One thing I’ve always admired about Arrow is its ability to reinvent itself. Even when the series is treading on familiar plot grounds — say, a mayor’s race, or even a mayor’s death — the writers usually add a new dynamic or twist to keep viewers from feeling vigilante déjà vu. But sometimes, in doing so, new problems are created.
For instance, in past seasons, Arrow has typically saved the “big, bad” reveal for the mid-season finale. Not so much this year. Two episodes in, big bad Damien Darhk is not only getting major screen time, but he’s already faced off against the Arrow. While I appreciate the desire to change the formula, one drawback to this approach is the front-end episodes are as crowded and plot-driven as the middle of a season, but without the natural buildup or opportunity to fully develop Team Arrow’s own arcs.
This is not to say that there wasn’t a lot to like in “The Candidate.” There were strong performances, most notably by guest actors. Moreover, the story lines that this episode set in motion (crazy Thea, Felicity as CEO, the mayoral election) carry a lot of promise. But, much like a “first day as a boss” fern, they need room to grow.
The episode begins with Team Arrow pulling an all-nighter to find a Ghost-planted bomb that threatens Star City’s water supply. Oliver as the Arrow seems fully immersed in his prior crime-fighting ways, and Felicity is just as comfortable back at her monitors, the days of Ivy City long past for both. Not that the dynamic is exactly the same, given their relatively new relationship status. (It takes a well-trained former assassin like Oliver to be able to focus on disarming a bomb, while Felicity adorably babbles in his ear about her and Diggle’s lack of code names.)
With the mission completed, Team Arrow regroups at the bunker. Before Speedy even has a chance to hang up her quiver, big bro Oliver swoops in to let her know that he thought she seemed out of control during the mission. Thea, who’s been battling the Ghosts all summer, is (rightfully) indignant: “I have time for one of your lectures or a shower — I pick shower.” Thea needs to get freshened up because she and Oliver have a breakfast planned with an old family friend, Jessica Danforth (Jeri Ryan) and her daughter, Madison.
Felicity is short on time too because she’s about to start her first day as CEO of Palmer Technologies and she is bursting with excitement at being “the boss.” And if that sentiment wasn’t feminist enough, Oliver, savior of the city, presents Felicity with a “first day as a boss” fern (a nod, of course, to season three’s now-deceased love fern) and a “packed” lunch. “Who are you?” Felicity wonders in delight. (Another question is: How can all of Team Arrow be so chipper and awake after an all-nighter? No one even seems fazed by being up for 24 hours.).
Felicity’s excitement wanes when she realizes the Palmer Technologies board of directors want her to fire employees using an algorithm created by employee Curtis Holt (Ben and Kate’s Echo Kellum). Felicity, naturally, balks at the layoffs. A series of scenes about the firings ensue that are not really important or interesting on their own but merely serve to set up the future friendship of Felicity and Curtis. Emily Bett Rickards and Kellum are both charismatic actors, and it was wise to give Felicity a partner at work who speaks tech and to whom she can turn for advice. I look forward to seeing their relationship develop more this season.
But the CEO scenes, for now, are window dressing to the episode’s larger focus: Jessica Danforth, the Queens’ family friend, wants to run for mayor of Star City. This is unequivocally a bad idea. So many mayors and/or mayoral candidates have been killed in this city. No one will even run against Danforth, it’s such a bad idea. But Thea and Oliver can’t talk her out of it: Jessica is determined to lead the city out of the darkness, in a way the Green Arrow can’t.
Jessica holds a press conference to announce her candidacy. It’s probably not a great sign that she’s holding the conference at what looks like the same location where a mayor was killed in the season-two premiere, so it’s a good thing Thea and Oliver are there to watch over her. As soon as Danforth starts her speech, gunfire erupts in the crowd. Thea discovers a lone, unattended weapon and deduces that the gunfire is a distraction. Indeed, the real threat is Lonnie Machin, a.k.a. Anarky (Alexander Calvert), who is posing as one of Danforth’s security guards. During the gunfire confusion, Anarky attempts to kidnap Danforth with a Taser-baton, but is thwarted by Oliver. Oliver’s attempt to capture Anarky, however, is thwarted by a car, which rams into Oliver. But don’t worry ’bout that face: He effortlessly rolls away from the crash. (Maybe they teach that move in A.R.G.U.S. assassin school?)
