If there’s one superhero plot I love, it’s a full-on villain fight. Two or more bad guys duking it out, destroying everything in sight as the hero desperately tries to save people caught in the crossfire… that’s a recipe for a good time, right there. Although “Dead to Rights” didn’t quite deliver that, what we did get was action aplenty and a whole lot of plot. Also: more Doctor Who actors playing bad parents.
Last week’s episode ended with Moira Queen hiring China White to have Malcolm Merlyn bumped off, and we pick up as that plan comes together. Oliver intercepts the first candidate for the job, who conveniently had his name on The List, and makes off with the man’s smartphone. Felicity’s only able to glean the last number called, a Chinese restaurant that just happens to be a front for the Triad. Which Diggle knows off the top of his head for some reason, but never mind. Oliver decides to do some undercover work and takes Tommy out for an impromptu bro-date.
Speaking of Tommy, he manages to do the impossible and play out a compelling storyline of his own. Malcolm’s trying to buy his way back into his son’s good graces, for reasons that are unclear, and the boy’s not happy about it. Oliver points out that even crappy fathers are still fathers, and should be appreciated while they’re around (and he should know). What’s nice about this scene is that Oliver’s advice is contradicted by some dramatic irony: we know that Tommy’s dad is even worse than either young man thinks, and might do everyone a favor by dropping dead. So while Oliver’s suggestion to Tommy might normally be taken as the moral of the episode, here it remains ambiguous. Sure, Tommy might benefit from getting closer with his dad, but that dad’s still a supervillain. On most shows, a father and son reconciling is a happy ending. On Arrow, it’s ominous.
Thanks to a hilarious hot-sauce-aided interrogation, Oliver gets the time of the hit from a Triad flunky, and Felicity eventually cracks the phone to discover the target: our buddy Malcolm. Let’s just assume the Triad sent some sort of background information to the hitman, and that he didn’t just write down all the details of his criminal activities like an idiot. Even ruthless killers deserve the benefit of the doubt sometimes! Speaking of ruthless killers, the show brings back one of its worst-served villains in the form of Deadshot, all freshly not-dead and sporting a new high-tech eye to make up for the one Oliver put out way back when. It’s good to see one of DC’s most lovable scumbags up and around again, even though he’s still given frustratingly little to do. Other than kill Merlyn, of course. For Deadshot, that’s not much.
So everyone converges on the Starling City Municipal Club’s Humanitarian of the Year awards ceremony for an evening of glamor and chaos: Malcolm’s there to get his ego stroked, Tommy’s there to reluctantly support his old man, Oliver’s there to save him, China White and company are there to flush him out into Deadshot’s sights, and Detectives Lance and Hall are there to stop the whole thing in its tracks. Good luck with that. The Triad goons use the classic “knock out and/or kill the waiters and take their places” trick to get inside and raise a ruckus, and the Merlyns dash upstairs to get to Malcom’s office panic room while Oliver and China White throw down.
On a side note, the fight staging in this episode left something to be desired. The hand-to-hand combat is edited so choppily as to be nearly incomprehensible, which makes it look less realistic rather than more. I realize that some directorial sleight-of-hand comes with the territory, but it could really be done better.
Back to the action, the episode pulls a clever bit of misdirection as Malcolm comes ever closer to revealing his secrets to Tommy as they climb floor after floor. He handily disarms two goons and shoots one with his own gun (why did they not shoot him as soon as they saw him? Because it’s TV, and also shut up), and the panic room just happens to hold all of his Black Archer gear. Just when it seems as if Tommy’s about to get a lot closer to his dad than he expected, though, Deadshot blows the wall down and puts two bullets in Malcolm. The good news is that he’s wearing a bulletproof vest (another side note: bulletproof vests that fit comfortably under tuxedos are a million-dollar invention. Way to go, Merlyn R&D!). The bad news? Deadshot’s still using that stupid curare-bullet gimmick, so Merlyn’s got minutes to live either way.
It’s at this point that Oliver shows up, having extricated himself from his fight with China White and McKenna’s interruption thereof via a shot to a fire extinguisher, and he offers a solution: if Tommy will provide his dad with a blood transfusion, the latter might live long enough to make it to the hospital. Tommy’s understandably reluctant to take medical advice from a murderous vigilante, though, so Oliver plays the only card he has time for: he unmasks. Note how the misdirection becomes foreshadowing at this point. Slick!
The trouble is that this particular climax comes with fifteen minutes or so of show left, so the back quarter is ridiculously packed with revelations and plot twists. Tommy is the latest to be let in on Oliver’s secret, and he’s upset about not being told sooner. Do they not have comic books in this universe? You’d think people would have a handle on the whole “secret identity” concept already. Then again, it’s been a pretty emotional day for Merlyn junior, so we can cut him some slack. Then, more revelations: On the island, Oliver fixes a radio enough to pick up Fyers’s communications, revealing his acquisition of heavy-duty surface-to-air missile launchers. Scary! Back home, Laurel gets an unwelcome visit from her mother, played by Alex Kingston. Is everyone on this show related to Doctor Who alumni? I look forward to meeting Oliver’s Uncle K-9 next week. But wait, there’s more! Not only is she back in town, she thinks Laurel’s sister Sarah might be alive!
At this point, I just had to laugh. Superhero comics and soap operas have a lot in common, but they don’t usually come together so directly. But even that wasn’t the most out-there revelation of the night. In his hospital bed, Malcolm opens up a bit to his son about his years away after his wife was killed (by a petty criminal of course. It’s the rare reverse-Batman!). Seems he had an eye-opening experience thanks to a mentor he met in… Nanda Parbat? I’ve had my issues with this show, but if it manages to bring Deadman into the mix I will love it until my dying day.
Whew, that’s a lot of incident for one episode. Not everything worked – Oliver’s romance with McKenna is still boring, and the dialogue from comics writer Geoff Johns was less than sparkling – but “Dead to Rights” thoroughly embraced the slam-bang excitement that was missing from last week’s installment, and kept the tension up throughout. It also set up a metric ton of subplots, which should provide plenty of fodder for the rest of the season. And most important, Deadshot stayed alive! Maybe someday they’ll even give him more than two lines, but hey, you can’t have everything.
Next week: Huntress is back in town, and Oliver’s not happy about it. Well, maybe one part of him is.