Arrow Ep 1.16 ‘Dead to Rights’ avoids melodramatics for its strongest episode in weeks

Dead to Rights

Arrow Season 1, Episode 16 ‘Dead to Rights’
Directed by Glen Winter
Written by Geoff Johns
Airs Wednesday nights at 8 ET on The CW

Arrow‘s been a frustrating watch over the past month, as big ambitions have led to lots of pointless side plots, without a lot of interesting character work to go with it. ‘Dead to Rights’, however, has a focus and intensity previous episodes lacked (without all the side dramatics), a tense hour of conspiracies, double identities – and although it sounds cruel, no Thea, who always seems to drag down everyone surrounding her. Oddly enough, it puts Tommy – easily the show’s least-defined character – at the center, and walks away with one of the strongest episodes of the season, easily the best so far since the winter break.

Although there are a LOT of other plot lines hinted at in ‘Dead to Rights’, there’s a distinct lack of side plots in the episode. The few scenes were they do exist are the weak spots – there’s a big leap in McKenna and Oliver’s relationship, as the two decide for some odd reason that their complicated lives aren’t going to hold them back from dating each other. Unfortunately, there’s no reason for us to be invested in their relationship: not only have they been dating for one episode, but there’s literally two seconds of dialogue dedicated to establishing these frustrations of their careers getting away – something that’s forgotten as soon as its introduced.

But I don’t want to harp on the episode’s weak moments: Moira’s assassination attempt on Malcolm is the overwhelming focus of the episode. Smartly, the writers use Tommy’s relationship with his father to frame his character, and it makes Malcolm (and in turn, Tommy) much more interesting and layered characters. There isn’t a lot of definition as to why Tommy wants to attend his father’s humanitarian award presentation (except that the episode demands it), but it allows the writers to shed some light onto why they were at each other’s necks in the first place.

The death of Tommy’s mother takes on a very important context in ‘Dead to Rights’: it not only catalyzes Malcolm’s transformation into the dark Hood (what else was he doing while disappearing for two years, “meeting a man” and coming back cold as ice?), but it represents the emotional fracture in their relationship. As the season finale draws closer, so will Tommy and his father, which makes the other big revelation of the episode – Oliver revealing his vigilante identity to Tommy – much more interesting moving forward, especially after Oliver plays a major part in saving Malcolm’s life.

There’s even interesting parallels drawn to Oliver with Malcolm beyond hoods and sharp arrows: Malcolm also has a plan for the city, and promises not to fail Starling City (a wink, wink to the Hood’s catchphrase). The two might have deeply philosophical differences, but both are willing to take out a few people for what they believe to be the better cause: sanitizing Starling City and forming a better version more consistent with their ideals for the town.

Elsewhere, there’s a lot of foreshadowing for what is to come: both Malcolm and Moira talk about the Undertaking drawing closer, McKenna fires a round off in Arrow’s direction, and Laurel’s mom appears out of nowhere to pull out the newest bit of silliness: Laurel’s sister Sarah (who was canoodling with Oliver on his yacht under her nose five years ago) may not be dead! The last of these is the most interesting to think about: earlier in the episode, there’s a photograph shown of a young Laurel with her father, looking at a black canary sitting in the cage. At first, it seems obvious: Laurel is going to become Black Canary – but this new information (and Laurel’s line about Sarah loving the bird and her hating it) suggests that Sarah might be donning the costume, at least for the time being.

Which leaves us with the one weak spot of the episode: Deadshot. I had a lot of hope when his character is reintroduced, but he continues to lack in any kind of personality. At this point, I’d take a carbon copy of his snarkiness from previous incarnations – right now, the mostly silent and ineffective villain is neither making him feel like a viable threat or an interesting persona. I like the idea of having other recurring villains (for a moment, the opening scene with Brutale looked to set up another, until he was killed almost immediately), but if Deadshot’s going to be one of them, he has to be something more than an enigma wrapped in a laser eye.

But I’m nitpicking – the majority of the episode is well-executed, driving towards its big moments with purpose, avoiding the pitfalls of previous weeks, where awfully written, short lived bad guys dominated the proceedings. ‘Dead to Rights’ is exactly what Arrow needed as it moves into the final third of its freshman season. – Randy Dankievitch

Other thoughts/observations:

– one odd moment: Tommy picks up his father’s gun, whips around, and points it at Arrow like he’s a trained professional. Pistol flashing rich white boy? I think not.

– for a professional sniper, Deadshot certainly sets himself up in spots to be seen by just about anyone.

– “War is coming”… to the flashback island. Also: Slade does pull-ups! Oliver fixes a radio! He can’t do many pull-ups yet!… Who cares.

– is there an episode of Arrow without a fancy party that gets ambushed by a psycho?

– Felicity is in training…. is she going to become the techy, butt-kicking sidekick?

– Diggle’s so mad about Deadshot returning, he has to walk down a dark hallway and put his hands in his pockets for a minute. The man is a rock.

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