Anarky’s attempt to kidnap Danforth is not sparked by some personal vendetta; rather, he’s working on spec for Damien Darhk, who wants Danforth to drop out of the race. As Anarky puts it, Anarky is doing this because he wants to sit with the “cool kids” at the crazy table. Calvert, who physically reminds me of a Romeo and Juliet–era Leonardo DiCaprio, adds a lot of fun to this episode. I’ve always enjoyed the villains with vision and/or a sense of humor like the Count 1.0, and Anarky seems cut from a similar evil cloth. Whereas Darhk has the kind of presence that can chill with simple words (“Language,” he warns Captain Lance), Anarky’s threat is more visceral and physical — electrocution, slit throats, tooth extractions.
Even his pinky swears are dangerous, or so Madison Danforth, Jessica’s daughter, finds out when Anarky kidnaps her. Right as Anarky breaks Madison’s finger, Team Arrow crashes in through the roof to save her. (“Something wrong with the front door,” Anarky deadpans.) As Dig and Black Canary are dispatched to return Madison to safety, Arrow and Speedy take on Anarky, who’s traded in his Taser-baton for a flamethrower. When Arrow is threatened, Speedy comes to his rescue. Only Speedy, who’s become increasingly violent during patrols this episode, doesn’t just save her brother; she sets Anarky on fire. The grin she wears as she does so is chilling. Arrow rescues Anarky at the last minute by extinguishing the flames with a nearby water pipe. Speedy’s smile quickly morphs into a dropped jaw. What has she done?
Thea learns from Oliver that her life-saving dip in the Lazarus Pit in Nanda Parbat last year might have some negative side effects, such as trying to attack your much bigger and more trained vigilante brother over his concern that you’re using too much force. (In Thea’s defense, I would have taken a punch or two at Oliver for his backseat vigilante-ing this episode.) But Oliver eventually drops by Laurel’s apartment to check on Thea. Laurel’s there, too, and Thea fills her in on how Ra’s almost killed her and the subsequent dunk in the Lazarus Pit. I routinely (and happily) suspend my disbelief for this show, but this was too much to swallow. Wouldn’t being murdered in your own home and then being brought back to life be something that comes up when you are working with someone closely for months, or, say, living with someone?
As Oliver is leaving, Laurel suggests that she whisk Thea away for a “spa” trip and because this is Arrow, I am immediately suspicious of any promise of a relaxing vacation. My suspicions are confirmed: Laurel wants to take Thea to Nanda Parbat to have the League of Assassins help with her case of the pit crazies. Oh, and also, Laurel wants to bring her dead sister, Sara, back to life via that same pit. Thea and Laurel get down and dirty in Sara’s grave and dig up her corpse. I’m assuming this was not the mud treatment Thea was hoping for.
Meanwhile, Oliver learns that Anarky’s efforts have paid off. In order to protect her daughter, Danforth withdraws from the election. But you know what they say, politics abhor a vacuum: Oliver Queen decides to run for mayor!
Oliver is going undercover on Lian Yu as … Oliver! He gets a job forcing laborers to pick some kind of flower (opium, maybe?). The most important development, however, is that OLIVER CUTS HIS HAIR. Sayonara, Flashback Wig.
- The Arrow-and-Speedy fight was fun and intense. In less deft hands, “crazy” Thea could have been cartoonish, but Willa Holland brings the right balance to Thea’s imbalance.
- How do you think Felicity is going to react to Oliver’s decision to basically run for Most Likely to Be Assassinated?
- That Sara corpse reveal!
- There’s no further movement on who’s in the mystery grave this episode, though Captain Lance or Laurel remain the most convincing fan theories so far.
MISSING THE MARK
- Anarky’s stunt double looks nothing like Calvert. It was distracting.
- The self-referential “sentence fragment” line seemed a bit forced.
NUMBER OF SHIRTLESS STEPHEN AMELL SCENES: 1/8 (for partially torn shirt with bonus sexy dirt rub)
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