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In a Starling City where a billionaire playboy hunts and kills corrupt businessmen with minimal police interference, petty criminals turn out to be parkour masters and a never-before-mentioned abandoned subway system somehow remains operational, it should come as little surprise that a distraught and vengeful former transportation worker possesses computer skills that not only trump Felicity Smoak’s but rival that of the National Security Agency.
But even by Arrow standards, the Savior – the villain of this week’s “Salvation” – strains credulity. And that’s saying a lot, considering the promo at the end of the episode teases the return of The Count, the over-the-top drug lord who threatens to make Caesar Romero’s Joker seem almost subdued by comparison.
However, while The Count is decidedly one-note, the Savior had potential to be one of the drama’s more complicated antagonists to date, not that there’s much competition for the title beyond Malcom Merlyn: A one-time city worker, Joseph Falk turned vigilante after his wife was murdered in a bodega robbery and her killers went unpunished. It’s a paper-thin origin, sure, but the Batman franchise was built on less. Somewhere along the line, Falk apparently gained magical computer powers that enable him to stream live video to every cellphone and computer monitor in Starling City while disguising the signal, allowing him to broadcast the trials and executions of those wrong-doers he kidnaps (beginning, conveniently, with a slumlord Oliver Queen had targeted for a visit).
The Savior next abducts the assistant district attorney in charge prosecuting his wife’s killers, a guy whose only crime appears to be that a massive caseload prevented him from giving the crime the attention it deserved. Felicity seems to pinpoint the broadcast signal, sending Ollie scrambling in broad daylight – without the bow or costume – to find the vigilante and prevent the execution. But even as he arrives at the address in the Glades, the signal moves, forcing Oliver to jump from rooftop to rooftop, even as the location changes again. It’s a futile search that leaves the ADA dead, Ollie frustrated, and Felicity blaming herself. “This is the thing with what we do,” Oliver says, attempting to console her. “Sometimes we lose.”
Indeed. This time it means the Savior is free to strike again, and he conveniently abducts Roy Harper from outside his Glades apartment, right in front of Thea Queen. It certainly lends emotional gravity to the situation – what does the audience care about the previous two victims? – but leads us to wonder how the vigilante knew about a petty criminal like Roy, or why he selects him from among all the offenders of the Glades to serve as a stand-in for the thugs who killed his wife. It’s a cheap writers’ trick, but it works: The viewer is invested in how events unfold, Oliver & Co. feel even more pressure to locate the Savior, and Thea gets to be tearful as she somewhat-perversely watches her bad-boy love interest about to be executed on live television.
In a scene borrowed from Sneakers — you know, the 1992 caper film starring Robert Redford, Ben Kingsley and Sidney Poitier – Felicity breaks down the audio of the Savior’s broadcast and isolates a rhythmic clatter that John Diggle identifies as the sound of a moving train car from the long-forgotten subway system that crisscrossed the Glades. (Alas, there’s no flock of geese mistaken for the sound of a dinner party.) That explains why the Savior’s signal never remains in one place. What’s not made clear is how the subway remains operational after all this time, or how the train could travel the tunnels undetected. Surely if the noise and vibrations somehow escaped the attention of local residents, the power company would notice the spike in electricity?
While there’s no doubt that Ollie will reach Roy in time (Colton Haynes was recently made a series regular for Season 2), the interrogation by the Savior is compelling, as it reveals the teen to be more than a manipulative petty criminal with a chip on his shoulder. He turns out to be every bit as self-loathing as he’s let on in his exchanges with Thea, and tormented by the choices he’s made. Faced with execution, Roy offers no defense, and even invites death. That doesn’t come in “Salvation,” however, as Oliver crashes in to confront the Savior, who’s clearly designed to be a funhouse-mirror version of the Hood.
It’s an intriguing premise, as Ollie is faced with what he might have become under other circumstances – “There but for the grace of God go I,” and all that. Unfortunately, it’s never permitted to develop beyond a declaration from Oliver that they’re nothing alike, in part because the Savior is unable to rise above the level of talky stock villain, but also because, well, the episode is drawing to a close. As the Savior turns to carry out Roy’s execution, the Hood sinks an arrow through the vigilante’s chest, bringing to a violent, and unsatisfying, end another Bad Guy of the Week. The showdown does, however, provide Roy with a second chance, a redemption foreshadowed when he gazes at an arrowhead he retrieved from the subway car. How long before, as in the comic books, the red hoodie-wearing teen becomes Oliver Queen’s sidekick?
The secondary storylines in “Salvation” range from boring to interesting to annoying. In the former, we’re taken back to the island, where a meeting between Ollie and Slade and Fyers, supposedly to arrange the exchange of a boat for the missile launcher’s circuit board, turns out to be a ruse to give the mercenaries a chance to find the missing item. It ends with Shado escaping with Ollie and Slade, but a wounded Yao Fei being left behind. The latter involves the Ongoing Attempt to Give the Lance Clan Something to Do, as Quentin becomes swept up in Dinah’s fantasy that their daughter Sara is still alive, leaving it to Laurel to track down the girl in the photo. (Shouldn’t Quentin and the entire police department be combing the city for the guy who just murdered an assistant district attorney?)
And then there’s the interesting subplot, as Frank Chen panics that Malcolm will discover he and Moira Queen set up the assassination attempt. Moira, who might as well have “I’ll Do Anything to Protect My Family” printed on T-shirts, remains outwardly cool until she learns the plot is about to unravel following the arrest of a Triad member who’s going to spill everything. She arranges another meeting with Frank, where she reveals she’s betrayed him, a bombshell punctuated by an arrow from the bow of the Dark Archer that leaves Moira, quite literally, with Frank’s blood on her hands.
Like last week’s episode, “Salvation” has the writers’ hand prints all over it, as Oliver discovers that a map of the old subway line matches a mysterious drawing in his little book of names, tying together the Undertaking and the Glades. It’s obvious that, just as “The Huntress Returns” was designed to remove McKenna Hall from the picture and quickly resolve the conflict between Oliver and Tommy, “Salvation” existed solely to provide that clue, and perhaps to raise the profile of Roy Harper. Virtually everything else that happened is inconsequential (seriously, the whole Lance family saga?), or at least feels that way.