**This post contains spoilers for episode 2.20 of Arrow, “Seeing Red.”**
Buckle in, because there is a lot to unpack from this episode. I want to start this off by saying that this is easily one of the best episodes of the series. The pacing and plotting were tight, the transitions were smooth, the emotions ran high, and all of the characters managed to be likeable even though they were all being extreme versions of themselves (except Laurel, who only appeared in flashbacks).
Since starting my blog posts about Arrow, one of my favorite things to dissect has been the character of Moira Queen. She gets a lot of hate from the fans, usually because she’s lying to Oliver, threatening Felicity, or, you know, that time she played a part in the deaths of over 500 people. She makes tons of bad decisions, a lot of dubious calls, and clearly exists in a morally grey area. No one would call her a good person, but she’s not inherently evil, either. Ever since we’ve known her, Moira has always been single-minded: She will do absolutely anything in the best interest of her children.
This philosophy often backfires for her. She was so determined to keep Oliver and Thea safe from the clutches of Malcolm Merlyn that she allowed herself to be part of the Undertaking. It resulted in Oliver’s broken trust as well of the loss of his best friend. She wanted to protect Thea (and the rest of the world) from knowing her true paternity, but the secret destroyed her relationship with her daughter. Indeed, the very trait that Oliver seems to derive solely from his mother is the one trait that Thea can’t abide in either of them. Secrets, lies, and half-truths are the only reasons Moira and Oliver have survived so long in this world, and they tell themselves that Thea’s lack of duplicity is the thing that will ultimately destroy her, so they take on the burden themselves. Even in his deepest hatred of his mother, Oliver’s instinct was still to keep the truth from Thea, in order to protect her. Thea is their innocent, despite the fact that she’s withstood more than either of them understand.
Oliver’s kept so many secrets since that shipwreck, but none as big as The Arrow. He kept that secret from Moira, and she, in turn, kept it a secret that she’d figured it out during the Undertaking. It’s not clear why she decides to tell him now, just before her big rally, when he’s still lying to her and pretending his broken leg is just a motorcycle accident. He freezes with his back to her, because he has to make a decision: more lies, or truth by omission? And if it had been anyone else — Laurel, Thea — he would’ve kept lying. But this is Moira, and the one thing they have in common is their secrets, it’s the bond they’ve always shared. So he takes a moment to turn around, and goes with the truth. He instinctually tries to stop her from saying the words, but this is Moira, and she’s already three steps ahead of him. “There’s nothing else to say, nothing I need to say, except I could not be more proud.”
It’s such a great moment for Moira, who goes on and holds her rally, deciding not to resign her candidacy in order to work on her relationship with Thea. She even looks to Oliver in the crowd for strength. It’s all done with the belief that she’s not done making bad choices — she will always choose her children over The Greater Good — but there’s also a sense that maybe she’ll start trying to emulate her son and try to fix the problems of the city, problems that she and her family created in the first place.
The flashbacks to this episode are not island-based, but instead involve Oliver confessing to his mother that he got a girl pregnant. Moira snaps into protection mode, asking all the usual questions (“Are you sure it’s yours? Is she after our money?”) before hiring an investigator to research the young woman. She offers up a million dollars if the woman tells Oliver she lost the baby, and another million if she went back to Central City and stayed there. Toward the end of the episode, past!Ollie gets a phone call confirming that the woman had miscarried, but the implication is that he actually has a six- or seven-year-old kid running around Central City, just waiting to show back up in mid-season 3. So that’s fun.
The flashbacks serve to show the sort of lengths Moira goes to in order to preserve her childrens’ futures, so that it makes a lot of sense later when she offers herself up to be slain in place of one of her children.
