"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
It’s difficult to watch the opening moments of “The Odyssey” and not feel something for Moira Queen, a victim of her own machinations who stands to lose not just one but two husbands. Confronted in her office by The Hood about the disappearance of Walter Steele, Moira clings to a photo of Oliver and Thea and begs for her life – not for herself but for her children. It’s a moving plea that leads the vigilante to drop his guard long enough for her to grab a nearby pistol and unwittingly put a bullet into the chest of her only son.
That’s probably as good of a snapshot as we have of the Queen matriarch: She’s a survivor who loves her family fiercely, yet for unrevealed reasons supported the sabotage of the yacht that left her first husband dead and her son stranded on an island for five years. Moira is a firm believer in sacrifice – at least other people’s sacrifice. She’s a complicated woman who knows to always keep a gun within reach, at least if you’re involved in byzantine plots in Starling City.
Her quick thinking leaves The Hood in a pool of blood one moment and hiding in the back seat of Felicity Smoak’s car in the garage floors below the next. Queen Consolidated’s star information-technology employee – heck, do they need anyone else? – proves not only whip-smart but unflappable when Oliver reveals his identity. “Everything about you just became so unbelievably clear,” she says before speeding him to his secret lair, where John Diggle springs into action with his Army medical training.
It’s here where the episode breaks the Arrow mold. Typically, the present-day action in Starling City provides the primary storyline, with scattered flashbacks to the island shedding some light on why Oliver makes the decisions he does. It’s a solid formula, but a formula nonetheless. But in “The Odyssey,” Oliver’s tense standoff with his mother and nominal life-and-death struggle on the operating table are little more than an excuse for him to be unconscious so we can spend most of our time on Lian Yu (which we’re reminded again means “purgatory” in Mandarin). The setup mostly works, even if the resolution to the Oliver-Moira confrontation comes across as perfunctory – he promises her that awful vigilante will never bother her again – something tacked on simply because the episode needed an ending.
Those fleeting scenes in Starling City shouldn’t be discounted, though: They give Emily Brett Rickards an opportunity to shine as Felicity who, despite her squeamishness, proves to be invaluable in the makeshift operating room, assisting Diggle in removing the bullet and even fixing the malfunctioning defibrillator. But more important, at least in terms of character development, she prods around the edges of the moral issues surrounding the killing of wrong-doers.
The same can’t be said for Oliver back on Lian Yu, where he buckles under the harsh training, and the sharp tongue, of Slade Wilson, who taunts, “How’d you survive here for six months? I know Girl Scouts who have more fight in them.”
Ollie, whose thoughts keep turning to Laurel and his former mentor Yao Fei, is unprepared to face Fyers’ skilled mercenaries and unwilling to kill, but he and Slade have little choice but to attack a guarded airstrip: Their only way off the island is an incoming supply plane; the next won’t arrive for another three months. Unfortunately, their plan nearly ends before it begins when Oliver steps on a landmine, a relic of World War II, leaving him unable to move even as a group of soldiers approach on the wooded path. (Just how big is this island, anyway? You can’t swing a cat without hitting a half-dozen mercenaries.) Thinking fast, even as Slade appears to abandon him to his fate, Oliver dons a ski mask and explains he was separated from his unit while on patrol. It’s a story no better than the ones he feeds Felicity, but it gives Slade an opening to swoop in, gut the soldiers and roll one of the bodies onto the mine, providing the weight necessary to keep it from detonating.
Did Slade save Oliver because it’s the right thing to do, or because the assault on the airstrip is a two-man mission? (He can kill the 10 guards himself, but he needs Ollie to enter the control tower and take out the operator before he can alert Fyers and cancel the airplane.) It’s a question we come back to throughout the episode – it’ll likely form a thread throughout the character’s run on the series – as Manu Bennett (Spartacus) delivers a nuanced performance as the wry Australian intelligence agent as intent on seeking revenge against his former partner as he is escaping Lian Yu.
He reveals that Deathstroke, or rather “Deathstroke,” is actually Billy Wintergreen, who accompanied him on a mission to rescue Yao Fei and to discover what Fyers is plotting. However, their plane was shot down and they fell into the hands of Fyers. Although Slade managed to escape, Billy – he’s even the godfather to Slade’s son Joe – turned his back on his friend and joined Fyers as his primary torturer and executioner.
