“Promises Kept” is effectively the conclusion of an Arrow two-parter that began with “Deathstroke Returns,” which sees Oliver helping Slade find his son. At the end of “Deathstroke Returns” we learned that Joe “We Leave No Witnesses” Wilson has become the leader of a mercenary organization known as the Jackals.
Let’s just say it’s not exactly the kind of future one hopes for their child, and Slade is wracked with guilt over the role he played in bringing his son to this sociopathic place. Desperate for a place in his son’s life, Slade tentatively agrees to join the Jackals, much to the chagrin of a still-lurking-in-the-shadows Oliver.
Slade’s reunion with his son is framed by a series of flashbacks that show us what Slade and Joe’s last reunion, a.k.a. the one that occurred following Slade’s return from Lian Yu, was like. It turns out that the mirakuru gave Slade a brief respite for about a year following his escape from Lian Yu, allowing him to reconnect with his son and promise he will never leave him again. (Promises, promises…)
It’s a set-up that works on the purely emotional level, but starts to get a bit wooly when you start asking questions about how mirakuru works exactly, or how no one noticed Slade was off his rocker before he slaughtered a whole room of Australian Intelligence agents.
Slade thinks this broken promise is the reason why Joe has turned into a heartless killer, but Joe informs Slade that the homicidal lessons he learned from his father started much before that. As anyone who watched last week’s episode might have suspected, Joe saw his father kill the Chinese intelligence agent during their father/son camping trip. It was the moment that inspired Joe into committing his first murder, a reveal that tips this episode into slightly surreal territory. “Promises Kept” leans hard into the logic that being a bad father will turn your kid into a bad person, and the argument that, if you’re a killer, then your kid will be a killer. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for personal accountability.
This is the kind of simplistic logic the episode has to lean into because it simply doesn’t have enough time to explore Joe’s character in any real way. Instead, he comes off like the kind of person who may have killed kittens as a kid? It’s an unfortunate narrative looseness for a plotline that, again, is emotionally strong, as it rests on the rock solid emotional foundation that will always be the Oliver/Slade relationship. The audience, or at least this audience member, will always care about the dynamic between these two because it hails from a different, simpler time in Arrow history when flashbacks served a narrative purpose. It remains one of the most fascinating, well-constructed dynamics on the show.
I doubt this is the last time we’ve seen both Slade and his son. The storyline ends with Slade going off in search of Joe after Oliver barely stops Joe from pulling a Kylo Ren and he disappears into the Kasnian night like an angry David Copperfield (the magician, not the Dickensian character). In the mean time, Slade’s long, sad tale encourages Oliver to pay more attention to his kid and, if he can possibly avoid it, try not to kill anyone else in front of him. He returns to find a happy William and Felicity playing video games, a reminder of the things that are important (his family, not the video games — though those are cool, too) and that he should never take for granted.
While the Slade/Oliver storyline continued to deliver in terms of emotional engagement, the Diggle drug saga left a bit to be desired (though, thankfully, was moved along quite a bit in this episode). It centers around that awkward moment when you realize your drug dealer is also your vigilante squad’s next mark. (I can’t even count the number of times this has happened to me.)
The drug dealer in question is Ricardo Diaz, aka the Dragon (aka Kirk Acevedo), and he is manufacturing the drug that has been keeping Diggle’s hand steady during Team Arrow missions. Sadly, especially for Diggle apparently, the man is also killing people, so he must be stopped. Probably. Maybe. After Diggle gets his next fix.
The conundrum does give Diggle a chance to reconnect with Lyla, whom he eventually comes clean to about his drug problem (though, carefully, not calling it an addiction). It’s a nice excuse to see these two together again (and John Jr.!), but the storyline walks a safe, confusing line. The plot continues to be out of character for John, who continues to risk Team Arrow’s lives by going out into the field while physically compromised, while also not going all-in on what appears to be a drug addiction for Diggle.
Drug addiction can affect anyone, and has nothing to do with someone’s moral fiber. This would have be a good chance for Arrow to explore a serious, often misrepresented subject in a way that also would have fit in with John’s characterization better. Who knows? Maybe Arrow will go further into this in future episodes. For now, John has come clean to most of Team Arrow. They’ve agreed not to keep any more secrets from one another, a promise that I’m confident will last at least seven days.
Rating: ★★★ Good