For the first 55 minutes of its running time, “Seeing Red” appears to be an oddly shapeless episode, one that tries to make big statements about its various characters but struggles to land them. In particular, Roy remains an elusive figure in this episode, and there’s a good argument to be made that the real Roy only appears for a single line, in which he begs Sara to kill him. As for the Black Canary, Sara is arguably shortchanged by this episode’s structure; she specifically mentions that tonight’s debates about what to do with Roy are echoes of conversations she and Oliver had five years before, so it can feel a bit strange that the episode doesn’t actually show these parallels. Indeed, the chosen flashback story of college-age Oliver and the accidental pregnancy seems bizarrely placed, with no clear indication of just why this story is especially relevant.
But then the Queens’ limo is sideswiped, and all soon becomes hideously clear. “Seeing Red” was always about saying goodbye to Moira Queen, with all the Roy business serving as misdirection. The flashback, in which Moira pays the mother of Oliver’s child to disappear forever, isn’t so much underlining Moira’s ruthlessness for the umpteenth time as it is allowing the audience to appreciate just how much she loves her children, even if she has some borderline sociopathic ways of showing it. I say “borderline,” because, after everything we’ve seen, we at least can’t rule out the possibility that Moira is capable of having a woman killed, even if she is carrying Moira’s unborn grandchild, so simply paying the woman off counts as one of her more straightforwardly benevolent acts; even then, her showing the woman the dossier is a bit of a coded threat, if nothing else. But again, the purpose of the scene isn’t to throw another shocking plot twist on Arrow’s already heaving pile of narrative craziness. (Although I’m going to go out on a limb and say the young woman’s name is Sandra Hawke, even if Arrow would probably have to run another 10 seasons before the show could pay off that particular bit of Green Arrow lore.)
The flashbacks bookend Moira’s execution at the hands of Slade Wilson, with her line about how to be a mother is to be willing to do anything to ensure the safety of one’s children foreshadowing her decision to sacrifice herself. Slade literally twists the knife—well, the sword, but that’s not the expression—and then the episode figuratively does likewise with its last flashback, as Oliver and Moira say they love each other. “Seeing Red” pulls off the neat trick of presenting a genuinely shocking death—at least, I didn’t see it coming until the Queens awoke to find Slade standing over them—that seems so terribly obvious in retrospect. Moira’s oblique confirmation that she knows the truth about Oliver could be seen as a sure sign that she isn’t long for this world. This isn’t like Tommy learning the secret last year or Laurel being forcibly confronted with the truth in recent episodes; those plot developments created storytelling opportunities for the characters. For Moira, it’s not important what she knows, or even how she knows it, but rather what she thinks of it. Her telling Oliver that she couldn’t be prouder of him is a lovely character moment, but it also feels like Arrow tying off loose ends before she meets her fate.
But it runs deeper than that. Thea’s abduction in “Deathstroke” initiated the endgame for Moira’s character, as Arrow pushed her to be a better, more honest person, a move that basically made her expendable. It’s telling that the last thing she tries to tell her children before the collision is that Malcolm Merlyn is still alive. As the episode’s opening recap montage helpfully reminds us, the imprisoned Moira once observed that some secrets must never be spoken. If Moira is genuine in her resolution to be honest with her children, especially with Thea, then the show’s only recourse is to kill her off. That sounds callous, I realize, but it’s part of the math that goes into killing off a main character on a show such as this; Arrow effectively spent the last few episodes making Moira expendable, and only some of that is hinting at her last big secret that the show’s long-term narrative won’t allow her to reveal. More positively, Arrow took the last few episodes to reconcile her and Oliver, allowing them both a sliver of hope for a better future for their family. “Seeing Red” hints at a similar way forward for Thea, but it’s safe to say next week’s episode will have her confront the brutal reality that her mother died when Thea still more or less despised her.
