Has Arrow finally figured out its seasons-long villain problem? The superhero show hasn’t had a worthy adversary since Season 3’s Slade Wilson, which has seriously affected its ability to create stakes for Oliver and the rest of Team Arrow. With the introduction of Adrian “Ten Steps Ahead of You” Chase, that may be changing.
Tonight’s episode, “Checkmate,” didn’t waste any time skirting around the Prometheus issue. Last episode, the viewer learned the Big Bad’s true identity. This episode, Oliver learns it, too, in the opening minutes. This something incredibly refreshing about Arrow choosing not to draw this dramatic irony out long past its due date. (It actually feels a bit like vintage The Vampire Diaries, a show Stephen Amell once recurred on.)
When Oliver tells Felicity that secrets have never helped, it’s almost like the show is also admitting that it has learned that lesson. Rather than keeping its characters in the dark, Arrow gives them all of the information we have, but makes them powerless to use it. It’s a much more effective way to create stakes and make a villain scary — or at least one Arrow hasn’t done ad nausem. There’s only so much you can do with physical threats. Like Slade Wilson before him, Adrian knows that you can’t control the man simply through fists — at least, not in this fictional universe, where physics isn’t really a thing. You have to find other means of control.
For Adrian Chase, that other means of control is politics and public power, and he has been laying the trap for a long while, something he potentially learned at The Slade Wilson School of Villainy. (Seriously, my kingdom for the end-of-season reveal that Slade is Adrian’s mentor.) Who would believe the Green Arrow when Oliver Queen himself has called him out as a villain? And who would believe Oliver Queen, reformed party boy but former party boy nonetheless, over charismatic, smart, and determined District Attorney Adrian Chase?
Because that’s the best part of Chase’s villainy: he’s so damn likable. Ra’s al Ghul was a self-serious douche. (Sorry, Talia. Don’t come after me.) Damien Darhk didn’t actually seem to live in the real world. Adrian Chase is the handsome, hardworking boy next door, the family man whose eyes light up when he does a good job. Formerly, that “good job” has been enacting justice on behalf of the city’s government, but he gets that same light in his eyes when he is enacting his plan against Oliver. Man’s got passion.
In other words, Josh Segarra is doing a great job here. Arrow, and the rest of superhero on-screen media, relies too much on the self-serious villain and hero. This is something different. Now we have to wait and see if Arrow can sustain this sense of suspense for the rest of the season.
So what does Adrian actually do to keep Oliver at his mercy? Well, having Susan Williams within his clutches keeps Oliver from reporting Adrian to anyone. Instead, Oliver is forced to play nice with Chase in the office and beyond, while Adrian taunts him with everything from obvious puns to explicit taunts. (It’s amazing.) Anyone Oliver does tell, gets hurt — first Captain Pike, then Doris, Adrian’s own wife. Chase doesn’t like when people deviate from his careful plan.
The episode ends with Chase kidnapping Oliver himself, and blackmailing Lance and Susan into staying quiet about his role in all of this. If they do go to the cops, Chase will hurt and/or kill Oliver. Basically, he has all of the control in this situation.
Luckily, Felicity is on the job, accompanied by her totally not sketchy at all new hacker friends. One of the best, quietest moments in the episode came in a conversation between Oliver and Felicity. Felicity thinks Oliver will yell at her for not being at his beck and call (which, let’s be fair, he has totally done in the past). Instead, Oliver says that he is worried about her. The fact that she is keeping whatever she’s into a secret implies that she is uncertain about the entire deal.
Which, yeah. Isn’t Felicity smarter than this? I’d like to think that this is the story of how Felicity became a badass hacktivist and erased all student debt, but it feels more like she is about to find out she’s working for a multinational terrorist organization that hires itself out to the highest bidder, Nikita-style. (If Xander Berkeley shows up, I’m out.) With Oliver’s kidnapping, Felicity commits herself fully to Helix, a move that will surely come to haunt her further down the line.
Meanwhile, in past Russia, the Oliver & Anatoly show continues — this time, with hockey! The last few Russian flashbacks have pretty much been mafia shoot-outs in different locations, but the dynamic between Anatoly and Oliver has kept it entertaining. This episode, that was particularly true. Not only did we get to go into the expansive light with the hockey setting, but we also got to see Anatoly judging Oliver for all of his proto-Hood choices. Has Arrow also found a flashback formula that works? I mean, the flashbacks are nothing to write home about, but they’re totally bearable these days. I hardly ever audibly sigh when the show transitions to them.
The flashbacks were also serviced this week by the introduction of Talia al Ghul in the present-day. Pissed that Oliver killed her father, Talia not only trained Adrian, but helped him kidnap Oliver in the show’s climatic scene, something I wasn’t expecting. I’m not sure if Talia would care enough about dear old dad to seek revenge for his death (he seemed like kind of a terrible father), but I’ll go with it, if only because I am very excited about a Talia/Chase team-up. Oliver is so outmatched right now, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
“I guess I just thought a secret hacking organization would be a little more intimate.” — Felicity
Kacey Rohl, aka Kojo the Sledgehammer, aka Alena the Hacktivist, describes Helix as “like the U.N., but more effective.” Burn.
“Welcome to Helix, Felicity. We’re gonna change the world together.” But for the better… or? Maybe Felicity should ask for a mission statement or something.
“You tired or is it actually that you’ve been asleep this whole time?” You just know that Adrian Chase has been writing these little taunts down in a book he keeps on his nightstand, just waiting to use them on Oliver.
“This is a hell of a city you got here. District attorney’s a serial killer.” Dinah is probably seriously rethinking her relocation to Star City at this point.
“He’s way worse that that.” What’s worse than a serial killer, Diggle? Because a serial killer is pretty bad and, so far, he hasn’t tried to blow up the entire world like Darhk, so, you know, that’s something.
“You have some nerve showing up here.“ “Why wouldn’t I? I take my job very seriously.” This is my favorite part of the Adrian Chase character: how legitimately good he seems to be at his job. Now get him those CompStat verifications!
Things Anatoly asks Oliver: “Why did you want him gone, and why are you playing Robin Hood?” “What is thing you’re doing with your voice?”
“All they need to know is I’m a grown woman making my own grown-up decisions.” Pro-tip, Felicity. Don’t call your decisions “grown-up decisions.” Just call them decisions. It sounds more grown-up.
“What is it, man?” Diggle asks Oliver. Um, my girlfriend has been kidnapped by a dude I thought was my friend, but who has actually made it his sole purpose to destroy my life.
As much as I like Diggle’s pep talks, I’m not sure how many more “We’re your teammates. We’re your strength.” Conversations I can take. A blogger has her limits.
“Being human is a luxury I might not get to have.” The Oliver Queen Story.
“Oliver’s got something up his green sleeve.” How long has Felicity been waiting to use that?
“And you can’t kill me.” “Yes, Adrian, yes I can.” I am glad we’re not going to do the “Can Oliver Kill? Debate” again.
Um, where’s Evelyn? Did she go to a conference with Thea?
“Well, when it comes to the shame of fathers, I’ll bow to your superior expertise.” — Talia. Oh, she’s good.
Can’t Talia lighten up on Oliver a bit considering he’s her brother-in-law?
“My friends will find me. They’re my strength.” “That’s sweet.” Guys, Adrian Chase is my favorite.