Arrow S05E16 “Checkmate” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- Guided by Curtis, Oliver visits a remote castle up a mountain, where he discovers ninjas being trained by Talia. She confirms that Prometheus is Adrian Chase, and that she trained him because Oliver killed both their fathers – revealing she’s the other daughter of Ra’s Al-Ghul.
- Felicity visits Helix’s headquarters and sees their big invention – a hack that lets them see through any cellphone camera and picture archive.
- Oliver returns to Star City to confront Chase, but the DA is already 10 steps ahead of him and reveals he has Susan held captive.
- Curtis and Dinah head to Chase’s mother’s house in Opel City, where they discover a projector showing Prometheus terrorising Susan, while at City Hall Chase returns to work and has a face-off with Quentin and Rene.
- Oliver and Diggle uses the distraction to head to Chase’s house, where they discover his wife. As Oliver tries to explain to her who Chase really is, a police SWAT team arrives – summoned by Chase – and he is forced to flee.
- Felicity finally shows up at the cave, and Oliver tells her he’s worried about her behaviour. Her contacts at Helix have turned up Chase’s real identity – Simon Morrison – from the data harvested at his mother’s house weeks ago.
- DA Chase holds a press conference at City Hall about the attack on his home by the Green Arrow, forcing Oliver as Mayor to announce he’s giving shoot-to-kill orders to the police if the Arrow doesn’t surrender himself within the next 24 hours.
- Oliver passes Felicity’s information about Chase over to Frank Pike, but before the police chief can do anything with it he’s stabbed and left in a coma.
- Alena tells Felicity if she wants Helix to help her any more, she has to do something for them – and gets her to hack Department of Homeland Security drones before they’ll assist her in finding Susan.
- Oliver gets rattled after a face-off with Chase at the hospital, and trashes the Arrowcave in anger, before Diggle calms him down, telling him the rest of the team are a strength to him, not a weakness.
- Helix helps Felicity track down Susan’s location to a disused tower block, but as the team raid it, they discover Chase has set incendiary devices throughout it. One goes off, trapping Rene and Dinah, and while Curtis rescues them, Oliver finds Susan.
- After releasing her, he confronts Chase, bringing his wife in to reveal to her who he is.
- She tries to persuade him to stop, but Chase stabs her to death. As he and Oliver fight, Oliver is wounded by an arrow fired by Talia, who’s been lurking in the shadows.
- When the rest of the team arrives, they find Oliver has been taken.
- Felicity strikes a deal with Helix to do whatever they want of her, in order to use their resources to find Oliver.
- He’s being held prisoner in a cell by Adrian and Talia. Adrian prepares to torture him…
- In flashbacks to Russia, Oliver and Anatoly stage a raid on the ice hockey rink where Gregor is hiding out, taking out his men before Oliver puts an arrow through the Bratva boss.
So after a week’s holiday, we’re into the back eight of this decidedly odd season of Arrow, and a sense of everything starting to fall apart in Star City.
Following the reveal last episode that Adrian Chase is Prometheus, this week we get a tonne of revelations as the show, appropriately enough given all the chess metaphors, puts the pieces in place for this season’s climax.
In fact, there’s so much going on in “Checkmate” that, at times, the episode feels disjointed. The opening, for example, is a curious infodump of important stuff chucked at the audience. We find out Felicity is up to her neck in trouble with Helix, Talia is Ra’s daughter, that she did indeed train Prometheus, and Oliver gets told for the first time that Chase and Prometheus are the same person.
It’s a curious move — so far away from the “show, don’t tell” principles of storytelling — that in some ways feels lazy and in others inspired. Having Oliver find out through some big unmasking of Prometheus would feel cheap this far out from the climax, particularly with the double bluff of Talia’s return thrown in. But it also feels chucked away by being placed as the pre-credits sequence.
It also sets up a problem common to the Arrowverse, but particularly egregious here. Confronted with Chase, and with a free shot at the guy in a parking lot, Oliver doesn’t shoot him because Prometheus is holding Susan captive. Yet tracking missing people’s never been a problem for Team Arrow before, and even if time is an issue, they’ve got access to the fastest people alive, just a phone call away.
