**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.06 of Arrow, “Guilty.”**
Oliver Queen does not give up on people. If you take nothing else away from last night’s Arrow episode, which was a Ted Grant episode disguised as a Roy episode — you should at least glean that about Oliver Queen. It’s one of the few things he did not pick up from the island; it’s deeply embedded in his DNA. It probably started, once upon a time, with Tommy Merlyn, but we never got the backstory of how they became friends or their adventures in getting arrested together. So instead, we look at the first demonstration of Oliver’s deep belief in people: the loyalty he displayed to Yao Fei on the island. No matter what happened, no matter what dire stories Slade told Oliver about betrayal of trust, no matter what kind of evidence pointed to Yao Fei working for the enemies, Oliver was relentless in his attempts to save Yao Fei from Edward Fyers. It was played off as childish naivete, mostly because Oliver was a little whiny back in those days, but ultimately he was right about Yao Fei.
The list continues, straight through the flashbacks and into the present day. He believed in Slade until the Slade he knew was gone. He believed in Diggle. He believed in Felicity. He believed in Sara. He believed in Quentin. He believed in Walter, and he even believed in Moira, though a few too many secrets drove him away for a while. Remember all the fights Oliver would have with Diggle about Moira’s true nature? That’s because Oliver simply cannot function in a world where the good doesn’t outweigh the bad — that for every villain he stops, a truly good person is saved.
He believes in Roy in the same way he believed in Sara, that their motives and their hearts outweighed their past actions. That might be why he’s being so obstinate about Roy this time around, when everything seems to incriminate him, because in his mind, Roy and Sara are intrinsically linked. Sara wanted to kill Roy when he was on Mirakuru, and Oliver had the same argument with Sara back then that he had with Diggle tonight: he can’t give up on Roy. It’s not in his nature.
Roy is pretty sure he killed Sara. He’s been having vivid dreams about throwing arrows at her on that rooftop, of watching her fall, but he doesn’t remember being there or having a motive. He confides in Felicity that he worries about traces of Mirakuru still being in his blood, but Felicity checks his blood and he’s clean. When he finally reveals his nightmares to her, Felicity gravely points out that the trajectory of the arrows in Sara’s body don’t match the trajectory of arrows shot from a bow; she also says the DNA on the arrows came back inconclusive for a match. She seems frightened on Roy’s behalf, but he can’t take it anymore and tells the group the truth, unfortunately while Laurel is present.
Roy makes his escape even as Diggle tries to stop him, and that’s when a very revealing argument ensues. Diggle makes a case for bringing in Roy, and Oliver asks, “So you bring him in. Then what?”
“Oliver, this crusade of ours, it’s supposed to be about justice, right? Well if that’s supposed to mean something, we can’t have two sets of rules: one for the bad guys, and one for us.”
“I’m the one who brought Roy in to this crusade.”
“Then maybe it’s time for you to cut him loose.”
“Are you telling me to abandon him?”
“Yes, Oliver. If that’s what it takes to find justice for Sara.”
Diggle’s being the soldier here, trying to stick to the arbitrary moral code that they’ve set for themselves. Maybe he turned a blind eye to Roy killing that cop last season, and Sara’s death is just the final straw. Either way, everyone in this episode seems to be forgetting that Oliver (aided and abetted by Diggle) killed a ton of people in the first season. (Lance’s line to Ted about seventeen murders, “That’s more than the Son of Sam!” was particularly laughable considering I think Oliver’s body count more than doubles that.) It wasn’t until Felicity came onboard, pointing out the families and loved ones of the targets and refusing to partake in some of the missions, that Oliver started questioning his own methods. It wasn’t until Tommy found out his secret and displayed deep disgust over Oliver’s body count that Oliver really started to doubt himself. And it wasn’t until Tommy’s death that Oliver finally vowed to do whatever he could to avoid killing in the future.
But Diggle is right, Oliver can’t willfully and arbitrarily protect people who fall under his umbrella of affection. This is in line with Digg’s character, too, as he’s had this argument with Oliver about Laurel countless times, and he was even dubious when Oliver brought Felicity onboard. Diggle is a hard sell, and even if he really likes Roy, he’s probably standing there wondering, “What if it had been me or Felicity?” They were a team, after all. But I don’t know. This seems abrupt and extreme even for Diggle.
(I’ve thought about it for hours and I’m still not sure how abandoning Roy brings Sara any justice, so I’ll just chalk it up to the writers trying to add in a line that sounds good for a sound bite, otherwise I’ve got nothing.)
