“Checkmate” seems like a strange episode title so early before the finale. You don’t just yell bingo before you win the game, but here we are, six episodes before we even get into penultimate territory. So, what is it that ends? Literally nothing. There’s no resolution or revelation had by any member of the team, or by Chase, that would justify such a title. This would be justifiable if the episode were solid enough to distract from its over-sell of a title. But it's not.
We start off with Oliver tracking down Talia. Until “Checkmate” there was no confirmation that she was Ra’s daughter, and it’s not beyond the Arrow writers to switch up someone’s origins. But Ra’s daughter she is, and she ain’t happy that Oliver killed daddy dearest. The show’s decision to bring Talia into the present was an ill-advised one. The flash backs have been a chore for seasons now, and they took away the one factor that made them even slightly interesting in season five. After an icy conversation, Talia lets Oliver leave her lair (that she clearly decorated to remind her of Nanda Parbat) in one piece after telling him Prometheus’ identity. With this information in hand, Oliver returns to Star City to growl at Adrian. Adrian growls back. Repeat ad nauseum for an hour.
Since the writers felt Oliver had made quite enough bad decisions on his own, they passed the “stupid” torch over to Felicity. Don’t let the snark of that sentence fool you, I’m here for it. It develops an interesting parallel between her and Oliver, and it’s interesting to watch it play out for the time being. There’s frustration with Felicity, sure, but that’s quickly calmed by the strange way Oliver seems to be handling it. Strange in this case being with kindness and with logic. Their decision to flip the narrative between the two brings me to my following hypothesis: Susan is evil.
Or at least I hope she is, because it’s the only way I can see for them to make her interesting. Arrow has gone down this narrative path before, particularly during the time when Oliver would bang anyone that walked into his office, but hear me out: Felicity left Oliver because she couldn’t take his lies, no matter what the motivation was behind them. Now they’ve flipped things and made her the one sneaking around, telling lies and not being where she needs to be when she needs to be there. Oliver had a list. Felicity has a data cache. The writers may have avoided the pairing this season, especially in the wake of Laurel’s death, but they’re clearly building up this narrative towards something. Love or hate it, their relationship seems the most obvious choice. Susan doesn’t have to be evil for that to happen, but it’s a more interesting story than her simply dying.
Felicity’s ridiculous decision to team up with Helix will come to head soon, but not tonight, because why would you have any sort of resolution in an episode titled “Checkmate”? She needs intel, Helix is tired of giving it for free, so her creepy handler gives her the task to hack a drone. Obviously, this will return to bite our favorite hacker in the ass, but, once again, not tonight.
Before the team saves Susan, Oliver has one of is token temper tantrums. He still forgets he doesn’t have a maid from time to time. After the tantrum, he’s found by Dig, and the two have a heart to heart that reveals what will likely be the narrative for the latter half of the season: Vulnerability vs. strength. The writers managed to have this conversation between to characters without falling into their typical pattern of taking Oliver backward. It’s reasonable that Oliver is having doubts, but it’s also important that he doesn’t give into those doubts.
As it would turn out, he doesn’t. After they get Susan to safety and result in Adrian murdering his wife (because who didn’t see that coming?), Oliver gets taken by Talia and her new favorite student to some undisclosed location. Their entire interaction is more pointless growling, but, hidden inside that is Oliver saying that his friends are his strength. Saccharine? Yeah. Refreshing in an episode of Arrow? For the love of god, yes.
That’s it, y’all. That’s the end of the episode. “Checkmate” is the type of story that seems like there’s a lot going on, but literally nothing happens. There were a few satisfying moments wrapped up in an oversold burrito of disappointment. The majority of the episode managed to be so underwhelming that even Rene managed to have a moment that I enjoyed! If you follow these reviews, that’s the most shocking sentence of this piece.
So, what happens next week? Oliver and Adrian growl at each other some more while Team Arrow races to find their leader. Meanwhile, Star City is mayor-less and without a chief of police. Hopefully no one brings any alcohol around Quinten, cause he’s about to have a real bad week.