Yes, I know this is the second straight week we’ve discussed Arrow here in Couch Club, and the third time over the past month. Yes, I know that we have five other #DCTV shows airing right now, all of which are worthy of columns. But c’mon…how can we let an episode like that pass us by without writing about it?
Actually, how can we let a pair of episodes like that pass? Last week’s hour, “The Slabside Redemption,” was one of the best episodes of the show that I’ve ever seen. It brought the Ollie-in-prison storyline to a spectacular close, and it was followed up by last night’s episode, “Unmasked,” which proved to have double meaning as it was the first time Ollie suited up without his mask since he first started wearing it back in season two AND gave us our first look at the new Green Arrow out of her mask.
A Green Arrow that happened to be none other than Emiko Queen. But more on that later.
Serialized network TV doesn’t always reward risk. While ongoing storylines and unexpected cliffhangers may help keep viewers returning season after season and provide some great fodder for office watercoolers, shows generally don’t want them to change the status quo TOO much and risk turning off viewers. (If you have any doubts, just think back to when Diggle put on the mask and became Green Arrow for a few episodes. Fans were freaking out, and that twist barely lasted a month.) So, it was fairly surprising to see Arrow keep Ollie in prison for the first third of the season. Suddenly, we had a superhero show without a real superhero. (You obviously had the new Green Arrow, but she was very much in the background.) Ollie was locked up and the rest of the team had essentially gone to ground. Rene suited up once and got himself arrested by one of his closest friends for his trouble.
All of that’s pretty gutsy when you think about it. But it was a risk that proved to be well worth taking, particularly at this stage in the show’s lifespan. Arrow is in its seventh season, and it’s rare for a show which has been on for the better part of a decade to still be able to surprise. But it turns out that stripping the show of what it had depended on for the past few seasons—its superhero team dynamic—allowed the writers and actors to mine intriguing new corners of the characters and their world.
With Ollie in prison, he was once again reminded that absolute justice really doesn’t exist. Sure, most of the people in Slabside probably deserved to be there, but the corruption that existed among the guards meant that some inmates fared far better than others. Plus, did anyone deserve to be put through the sketchy stuff that was happening on Level Two? That got into some real Clockwork Orange territory—cruel and unusual punishment disguised as innovative psychological rehabilitation. (By the way, I couldn’t have been the only geeky TV fan who half expected Ollie to look at Dr. Parker and shout, “THERE ARE FOUR LIGHTS!” near the end of episode five, right?)
Beyond the punishment itself, Ollie found himself fighting alongside one of his former enemies—someone who was directly responsible for the death of people close to him—and also learned that true evil often lurks in surprising places. (Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Stanley.) As Bronze Tiger said in “The Slabside Redemption,” Ollie’s world has become far less black and white over the years, and the time he spent in prison is only likely to further cement that worldview.
And you know what else will probably add to all those shades of grey? Emiko Queen.
Yes, while we might not have heard the name in last night’s episode, comic book fans know that the new Green Arrow is none other than Emi, Ollie’s half-sister, who has been a staple of the Green Arrow comic book series since Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s groundbreaking run on the title back in 2013.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Emiko Queen was first introduced in Lemire and Sorrentino’s debut storyline, “The Kill Machine.” In the comics, she’s the daughter of Robert Queen and Shado—something that will almost certainly have to change in the show, since Shado died on Lian Yu and doesn’t seem to have known Ollie’s father. Emi was raised by a protégé of Robert’s named Komodo, who ultimately betrayed Robert and kidnapped Emiko. Emi at first viewed Komodo as a father figure, but turned against him when she discovered the truth, ultimately partnering up with Ollie and eventually becoming his sidekick, Red Arrow.
We’ll see what direction the show takes her over the months ahead—though considering how much Arrow seems to be drawing inspiration from Lemire and Sorrentino’s final storyline, “Broken,” one has to think it may offer a few hints (so it may be worth reading, if you never have). One thing that Emiko’s reveal is almost certain to do is cause Ollie to once again question how much he knew about his father. Clearly Emi isn’t Moira’s daughter, which suggests Robert was probably unfaithful. Considering that Slabside’s Dr. Parker already had Ollie questioning the motives of his father, will the existence of Emiko be the final nail in that coffin? And if it is, how will that affect Ollie’s relationship with his own son and wife? Let’s be real, those relationships don’t look so great right about now…and this season’s flash-forwards don’t exactly inspire confidence that they’ll turn out all right in the end.
Obviously, this is all speculation. But right now, we know that Ollie has a new lease on life, a new sister and a new approach to being the Green Arrow—working with the law instead of outside it. Yes, it looks like the show’s returning to its team dynamic and the superheroes are about to return (starting with next week’s Elseworlds-inspired crossover). But Arrow is still making key changes and taking big risks—and is all the better for it.
Arrow airs Mondays at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW.
Tim Beedle writes about TV, movies, comics and culture for DCComics.com and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our weekly television column. You can find him on Twitter at @Tim_Beedle.