch.
- One of the downsides of Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends all filming in Vancouver is that, after five years of watching this stuff, you get very very familiar with the skyline. And obviously there’s only so much budget to tweak buildings and hide landmarks to go around. So watch as Olly goes copter surfing, and see how many familiar buildings from Star City and Central City YOU recognise on the Hub City skyline…
- Felicity, a former IT support officer, hacker and computer whizz, who has brought down companies and government organisations with the power of her keyboard, is given a USB stick by a random off the dark web — and just sticks it in the port? We think not. It’s pretty much cyber security 101 not to do that. Especially, you’d think, if you’re working with a group of vigilantes hiding their identities in a secret lair…
- Ghost Fox Goddess and Kojo Sledgehammer? Are these really the sort of names hackers have on the Dark Web? One senses Elliot Alderson would laugh in their faces…
And the Random:
- Making his directorial debut is Mark Bunting, a long time crew-member who’s worked as first AD on a good chunk of this season. He’s got a bunch of credits to his name, having been an assistant director on projects as varied as Dark Angel (remember that?), the horrendous Daredevil movie spin-off Elektra, and Josh Trank’s found-footage superhero flick Chronicle. He does a decent job with his first shot in the big chair.
- So, Tina Bolland is in fact Dinah Drake. In the comics, she was the original Black Canary, retconned into being the Earth-2 version of the character, and then again with Dinah Drake becoming Laurel’s mother, before all that was kind of airbrushed out for the New 52. Of course, in the Arrowverse Dinah was Laurel’s real name, but she used Laurel to avoid confusion with her mother, who was also called Dinah. She’s a professor in Central City, where Dinah Drake’s also from. Simples.
- So, are there two Linda Parks in the Arrowverse? Because we see on the TV the old clip from Arrow season two when the news covered the particle accelerator explosion when Barry became the Flash. However, Flash also introduced Linda Park, this time a sports journalist who Barry has a thing with.