Arrow 5.16 Review – ‘Checkmate’
The thing about Arrow is – and longtime fans of the show would likely acknowledge this as readily as any newcomer – what things happen is more important than how things happen. The show never takes aim at the craft of storytelling, content instead to mechanically lay forth the story it tells each season.
In that spirit, let’s move quickly through the rote recapping of tonight’s episode and investigate instead what these events mean for the (Four! Even after this week four more! Seriously!) episodes yet to come. AS briefly as possible, “Checkmate” begins a cat and mouse game between Oliver and Adrian Chase, after Talia reveals to Oliver that Chase is the man inside the Prometheus getup. Talia assisted Chase thus far because – as the show’s fans well know – Oliver killed her father, same as he killed Adrian’s. With everything in the open, the battle between archers is free to move into the office, where Adrian and Oliver verbally spar in hushed tones. Oliver confronts Chase in a parking garage, before finding out he has been outmaneuvered once more; Chase has Susan in an undisclosed location – if he dies, she follows.
So, the episode continues as Oliver and the Arrow Team try to locate Susan so they can pursue Chase freely. With the help of her ominous hacker friends, Felicity finds Susan. Oliver attempts to play Chase’s game (his trite characterization, not mine I promise), so he and Diggle apprehend Chase’s wife – as an insurance measure. Oliver and company rescue Susan and confront Chase, surprising him with his wife’s presence. In a not-surprising development, Chase stabs his own wife (much like he did Pike earlier in the episode) while Oliver – who earlier in the episode promised Chase an arrow through the heart as soon as Susan was rescued – feebly looks on for one reason or another. Talia appears, and she and Chase escape with Oliver as prisoner. The episode ends as Felicity heads to the bad crowd for help once more, and an emboldened Chase peacocks around City Hall claiming The Green Arrow killed his wife and threatening Wild Dog and Lance.
Okay, so brevity is a tough ask when running through an Arrow episode. I didn’t even touch on the flashbacks, which isn’t an accident. The show suffers from a very specific storytelling malaise that can only be cured by either much more time or much less story. These episodes pack so much in, and much of what the show breezes through is underdeveloped enough (naturally, given the time) to be inessential. Talia doesn’t really need to be here – her motivation could have either been implied through flashback or delivered in some clunky exposition by Prometheus. The Pike stabbing didn’t really need to happen, and most likely won’t figure in the coming weeks.
Furthermore – and this will be the last negative nitpick before looking at what “Checkmate” did well – is Chase that far ahead of Oliver, really? Oliver is dissuaded from killing Chase because Chase knows the location of Susan, and Susan will die… if no one feeds her or gives her water. That’s real. But Arrow Team is essentially undefeated in manhunts, and we can assume Chase – as much as he’s a great insurance policy – is actively manipulating the situation in real time. Even the most rash strategizing leaves only one clear option – kill Chase, then go find Susan. Or, because that would be unreasonable to expect from the show, how about this – after Oliver promises to kill chase the minute Susan is free, why doesn’t he just do it? Instead of parading Chase’s wife in to be a human pin cushion and allow Chase to escape, again.
That’s the trap with this show, though, and the difficulty with thinking about it every week. Arrow gratifies instantly – it’s sole concern is excitement, shock, suspense, excitement, shock, suspense, and so on, repeating the cycle until each season’s finale. This makes it hard to spend any real time picking at the motivations of the show or the choices it makes, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Checkmate” is the logical manifestation of that cycle, and it was flatly an enjoyable sixty minutes of television.
Tonight was a taut, suspenseful episode with stakes bolstered by the early revelation of Prometheus’ identity. Early in the season, I noted the expansion of Chase’s character and praised the work Josh Segarra was doing; it’s clear now, obviously, that the show was laying track for this endgame even then. But for all his merit in those earlier episodes, Segarra is really stretching his legs as Chase, post-reveal. Unhinged, sociopathic geniuses are hardly original – shows like Criminal Minds invent a new one practically every week. But rarely are those unhinged sociopaths graced with type of punchable good looks, devastating smugness, and Jersey Shore vanity Segarra gives Chase. Prometheus was mildly interesting, but Adrian Chase – almost exclusively thanks to Segarra – is downright compelling.
Instant gratification – as with this episode – can provide some thrilling highs. The problem, though, is that each of those highs precedes a pretty steep comedown. Tonight, Arrow took the top down and stepped on the gas, but the finish line is still too far away. It used it’s Fast and the Furious boosters too soon, which almost certainly means the show will veer into tedium before it’s final climax. In scenes for next week, Arrow previewed Oliver, bound, being tortured by Adrian. Based on some of dialogue being thrown around (“WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME???!!”), we can only hope Oliver doesn’t die of boredom in that cell.