Oliver struggled to make sense of his father’s legacy – and his own – in an Arrow episode that covered familiar yet crucial territory.
Last week, Arrow changed things up a bit, trapping Oliver and Felicity underground for a near-bottle episode that contained no fight scenes. Although season 5 overall has done a terrific job of interweaving the overarching plot with the various character arcs, “Underneath” was gratifying for its intimacy. Far from stalling, it brought the emotion at the show’s core into focus.
“Honor Thy Fathers” inevitably feels more conventional. In addition to returning to the hunt for Adrian Chase/Prometheus and the usual procedural format, it revisits an old conflict. As a matter of fact, the episode title is a very slight variation on a previous one.
Still, there’s a reason for the callback, and it goes beyond nostalgia.
The fallout from Prometheus’s unmasking continues, as a judge rules numerous cases prosecuted by the discredited D.A. as mistrials. This means 36 violent felons that Team Arrow worked hard to capture are once again free to terrorize the streets of Star City. One of them is Derek Sampson, a drug dealer who competed against Tobias Church. He appeared earlier this season in “A Matter of Trust”, which saw him acquire enhanced strength and healing powers after falling into a vat of toxic chemicals. “A Matter of Trust” was also our introduction to Adrian Chase, who sought to use Sampson as an informant.
But that’s not all. A mysterious crate sent by “Simon Morrison” arrives at the mayor’s office. Recognizing that as Adrian’s birth name, Oliver ignores the warnings of his security team and opens the box to find a skeleton embedded in concrete. Could it be William? “Underneath” ended by showing that, despite Felicity’s assurance to the contrary, Adrian has managed to find Oliver’s son.
DNA samples identify the victim as Henry Goodwin, a councilman from the Glades who went missing in 2002. So, Arrow leaves us dangling off that cliff for a while longer. Prometheus has another message to send. The DNA samples also identify a potential suspect: Robert Queen. It’s plausible. We have known since the beginning that Oliver and Thea’s father wasn’t exactly an upstanding citizen; that knowledge forms the entire basis of the show.
Even after all this time, though, Oliver clings to the belief that his father was good at heart. How can the man, who sacrificed himself so his son could live, be capable of murder? His stubbornness stems from more than familial affection. Robert needs to be worthy of honoring, or else Oliver’s crusade would be for nothing.
Thea, finally back from her break, is less certain. As she points out, once you find out that Malcolm Merlyn is your biological father, you learn not to idealize your parents. So, when Justin Claybourne’s former lawyer, who now works with Adrian, gives them a flash drive with vital information, she defies her brother’s orders and opens the file. It contains security footage from Oliver Enterprises, where Sampson died. Sure enough, Robert was responsible. On one hand, it appears to have been an accident. On the other hand, he still covered up the crime.
Ultimately, Oliver and Thea aren’t disappointed in their parents so much as themselves. Are they any better? What if they are infected – doomed to repeat history? “Love doesn’t make up for the terrible things [Robert and Moira have] done,” Thea muses. “But maybe the most terrible thing is making us like them.” Of course, this – the guilt, the self-doubt – is exactly the reaction the video was meant to elicit.
Yet, Oliver’s crusade has come a long way since the List. (Before this season, did anyone else forget the List was a thing?) For one, he no longer works alone. And as the team evolved, so did the mission. Even if it started as a way to honor (or apologize for) his father, it has grown into something more, something bigger. One man’s tarnished reputation can’t ruin it. If nothing else, it gave purpose to a group of misfits.
The future is more than the sum of the past, and people are more than the sum of their parents.
In the meantime, the team figures out Adrian’s plan. Collaborating with Sampson, he intends to carry out Claybourne’s scheme to unleash weaponized tuberculosis onto the city. A pep talk from Felicity convinces Oliver to don the Arrow costume again as he leads the prevention effort at the Robert Queen Applied Sciences Center.
While the others deal with Sampson and disable the weapon, Oliver confronts Prometheus in a stairwell. After an intense fight (insert obligatory shout out to James Bamford), they come to an impasse and turn to conversation. Lowering his hood, Adrian remarks that they’re the same, both obsessed with preserving the legacies of terrible fathers. Oliver then pulls out a trump card: he reveals that Claybourne was going to disown Adrian. Adrian is trying to avenge a man who was ashamed of him.
The revelation appears to strike a nerve. Adrian simply … gives up. Kneeling, he gives Oliver a chance to kill him, which, of course, Oliver refuses to take. Instead, the Throwing Star Killer is handed over to A.R.G.U.S. and imprisoned.
If you’re thinking that seems way too easy, you’re right. Again, we know Adrian found a way to reach William. Then, at the end of the episode, we see him in a glass cell, watching Oliver give a press conference addressing his father’s contradictions. And he smiles.
In other news
Rene gets a date for his custody hearing and invites Quentin to attend for moral support. When he realizes he will have to testify, however, he has second thoughts. He claims he doesn’t want to make Zoe relive the trauma of her mother’s death, but we suspect his motives are more selfish. Despite Quentin’s argument that any trauma Zoe experiences during the trial pales in comparison to the good memories she can form with her father, Rene fails to appear on the appointed date.
In the flashbacks, Oliver returns to Lian Yu via a plane piloted by Anatoly. Everything seems set to circle back to the series premiere (there’s the Deathstroke mask, Anatoly gives Oliver a wig to make it look like he’s been stranded for years), until Oliver gets hit by a tranquilizer dart. Before he passes out, he sees Kovar approaching.
Thea to Oliver when he invites her on a mission: “I think old times should stay old times.”
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.