The Clock King is a serious contender for the best one-off villain in Arrow’s history, or at least he will be until his inevitable return appearance moves him out of that category. Along with Mr. Freeze, the Clock King was one of the two great villain reclamation projects that Batman: The Animated Series undertook, and Robert Knepper’s work tonight as the live-action William Tockman often recalls the sinister precision that Alan Rachins brought to the animated Temple Fugate. The opening sequence, in which a concealed Tockman orchestrates a heist with directions plotted out to the nearest tenth of a second, is a pitch-perfect introduction to his character, and he only gets scarier once it becomes clear that he can strike right at the heart of Team Arrow. The sanctity of a superhero’s lair is something that shows like Arrow tend to guard jealously; if nothing else, the heroes do need a safe place in which to swap exposition. The attack on the Arrow Cave is a legitimately shocking move, with Knepper’s creepy voiceover and Nick Copus’ direction making it clear just how compromised the team is. Oliver’s expert support team and extensive resources have always given him sizable edge over his criminal foes, yet the Clock King is able to neutralize away advantages.
It’s a bit of a shame then that tonight’s episode can’t give the Clock King the undivided attention that he so richly deserves. Oliver’s reaction to the destruction of the Arrow Cave’s computer system is oddly muted; admittedly, the initial shower of sparks makes the damage look worse than it turns out to be, but Oliver doesn’t appear all that bothered by this newfound vulnerability. Felicity is the only one who treats this invasion as a serious problem, but she’s really more concerned with how incompetent it makes her seem when compared to Sara. Indeed, “Time Of Death” is an episode concerned first and foremost with the tangled relationships between the various main characters, and the Clock King sometimes gets lost in that shuffle. Tockman’s motivation for committing his bank heists—he’s getting money to pay for his sick sister’s lung transplant—presents a moral dilemma that the show has already explored in previous episodes, and that rationale actually seems to obscure a more compelling motivation. Knepper plays Tockman as a man with nothing left to lose, a man whose terminal illness has broken his moral compass. The Clock King displays the vengeful nihilism of an angry, dying man, and his lame excuse about his sister undercuts the more unsettling aspects of his character.
For all that, Tockman remains a formidable foe, and it’s entirely appropriate that he is only defeated when Felicity manages to outsmart him with the exploding cellphone trick. Tonight’s episode puts Felicity in a tricky position, as she is jealous of Sara without really being able to adequately explain why; her flailing attempt at an explanation at episode’s end is proof enough of that, even if one makes allowances for all the “aspirin” she’s on. The bond that Oliver and Felicity share is ill-defined by design, as though both are fine playing out the fantasy version of a relationship. They are close friends and trusted partners, yes—Felicity would never have been able to get away with telling Oliver the truth about Thea if they weren’t genuinely close—but they have allowed their interactions to be defined by constant (mostly one-sided) flirting that suggests the outline of a romantic pairing with none of the substance. That’s usually not such a bad thing, but the introductions of Barry Allen and Sara over the past few episodes have demonstrated conclusively that neither Oliver nor Felicity is comfortable with the other pursuing a real relationship, at least not initially.
“Time Of Death” wisely connects Felicity’s jealousy to her sense of inadequacy when confronted with her battle-scarred teammates. There’s no avoiding the fact that Felicity and Sara’s rivalry here is all about Oliver, but the episode notably leaves the Arrow out of the final confrontation with the Clock King, letting the two women face Tockman alone. When Felicity takes that bullet for Sara, she proves her mettle both to herself and to the ridiculously impressive Sara; Oliver feels removed from this particular narrative equation. Arrow is now juggling at least three characters who love Oliver, forming a pair of neat romantic triangles in Oliver’s superhero and civilian lives. That kind of imbalance risks compromising the individuality of Sara, Laurel, and Felicity, defining all of them in terms of their feelings for the show’s main character. “Time Of Death” occasionally lurches toward such territory, but Emily Bett Rickards, Caity Lotz, and, yes, Katie Cassidy all convey the sense that their characters are driven by more than just feelings for the dreamy man on the salmon ladder.
Indeed, the way in which Laurel finally hits rock bottom indicates that Oliver is less a source of her misery than he is an unwitting enabler of it. His blistering rebuke after Laurel storms out of the Lance family dinner is a long time coming, although not so much because Laurel deserves such vitriol. Throughout her downward spiral, Laurel has been a reactive character, patiently waiting for the next opportunity to lash out at whoever dares to help her. Oliver and Detective Lance’s earnest attempts to save her only fuel her persecution complex; the very act of reaching out to Laurel tacitly reinforces her belief that she is right to wallow in self-pity. Oliver’s rejection removes one of the last pieces of a support network that has long since grown toxic. His offer to fund her boozing at Verdant challenges her to take responsibility for her actions. Whatever she does now, she does it because she chooses to, not because cruel fate leaves her no other option. It has taken Arrow a long damn time to get Laurel to this point, and her teary apology to Sara is still more bizarre and overwrought than is probably healthy. But that conversation is definitely a start, as I am more than ready for the show to give Laurel a new story.
If this does represent the turning point in Laurel’s arc, is what we see in “Time Of Death” enough to justify all the pain and suffering that got us to this point? We probably have to see more of Laurel’s recovery before we can fairly judge her season-long arc, but I am willing to say it was all worth it for the big speech that Oliver delivers to Laurel. Again, it’s not that I particularly enjoy watching her character being told off—indeed, I’m likely considerably more sympathetic to her than the average Arrow fan—but it’s fascinating to see what it would take for Oliver to give up on the woman that he has loved for half of his life. One disastrous dinner party would never be enough to prompt such a reaction; that speech truly is the culmination of a half-season’s worth of often negative character progression for both Oliver and Laurel. Stephen Amell absolutely nails the scene, turning in his best work yet as Oliver. The speech conveys feelings of anger, heartbreak, betrayal, loneliness, and more, all of which combined explain why Oliver’s relationship with Sara could be the only thing that keeps him going these days. His mention of Tommy is particularly telling. After all, he rededicated his vigilante crusade to his friend’s memory, whereas Laurel has spent the past 14 episodes using it to fuel her self-pity. That speech challenges her to do something better—to be someone better—and Amell is forceful enough that I’m willing to believe that Laurel is at last ready to answer that call.
- Tonight’s island flashbacks reveal the connection between Sara and Sin. It’s a sweet bit of backstory, and anything that justifies a larger role for Bex Taylor-Klaus is fine by me, but I’m curious to know why such a committed single father was running random courier missions over a forbidden island. That just seems like shaky decision-making.
- Detective Lance apologizes to Oliver, telling him that he’s not a killer—that line feels like it might just have deeper significance. Indeed, given that Sara is now accompanying the Arrow to the meetings with Lance, it’s getting increasingly difficult to believe that Lance can’t work out who is under the hood. But hey, I’m willing to see where Arrow is going with that one.
- Huh, so Oliver seems weirdly unsurprised that Slade Wilson is standing there in his house, alive and well. Whatever happens next, I’m guessing it’s going to be good and very, very destructive.