“The Sin-Eater” was one of those Arrow Season 5 episodes that we have come to know and love: an installment that both reminds us of Seasons 1 and 2 of the superhero show, while using its full 5-year history to reach new thematic depths.
“The Sin-Eater” was ostensibly about Team Arrow’s efforts to capture China White (Kelly Hu), Cupid (Amy Gumenick), and Liza Warner (Rutina Wesley), but really, it was an exploration of the fine line between taking responsibility for the pain and problems you’ve caused, and reveling in pain and problems when it has nothing to do with you.
Interestingly, Thea served as the subtle crux of this theme and episode. Back from her weeks-long “conference,” she was on hand to yell at Quentin for taking on Liza Warner’s crimes as his own, something both he and Oliver do too often, in a paternalistic way. Thea tells him: “Liza Warner is a criminal. You did not make her into one. You have got to stop taking credit for other people’s sins … Why don’t you focus on catching Liza Warner? Not because you are responsible, but because she is a criminal.”
It’s a lesson Arrow, not to mention most superhero movies and TV shows, would do well to remember. Sure, it’s riveting to see a superhero battle a villain that he or she is personally connected to, but, as we have seen on Arrow, that can lead to lazy characterization. What does it say if all our heroes only care about an injustice because they have been personally wronged by the villain committing it? That is a dangerously self-indulgent form of superheroism. Is it not enough to want to stop people from suffering because you don’t think anyone should suffer? Arrow seems to be subtly exploring that underutilized theme in this episode and in this season, proving that it still has some superhero story left to tell.
Thea is also at the other end of this Superhero Responsibility Question. In this episode, we see her use her power and privilege to take Susan Williams down when she finds out Susan Williams has gathered evidence that Oliver is the Green Arrow. Basically, when she finds out Susan Williams has been doing her job.
Oliver is right to be worried because Thea’s actions don’t seem solely motivated by a desire to help Oliver. (Because does pissing Susan Williams off really seem like the way to deescalate this situation?) Like her mother before her, Thea is motivated by her love of power and manipulation. She is a schemer and that isn’t always a bad thing. Her scheming has been used for good, too, but, here, she seems to revel in the feeling of taking Susan down. (She’s probably still smarting from Susan’s betrayal when they first met. A Queen woman never forgets.)
Thea apologizes to Oliver repeatedly for framing Susan for plagiarism and getting her fired, but she doesn’t seem to regret her actions, as evidenced by the fact that she doesn’t once try to fix the situation. The members of Team Arrow too often take on responsibility for tragedies they have no right to, but there is another side to that coin: sometimes, they neglect to take responsibility for the pain they have caused. This often comes in the form of emotional neglect, ignorance, or communication issues, but, in Thea’s case, is less abstract. She has ruined Susan Williams’ life a little bit in some tangible ways.
As Thea is washing her hands of Susan’s current predicament, Oliver is choosing to step up and take responsibility for his part in Billy Malone’s death. He goes to Captain Pike as Oliver Queen to explain how Prometheus tricked the Green Arrow into killing Billy. It’s a gamble, but it pays off. Pike uses the ACU not to hunt the Green Arrow down, but to help Team Arrow catch Cupid, Warner, and White.
It says a lot about Star City’s state of relative lawlessness that the SCPD and Team Arrow — let’s spell it out: a group of costumed vigilantes — are working together so publicly, but perhaps Arrow will address this issue in the upcoming storyline. The end of the episode saw the local news reporting on Mayor Queen’s part in the Billy Malone cover-up, leading Oliver to wonder if this will spell the end of his administration. I’d like to think that Arrow will show nuance and steely-eyed critique of its central characters’ morality with the continuation of the Billy Malone Cover-Up plot. After all, Oliver does deserve to be called out for his decision to cover up the details of Billy’s death. But, let’s face it, Arrow used up a lot of its nuance in “The Sin-Eater.”
All of this superhero existential meandering played out in the foreground, while a subtle raising of the Prometheus stakes served as an important plot-driven through-line for the episode. At the beginning of the episode, Oliver visits Prometheus’ mom in an attempt to get information on who her son is. Unsurprisingly, she chooses not to, but it catalyzes Prometheus into putting more pressure on Oliver. First, he sics the ACU on him, then presumably gives information to Star City’s media about the Billy Malone cover-up. It’s a more interesting villain strategy than we have seen from Arrow’s Big Bads in a while. Prometheus continues to tighten the noose.