After the rally, the Queens are in a limousine heading for home, and just as Moira is about to tell Oliver and Thea that Malcolm Merlyn is alive and lurking offstage, just waiting for the season finale, their limo is t-boned and the screen cuts to black. Oliver wakes up to find his mother and sister bound and kneeling, with Slade looming behind them. Does this sound familiar? It should, because it’s how Ivo made Oliver choose between Sara and Shado over five years ago. Oliver starts crying and shaking his head, because he knows how this ends, but that doesn’t stop Slade from monologuing in front of a confused Thea and Moira.
He and Oliver argue about Shado, with Slade finally conceding the point that Shado’s heart belonged to Oliver, only to have Oliver choose someone else over her. It’s also the first time Slade indicates that he’s hallucinating Shado, just like Roy was hallucinating Thea earlier in the episode. Moira figures out with dawning horror that Slade was on the island with Oliver, and the music gets even more foreboding.
Oliver begs Slade to kill him, but they both know that’s an empty request. Slade wants Oliver to suffer, he won’t suffer if he’s dead. Instead, Slade gives Oliver the choice, and for the second time in his life, Oliver is faced with an impossible decision. And for the second time in his life, Oliver screams “No!” rather than choosing. It’s when Slade turns the gun on Thea that everything changes. Moira stands and offers herself so that both of her children can live. Oliver cries and begs her to stop while Thea sobs and asks what she’s doing.
Slade points the gun right at her face, his one eye filled with tears, and Moira yells, “Thea, I love you! Close your eyes, baby!” They’re her last words; Slade praises her for the bravery her son lacks, then he stabs her in the torso with his sword. Just like last time, when Shado was shot, Oliver’s body goes limp and he falls over sideways as his mother crumples to the ground.
She got a better ending than Shado, and hopefully that’s because some writers learned from Shado’s death. At the time, we suspected she would be killed, but we thought it would be in battle, or in defense of Oliver or Slade. What we didn’t expect was for her to be bound, powerless and kneeling, with two men deciding whether she lived or died. None of that was Oliver’s fault, but it still rankled that a warrior like Shado went out at the split decision of a man.
Slade wasn’t there for that, as he told Oliver when he first awakened. He wondered how Oliver looked, how it happened, and what was said, but he doesn’t know. Moira is no warrior, she was only ever blue-blooded, sharp-tongued, and calculating… but she was also self-sacrificing, fiercely protective, and based every decision on the welfare of her children. This was her moment, because she could not live after watching one of her children die. She already faced the reality of outliving each of her children: when Oliver disappeared for five years, and when Thea was abducted by Slade. She knew she could never survive that, she knew the only course of action was to protect her children one last time, so she stood up and sacrificed herself. She begged her daughter to close her eyes, and the last thing she heard was her daughter’s screams, because her son had been shocked into silence.
As Moira lay on the ground, Slade stands over Thea and says, “There is still one person who has to die before this can end.” Oliver faintly protests, clearly in shock, and for a second it looks like Slade will behead Thea, but he only cuts her hands free before walking away. I’m not sure who else he intends to kill. The easy bet would be on Sara, since she was the one Oliver chose over Shado, but if Slade’s going for the biggest emotional impact, I still think Diggle, Felicity, and Laurel are in the mix there. The fact that Slade didn’t kill Thea says something about his priorities.
Slade probably always intended to kill Moira in this standoff. He must’ve had this planned for a while, because he had the perfect clearing (which so resembled the one where Oliver had to choose between Sara and Shado), he orchestrated the crash, and he needed Sebastian Blood to be the next mayor. There was no version of this showdown that didn’t end with Moira being killed. Even if he didn’t expect Moira to stand up and show the bravery her son so lacked, Slade probably knew that Oliver would’ve dove to protect Thea over Moira. She is their innocent, and a world where Oliver and Moira are the last Queens alive and burying a murdered Thea is a bleak world indeed. Moira never would’ve forgiven Oliver, and Oliver never would have forgiven himself.
