“Giving the monster an identity didn’t contain the darkness; it just gave it power.”
From the first time “the Demon” was referenced this season as the Level Two big bad of Slabside, the supposition was that it had something to do with Ra’s Al Ghul. That theory was confirmed in this week’s Arrow when Oliver comes face-to-face with none other than Talia Al Ghul, his former mentor thought to have died on Lian Yu during the Adrian Chase climax.
So what does Talia want? Despite still harboring some ill-will towards Oliver since he killed her father Ra’s, Talia’s primary objective is to get the hell out of Slabside before she too falls victim to the aggressive behavioral treatments of Dr. Parker. Oliver initially rebuffs her request, pissed that not only did she manipulate him into being thrown down into Level Two but that small detail of aligning herself with madman Adrian Chase. It only takes a prisoner dying for Oliver to see that, despite this gathering of prisoners being murdering degenerates, they don’t deserve to be treated like cattle. Thus his offer comes with a stipulation: gather proof of what the good doctor Parker is doing in the dark and show it to the world…or at least the Star City media.
The Oliver/Talia dynamic is far and away the strongest part of “The Demon”, the best episode yet of this early Season Seven. Their conversation about the duality of one’s nature—the man (or woman) versus the monster is a primary driver of the narrative. Dr. Parker’s treatment of Oliver wanted our hero to admit to the “cycle of violence” he’s propagated. Though rightfully suspicious of Parker’s motives, Oliver doesn’t dismiss the man’s approach out of hand and his confrontation with Talia brings that argument to the forefront, previewing the finished product he will eventually become. This argument also highlights the understandable grudges they have with one another: Oliver blaming Talia for forging him into the weapon he is now as well as for the death of William’s mother while Talia still remembers Oliver ramming a sword through her father’s chest. Even if she is the bad gal, her anger at her former pupil is justified. The chemistry between the two and their shared anger at one another is genuine, as is their reluctance to work together. And that is where the magic happens.
Combat in Arrow has always been hit-and-miss. Unfortunately, the action scenes this season have been strongly on the ‘miss’ portion of that equation. Oliver and Talia’s gauntlet through a squad of riot gear-wearing prison guards was worthy of the well-known hallway fight scenes made popular by The Raid and Daredevil. There’s a fluidity to the choreography that has been missing from previous fights. After wading through the opposition, Oliver pulls a Barry Allen; choosing to stay in prison instead of marking himself as a fugitive. It’s both noble and practical and, thanks to Talia getting the information of Level Two to Felicity, will end up being the right thing to do.
Outside of Slabside, Felicity’s partnership with Laurel continues to grow. The Earth-2 Black Siren is still inching her way towards redemption, much of it to honor Quentin. A bit more on the fantastical side is her crash course in the practice of law. Still, these two do work well together and with Dinah sometimes being wheeled in as the third gun, Arrow’s quotient of bad-ass women to men ratio is about as even as a show can be.
While Rene’s on the sidelines this week, Curtis gets his first undercover gig for A.R.G.U.S., impersonating a biochemist who was ready to sell a cache of nasty and illegal nerve agent to Malcolm Byrd, a scummy arms dealer. Curtis has a crisis of faith, initially unwilling to go that extra mile necessary to get the job done. “It’s just not me anymore” he laments to Diggle when the latter confronts him on backing out of the op. Eventually, Curtis realizes that the Mr. Terrific part of him is just that—part of him and it’s not going away that easily. As a character, Curtis is a good one; a genius on many fronts and a world-class athlete to boot. His issue has always been the over-the-top and often cringey humor the writers give him. It’s still present in “The Demon” but so are the best parts of him, the times where they allow Echo Kellum to be more than just the comic relief. The character (and by extension, the show) are much better for it.
We don’t get much of Diaz this week but the final scene where the Silencer meets him in Moscow, as Diaz revisits a promise to Anatoly—one that will most likely end in the latter’s most violent death—expands even more on the mystery of his end-game and, more importantly, the power he now wields.
There are some great moments in “The Demon”. The chemistry between several sets of characters, meaningful dialogue showcasing growth of our heroes, as well as some cheeky references (Talia mentioning she “ran afoul of an old foe in Gotham”) give strength (and hope) that Season Seven can, and will, continue to get better.