Arrow takes things up a level, or I guess technically down a level, with “Level Two.” The first really good episode of the season.
1. Point of Origin
“Level Two” places Oliver in a familiar but different situation as Level Two psychologist Dr. Jarrett Parker
tortures thearapies Ollie and probes his moment of origin as a murderous vigilante. It’s a setup that echoes Prometheus torture of Ollie in season 5, that got him to admit his enjoyment of killing people. Amell is excellent in this episode, purposefully cold with the right amount of glint in his eyes. His performance is the inverse of “Kapiushon,” which was more emotive in the torture, here he is disdainful of Parker’s presence and annoyed.
Focusing on Robert Queen’s murder suicide as the point of origin makes sense within the episode. I don’t think it would be the one the original showrunner group would have chosen, but that’s the upside of having a different set of eyes. For the argument Parker is making, it has all the elements. The Father forcing the son to eat his sins, showing him that extreme violence with the right personal justification is acceptable, and survival, That is a distillation of a cycle Arrow has been running through for a long time.
The interesting note about Dr. Parker’s lucid dreaming electroshock therapy, is how Ollie reimagines the situation between him and William. He focuses in on the last things his Father told him, which is after he murdered that security guard. His imagined message is an echo of what his father told him, it’s a heartfelt moment but also bittersweet due to the flash forwards.
Parker’s attempts to force Ollie to give up on the past, something his wife claims to have done, echoes the sort of metaphysical retconning the character went through when Kevin Smith picked up the title and wrote ‘Quiver.’ Which saw A dead Oliver Queen resurrected but without a soul (like Sara in Season 4) and go on a metaphysical journey to reclaim it and erase but not really the more murdery aspects of the Grell run.
If I had the time, man you could probably throw some Lacan at this and come up with something pretty cool for Arrow.
2. Felicity isn’t Hard, and that’s a good thing
Team Arrow is the best thing to happen to the show, and proven to be a good formula for developing the other shows in the DCWverse. Felicity and Diggle give Ollie and the show different emotional outlets that this version of Oliver Queen is either incapable of expressing or struggles to. These mechanics have also prescribe the kinds of roles everyone is normally allowed to play. Felicity is Team Arrow’s emotional heart. While the show has supplied her plenty of righteous anger, it has also shown how that feeling has made her extremely reckless. A recklessness that is getting other people hurt. A recklessness that is also not too dissimilar from something Ollie would do, which is never a good thing.
Arrow is a show about broken people, who have done very bad things trying to make amends and maybe get a little bit of redemption. Maybe that redemption is found more in stopping another person from crossing that line, than dressing up and vigilantism. All of them do their best to try and get her not to fall into the same traps they did. Felicity is too good for torture. Torture, as seen in “The Brave and the Bold”, is the moment Ollie really began to go dark. Director Mark Bunting overplays close ups a bit in this episode, but the close up shot reverse shot between Felicity not really listening to Rene’s history of torture helps convey the heated, tense, atmosphere they find themselves in.
With all this recklessness, it would have been easy, maybe even expected, for her to go to far and get her own dark mark. The show doesn’t go there, instead letting the traits that make Felicity unique when out as she uses her head to lay a trap for Silencer and Diaz.
3. Flash Forwards Strike Back
The Flash Forwards are back, and like LOST they’d probably have been better off staying on the island.Continued below
It pretty evenly split the difference between being it’s own narrative and acting as mirror to something in the episode. It has turned into the best/worst geocaching adventure ever as William and Roy return to a truly fallen Star City. As a structure it actually works out pretty well since it allows them to just jump to new-old locations and meet new-old people on the way like Dinah and grown up Zoey.
Star City seems to have finally fallen apart, there is a nice bit of Deathstroke graffiti in the background of one shot. While Star City has fallen, the Glades evidently rose up. Which is odd for many reasons. With Dinah’s talk of border walls, isolationism, police force acting as PMC, you’d think it was Star City who went all Berlin post-WWII on the surrounding neighborhoods, not the Glades. The Glades was an analogue to the Narrows section of Nolan-era Gotham City, itself an extension of the East End from “Year On,” these are the “bad” part of town where the poor people live. Which makes me think some crazy gentrification occurred, or maybe the working people united and seized control and made a utopia? It all sounds a little backwards, but intriguing.
The setup within Future Star City is also reminiscent of a future Gotham City shown in “Batwoman” #6 (2017). In this Titans of Tomorrow inspired future, Tim Drake went too far with Brother Eye and made a deal with Gotham City to get his own kingdom. This is one of several comic parallels from “Level Two”
Thematically this ‘C’ plot mirrors what Oliver is going through Dr. Jarrett Parker, as the not so good doctor interrogates the moment of hooded origin for Ollie to try and get him to break the cycle. I’ve already discussed that sequence but there is something fatalistic and sad to the present plot when viewed with the future. A feeling that is reinforced visually when the episode frames Rene and Dinah’s come together moment by showing the two trapped behind bars, the oldest film noir foreshadowing ever. William is by no means the ruthless killer his father was, but the rest of Team Arrow’s progeny is following the same cycles. It also harkens back to how Beebo is treated as a totem in Legends. The Hood, Team Arrow in general, have become these popular totems through which successive generations look to for inspiration and justification of their actions and continue the cycle that created them.
4. A Theory on New Green Arrow
New Green Arrow is back and is wreaking havoc on indoor plumbing! We get our first good look at them. Well, not really good, we see some white skin and the domino mask. The show defaulted to using male pronouns, which I don’t buy. We just don’t have enough information and former Shadowhunter Katherine McNamara is lurking around the corner. What if this New Green Arrow is a bit like Robyn Hood.
5. My Cousin Laurel
People complain about 20 episode seasons a bit unfairly, I like the room it can allow for shows to explore and do one off episodes. Not everything has to be a super serialized 13 episode story. Man I really want them to use one of those episodes to highlight Laurel E2 and her job as DA. It could be one big riff on My Cousin Vinny! Harder edged and vampy Katie Cassidy is entertaining, but finding some comedy in her fish out of water experience wouldn’t be a bad thing. Do it for the yutes.