Promises Are Like Debts
With Slade Wilson revealing himself in the Queen Mansion, it is only natural to juxtapose a plot with inherent tension with one that is all about the emotional release of battle, the siege of the Amazo. Executive producer Marc Guggenheim described “The Promise” as “designed … to be like a sequel to episode 14("The Odyssey") last year, where we flipped the paradigm and spent the majority of our story time on the island with Oliver and Slade.” Like Community and its duology of paint ball themed episodes, Arrow makes an adequate follow up.
Arrow season 2 has done lots and lots of aggressive expansion in terms of the inhabitants of Arrow, suddenly we have the League of Assassins, Task Force X, powers, and a Canary. The series hasn’t however expanded on its secret weapon: action sequences. Now, there is an extremely logical reason for this, bigger set pieces cost more money. Adding more bodies would change how you actually block out and choreograph sequences and Arrow has an excellent stunt coordinators like James Bamford, who maximizes the fact that most of this shows fights take place in warehouse (and there equivalents) already. There would be something off if Arrow were suddenly able to do consistent large set pieces, this show is a scrappy ramshackle piece. Smaller, more personal sequences fit it better on a working theme level.
This isn’t to complain or write off the siege of the Amazon but to contextualize what makes this episode feel rather special. We are given several sequences on the deck of the Amazo and it is filled pirates, Russians, explosions, and red barrels that weren’t exploding(thanks videogames). The camera gets a little shaky, literally and metaphorically, in these moments. The shakes aren’t bad with most of the shots being of the long variety, if you’re going big you might as well ensure the scale cannot be missed. A long distance implies a lack of caring or emotion “The Promise” overcomes this through sheer energy. Slade Wilson is an excellent mustache twirling villain in the present. Five years in the past as he is about to paraglide onto the Amazon he couldn’t help but laugh and smile.
The siege of Amazon goes in close for some nice hand to hand moments. Oliver’s training routine pays off as he manages to take out several guards effectively but without the efficiency of his more hardened self. Slade Wilson is made out to be a terminating killing machine, slicing though the pirates constantly in a flicker of light. His bisected mask made to look even the more fearsome and camp. Both Ollie and Slade down their requisite attire for the mission, echoes of what they are to become. Much of comic mythology is derived from that idea of dress up and clothes making the man, making it an obvious place for Oliver to finally don the mask and act like the hero he wants to be even If he doesn’t know it yet.
All of this action, no matter how well done, would have been meaningless and hollow if it lacked a good emotional foundation. “The Promise” gets at this foundation in two ways. Structurally shifting the island flashbacks to ‘A’ plot position gives more time to set up the eventual siege. This means Sara Lance talking in themes and spelling things out, which sounds a bit worst than it was. It’s also par for the course of Sara’s character on the island. Awkward as that was, episode scribes Jake Coburn & Ben Sokolowski do the leg work. Adding a bit of narrative but artistically pleasing funkiness, the flashbacks even pertain to the dreams of Oliver Queen. Dreaming of Shado in a field (out of MGS 3) wondering why he killed her, a guilty conscious made manifest. Oliver jumps asleep as the Shado of his dreams stabs him viciously, with a couple of single digit frames of Slade doing the same.
The structural shift also allows them to play with the tension found in the present day ‘B’ plot, Slade in the Mansion going on tour. We already know the ends of the Amazo, the present day has yet to be written making every cutaway to the ‘A’ plot nerve racking. Logically, you know they wouldn’t cut back to the present day mid-action but it was a section pulled taunt and just a bit more.
The Mansion tour also makes for a nice bit of contrast with the claustrophobic setting by comparison. How close Slade is to Moira and Thea always with a hand on a shoulder. Oliver slinking around in the back frightened and a bit amused at how his past continues to haunt him. It becomes a coming out part for the show with both sides seeing who is who. Roy gets his own awesome much emphasized handshake with Wilson. Who seemed a little shocked to see Sara Lance come walking down the stairs. It was a Mexican standoff with neither guns nor grenades.
Mannu Bennett deserves recognition for his portrayal of the broken and rebuilt Slade Wilson. Finding out about Shado is a melodramatic trope, Bennett manages to find a real hole for the terminator to fall into as he cuts down pirates, Ivo, and Ollie in a simmering rage. “The Promise” is all about the emotional state of Slade Wilson and the state of mind that makes him promise Oliver Jonas Queen that he will bring him nothing but despair and death.
The Bits At The End
- After shopping on Amazon so much, it’s rather hard not to call the ship the Amazon…just one little letter.
- If for some reason you haven't seen the 3 minute trailer well here it is.
- Arrow returns March 19 with "Suicide Squad"