One of the issues that Arrow can sometimes struggle with is in adequately developing its one-off characters. This week that means the man attempting to frame Ted Grant, his vigilante ex-sidekick Isaac, comes off as little more than a malevolent force designed to teach Oliver a lesson about how he should treat Roy. It’s similar to the problems that made “Corto Maltese” a frustrating episode, when Arrow crowds itself with multiple plots in an episode it generally winds up giving short shrift to the antagonist, which leaves the core of the episode feeling hollow and underdeveloped.
Isaac never comes alive as a character of his own, which hamstrings Ted Grant’s half of the episode. Instead of really feeling Grant’s failures, all we get are a few scenes of Grant bemoaning both his past failures as a vigilante and Isaac turning from the path of justice. Isaac receives precious little screen time and what little he does get is generic villainy. He’s out for revenge on Grant, attempting to lay the murders of multiple gang members at his feet.
The episode attempts to turn things back on Oliver and Roy though during the final confrontation. Roy is reeling, convinced that he’s responsible for Sara’s death, and Isaac locks on to this emotion, attempting to convince Roy that he’s just another tool that Oliver plans to use only for as long as it’s convenient. It’s a moment that might have landed if the viewer truly understood the pain Isaac felt when Grant cast him aside. Instead it just reads like the writers being overly obvious in the ways that they’re paralleling Isaac and Roy’s experiences.
That the writers are drawing thematic through lines such as this is good, it’s the kind of necessary, intelligent writing that keeps villain-of-the-week installments feeling important when deployed properly. Ideally the villain bounces off the heroes and illuminates their relationships as the plot unfolds. Even as the episode may not progress the show’s larger story in significant chunks, it can still feel like something useful was accomplished when the viewer comes away with a greater understanding of the characters they’re watching.
“Guilty” never manages this trick, partially because of the inert character of Isaac, but also due to the way it meanders through Roy’s reactions to the fact that he may have been responsible for Sara’s death. Roy’s nightmare last week positioned him as the potential murderer and “Guilty” smartly allows Roy to confront his suspicions head on, first speaking with Felicity and then informing the whole team that he may have killed Sara. Not allowing Roy to skulk on the sidelines for multiple episodes, obsessing over his secret while slowly unraveling saves a whole lot of wheel spinning, but despite this the episode never plausibly sets up Roy as Sara’s murderer.
Things move so quickly, from Roy’s confession to Felicity to Diggle’s sharp and sudden declaration that Roy should be cut loose from the team due to his crime, that it’s clear he’s just a red herring, presented as a stalling mechanic rather than a legitimate avenue of inquiry into Sara’s death. All of which wouldn’t be an issue if the episode was able to animate Roy’s fear over losing his connection with Oliver and the team. It all loops back to the underdeveloped character of Isaac. If more time were spent on him, if his pain and fears were better drawn out than just a few lines of dialogue, Roy’s half of the story might feel more essential and frightening. When that doesn’t occur both sides of the show crumble, Isaac’s, because it doesn’t have enough weight to support an A-plot, and Roy’s, because it has nothing of substance to build off.
“Guilty” provides the same kinetic fight sequences and superheroics that Arrow always manages, but that’s about it. There’s too much filler here that feels like nothing more than filler. From the weekly foe to Roy’s dilemma or Laurel’s continuing quest to replace Sara as Black Canary, not much of consequence happens and what little does feels overly contrived or underwritten. On the other hand the writers did figure out a reasonable way to include a boxing glove arrow in an action sequence, so this week’s installment certainly isn’t a total bust.