Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
While the previous two episodes of Arrow were designed to set the stage for the season finale and beyond by removing McKenna Hall from the picture, setting Roy Harper on a path to redemption and providing a vital clue to the Undertaking’s plans, “Unfinished Business” is a bit of a detour, sacrificing advancement of the overarching plot for the sake of character development. On a series whose supporting cast has been painted in the broadest of strokes — Tommy Merlyn is the outcast with something to prove, John Diggle is the stalwart partner out to avenge his brother’s murder — that’s certainly not a bad thing.
The episode’s title most obviously refers to the A storyline, in which the sudden return of the drug Vertigo leaves Oliver wondering whether he did the right thing three months ago when he allowed the Count to live. However, it applies equally to the threads involving Diggle, who has redoubled his efforts to track down Floyd Lawson (aka Deadshot, his brother’s killer), and Tommy, who’s unable to escape his past.
Vertigo makes its presence known in a way that immediately entangles Oliver and Tommy, as a young woman stumbles from the dance floor of Verdant to the middle of the street, where she’s struck by a car and killed. Quentin Lance, who appears to be one of only three detectives on the Starling City Police Department – make that two since McKenna’s abrupt relocation to Coast City — seizes upon the connection to the nightclub, and setting into motion events that will reignite the conflict between Tommy and Oliver.
Lance’s partner Lucas Hilton (remember that guy?) reminds him of Tommy’s prior arrest for drug possession, back in his bad-boy days. Somehow he’s able to not only gain access to Verdant’s financial records but also determine that $10,000 is missing from the club’s accounts – all within minutes. (Bear with me: One of the pitfalls of attempting to ground in “reality” what’s essentially a superhero story is that when the writers play fast and loose with real-world procedures that even the casual viewer of police dramas understand, it becomes a stumbling point. In this case, we’re expected to believe that a vague text message from the victim to Tommy asking “Can You Hook Me Up?” – one of many he says he receives each night from people wanting free entry into Verdant – coupled with an old drug charge, is enough for a judge to authorize a search of the club’s records. What’s more, that enough time had elapsed to go through that process, and for a forensic accountant to determine there’s actually money missing. OK, I’m done … for the moment.)
That leads to a showdown between Tommy and Detective Lance, who (again, in record time) discovers that his daughter’s beau used the money to bribe a corrupt building inspector not to look at Verdant’s subbasement (location of the Hood’s not-so-secret lair), presumably a prime location for the manufacture and distribution of Vertigo. Tommy, who showed poor judgment (again!) by not tipping off Oliver to the bribe, demonstrates his ingenuity by demanding that Lance obtain a search warrant before he can poke around downstairs, buying himself time to remove evidence of the Hood’s activities and disguise the basement as storage for liquor and furniture. There’s a terrific moment where Oliver, ordered by Detective Lance to unlock the door to the lair, is certain his secret is about to be found out, only to find that his longtime friend has saved him.
Unfortunately, that realization comes too late to salvage his already-damaged relationship with Tommy, who saw that, if only briefly, Ollie suspected him of having some involvement with Vertigo. It’s a blow far more believable than Tommy’s tantrum upon learning the Hood’s identity. This isn’t merely about trust or hurt feelings because a secret wasn’t shared: This time it’s about Oliver insisting that he’s no longer the person he was five or six years ago while displaying an inability (or an unwillingness) to recognize that Tommy has changed, too. It’s far too easy for Ollie (and Detective Lance, but that’s to be expected) to think the worst of Tommy, all the while playing judge, jury and executioner to Starling City’s criminals. It leads Tommy to quit his job at Verdant and return to his father, who’s happy to welcome him back.
Diggle, too, is grappling with his past, as he enlists Felicity to track the movements of Deadshot, and then delivers the information to Lyla, an old Army buddy who now works for A.R.G.U.S., the government agency introduced last year in DC Comics to address superhuman threats (the acronym means “Advanced Research Group Uniting Superhumans,” so how that plays out in the Arrow universe may be interesting). To make the meeting, he disregards a call from Felicity to back up Ollie, resulting in a tense confrontation and an accusation of a personal vendetta.
If anyone knows anything about vendettas it’s Oliver, who takes the reemergence of Vertigo far too personally (sure, sister Thea took the drug, crashed her car and was sentenced to community service, but she was far luckier than some). He and Detective Lance immediately suspect the Count, who’s locked away in the county mental institution. While the Hood breaks in to interrogate the clearly bonkers former drug lord – this time Seth Gabel’s over-the-top portrayal works – Lance uses more conventional channels, speaking to the doctor before meeting his patient in person. They both arrive at the same conclusion: The Count can barely speak a coherent sentence, let alone manufacture more Vertigo. But then … he seemingly escapes.
When a second person dies after taking Vertigo (following a hostage situation the Hood interrupts at the Starling City Aquarium), Felicity accesses the medical examiner’s report to learn both victims had traces of an anti-psychotic in their systems, which points to not only a new formula for the party drug but to the mental institute. Could it be the Count never actually left the hospital?
Well, yes, but probably not in the way anyone expected: Ollie returns to the asylum, where he stumbles upon a hidden drug lab, and a near-comatose Count strapped to a chair. It turns out the doctor “reverse-engineered” the Vertigo formula from a biopsy of the Count’s liver, adding the anti-psychotic drug in the process, details he gleefully reveals to Ollie in clichéd-villain fashion after he’s subdued by the orderly/henchman and strapped to a chair. In a twist, the Doctor exposes the vigilante’s identity, which naturally means this Bad Guy of the Week won’t be as lucky as Deadshot or even the Count, both of whom survived their encounters with the Hood. Ollie is given a certainly lethal dose of Vertigo yet manages to free himself thanks to a combination of a strategically placed explosive, a home-brewed antidote and the intervention of Diggle.
As Diggle electrocutes the henchman with two defibrillator paddles to the temples – “Clear,” he says drolly after the fact – a hallucinating Ollie chases down the doctor, delivering an arrow to the chest without hesitation (OK, he fires three at once, but only one finds its target). But he can’t bring himself to do the same to the Count. “We’re finished here,” Ollie declares.
The island flashbacks improved significantly this episode, shining the spotlight on Celina Jade as Shado, who spars physically and verbally with Manu Bennett’s Slade Wilson – the two have a terrific chemistry – and starts Ollie on his path to become a skilled archer.
Back in Starling City, Ollie learns A Very Important Lesson: that Diggle has his back. And so he sets aside his own vendetta (heck, he already seems to have forgotten about the Undertaking, anyway) to help John pursue Deadshot.