We didn’t get many flashback scenes this episode, but what we did get was pretty great because it relied so much on the long-established Oliver/Anatoly relationship. In the aftermath of Gregor’s attack on Anatoly, Oliver is watching over his friend in the Russian hospital. When the two are cornered by Gregor’s men, Oliver tries to sacrifice himself to save Anatoly, but the flashback ends with Gregor pointing a gun at Anatoly.
This cliffhanger doesn’t hold a lot of tension, given that we know Anatoly makes it out alive. However, it’s fun to see Oliver and Anatoly as a motley duo in over their heads. It’s enough to make me wish Arrow dropped the more intricate flashback story structure this season in favor of some kind of buddy cop (or, in this case, buddy Bratva) setup. I would watch Anatoly and Oliver trying to solve crimes in Russia all season, wouldn’t you?
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
— Though they didn’t get nearly enough screen time, the Liza/Cupid/China White team up worked incredibly well, like some kind of villainous version of the Birds of Prey. Because they are all recurring characters, they work so much better than the typical villains of the week.
— “Hello, my name is Oliver-“ “I know who you are.” — Amanda Westfield. Someone knows the opening monologue.
— “But you know he’s become something else… Someone else.” I love that Oliver basically has monologue and Arrow catchphrase-themed inside jokes with himself. We also got a classic “You have failed this city” from him in this episode.
— “Are you the Green Arrow?” “Yep.” Oliver should have just stuck with the truth. As Allison pointed out in a previous recap, is Oliver’s secret identity really that big of a deal anymore? Nope.
— “Thea, is my assistant my mole?” — Oliver
— Arrow really brushes by the fact that Oliver learned multiple languages fluently during his time away from Star City, but we never see him actually learning said languages. He’s just a casual omniglot.
— Seeing Thea and Felicity reunite was pretty adorable. We need more scenes like this one, though I was disappointed to see that their plan to save Oliver was so bad after loving the way they teamed up to save him from his obvious blindspots.
— Curtis has a new jacket! His Mr. Terrific outfit is really coming together. That face mask is even growing on me.”
— “Tobias Church…” “Is dead.” — I love how Curtis and Rene interrogate their informants like they’re playing some kind of game show.
— Felicity continues to be weirdly emotionally divorced from the Billy Malone issue. Like, no one even mentions that they were in a serious relationship anymore and she doesn’t really react when his grisly murder at the hands of her ex-boyfriend is brought up. This is weird, right?
— I don’t quite believe that China White would let Liza Warner take charge. She doesn’t seem like a follower. Also, was it weird to anyone else that Cupid didn’t flirt with Oliver once?
— “We don’t even know if that report is legitimate.” “I think it’s safe to day that it is.” Stephen Amell’s face when he delivers this line.
— It seems like it would take more than a few files planted on Susan Williams’ computer to get her fired and completely discredited. This screams set-up. Especially because she has been accused of plagiarism, which means she copied/used someone else’s work, but Thea and Felicity presumably didn’t go to the trouble of going that far into the setup.
— “Thanks for that. “Anything for a friend.” I am here for the China White/Cupid friendship.
— “That advice would mean a lot more if it wasn’t coming from Thea right now. “Well, I don’t know what that means…” Lance has no time for Oliver’s angst.
— “Shouldn’t we let the team handle this considering you’re — there’s really no delicate way to put this — the SCPD’s most wanted?” — Felicity
— “This is going to involve me wearing a costume, isn’t it?” Dinah takes the next step towards assuming the role of the Black Canary, with Quentin Lance’s blessing.
— “I’m not sure I’m ready to fill her shoes quite yet.” “It’s not shoes. It’s a mask.”
— “This is how you get haunted.” — Rene, worried about battling it out in a cemetery.
— “I’m shot through with flaws, no question but at least I’m not using other people’s sins to justify my own.” — Lance, to Liza
— “She was a wonderful mother, but I think we both know that she didn’t always make the best choices.” — Oliver, on Moira Queen
— “Right now, I’m really worried about my baby sister.” — Oliver, to Thea. Frankly, Thea should be way more screwed up than she is.