For a good portion of “Seeing Red” I was convinced that the variety and complexities of this season’s plotlines might have finally gotten the better of the writers. Roy’s trail of carnage simply wasn’t illuminating much and when it was tied in with a seemingly quite strange addition of flashbacks not to the island but to a pregnancy scare from Oliver’s pre-island days I was having trouble comprehending just what credited writers Wendy Mericle and Beth Schwartz were trying to do with this episode. It didn’t seem to forward the season’s overall story and the use of non-island flashbacks was odd considering how much the time characters spent on said island was relevant to the goings on this week. And to be fair, “Seeing Red” never quite integrates the Roy portions of the episode with the rest of its story as well as it might, but as the episode continued it became more apparent that this wasn’t an episode about Roy, but an episode about Moira Queen and her particular failings and strengths as a parent. Right up until the moment where Slade Wilson drove a sword through her chest and brought her character’s arc to a close.
Perhaps the Roy portions of this episode are precisely why Moira’s sudden death work so well, as they seem to indicate that this is going to be another episode primarily concerned with how the time spent on the island damaged both Sara and Oliver, and while Oliver has clawed his way back to something resembling humanity Sara can’t seem to find the same spark of hope inside of her that Oliver has managed to. It’s standard Arrow stuff, and while it’s competently delivered, the action in particular is immaculately filmed and has tons of visceral kick, it’s a little hard to get too excited for it when the season is rapidly drawing to a close. Roy’s story is important, and closely linked to Slade Wilson’s thanks to the Mirakuru, but just chasing him around Starling City doesn’t provide the same adrenaline rush that a confrontation with Deathstroke does.
And when Deathstroke does indeed appear in the last moments of the episode, it proves just that, the episode lurching from a more sedate, if still tense, scene that promises to reveal secrets Moira still keeps from her children into a life or death scene that somehow manages to find even more ways for Slade to lay Oliver low as he forces him to make another choice between two women, this time Moira and Thea. The episode plays off our expectations, having delivered the viewer a full story in Roy’s deterioration and Sara’s loss of faith in her own goodness, and as such it’s hard to guess that something of this magnitude is in the offing. Oliver’s focused on his family, as is the viewer, and it feels as if things are on at least some sort of even keel, so of course Wilson would use this moment to attack Oliver just like the writers cannily chose this moment to surprise the viewer with a major development to send the season into its endgame.
Most importantly Moira Queen doesn’t get an overly warm sendoff, or at least not an uncomplicated one. The flashbacks of the episode feature Moira taking care of a woman Oliver got pregnant back before he was lost on the island, and she does so by paying the woman off and having her lie to Oliver about a miscarriage. It’s the kind of underhanded action that has driven a wedge between Oliver, Moira, and Thea this season, and yet the episode plays it with a certain amount of respect. Moira deals with what is best for her children all episode, debating if abandoning her mayoral campaign for Thea or potentially sacrificing her relationship with Thea for the good of Starling City is the better option. But the most interesting aspect of the episode is that Moira’s final actions are that of selfless sacrifice for her children and the less noble protecting of her son in the past. “Seeing Red” doesn’t whitewash Moira’s past sins or her present ones even as it sees the good intentions she clearly has.
Moira’s a complicated figure, and the writers smartly remember to forefront that fact even as they’re sending her off. Just look at the final shots of the episode, in flashback, where Moira’s just perpetrated a fairly despicable action in manipulating her son into thinking he’s lost his child for what she perceives to be his own benefit she’s cloaked in warm golden lights, a practically angelic figure at a moment that’s far from her finest hour. Contrast that with the final image of the episode, a tableaux like crane shot that pulls away from a grieving Thea, draped over her mother’s dead body while Oliver lies nearly comatose, tied up and held away from his mother. It’s a cold, dreary send off for a character who just gave her life to protect her children. “Seeing Red” manages the tricky task of celebrating Moira even as it recognizes her many faults and it does so by mixing aesthetics and content. Showcasing flattering cinematography alongside cruel actions and selfless bravery mixed with cold visuals. It’s a beautifully managed close to the episode and Susanna Thompson’s time on the show.
“Seeing Red” isn’t perfect, but its flaws end up contributing to its strengths. The Roy plot might have been stronger, or the conflict between Oliver and Sara more fully realized, but the majority of the episode still manages the effective sleight of hand that distracts from the true purpose of the episode and allows for the gut punch of the ending to land just as hard for the viewer as it does for Oliver and Thea and provide a fitting conclusion for one of the show’s main characters. Slade Wilson’s always been a cruel adversary, but now he’s robbed both Oliver and, more importantly, the audience of a beloved figure. Oliver’s revenge is now personal for the viewer as well, which should make the confrontation he and Slade are set for all the more involving in the coming weeks.