Arrow “What We Leave Behind” Review (Season 5, Episode 9)

Newton’s Third Law of Physics states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For those (like me) who are not particularly scientifically inclined, let’s break that down. Basically it means that anytime force is exerted upon something, that something simultaneously pushes back with the same amount of force in the opposite direction. The Arrow mid-season finale essentially demonstrated this principle with Oliver and Prometheus.

The concept of Oliver’s past deeds coming back to haunt him in this way is actually a really interesting direction for the show to take and it makes sense. When Oliver first returned to Starling City, his approach to his mission was really quite bloody. Yes. He was hunting down the people on his father’s list, but he also dropped a lot of bodies that weren’t on the list too. What about all those security guards he killed when he was going after Justin Claybourne? They weren’t inherently evil. They were just regular guys doing their job. Random thought: Wouldn’t it be funny if Prometheus was actually the relative of one of those nameless, faceless people that ended up being collateral damage? Just a thought. But anyway, sooner or later we all have to face the consequences of our actions. Oliver’s cavalier attitude about killing people when he started his mission was a choice, and Prometheus is the consequence.

I wanted to like this episode a whole lot more than I did. It had all the makings for a really solid mid-season finale. There was betrayal, heartbreak, and some pretty cool fight scenes. However, the whole just wasn’t as great as the sum of its parts. There were a number of storylines that kind of just fell flat which contributed to this episode’s lackluster performance. The primary issue is the overall pacing of the story. Not just in this episode, but throughout the season. Prometheus was introduced early on as someone who had a very personal stake in Oliver/The Green Arrow’s demise. However, instead of the show spending the first half of the season building up toward all the reveals in this episode, Prometheus and his story was for the most part put on the back burner. That was a mistake.

The most interesting villains are those with whom the hero has a personal relationship and/or past. That’s why Slade Wilson was such a formidable foe for Oliver. That’s why we cared so much about the outcome of that confrontation. It was personal for both Oliver and Slade. If the show isn’t leading us on again and Prometheus is actually the son of one of Oliver’s early victims, that has the potential to provide some very rich dramatic ground to mine. Especially considering that this isn’t Oliver facing a former friend. This is Oliver facing someone who has hated him from jump. This is Oliver facing someone who has spent the last four years studying Oliver and learning his every move; getting inside Oliver’s head to figure out Oliver’s moves before he even makes them; and planning his revenge down to the very last detail. This is very reminiscent of Oliver’s confrontation with Slade Wilson back in season two, and I thoroughly enjoyed that storyline so I’m not opposed to watching it play out again with a bit of a different twist. However, the problem the Prometheus storyline is having that the Slade Wilson storyline didn’t have, is time. The entirety of season two was dedicated to Slade Wilson’s plan for revenge. Every character that was introduced, every flashback to the island, every move the plot made was to move us farther down the road to Oliver and Slade’s final confrontation. The same cannot be said for Prometheus. We knew virtually nothing about him until this episode. The story hasn’t been focusing on bringing things with Oliver and Prometheus to a head. It’s been taking us down the rabbit trails of Tobias Church and vigilante Ski Goggles guy. Everything that we learned about Prometheus in this episode would’ve carried more of an emotional punch if the season had spent time building up to it.

The same is true about Billy’s death and Paul walking out on Curtis. Billy was only sporadically in the story, and because of that we never got a chance to get to know him. We never got a chance to watch him and Felicity get to know each other either. So her devastation over his death seemed more about lost opportunity than lost love. The bottom line is we never got the chance to care enough about Billy to care that Prometheus used him. Perhaps the show is counting on how much we care about Felicity to make us feel the pain of Billy’s loss, but that’s not enough. It was a little bit better with Paul, but not by much.

We actually got a chance to see Paul and Curtis interact as a couple last season, and it was pretty clear how much they love each other. They also seemed to have a pretty solid, honest relationship with each other. So when Paul was so hurt to realize that Curtis has been lying to him all this time, there was a little bit more connection to his anger. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that this is the first time we’ve seen Paul this season and it’s the first time we’re hearing about the problems he and Curtis have been having in their marriage. I mean honestly, I’d actually kind of forgotten that Curtis is even married. There haven’t been any phone calls. There haven’t been any moments of Curtis having to choose between going out with the team and going out with his husband. What about the time Tobias Church stabbed Curtis in the back and almost killed him? Where was Paul? So the lack of any build up to Paul leaving Curtis caused that to fall kind of flat as well.

Evelyn’s betrayal also lacks any real shock value. It would be one thing if we knew she was playing Oliver because she still blamed him for her parents’ death. Perhaps she still does. Perhaps that is her reason for working with Prometheus, but I don’t know that. Why? Because the show hasn’t spent any time developing her character. The truth of the matter is, I wouldn’t even know who she is and what she was talking about if I weren’t a regular watcher of the show. They spent one episode last season introducing her, and they haven’t done anything to add any depth to her character since then. Why did she decide to work with Prometheus? How long has she been working with him? Was imitating Black Canary all a ploy to get her in with Team Arrow? What did Prometheus promise her in return for helping him get revenge against Oliver? Did she know Oliver’s true identity before she joined Team Arrow? Is she really trying to punish Oliver for being unable to save her parents or is this really about saving the city? These are all questions that needed answering before Evelyn’s “betrayal” would feel more genuine. As it stands, Evelyn just comes across as immature, petty, and completely out of her league.

