Arrow, Season 5, Episode 17, “Kapiuson”
At various points this season, Arrow has rewritten Oliver Queen’s backstory in minor ways to suit some story needs, but this Russian mob, flashback-heavy episode, truly casts this show’s hero in a whole new light.
In the real world, Ollie is shirtless and chained up in Adrian Chase’s cell. Chase has a wall of photos of the people Oliver has killed since returning to Star City, in an effort to make Ollie confess to an unnamed sin.
Most of the episode is spent in the flashback where Oliver and his upstart Bratva brothers are trying to stop Kovar from using poison gas to topple the Russian government. Of course, uncovering the details of this plot is not easy, and Oliver has to do some dirty work to get to the heart of the conspiracy.
In a facet of Oliver’s personality never before expressed, since we’ve witnessed almost ten years of his life in one way or another, he tells Anatoli that he dons the hood so he can separate the man from the monstrous things his has to do. It reminded me of the “Dark Passenger” concept from Dexter.
Oliver does some pretty horrible things with the hood on, including skinning a man alive to extract information about Kovar’s plans, and he admits to doing most of the damage as “practice” after his victim had already confessed.
In the real world, Chase taunts Oliver that other people have been paying the ultimate price for Oliver’s sins for years, and he trots out Evelyn Sharp to prove his point, saying that either Ollie kills his onetime protégé in order to escape or Chase will come back to kill Sharp, himself. When Ollie can’t bring himself to kill Evelyn, Chase appears to break her neck.
The flashbacks and the torture session reach a climax simultaneously with the same motivation and confession spit out – from Kovar through the present day — all the killing Oliver has done has been because he wanted to and he liked it.
The confession breaks Oliver’s spirit and as a final act of indignation, Evelyn stops playing opossum, and Chase burns off the Bratva star tattoo Ollie earned for foiling the Kovar uprising. When Oliver comes to after his date with the crème brulee torch, he’s no longer chained up, and Chase and Sharp are long gone.
Ollie – still in Green Arrow costume— manages to make his way back to the Arrow Lair (in broad daylight without the police finding him). He looks like ten miles of bad road and tells the team he can’t do this anymore, that he’s shutting down the whole operation.
It’s a bold choice to reframe the series’ main character this way. Even in his more freewheeling, early days of the vigilante life, Oliver’s actions were always justified. Yes he killed a lot of people in Season 1, but all were connected to the conspiracy to commit genocide on Starling City’s poor, in order to get a cheaper deal on land.
The weight of this confession didn’t land with the gravity the show’s writers wanted, because it didn’t feel earned (and as a whole the episode suffered for it because everything was a buildup to that moment). Since Felicity demanded he find a better way, Oliver has by and large done that. Also, for all the brooding and bonehead decisions made over the past five seasons, we’ve never really seen Oliver fight against killing as a compulsion like we did with Thea, when she was in her post-resurrection bloodlust phase. Oliver has either chosen to kill or not kill; he’s always been in control. The viewer is left with more thoughts of “where did this come from all of a sudden” than a visceral reaction to Oliver’s confession one way or the other.
The series has painted itself into an fascinating corner. There are some interesting avenues that could be explored, involving guilt and PTSD, that the show could investigate through Oliver. However, with just a handful of episodes left and Chase still sewing chaos unchecked, there doesn’t seem to be much time in the season remaining for Ollie to plumb the depths of his soul. It would seem a waste of good storytelling if Oliver goes back to business as usual in an episode or two.