As for the rest of the episode, none of it seems all that significant compared to that final scene; until that last big twist, “Seeing Red” might actually have been a bit worse than “The Man Under The Hood,” which for all its narrative wonkiness at least kept moving. Tonight’s episode is never quite sure what to do with Roy, and even one of his big character moments—the illusory Thea imploring him to kill her—feels like it might just be a bit of narrative ballast for the final scene, in which Oliver asks Slade just whom he thinks he is talking to. Last week’s talk of a Mirakuru cure hinted at a mechanism by which Roy could be restored to something resembling normal and perhaps remain on the show long-term. “Seeing Red” appears to dash that hope by making him a cop-killer, even if he isn’t in his right mind (and even if Starling City police can’t actually identify him). For all Oliver’s work to ensure that nobody dies tonight—a goal he once again cannot achieve, though his failure here is far crueler than the one in “Birds Of Prey”—it’s hard to see how Roy avoids a tragic fate in the long run.
The same can be said of Sara, a character whose awkward place in the Green Arrow mythos—the sister of Laurel Lance, the “real” Black Canary—has always made her eventual death a very real possibility. As with Moira, “Seeing Red” sows the early seeds of a potential exit with Oliver’s accidental talk of moving in together; that isn’t quite as bad as christening a yacht the Live-4-Ever, but it’s in the same damn universe. As Sara observes, she can only see herself as a killer, and she’s not sure she can imagine herself as anything else. Oliver suggests that she is tracing out the same character arc that he did in the first season, but even all the hells that he witnessed likely can’t compare to Sara’s time as a member of the League of Assassins working for Ra’s al Ghul. Her decision to seek out an old friend will likely go a long way toward determining her survival odds, and it all rather depends on who precisely that old friend is.
In the midst of all this narrative movement and doom-laden foreshadowing, I’d like to end with a few thoughts on the nature of hope. Oliver’s little speech about Sara’s perspective strongly implies that he only really discovered hope after his first year, when he abandoned his murderous ways and rededicated himself as a more heroic crime-fighter. What’s interesting about that—and his statements tonight certainly track with what we saw in the actual episodes—is that Oliver discovered hope only after Tommy died and after the Glades were wrecked by the Undertaking. Perhaps, then, hope doesn’t work like Thea described it in last week’s episode, in which she told Oliver that, for a brief period, enough was going well for her that she thought everything might just turn out okay. That kind of hope is too situational, too fragile, too dependent on things over which one has no control. The hope that Oliver discovered at the beginning of the season, the hope that allowed him to abandon the Hood and become the Arrow, is something deeper. It comes from staring into the abyss, into the dark heart of absolute despair, and deciding that the fight is still worth fighting. That’s the only kind of hope that can sustain the characters in a dangerous, often heartbreaking world like Arrow’s, and it’s the only kind of hope that might give Oliver a chance against Slade.
That said, if what happened tonight is what finally breaks Oliver’s resolve, I wouldn’t exactly blame him. Goodbye, Moira Queen. I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, but you’ll be missed, and not just because you never got to realize that swimming pools initiative you kept talking about. (Once. She talked about it once. But that once was awesome.)
- Once again, I’m a big fan of Willa Holland’s work in this episode. Thea’s story ends up feeling a little undercooked, but she’s able to sell just enough of the character’s anger and terror to make it all hang together, and she’s ably assisted by Bex Taylor-Klaus’ return as Sin. I’m as surprised as anyone that the show keeps pulling off its teenager-centric subplots, and quite a bit of the credit has to go to the actors involved.
- Oliver’s knee injury doesn’t end up feeling quite as significant as perhaps it ought to; he’s limited in his movements, but I’m not sure how much it really ends up affecting him, as I don’t think the final scene really conveyed that Oliver’s injury was the only thing stopping him from taking on Slade, if that was indeed the intention. That said, the injury set up that nice moment of understanding with the doctor at the hospital, and I loved Felicity’s reaction to Oliver injecting himself with all that painkiller.
- If absolutely nothing else, the flashback to college-age Laurel and Oliver is always hysterical, just for the hair and the clothes. It also did look like they made up Susanna Thompson to look seven years younger, though that really only served to emphasize the ridiculously implausible age differences between the main characters and their parents. Update: Since quite a few people have rightly pointed out that Susanna Thompson is 56 and Stephen Amell is 32, let me clarify that their pairing is easily the most plausible of the ones we see on the show, and it’s only when they tried to make them both look seven years younger—which worked for Moira, but really didn’t for Oliver—that it looked silly. Apologies for not making that clearer.