The thought of abandoning Roy never crosses Oliver’s mind. He seems to figure out pretty quickly that Roy’s having repressed memories from that time he killed the cop, but he still presses Felicity for more information about Sara’s body as he runs around on the Ted Grant case. Did I mention this is a Ted Grant episode? Yeah, I haven’t even gotten to him yet.
That is one of the best moments for both Roy and Oliver; Roy for displaying his vulnerability (remember how dudebro he was at the beginning, how he tried to push Thea away and act like he didn’t care about other people’s approval? Roy’s come a long way) and Oliver for still believing in him despite everything. Later, Roy tells Oliver what the other man had claimed: that he was just another weapon in Oliver’s arsenal. That’s when Oliver gently says, “Maybe that’s what we should call you.” Thus, Arsenal is born. But not without some bumps in the road.
After another unexpectedly emotional exchange, Oliver guides Roy through meditation, which helps Roy realize that he was conflating Sara’s death with the cop he killed. It’s very elegant, and I have to give props to the show for this: Roy looked up and saw Sara’s face in the broken face of the clock tower that night. That, plus the arrows in Sara, are the reason is brain cooked up this vivid non-memory of killing Sara. And in an even more elegant way, Oliver suspected this all along.
Roy’s not comforted by this news, not really. “So I didn’t kill Sara… but I am a murderer.” He’ll be too hard on himself, as he should be, because that cop was an innocent who was only doing his job, and he left behind a family who expected him to come home that night. If Roy had brushed that off and cried, “Oh, that’s a relief! Yeah, great, I’m famished, let’s get some burgers!” then that would’ve been alarming and borderline psychotic. But I hope Oliver works hard to help Roy cut himself some slack. He was drugged, he wasn’t in his right mind, and the fact that he can feel such deep remorse is a good thing. It’ll fuel his desires to protect the city and make it better. And after all… Oliver is a murderer, too. Or did literally everyone forget that?
But that’s enough about Roy! This was actually a Ted Grant episode. Turns out he’s an ex-MMA fighter who even fought in a few title fights (Diggle even watched one!) with the nickname “Wildcat.” Fitting! He’s also an ex-vigilante, which is an unexpected and neat parallel with Oliver’s story, is it not?
Ted’s being framed for sixteen murders of drug lords and other bad people in the city, all strung up with blood on the ground spelling “Guilty.” One is hanging in his boxing gym, which Oliver is investigating when Ted and Laurel show up fresh from their dinner. Laurel is Ted’s alibi, but Oliver’s hackles are up (“Just because Laurel trusts him doesn’t mean I have to”) and he tracks Ted to a storage unit where, surprise! another body is strung up. That’s when Ted reveals his past vigilantism and the frame-up, which Oliver takes with a grain of salt. (Also, the fact that Oliver broke a lot of his patented and practiced MMA fighter holds doesn’t bode well for Laurel’s training.)
Oliver never heard of him because Ted stuck to the Glades and was only active six years ago (doing the math, that would be the second year Oliver was gone… so while he’s battling Ivo and trying to save Slade, Ted’s running around the Glades targeting drug lords). He gave up vigilantism after one of his targets was beaten to death (he continually takes the blame until it’s revealed that his apprentice, and the man currently framing him, had actually killed him) and never told anyone about his storage locker, telling Oliver that he’s sure he has one just like it. “Mine’s bigger,” Oliver says, because he is a man and he can’t resist measuring.
He and Ted team up to try to track down the killer, but they’re cornered in their very next location when they’re ambushed by a man with a gun. A gun! A man using a gun on this, the show called Arrow. Only two people are allowed to use guns here: Quentin Lance and John Diggle. Everyone else is supposed to use outdated weaponry!
Anyway, the guy escapes with Oliver in pursuit, leaving Ted to get arrested. He reveals to Laurel that his apprentice was Isaac Stanzler, that he was the one who had beaten that man to death six years ago, and that he’s the one framing Ted now. That drops the charges, but he and Laurel are cornered by Stanzler in the alley and forced to drive him… I don’t even know where. She blindly dials Felicity (just like Oliver did last season) and they’re able to ambush him, with Roy doing the cleanup with Stanzler as Oliver and Diggle save Laurel and Ted from the wrecked car.
Oliver later hoods up and appeals to Ted to stop training with Laurel, but Ted politely declines to turn her away, saying it’s her choice. Ted then doles out some “hard-won advice” about being a vigilante, how it messes with people’s heads, and ominously tells Oliver to know when to cut Roy loose. Oliver, the MVP of this episode, has the perfect response:
The next day, Laurel shows up despite Oliver’s protestations and steps up her requests. She doesn’t just want boxing lessons; she wants vigilante lessons.