The nighttime assault on the airstrip goes mostly as planned, with Slade deftly picking off the guards as Oliver makes his way to the control tower. But when confronted by the operator, Ollie is unable to kill him, leaving Slade once more to save his pupil. “One job to do and you managed to screw up even this,” he scoffs. Oliver’s mistakes don’t end there, though: Left alone in the tower, he uses the telephone to contact Laurel, only to have the receiver ripped away by Slade before he can work up the nerve to speak and perhaps tip off Fyers to their whereabouts.
While Ollie may not be able to kill, or even fight very well, he proves himself useful when the plane’s pilot radios with the challenge code, “Of all the creatures that breathe and move upon the earth.” The plane won’t land without the proper response, which means they have only chance to get it right. Luckily, the quote is from the one book Ollie read in college, Homer’s The Odyssey, so he provides Slade with the rest of the sentence: “…. nothing is bred that is weaker than man.” With the pilot satisfied, the two should be settling in for a three-hour wait while keeping an eye out for other mercenaries, but Oliver is determined to rescue Yao Fei before Slade can carry out his plan to call in an airstrike on Fyers’ camp. Slade relents but cautions Ollie that he’s leaving on the plane, with or without him and Yao Fei.
As we’ve come to expect from Oliver’s island adventures, his mission doesn’t go well. He finds Yao Fei only moments before he himself is discovered by Deathstroke and Fyers, who wonders how the young billionaire could possibly be alive. In classic villain fashion, Fyers doesn’t simply shoot Oliver on the spot. Instead, he orders Deathstroke to beat him to death within a Fight Club-style circle formed by his masked mercenaries. Naturally, that doesn’t go as planned either, as Slade pulls a Han Solo and charges in to save Oliver amid a hail of gunfire and explosions, pausing long enough to kill his ex-partner and get shot by Fyers. It’s only then that Ollie’s training takes hold, and he rescues the wounded Slade even as the supply plane flies away overhead. With three months until the next flight, they turn their attention to bringing down Fyers’ operation.
In an overheard telephone conversation, we learn that Fyers’ mysterious employer is displeased by the turn of events, although there’s still no indication of what the master plan is. It’s a safe bet the voice on the other end of the phone is somehow connected to Malcolm Merlyn, though. Despite the escape of Oliver and Slade and the loss of so many of his men, Fyers is feeling uncharacteristically generous, and so he permits Yao Fei to spend five minutes with his daughter, who’s being held hostage to ensure her father’s compliance.
It’s a scene thick with parallels and foreshadowing: Not only is Yao Fei essentially in the same position as Moira Queen – cooperate or else the person you love will be killed – but his daughter is shown to have a dragon tattoo on her back similar to the one Oliver sports in the present day.
Back in Starling City, a now-conscious Oliver is grateful to Felicity not only for saving him from certain death but for also hacking into the police crime lab to have a sample of his blood destroyed and upgrading the computer system in his secret lair. Still, she turns down is offer to join him and Diggle in their crusade, saying she’ll help them rescue Walter but after that she’s happy to go back to her normal life.
Oliver, too, seems determined for a return to normality, at least when it comes to his mother, declaring her off-limits to Diggle. “Are you saying this because you truly believe she’s innocent,” John asks, “or you don’t want to face the fact that she’s guilty?”
That’s likely one more question Oliver will wrestle with in the coming weeks.
THIS EPISODE’S DC COMICS CONNECTIONS
Billy Wintergreen: Introduced in 1980’s New Teen Titans #2, William Randolph Wintergreen was a former British Special Air Service member who became Slade Wilson’s butler/mentor, essentially the Alfred to Deathstroke’s Batman.
Joe Wilson: That’s a nod to Slade Wilson’s comic-book son Joseph, the Teen Titan known as Jericho.
The Girl with the Red Dragon Tattoo: She’s Shado, who debuted in 1987’s Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters #1 as a Yakuza-trained archer and assassin turned Green Arrow ally and romantic interest. Her tattoo was much larger there, running from her shoulder to her wrist.