Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “Checkmate”:

About the hardest challenge Arrow or The Flash face in the wake of unmasking their big bads is the tonal shift from fighting fear to familiar faces. As we saw with Flash unmasking Zoom last season, Arrow didn’t necessarily have to make that same reveal for the characters right away, but I get the sense that ‘Checkmate” was tired of waiting, and had always intended Lexa Doig’s Talia al Ghul as a character who might better contextualize Prometheus’ vendetta against Oliver. Josh Segarra’s Chase still feels more fully-realized as an uncertain ally, but “Checkmate” definitely had fun pivoting into Prometheus’ ability to undercut Oliver and co. politically at every turn.

And because the Prometheus card has been overturned, it does bring Oliver more or less to the title sentiment of “Checkmate,” and a feeling of powerlessness (“impotence,” as Chase tellingly* puts it) at every turn. Hopeless angst is a natural setting for Stephen Amell to play, and especially poignant as Oliver’s conversation with Diggle recognizes that the show’s own meta-attempts to skew lighter and more optimistic have continually placed targets on his loved ones. How that colors Prometheus’ actual endgame remains a bit opaque, but in the immediate future, trading Oliver for Susan** as a hostage adds an interesting wrinkle, surely calling back to Season 1 as well.

*Like many, I had to be reminded that Chase had a wife outside his serial-killer activities. His willingness to dispatch her is textbook fridging, but it’s especially underwritten that Chase could plot out every conceivable action of Oliver’s team, but the inclusion of his apparently-unguarded wife.

** The rescue of Susan feels notably easy, too much so to look past that Russian foreshadowing earlier in the season. And unclear in that rescue, does she, or does she not actually know Oliver is the Green Arrow at this point?

Still a bit outlying in all of this is Felicity further involving herself in a rogue hacking collective; uncharacteristically embracing every shortcut in exchange for questionable assistance. You’d think someone who inadvertently guided a nuclear strike would think twice about rerouting military drones, and Curtis rightly serves as a voice of reason in that regard. “Checkmate” also somewhat struggles with Felicity keeping her activities secret from Oliver, especially in light of his judgment-free offer to lift the always-damaging veil of secrecy. Id guess that we’re building toward Felicity either ending up in jail* for her crimes, or committing some sort of major sacrifice, especially given the hour’s heavy hinting that someone close to Oliver would have to die.

*Considering how tangential to the main story “Helix” has been, one has to presume either Prometheus or Talia have some major hand in it.

I mean, name one series in which Kacey Rohl was trustworthy.

A reasonably strong hour on the whole, pivoting well into the new kind of threat Chase or Prometheus can pose without a secret identity to lord over anyone. “Checkmate” certainly moved quick enough to avoid dwelling on much else (like how a hockey rink flashback was supposed to evoke Russia over Vancouver), and seeing as how Vigilante is likely tabled for the moment, I at least appreciate Season 5 conclusively moving into a new chapter.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Your occasional reminder that Oliver has a son the series never really knew what to do with.
  • Police officers should probably stop leaving SCPD through the back entrance.
  • Did Anatoly say “like Bat,” or did I hear that wrong?
  • Could Dinah not have Canary-ed through one of those walls?

Arrow Season 5 will return on March 22 with “Kapiushon,” airing at 8:00 P.M. on The CW.

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