We really need to talk about Laurel, too, because she’s sort of all over the place again, just like she has been since Tommy’s death, but I think I get a little bit of the thread the writers are trying to follow here. She’s still angry, still looking for a way to let off steam, and the boxing is better than the booze, that’s for sure. But it’s still the behavior of an addict, she’s still taking hits (literally and figuratively) instead of trying to cope, that much is clear as soon as Roy reveals that he (might have) killed Sara.
He tries to apologize and she doesn’t let him, so he makes his escape, which leaves Oliver staring at Felicity and growling, “I thought he was cured?” Felicity admits that “what we know about Mirakuru is vastly outweighed by the things we don’t know.” Laurel lashes out at Felicity, “What does that even mean? That Roy killed my sister and it’s not his fault?”
She’s completely, utterly, totally paralyzed with inaction. She even steps to the side and cries, “I can’t process this right now.” Because her entire reason for being has just been snatched away from her. If Sara had been killed in cold blood by some nameless, faceless villain, that gives Laurel a reason to fight. But Sara (seemingly) died on accident — she died because one of her friends was still struggling with the after-effects of Mirakuru, which he was not aware of and couldn’t control, and she wasn’t prepared for the attack.
And… on some level, I get that. Countless families and loved ones of people who died in freak accidents will ask these questions for the rest of their lives. They’ll wish they knew why. They’ll wish there was someone to blame. As someone who watched a loved one die slowly from cancer, I know what it’s like to wish you can channel your anger on one thing, just to relieve yourself from the grief and wondering why. We all have our ways of coping, and my point is, I don’t think Laurel’s doing that. Boxing is her booze — she goes right back to it, even after Oliver begs her not to, even as she still believes Sara’s death was an accident. It means Sara’s death didn’t actually have to mean anything for Laurel after all.
There’s still something not quite right about Laurel’s characterization or the story transition from Sara to Laurel as the Canary. I think once again, the writers made a mistake by having her too close to the team; if she hadn’t been there for Roy’s big non-confession, we never would’ve seen her pathos exposed for what it is. Laurel as the Canary isn’t justice for her sister after all; it’s just another addiction.
It seems to be something else Oliver intuitively knows, and probably part of the reason he refuses to train her. After he questions whether she knows Ted at all, he asks Laurel if she’s told him why she’s training. She says she has told him about Sara, but not that she intends to follow in her footsteps.
“You’re playing a very dangerous game, Laurel.”
“I can handle it.”
“No, you can’t. Because you haven’t realized that it’s not actually a game.”
I wish Diggle had been better written in this episode, then I’d feel better drawing a comparison to his “War changes you, it chips away pieces of your soul” speech from 1.04 again. Oh well. Anyway, a Canary/Wildcat team could be intriguing, but again, I still don’t like where Laurel’s motivation is rooted. I still think this whole thing would be a lot better if she hadn’t been there for Roy’s misguided confession.
It’s crazy to think that with all of this happening, there was still time for flashbacks, but oh, there was! And I haven’t talked about them much because not a lot’s been happening besides that time Tommy showed up. We don’t have a lot to root us to this storyline because everyone we had grown attached to, save Oliver, is dead or gone now, and Oliver himself is once again more interesting in the present than he is in the past.
However, I really like Maseo. He’s done a great job of really expressing himself in the limited screentime he has, and he’s even built up credible goodwill with Oliver in the limited flashbacks we’ve had. I said during the episode that I like Maseo enough that I hope the storyline gets interesting soon. With his wife, Tatsu, playing a more prominent role in this episode, I get the feeling things are about to ramp up. She teaches Oliver about meditation and memory techniques, but she seems singularly unfazed by him. It’s refreshing! After Shado and Sara on the island, it’s nice to finally have a female around who seems immune to Oliver’s charms.
The end of the episode brings another twist, have any of these season 3 episodes ended without a cliffhanger? Stanzler is being transferred to jail via the same alley where he’d cornered Laurel and Ted (you’d think they’d have secured it by now) when the two guards are shot in the legs with arrows. Stanzler looks shocked and asks who’s there, and lo and behold, it’s Cupid. Well actually…
Why didn’t this happen in February? The world will never know.
P.S. Olicity shippers, never fear! Tumblr has your back:
If that looks overwrought and emotional, it’s because it is, but they’re talking about Roy, not their undying love for each other.
Next week: Thanksgiving looks like Valentines Day! I guess it’s because Thanksgiving already happened in Canada. Seriously, the promo almost looks like some kind of pink-tinged fever dream, and Roy’s had enough of those, thank you very much.