If you’ve ever wondered what Arrow would be like if Oliver weren’t the main character, “Reversal” is the episode for you.
While this show always maintains a certain scope of characters, especially in recent seasons, tonight’s episode demonstrated what this show would be like if Felicity’s hacktivist shenanigans were the main plot and Oliver, as her over-protective, ex-vigilante boyfriend, were merely a supporting character.
When Alena, Felicity’s Helix hacktivist frenemy, returns to Star City asking for Felicity’s help stopping Cayden James from killing 300 million people, she understandably drops everything (including her second first date with Oliver). Unfortunately, this means ignoring Evil Laurel’s killing spree. Perhaps if Felicity had been at the Arrow Lair, she might have put together what Diggle, Curtis, Dinah, and Rene could not: the fact that Cayden Smith and Evil Laurel are working together.
What are they up to? Let me begin by saying that the Arrow writers obviously binge-watched Mr. Robot over hiatus because they are going hard on the techno thriller vibes here. Cayden James master plan involves, wait for it, taking down the internet. Yep, all of it. In one go.
James does this by getting Evil Laurel to kill, then steal the fingerprints of members of the International Domain Name Directory, which Felicity and Curtis try to convince us is a thing? Consider me skeptical that, after five and a bit seasons, Arrow has started doing its due diligence when it comes to computer science. However, when you have Michael Emerson, he of Lost and Person of Interest fame, playing the nefarious tech genius Cayden James, you can get away with a fair amount of ridiculousness. Besides, no one watches Arrow for its realistic depiction of cybersecurity culture.
The true purpose of the episode is not to get cybersecurity culture right (I hope), but rather to see Felicity and Oliver switch positions, her in the field and him as Overwatch. It is a clever idea, it just would have worked better with a less far-reaching mission. Arrow doesn’t tend to do as well when it extends the stakes of its missions beyond Star City. This is a show about saving the soul of this one city. When it travels to Nanda Parbat or Havenrock, the stakes tend to come off as much harder to grasp. This is one of the (many) reasons why the non-Lian Yu flashback narratives didn’t work.
The same is true here. Sure, losing the internet sounds terrible, and Felicity gets a throwaway line about how it would mean 300 million people dying due to downed infrastructure, but Rene also gets a line saying: “Thank god we saved the internet. My fantasy football team is killing it this year.” So, it’s hard to tell what the stakes actually are. I just know they have nothing specifically to do with Star City, which always makes for a weaker Arrow episode.
In the end, we viewers learn that it was never Cayden James’ plan to take down the internet, but rather his plan to get Felicity to take down an internet firewall so he could plant a code without leaving his signature. In effect, he is setting the foundation to frame Felicity for whatever evil plan he is set on enacting.
It’s an effective bait-and-switch, but one that relies on Felicity and Curtis being idiots, and trying to convince us that the internet is just one big room, apparently located somewhere in Star City. It looks like Cayden Smith could be the Big Bad for Season 6, and I’m excited to see that play out; I just wish he had been given a better introduction to the Arrow universe.
Rating: ★★ Fair