In general, the hardest part of delivering an effective shocker in TV is figuring out how to follow it up. Unlike in film, where the big twist typically comes right before the climax and subsequent concluding action, TV writers must deal with the consequences of their decisions for much longer tenures, whether it involves a death, mistaken identity or a kiss. Arrow dropped a real bombshell a few weeks back when Slade revealed to Laurel that Oliver was, in fact, the Arrow. Naturally, the pressure’s on to follow strong with this latest development.
“The Man Under the Hood,” while not without occasional moments of genuine excitement, is a bit of a frustrating follow-up to that phenomenal episode—mostly in how it dangles juicy confrontations in front of us only to have them interrupted at the key moment. Laurel is about to confront the Arrow about his secret identity, only to get a phone call about her dad being beaten up. Oliver is about tell Thea an important bit of information when Felicia rings about an emergency. By the end of the episode, you will find yourself cursing those annoying mobile devices and their propensity towards gutting dramatic moments.
Not that the writers don’t try to give fans some hearty drama. For one, the episode begins with a (literal) bang, as Team Arrow detonates a warehouse full of Starling City’s most cutting-edge technology. While their mission is clear—destroying the machinery is a way of preventing Slade from mass producing the Mirakuru serum—it’s clear that Oliver has major reservations about demolishing the building and, thus, a chance for Starling City to build itself back up via its tech-savvy prowess. A later news report calls the event a “terrorist” action, and it’s hard to look at what the team is doing and not have that same word buzzing in your head.
The rest of the hour, unfortunately, boasts scene after scene of some of the more cringe-inducing, CW-approved soapiness that the show has fought hard to either push against or re-appropriate into more organic storylines. Though scenes like Thea bemoaning the status of her life are more than earned at this point, the reveal that Isabel Rochev, in addition to hooking up with Oliver earlier in the season, also carried on an extended affair with his late father, really pushes the melodrama to almost laughable extremes.
The episode also bears the burden of trying to shoehorn a tie-in for the upcoming Flash pilot. In an attempt to steal a machine that will help build his superarmy of Mirakuru-infused soldiers, Slade travels to S.T.A.R. labs in Central City, home of future Flash Barry Allen (who, it’s noted, remains in a coma). Instead of Barry, we get to meet characters who most likely will turn out to be the members of Team Flash—S.T.A.R. lab engineers Caitlin Snow (presumably, the future Killer Frost) and Cisco Ramon (presumably, the future Vibe). I have to admit, while the two are presented as a fun, charming pair with great rapport, their confrontation with Deathstroke feels a bit too tangential for my taste, especially in an episode that’s already brimming with subplots.
But let’s talk about the good stuff now. For one, much like the opening scene, we get an Island flashback scene with major moral implications. Oliver and Sara must now deal with a dying Ivo. He begs to be put out of his misery, even offering up the location of an antidote for the Mirakuru in exchange for a merciful death. When it comes to Sara pulling the trigger, however, she is clearly conflicted about doing so. It’s here that Ivo begins recounting the events that led him to this point. He wasn’t always a slick-haired comic villain, but was once a loving family man who became obsessed with developing the Mirakuru serum. In a shocking turn, however, Ivo is gunned down, mid-speech, by Oliver, deciding to do Sara’s dirty work. It’s a shocking bit of cold-blooded killing, especially considering the perpetrator is our heroic protagonist. “Once you take a life, it changes you forever,” he explains to Sara in an attempt to justify his actions. “I don’t want that for you.” Of course, considering that Sara will literally join a league of assassins soon after, this gesture becomes pretty hollow in retrospect.
This darker side of Oliver resonates all the more when coupled with the revelation in the present that he had the chance to cure Slade back on the Island but chose to kill him instead. This anger-fueled act, in turn, is what led to Slade’s current rampage. While no one in their right mind would ever blame Oliver for the death of Shado, considering the circumstances, it’s this decision that goes a long way to explain Oliver’s guilt surrounding the present events. In a way, almost all of the events of the second season occurred because he could not keep his anger in check. (At least, I’m assuming so … we’ll find out when that particular flashback comes around.)
Then there’s the episode’s climax, wherein we discover that Slade has abducted Roy and is pumping his Mirakuru -rich blood into the bodies of his super soldiers. At first glance, Roy being an instrument of Slade feels like a logical step, but kudos to the writers that it didn’t hit me until this very moment. If there remains a downside to Roy’s rescue, a fun action scene in its own right, it’s that—for some reason—Isabel has chosen to join Slade in the fight. Considering she’s his corporate face, it’s a tad odd that she would be drawn in a violent brawl of this sort. As such, it’s not at all surprising when Diggle guns her down.
Overall, “The Man Under the Hood” simply buckles under the weight of its ambitions. It’s determined to throw as many rich stories in as possible, yet simultaneously robs us of the plotlines we’d really like to see develop. Unlike other Arrow episodes, which prove less successful because of either a bland baddie or an unambitious storyline, this one simply feels like it was trying way too hard to be a great, water-cooler Arrow episode. Still, there are more than enough great moments here to justify the more eye-rolling ones.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.