Arrow Recap: Season 5 Episode 16 “Checkmate”


Arrow returns from its week off as intense as ever, as Oliver discovers more than one betrayer in his midst. Plus, Felicity continues to drift away.

All the cards are on the table. After taking its sweet time letting the mystery of Prometheus unfold, Arrow has dramatically ramped up the pace these past couple episodes. In “Fighting Fire with Fire”, viewers discovered that the throwing-star killer was the seemingly helpful Adrian Chase. Now, the characters know as well.

We don’t have to wait long for the bombshell to drop. “Checkmate” opens with Oliver trekking up a snow-capped, windswept mountain. Wait a minute; we know things have been rough in Star City lately, but this is no time to take a vacation, Ollie.

Of course, we aren’t actually watching Oliver in his leisure time (you know the guy’s idea of a holiday is the same as Ethan Hunt’s in Mission: Impossible II). He’s here to visit an old friend. If he expected a warm welcome, though, he’s sorely disappointed. First, a swarm of ninjas attack him. Then, Talia intervenes and apologizes for her students – but only to attack Oliver in another way.

He wants to know why she agreed to train Prometheus. It seems they’ve had a falling-out since she convinced him to become the Arrow; the details will no doubt be filled out in the flashbacks. But Talia’s hostility mostly stems from a conflict that Oliver wasn’t even aware of: he killed her father, just like he did Prometheus’s. As fans have long known, her full name is Talia al Ghul, and she is the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul.

In other words, she’s siding with Prometheus. Oliver’s hike wasn’t totally in vain, though. Talia reveals that Prometheus “calls himself Adrian Chase”. Her phrasing is crucial, because “Adrian Chase” turns out to be a false identity too.

Now that he knows who he’s fighting, Oliver thinks he has a chance to end Prometheus’s reign of terror. He’s mistaken. Dressed as the Green Arrow, he confronts his former ally in an empty parking garage, but Adrian easily averts the arrest attempt by mentioning that he has abducted Susan Williams. “You don’t even know what game we’re playing,” he gloats.

With the life of another woman he loves on the line, Oliver doesn’t have time for rules. Dinah and Curtis break into Adrian’s mother’s house. She’s absent, but they discover video that proves Adrian isn’t bluffing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer any immediate clues as to where Susan is being held. At least Oliver is confident that Adrian will keep her alive as leverage, which buys the team a little time.

Next, Oliver breaks into Adrian’s wife’s house to inform her that regrettably, her husband is a serial killer. “The mayor says you’re the killer,” Doris replies. Before he can change her mind, a swarm of police arrive and whisk her away. Thanks to some nifty smoke bombs, he manages to get away, but the next day, Mayor Queen has to make an official statement that the Arrow broke into the D.A.’s home and has 24 hours to turn himself in. Otherwise, he’ll be shot on sight.

Meanwhile, the rest of Team Arrow tries to track down Susan’s whereabouts. It seems hopeless until Felicity shows up. Our resident computer genius had been AWOL, failing to return Curtis’s numerous texts. Again, Oliver tries to pry out her secret, but Felicity deflects his questions by noting that they’re kind of busy right now, what with Susan being held hostage and all. She taps into his newfound optimism: “You’re going to have to trust me.”

The last person Oliver trusted turned out to be his greatest nemesis, but maybe because he agrees about the urgency of the situation, he relents. Using the Pandora files, Felicity figures out that Adrian’s real name is Simon Morrison. Oliver shares this information with Captain Pike, but that quickly backfires when a “low life” in a hoodie stabs Pike in an alley, putting him in a coma.

In Pike’s hospital room, Oliver comes face-to-face with Adrian. He issues threats, but once again, they come up empty. Adrian reminds him about Susan and the long list of dead loved ones that she could join. “Let’s find out how much more loss you can take,” he says. “If you kill me, you’re only really killing yourself.”

Oliver snaps, unleashing all his pent-up frustration by destroying the Arrow Cave. Diggle finds him there, surrounded by debris, and tries to lift his spirits. “We’re not targets,” he insists. “We’re teammates. We’re your strength.” But Hopeful Oliver is wavering, succumbing to his old self-destructive (and just plain destructive) tendencies.

“If I’m going to beat this guy,” he warns Diggle, “I need to play his game.”

So, when they find Prometheus (thanks to some wheeling and dealing by Felicity), Oliver brings what he believes to be a trump card: Adrian’s wife. Indeed, Adrian seems surprised, even fazed (importantly, both combatants have their masks off). But whatever humanity remains inside him, he regards it as expendable – collateral damage. Adrian rejects Doris’s pleas to surrender and “takes care” of her by stabbing her. Her wound proves fatal.

It’s disappointing to see Arrow fridge yet another female character, even a minor one. Instead of providing insight into Adrian or complicating the show’s moral dynamics, Doris exists for the sole purpose of being killed off. Still, as a plot point, it’s more brutal than it might appear at first. By using Doris for his own purposes, Oliver has indeed stooped to playing his adversary’s game; even if he hoped Prometheus would react differently, he had to have known this was a possible outcome.

Long story short, even though Diggle manages to escape with Susan, Prometheus wins another round. Talia sneaks up behind Oliver and shoots him with a sedative. He wakes up chained to the floor of a cell.

“I don’t believe I taught you to escape shackles,” Talia says, in case you didn’t get the metaphor.

As bleak as things look, Prometheus is wrong about one thing: attachments can make people vulnerable, but they can also give people courage and resolve. He underestimates the strength of Oliver’s bond with his teammates (despite everything, they’re still together, aren’t they?), and that will likely lead to his downfall.

In other news…

Felicity didn’t answer Curtis’s texts because she was visiting Helix’s headquarters. One room consists of hundreds of TV monitors – real-time feed, Olivia explains, from every camera in the world. The image enhances the Dark Knight/Dark Knight Rises vibes that saturate this season, this episode in particular.

In exchange for using Helix resources to find Susan, Felicity agrees to hack into and redirect Homeland Security border patrol drones, an action that Curtis condemns as “straight-up illegal”. At the end of the episode, Felicity requests Helix’s help in finding Oliver, insisting that she’ll “do whatever you need” in return.

This week’s flashbacks show Oliver and Anatoly finding Gregor. After a lengthy shootout in a hockey stadium, Oliver shoots and kills Gregor, who echoes Prometheus’s words: “You’re really killing yourself.” Perhaps more important is Anatoly’s disapproval of the Arrow. You can’t just name your darkness “like a bat”, he tells Oliver, and expect it to be solved. It will be “the source of your greatest bane.” (See, more Dark Knight references!)

Best line

Oliver, in response to Diggle’s assertion that caring makes you human: “Being human is a luxury I might not get to have.”

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Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.