The new Team Arrow hasn’t really gelled for me either. For the most part I like Curtis and I like Rory, but Evelyn and Rene are a different story completely. I don’t really like or dislike Evelyn because, as I mentioned above, the show hasn’t really spent very much time developing her. They tried to start showing her sowing seeds of doubt among the team when Prometheus brought Robert’s list back into play, but other than that she’s basically been wallpaper. Then there’s Rene. I suppose his arrogant and brutish behavior is supposed to be endearing or something, but it really just wears on the nerves. His inability to follow orders or even care about the safety of his teammates has already caused numerous problems and the narrative has yet to have him reconsider his actions. That’s not endearing. That’s frustrating and dangerous.

One thing I will say that surprised me in a good way was Oliver telling the team the truth about what happened when he went to face Prometheus. Oliver was shaken to his core when he realized Prometheus had played him and he’d inadvertently killed Billy. That realization was probably one of the worst moments of his life, and that’s saying something considering everything Oliver has been through. When he got back to Team Arrow HQ, I fully expected him to completely shut down and then lie about what happened. In times past, that’s exactly what he would’ve done then justified it by saying it was to “protect” Felicity and the rest of the team. It was refreshing for him to be honest for once despite knowing how much it was going to hurt. It was one of the most vulnerable moments we’ve seen from him in quite a while.

I really wanted this mid-season finale to be better. Despite my problems with season three, Oliver’s confrontation with Ras on the mountaintop was a powerful mid-season finale and the cliffhangers were legitimate cliffhangers. They kept me anxious to find out what happened the entire time the show was on winter break. I can’t say the same for the nuggets they left behind here. Diggle apparently getting captured by the authorities felt more like lazy writing than a legitimate cliffhanger. They all know that Prometheus knows their true identities so it would stand to reason he would use Diggle’s family against him. So when “Lila” called Diggle all in a panic and telling him to rush over the safe house, I’m not understanding why Diggle didn’t take a moment to verify that it was her who called him. That just felt like the writers not knowing how to move Diggle out of his fugitive status. But I’m guessing the major cliffhanger was supposed to be Laurel showing up alive. First of all, the show is seriously overdoing the ‘Surprise! I’m not really dead!’ thing. It was pretty much old news after Malcolm Merlyn showed up alive again. Secondly, and more importantly, Laurel’s return would be an awesome cliffhanger if I were actually looking forward to Laurel returning to the story at all. I’m really not. The show didn’t seem to know what to do with her character subsequent to season one, and she just became annoying and pretty much next to useless over the next few seasons. Her death did set in motion some events that are still playing out, but she doesn’t need to be back in order for those stories to reach their end. Additionally, I’m not particularly interested in rehashing Oliver and Laurel’s twice-warmed over relationship. I’m hoping against hope that Oliver is just suffering from some sort of stress and guilt-induced hallucination. But my luck usually isn’t that good. The show is on a break until the new year, and I sincerely hope the back half of the season will be significantly better. So what did y’all think of the Arrow mid-season finale?

  • Kathleen Kervin

    I too wish that this had been a better episode.

    After a season full of characters I didn’t care about (Rene, Evelyn, Chase, Susan, and even Curtis who I really liked last season) and storylines I didn’t find compelling (season 1 wash, rinse, repeat, Susan = Isabel V2, Felicity has a boyfriend), the Arrow writers really needed an episode to show me why I should come back in January. Instead they doubled down on everything I didn’t care about, and then they threw in Laurel coming back again for the final punch. Laurel, how can I say goodbye to you if you never leave?

    Marc Guggenheim said in an interview that Evelyn decided to join Prometheus during the last commercial break two episodes ago. I have no idea why (she found out that Oliver didn’t tell her that he was a serial killer four years ago so she quits to join a guy who is blatantly a serial killer?) and also, if you have to explain your plot in a press interview after the episode has aired, there’s something wrong with your writing.

    The red pen flashback felt like pure ship baiting to me. Please, stick around Olicity shippers and keep up our viewer numbers while we spend the season writing away from Olicity. Those of us who watched season 1 remember that Oliver had no romantic interest in Felicity back then, he was all about Laurel and Felicity was just an amusing IT girl to him.

    The return of Laurel was Lauriver ship baiting too. Marc Guggenheim swore up and down last season that the death was really going to take and yet Katie Cassidy has been on 1/3 of the episodes this season and St. Laurel and her statue is talked about on every other one. No, Laurel would not have opposed Oliver killing, the real Laurel had to be kept by Oliver from doing the killing herself.

    I’m kind of sad to see Billy go because even while I know nothing about him, he seemed like a good guy to me. I’m sad to see Susan sticking around because she’s such a one dimensional and obvious villain (not to mention gives women in journalism a bad name).

    The thing that I hate most about the episode though was when Oliver returned and told Felicity that he had killed her boyfriend, every single one of that team huddled around him to tell him it wasn’t his fault and make him feel better. Even Felicity told him that it was all on Prometheus, not one him. But no one thought to comfort Felicity, who was the one who lost her boyfriend. No one, it was all about Oliver feeling bad for killing Felicity’s boyfriend. That’s really the worst of this Arrowverse writing, that it’s all about the manpain and women are just props in their story. Then, to make matters worse, Oliver goes to Susan to make himself feel better while Felicity is left to cry alone. I can’t root for Oliver as a hero when he’s bone deep self-centered like that, and no one cares about Felicity.

    Laurel coming back yet again was just the icing on a very unpleasant cake. (I hoped she was a hallucination because Susan drugged Oliver with that bottle of Russian vodka (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) but probably no such luck.