In just about any story, the hero has to be laid low before the climax. Doing so serves multiple purposes, it showcases that the hero is fallible and must struggle greatly to succeed while also highlighting just how difficult the villain or final obstacle will be to overcome. It builds the stakes of the story and invests the audience in the hero’s quest to succeed. We’ve seen the worst so the final resolution will be that much more of a relief once it comes. “Deathstroke” does just this as Slade Wilson’s plan moves into its final phase and Oliver and company are neatly and efficiently torn apart, all according to the manipulations of this season’s villain. Indeed, the writers of this episode, Marc Guggenheim and Drew Z. Greenberg, seemingly delight in landing body blow after body blow on the heroes as they pay off just about every one of the secrets and characters that have been building over the course of this year and the series as a whole. It’s a packed hour that only rarely feels overstuffed, lending a suitably breathless pace to the events as Oliver falls deeper and deeper into despair over the seemingly impossible fight he’s in.
The episode revolves around Slade finally making an overt move against Oliver as he kidnaps Thea and holds her hostage, revealing the kidnapping during a mayoral debate between Sebastian Blood and Moira Queen. Oliver is understandably worried, quickly rallying his allies to locate Slade and get Thea back. While they’re able to get Slade into police custody, he expected as much and is out before long, forcing Oliver to beg Slade for Thea’s life. Slade’s in the driver’s seat, and before long he’s revealing secrets to Thea that Oliver and Moira have kept, driving a wedge between Roy and the rest of the group, and leading a prison break to help build the army he’s promised to Sebastian blood. As each plot point unfolds, it becomes more and more clear that Oliver has been completely outmatched. It’s brutal, hopeless stuff as Oliver flails, desperately trying to counteract Slade and failing miserably at every junction, playing directly into Slade’s plans. And those plans are rapidly coming into focus, as the show pulls together its plots for maximum effect.
Season two of Arrow has been particularly impressive for how it has absolutely packed the show with characters and plot and somehow managed to not lose them amidst all that’s going on. It hasn’t been perfect; both Summer Glau’s Isabel and Kevin Alejandro’s Sebastian Blood reappear here after slightly extended absences. But even when characters or plots have disappeared for longer than might be ideal, the writers have managed to reintegrate the seemingly adrift elements adroitly. Isabel is the most notable possible offender here, appearing early in the season as a seeming rival for Oliver inside Queen Consolidated, only to disappear after becoming something of an ally in the business world for Oliver. This episode smartly fills in her absence from physically appearing on the show, casting Isabel as Oliver’s stand in at the office while he’s off fighting crime. It would have been nice to have seen a few instances of Isabel covering for Oliver at the office over the course of the season rather than being filled in on the details here via dialogue, but the concept is strong enough, and the pace of the rest of the episode is furious enough, that it’s easy to gloss over the detail. And then, suddenly, amidst Thea’s abduction and Oliver’s hasty decision to make Isabel acting CEO, Isabel snatches the company out from under Oliver and reveals that she’s been in league with Slade all along. It’s a shock, if only because the easy camaraderie that Oliver and Isabel have shared was a welcome change from the initial impression that they would be at odds with one another, bashing heads over a hostile takeover or some such dull business storyline that would have distracted from the super-heroics that are the bread and butter of Arrow. It’s yet another plot that emerges, explodes in Oliver’s face, and suddenly finds a way to make things even worse, and this episode just keeps finding new ways to further decimate Oliver’s world.
“Deathstroke” is just a wildly entertaining episode of television. It effortlessly and recklessly blows through plot points and revelations that could have been spaced out over a much longer period of time but instead packs everything into one hour for maximum effect. Thea’s parentage comes out, Roy seemingly gets pushed too far, Quentin Lance is arrested for working with the Arrow, and Slade tells Laurel that Oliver is actually the Arrow. It’s almost too much, but it’s perfectly balanced between excess and excitement, managing to feel packed full of incident without ever teetering out of control. It’s a beautifully executed episode, crushing Oliver and positioning Slade in a position of absolute power. It’s not a question that the Arrow will manage to triumph over Deathstroke, but the mountain Oliver has to climb looks quite big from the depths that this episode swiftly and cruelly delivers him to.