TV Review: Arrow: Season 2: Episode 15: The Promise (CW)

Have you ever wondered why there are so many reboots? You can cut it down to the the cynical explanation, sure. Exploit a new generation, make some more money. But […]

Have you ever wondered why there are so many reboots? You can cut it down to the the cynical explanation, sure. Exploit a new generation, make some more money. But I prefer to think of it as simplicity. Because before you start making a new version of an old character, there’s a moment just before the pressure to be accepted, the decision on your target demographic, and the troubleshooting phase against contemporary success and failure where you can see everything that made that character great in the first place. Every superhero has a unique story to tell. And telling a unique story sometimes requires the understanding that not all stories are epics. It’s a problem with modern comic book cinema, in the assumption that all superhero movies need to be…well…super. There’s elegance in simplicity for both stories and characters, and when it comes right down to it, stories of betrayal and revenge are some of the oldest in the book. It’s a universal theme as old as time across any medium or culture. That in and of itself is just one of the many many reasons that The Promise absolutely knocks it out of the park.  The Promise

The episode starts exactly where Time of Death ended, which is a welcome change from jumping ahead a couple of days or even months. Moira has found a powerful political ally in Slade Wilson, but only Oliver really understands what Slade is truly capable of. Therein lies the genius of the episode. It’s the big dramatic irony that really sells the tension. We know what’s happening and so does Oliver, but Moira has absolutely no idea how much danger she is in. But it’s when Thea shows up that we see how high the stakes are. It’s tense and nerve racking and, filled with suspense as they all make their way around the house making small talk.  All the while, Oliver knows that at any minute Slade could kill them all with relative ease. But we’re forced (like Oliver) to watch as Slade continues to put on airs as a wealthy Renaissance man, playing with Oliver the most dramatic and slow way possible. It’s torture. It’s absolute torture, as we spend the entire episode knowing of his power and even his desire to kill Oliver, and we’re forced to watch as he just doesn’t. Even when Oliver makes a desperate attempt to kill him, he simply bats him around like a cat. Showing, for the first time since the series started, just how devious Manu Bennett’s Slade can be. And it’s just incredible. Though it’s when Oliver contacts the rest of the team, that the tension really jumps up to 11.

The PromiseThere are two things that happen in the scene in the Arrow Cave that will be relevant to comic fans. One was Roy shooting arrows at a target (Awesome!), and two is Sara telling Roy to be patient (Double Awesome!). Anyway, Oliver manages to call Felicity without Slade noticing. And now it’s not just Oliver alone with Slade. Team Arrow jumps right in to action and sets up for the big fight that’s coming. In fact, they even seem to have the advantage. Everyone jumps in to their own jobs on a plan thrown together in a matter of moments, and further illustrates the efficiency of the team, and also how capable they are even without Oliver. Felicity tracks the heat signitures of Oliver, Slade, Thea, and Moira, Diggle sets up with a sniper rifle, Roy goes in to get Thea and Moira away from Slade, and Sara comes in to back Oliver up. Also I have a confession. This is the VERY first time I’ve seen Caity Lotz’ Sara Lance as the Black Canary.

Promise Arrow Canary

                                                                                (This scene, right here.)

She stands her ground next to Oliver. She’s cool, calm, collected, and absolutely ready for a fight. It’s such a subtle job from Lotz and does more for her character than any blonde wig or black bustier could ever do, really driving home how much potential she has in the series.

Once they reveal themselves to Slade it seems like it’s time for the big fight. This entire time has been spent building up tension, and sending the suspense in to overload as everyone waits for Slade to make his move. Then he doesn’t. Here are two of the most dangerous and capable fighters and killers that the world has ever seen, the big showdown between them has been building up all the way to this point. And when it doesn’t happen, when the audience gets cheated out of our big fight scene, it’s the best part of the episode. Because the Slade’s plan never was a fight.  He just wanted to hit Oliver at home.  He wanted him to know how easily he could get to Oliver and his loved ones. It’s psychological warfare at it’s most brutal, and The Promisenow we have a sneak preview of what’s going through Slade’s mind, plus we even see why he came to Oliver’s home in the first place. It’s dramatic, tense, and chocked full of character motivated scenes of anxiety that are wonderfully acted by our heroes, a genius cat and mouse game played phenomenally by a much more intelligent and insidious Manu Bennet, and a delightfully oblivious and innocent perspective from Willa Holland and Susanna Thompson.

The episode also sees a much more substantial island flashback presence as the Ivo chapter begins to draw to a close. Sara, Slade, and Oliver are ready to put their freighter takeover plan in to motion. But first Oliver is going to have to get more combat ready. Showing just how far he’s come in his training, and even hooding up for the first time. The flashbacks include a more personal perspective from the characters as they go to face an almost certain death, confronting their impossible odds armed with nothing more than their own desperation, and a nearly suicidal plan. But, it’s still a pretty good plan. I had trouble buying Sara being able too build an anti barbiturate from whatever she found on the island, but besides that the scenes are well presented. Here, the action junkies find their fix. There’s a whole bunch of fantastic fighting and action scenes that really show how well their makeshift team works together in the short amount of time they’ve known each other. But when Oliver comes face to face with Ivo, and has the chance to kill him and keep Slade from ever finding out the truth about Shado’s death, he finds that he The Promisejust can’t kill a man in cold blood. A decision that comes back to bite him almost immediately as Slade hears every word. With the mirakuru running through his system, he’s unable to think reasonably and attempts to kill Oliver. When he fails, and Oliver gets away, he and the rest of the captives of Ivo decide their best bet is to jump ship and get back to the island. But he’s stopped by Slade, who takes over the boat, Ivo’s crew, and throws Oliver in a cage. Starting the antagonistic relationship between Slade and Oliver, and showing just how dangerous Slade really is. Manu Bennett really sells this nihilistic and numb side of Slade, without losing even a little bit of his aggression. It’s the end of a great villain in Ivo, but the start of a possibly greater one in Slade.

The Promise is incredible. It’s a tense story that’s so well told that even without the multiple arcs and side characters, numerous supervillain fight scenes, and trick arrows, it still dominates the screen with it’s solid and suspenseful direction and acting. Everyone plays their part to perfection, including an impressively versatile performance from Manu Bennett. The ability for Team Arrow to function without Oliver is well implied, and could be a compelling arc in future episodes. The island flashbacks blend seamlessly in to the story, answering a lot of The Promisequestions, and showcasing some impressive stunts, and choreography, all the while staying relevant to the modern arc. Oliver putting on the hood for the first time, and running through the forest shooting arrows at trees really carried the impact that it needed to to sell his transformation. Also, the comedic callback to the very first shot we ever saw Oliver make was a welcome distraction from the tension. Ivo’s backstory was weak, but does the job of establishing a human connection with the character, and putting some names to faces of the prisoners on the freighter really helped sell the desperation of the escape, including the return of a personal favorite in David Nykl’s Anatoli Knyazev. The simplicity of the story, acts as an asset, adding a personal touch to the larger overarching plot of the season. In short, it’s the best Arrow has to offer. Simple, straightforward, and character driven. It would have been so easy to simply show how Oliver and Slade became enemies. The could have had a dramatic rooftop fight that ended in a draw. But Arrow takes the high road, trading in arrows for words. Luckily, they’re just as sharp.

-PS

 

Arrow airs Wednesday nights 8 PM/7 PM C only on the CW©

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