The most raucous movie-going experience I ever had was during the opening night of Magic Mike XXL. The assorted women and–presumably–gay men in the audience were in a sexual frenzy from the opening shot, twittering with excitement when Channing Tatum appeared. When Tatum and Co. flirted with Andie McDowell, they screamed and by the time Joe Mangianello threw a random woman into a sex swing, they seemed to reach climax.
Now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with Arrow, but stick with me here. While the audience was captivated by the beautiful, undulating male bodies on the screen, they were almost as vocal about Amber Heard’s character. In the film, she plays a moody girl who scoffs at Tatum’s character’s profession and his attempts to woo her. Given that the audience paid good money to imagine what it would be like to have Tatum strip for them, they could not sympathize with her position and as the film went on, they turned against her. This anger finally reached its climax near the end of the film, when one guy screamed, “kill her!” when Heard appeared and the rest of the audience cheered in agreement.
Now, I’m not saying Susan Williams was Amber Heard levels of bad for Arrow. As I’ve said too many times now, Carly Pope is appealing in the role and has genuine chemistry with Stephen Amell’s character, Oliver. However, the character has been so poorly written for most of her time on the show that it was hard to give a damn about her being in imminent danger this episode. To be clear, the last thing I want to see is a female character getting thrown into a refrigerator so some brooding man-child can feel things, but there were moments during “Checkmate” when I almost wished Susan would die just so this storyline would finally come to a blessed end.
That said, watching Susan be victimized for an hour was far from enjoyable. It was actually perverse. And frankly, pretty much the entire episode was perverse. Take Felicity’s (Emily Bett Rickards) role in this storyline. Two weeks ago, she made it very clear to Oliver that her having any involvement in helping him get Susan back was downright weird. Now, Felicity is not a monster and of course she wouldn’t let a woman get tortured just because it would mean helping her ex’s relationship, but the fact that Oliver understood that Felicity’s help was the only way he could save Susan was inherently twisted. However, it became straight up gross when it seemed Felicity might have to sacrifice her morals to save Susan.
Thankfully, that didn’t seem to happen. We aren’t told by the end of the episode why Double Helix had Felicity hack homeland security and maybe that will come back to haunt her. However, it’s far more likely that whatever they make her do in order to save Oliver will ultimately be the action she’ll end up regretting.
Now, based on everything I just said, you probably think I hate this storyline. Nothing could be further from the truth. The idea that Felicity could do something she really regrets and start to become as tortured as Oliver makes me uncomfortable, but I admire the show for taking a well-established character and seeing how far they can stretch her. What they are doing with her and the way it’s affecting Oliver is quite simply some of the edgiest character work the show has ever done. I have no idea where this plot is going and I am both terrified and thrilled by that. Because you know what, at least it’s a change from the tired character arcs Oliver keeps reliving every single season.
Every year, we have to watch Oliver struggle with the duality of his existence and five seasons in, it’s exhausting to pretend he’s going to learn his lesson once and for all. Especially when you compare his existential crisis to what Susan and Felicity are going through, it seems almost petty. That scene at the end of the episode where Oliver and Chase (a reenergized and wonderfully villainous Josh Segarra) throw each other around a decrepit building was supposed to be badass, but it felt pathetic. It was like watching two traumatized little boys try to wrestle a sense of control from the chaos of their lives, too self-obsessed to see the way they’re ruining other people’s lives. The previews for next week’s episode suggest we’ll have to continue watching their sad little game, but if there is any justice in the world (which there really doesn’t seem to be), it’s all just a misdirect for Felicity’s descent into darkness. It might not be fun to watch, but at least it will give us something new.