It’s disheartening to watch Slade playing Oliver like a fiddle. We watched as Sara tore away at Oliver’s hope, because her nature is darkness, self-preservation, and pragmatism. Oliver’s nature is to believe, and when he loses that ability, he retreats in on himself. He goes back to his island and sleeps on the ground and runs through the woods, haunted by his ghosts, until someone else who believes comes to rescue him. We watched that light die out on the island, slowly but surely, starting with Yao Fei and lasting up until the current flashbacks. He was a kid who couldn’t kill a chicken, who believed that there was a way off of that island without letting it become part of him, but by the time he was rescued in the pilot, he was all darkness and distrust. The fact that Oliver refuses to give up on Roy is not weakness, it’s that same belief that Oliver’s always had inside him, the belief that there is still some humanity left even in the worst people.
That makes Sara’s story twice as tragic, because she was lighter and brighter than Oliver before their shipwreck. She’s been broken and mended more times than we know, and now, she doesn’t know how to fight in this world without the instinct to kill. Oliver’s fought that same instinct since Tommy died, but Sara’s become too hard-wired and too removed from her old life to be able to go back. She says goodbye to Oliver, saying “You deserve someone better, someone who can harness that light that’s still inside of you. But I’m not that person, and I never will be.”
She doesn’t apologize for who she is, and she doesn’t leave to change herself. She recognizes that her relationship with Oliver is not built on mutual trust or similar outlooks, it’s solely based on shared history. It ran its course today, because her instinct to kill was so corrosive to Oliver. She gave up on Roy too soon, and it hurt Oliver every time she challenged him on it. Don’t get me wrong — Sara was probably right! Roy might be past repair, and there is a dead cop in his wake even if he does come to, which makes Oliver’s decision seem even more foolhardy. But if Oliver decided Roy wasn’t worth saving, then where would the line be drawn? Would he sacrifice Diggle or Felicity, or even Sara or Laurel, for similar reasons if it meant helping the greater good?
Sara leaves with a hug and a goodbye to a confused Sin, but she’ll be back. Sin, meanwhile, had a big episode. She was hit pretty hard by Roy after she encountered him in the street, and she’s the one who alerts Sara and Oliver to his whereabouts when he closes himself off in the clock tower. That’s where Roy ends up breaking Oliver’s leg (or blowing out his knee? I’m squeamish about that stuff so I didn’t look too closely) before ending up in the street, where Sin watches in horror as he rampages. It results in the death of a cop, which should’ve been Oliver’s cue to start using deadly force.
Roy’s hallucinating a version of Thea that begs him to kill her, which is why he ends up at Verdant, wrapping his hand around her throat. That’s when Sara tries to take the kill shot, but Sin gets between them, spurred by the same instinct as Oliver to save her friend. That gives Oliver the opportunity to shoot Roy in the chest with three arrow tranquilizers, which finally takes him down. They strap him back to the table downstairs in the lair, but honestly, I don’t know where the Roy storyline will go from here. He ran around town without a mask, causing tons of property damage, injuries, and one fatality. It’s nice that Oliver thinks he’s still worth saving, but how will the show rectify Roy’s public perception, assuming he actually comes back around? How will they explain everything to Thea?
– Thea and Diggle’s scenes were adorable. I like the idea of future lurking on Diggle’s part as Thea acts exasperated, but that seems like a lot to ask of a show that just got so dark in the last ten minutes of this episode.
– Speaking of darkness, fandom seems to think Felicity is the answer to Sara’s bid for more light-harnessing in Oliver. The show seems to be hinting at that, since they’ve used the word “darkness” in connection with Laurel a lot this season, plus Felicity’s name means “happiness.”
– There was also this:
Because I am still a shipper at heart even though I try to be non-partial in these reviews.
– Lastly, this:
Because Diggle is perfect and he Diggle’d all of his scenes. Even when he took a rope stand to the face, he took it like a champ.
Next week: A funeral, a missing former CEO, a crying Felicity, and an Arrow confession from Oliver. I really hope he’s either telling Beat Cop Lance or Thea, because at this point, I don’t want anyone else to know.