Logic would dictate, rather than being driven borderline insane with frustration and rage by Chase, Olly should just shoot him in the head, then worry about tracking Susan down later. But logic, it seems, is beyond Team Arrow at the moment. Indeed, Oliver’s failure to do so acts as a catalyst for everything that happens later. It’s less being 10 steps behind as 50 shades of stupid.
With so much going on, Arrow again resorts to sidelining certain characters; we’re offhandedly told Lyla, John Jr and Thea are all safe and in hiding in case Prometheus comes after them. That too exposes one of the ongoing problems of Arrow this year; that the head of a major, quasi-paramilitary spy agency should feel threatened by a single psycho that she has to go into hiding again.
Lyla spends so much time in safehouses and being hidden by ARGUS she might as well permanently go into witness protection. And yet, because it’s all done off stage, there’s no sense of threat.
The Helix storyline stuff is starting to shift up a gear too, as we discover that far from being a typical TV hackers-style operation, they’ve got a slick control room and technology that feels more like something from The Dark Knight than Wikileaks. The scenes between Felicity and Kojo Sledgehammer feel curiously flat, though, this week, with none of the slightly stalkery, Single-White-Female-with-a-laptop sensibilities of previous weeks.
Where this is going remains to be seen, not least as Curtis is increasingly implicated in things, but it’s such an odd flip of the hacking stuff that it desperately needs a good pay-off.
The Russian flashbacks continued their single narrative approach this week, picking up directly from last week’s climax as Oliver and Anatoly escape a shoot-out to take on Gregor’s men. The ice rink location makes for a nice change — and Arrow-on-Ice absolutely has to happen one day — but the pace of these flashbacks is threatening to derail the rest of the story.
Occasionally Arrow does these kind of episodes, where we get a big turbo boost to the plot, advancing things quickly but doing so with a painful lurch. It’s worth putting up with them because, going into the final run of episodes, the progression felt necessary, but with the way this year has unfolded we’re not sure Arrow can afford to many more.
- Josh Segarra goes full panto villain now the truth is out, walking a tightrope between OTT monster and creepy psycho really well. The confrontation scene at City Hall between Chase, Rene and Lance is particularly worth enjoying.
- Curtis’s T-Spheres are given another run-out, and look set to become his answer to the sonic screwdriver – able to do anything the plot requires at any given time. That said, it’s nice to see them actually giving Curtis a purpose in the team after weeks of being a punchline.
- The hugely destructive fight between an enraged Oliver and Prometheus, as they smash through walls, windows and furniture, is almost cartoony in execution yet it absolutely works; the idea both these guys are throwing everything they have at each other makes it as brutal as it is daft.
- Long-time readers of our Arrow reviews might recall our ongoing irritation with the fact that Star City General Hospital apparently has just one room for patients. Well, today, we get a glimpse of a second one… and to be honest, they’d be as well having stuck to the original one. For some reason, poor comatose Frank Pike has been stuck in a storage cupboard rather than the intensive care ward. Was the other room being used by The Flash or something?
- Gregor’s men are exceptionally stupid, even for action series henchmen. One middle-aged bloke just out of hospital, and one man with a bow and arrow, take out his entire force, who just stand there getting shot. Frankly, with idiocy like that, they deserve what they get.
And The Random:
- “Checkmate” marks the first full directing job for veteran British assistant director and production manager Ken Shane, who has worked behind-the-scenes on everything from bonkers Brit sci-fi flick Lifeforce to Inspector Morse. He was first AD on the Vic and Bob version of Randall & Hopkirk, but in recent years has worked more on US productions, including 2012 and Band Of Brothers. He’s been first AD on Arrow for years, before finally taking the hotseat here.
- That cold open is a good example of the audience being ahead of the show thanks to reviews and media. The idea that Talia is Ra’s al-Ghul’s daughter has been so heavily trailed in interviews, cast announcements and so on, that making the news a revelation in the show feels… odd.
- So Adrian Chase is a pseudonym for Simon Morrison – a chapeau tip by the producers to Prometheus’s creator, comics legend Grant Morrison, and Dr Simon Hurt, one of Morrison’s characters from his Batman run on whom the Arrow version of Prometheus is partly based.
Review by Iain Hepburn