Episode Title: "Trust But Verify"
Writer: Gabrielle Stanton
Director: Nick Copus
“Arrow” has been a frustrating show to watch and review. And I’ve come very close to completely giving up on it.
As a fan of the source material, I don’t care that “Arrow” takes a lot of liberties with the characters or that the guest villains of the week (like Ben Browder’s Ted Gaynor and the renegade Blackhawks in this episode) barely resemble their DC comics counterparts.
I just want “Arrow” to be good. However this show has some alarmingly bad writing and a few weak links in the cast. I enjoyed the last three episodes before the winter break, so I’m officially giving “Arrow” another chance... for now. But this may not have been the best example of what the show can be.
Full spoilers are ahead for “Trust But Verify.” If you missed this week’s episode, don’t read this review or Malcolm Merlyn won’t give you proof of life.
The strongest part of “Arrow” at the moment is the dynamic between Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and John Diggle (David Ramsey), as they’re entertaining and Arnell and Ramsey have been able to rise above most of the bad material they have to deal with.
“Trust But Verify” strains their relationship when Diggle’s friend, Ted Gaynor not only shows up on Oliver’s list, but he’s also the leading suspect for a series of armed robberies. Diggle’s offended that Oliver trusts the list more than he trusts Diggle. And Diggle isn’t about to let his friend meet the business end of an arrow. So far, so good.
But it all plays out pretty much exactly as anyone could have predicted. Because of course Ted is the mastermind behind the robberies and of course he’s going to kidnap Carly Diggle (Christie Laing) to blackmail Diggle into taking part in the last heist shortly before Arrow shows up to save him. Any kind of a twist could have made that more palpable. Gaynor and his men don’t even get a well defined motivation for their extracurricular activities! And on a side note, this was not one of Browder’s better performances, but I blame the script for that.
The writing of this episode was so by the numbers it could have been authored by a machine. And while we’re on the subject of Carly, I’m all for giving Diggle a personal life and possibly even a romantic relationship with his brother’s widow... but how many episodes have to feature scenes at Big Belly Burger? Are there really only three restaurants in Starling City? This is getting ridiculous.
The redeeming part of this episode is that Oliver does come to trust Diggle more than before and he acknowledges one of the reasons that he doesn’t trust anyone after his time on the island. The island flashbacks this week were more compelling than usual, as Oliver attempted to slip into enemy camp to save Proto-Arrow, aka Yao-Fei (Byron Mann).
I was wondering how the borderline helpless Oliver of the past was going to pull off a rescue, so it was refreshing that he failed. I’m intrigued that Olivier’s entire time on the island may have been an elaborate trap, but I want to see the explanation for this and it had better be a good one. Because Yao-Fei’s unmasking may have been a great cliffhanger, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
There’s some minor movement with the supporting cast this week, as the Dark Archer himself, Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) reaches out to his estranged son, Tommy (Colin Donnell) to arrange a dinner with Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy). The dialogue between the three during the dinner sequence was still pretty on the nose, but it was functional enough to get the audience on Tommy’s side when he realized why Malcolm had really set up the dinner.
It also introduced a new wrinkle of Tommy’s backstory by revealing that Mrs. Merlyn was murdered in the street when he was a child. And either Malcolm was behind it or it was the inciting incident that led him to become the Dark Archer and the mastermind behind a plan to remake Starling City. Or perhaps to destroy it.
Which brings us to the worst part of the episode: a subplot in which Thea Queen (Willa Holland) believes that her mother, Moira (Susanna Thompson) is having an affair with Malcolm while Walter Steele (Colin Salmon) is missing or feared dead.
Let’s just get this out of the way and say that it’s really, really stupid and contrived. Even with the brief glimpses of Malcolm and Moira together that Thea manages to see, it’s still a pretty big leap to assume that they’re having an affair. Moira and Thea’s verbal showdown at the Queen household was another low point. You know, “Arrow” could be a perfectly good drama. It doesn’t need ridiculous melodrama, but I guess the CW wants scenes like this to expand the audience.
There is some setup for the villain formerly known as Count Vertigo next week when Thea takes the new street drug, Vertigo and she promptly crashes her new car while under the influence. I did enjoy seeing the Vertigo pills with some very comic book inspired colors, but the entire Thea angle and subsequent arrest were just not compelling. It’s an excuse to get Oliver on the hunt for whoever created and sold Vertigo, so it had to exist in some way to move that story forward. It just wasn’t very satisfying.
I still can’t help feeling that “Arrow” is capable of being a better show than it actually is. And a slightly above average episode isn’t doing this show many favors.