Arrow: 414 “Code of Silence” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
As a superhero show, it’s no surprise that Arrow has focused heavily on the cost of keeping secrets in the past; first with Oliver’s secret identity, and when just about every main character had discovered that, various other secrets held by the show’s central characters. It’s been dialled back this season, but a major secret for Oliver was nonetheless introduced last year in the form of his secret son, William.
Like last week’s episode, the events of Code of Silence pivoted around a central question – in this case, the episode attempted to explore whether keeping secrets is justified to protect the people you love. Again, this thematic focus ensures that the episode is cohesive and efficient, with just about every major dialogue scene adding depth to this exploration – but where Code of Silence stumbled was in its handling of this theme. Last week’s episode certainly had plenty of flaws, but it nonetheless presented a nuanced and balanced take on the question, with legitimate cases for and against – unfortunately, that’s not really the case here. Code of Silence flirts with the idea of balancing its argument plenty of times when characters such as Oliver and Lance express regret over what their secret keeping is doing to their relationships, but every time it comes close to balance, the episode U-turns and goes back to the same conclusion; that secret-keeping, while damaging in its own way, is ultimately justified to protect the people you love.
There might be arguments to the contrary along the way, but the eventual conclusion is the same, meaning that Code of Silence ends up delivering a slightly dubious moral to the audience rather than presenting a balanced take on the issue that’s open to interpretation as last week’s episode did; and considering how secret-keeping to protect people has caused a whole lot of tedious drama in the past (even with the William debacle before that timeline was overwritten), that’s not a particularly satisfying conclusion. Equally, it doesn’t help that Code of Silence is brutally unsubtle in laying the groundwork for its conclusion, as Donna and Lance tell Oliver and Felicity how honest their relationship is, with the secret of William lurking in the background. It’s a heavy-handed, excessive dose of dramatic irony, and just serves to set up a potential relationship breakdown that will likely be absolutely no fun at all to watch. Despite being intriguing on paper, but the problem with the William storyline is that it all seems to be leading to a really tedious and frustrating conclusion that could bog down the season as a whole.
On the bright side, Code of Silence works well at injecting energy back into the ongoing HIVE storyline, pushing the season towards the traditional game-changing twist that always seems to come in episode 15. Even with just a handful of scenes, Neal McDonough livens up the episode considerably – his performance is just as gleefully, unapologetically evil as it was when we last saw him, and Code of Silence heightens his threat with a few imposing displays of his powers as he kills a guy through a screen. Likewise, the addition of his wife, Ruve, as a political opponent for Oliver helps to add layers to the threat that Dahrk poses, allowing the Dahrk/Oliver feud to continue on two very different fronts in a way that feels genuinely organic for the story, serving to advance the mayoral campaign arc as well as the battle with HIVE. My only real niggle with Ruve’s presence is that Code of Silence misses a great opportunity to really flesh her out as a formidable opponent for Oliver on the political stage by not showing a moment of the actual debate that the episode seems to build up to. It’s not a huge issue, and Arrow has already made it abundantly clear that it’s not fussed with the political minutiae of Oliver’s candidacy, but even showing a few moments would have helped to show how Ruve specifically could take on Oliver, allowing her to become more of her own individual character. Nonetheless, the re-introduction of HIVE adds a lot of momentum here, and it feels like the season is moving at full speed once again rather than dealing with tangential material like the League of Assassins plotlines.
The other villains of the episode were a tad less successful. The Demolition Team looked like a great way to add some colourful villains to the fray while keeping everything linked to HIVE, but they’re ultimately anonymous placeholders who exist as a completely collective force, with barely any sense of individuality amongst its members. They have a purpose to serve, in that they provide opportunism for practical stunt work and impressive explosions that benefit from James Bamford’s capable direction (which once again adds a little flair and visual uniqueness to the episode’s action, even if his work here feels far more identikit and typical of the show than his cinematic work on episode seven Brotherhood), and in that respect they’re effective villains. Nonetheless, with Dahrk sparsely appearing, the episode had time to provide some exciting and unique standalone villains – but Code of Silence simply isn’t interested in fleshing out these bad guys in any meaningful way, ensuring that the team’s members are more or less blank slates with only weapons of choice to define them individually.
Code of Silence put the spotlight on Lance for what feels like the first time in ages, and Arrow is continuing to make a very solid case for his continuing presence on the show. Paul Blackthorne is always great to watch as Lance, conveying both a wry sense of humour with palpable warmth, allowing Lance to become a likeable and entertaining presence. His relationship with Donna is ultimately a little disposable and tangential, but it’s still a nice way to add a bit of a personal dimension to a character who’s been defined entirely by his job and relationship to Team Arrow in the past couple of seasons, showing a softer side to the character that feels like a natural evolution from his harder, less empathetic role as the anti-vigilante guy last season. He’s so likeable, in fact, that it’s very possible that he could be filling that mystery grave in a few episodes’ time…
Despite my misgivings about where the William mystery could be heading, the final scene is a really great twist ending that once again adds emotional stakes to the conflict, progressing this entertaining war of attrition between Oliver and Dahrk in a pleasingly rapid way. Similarly to the mid-season finale’s ending, Code of Silence’s final scene benefits from the mundane, almost cosy backdrop of this sinister event – for all William knows, he’s just being looked after by a friend of his mother’s for a few days, and there’s a clear attempt from Dahrk to make this kidnapping seem like it’s entirely for William’s good. It’s a great way of illustrating Dahrk’s depravity and cunning without spelling it out for the audience, and it sets up what could be one hell of a clash with Oliver next week. Or it could lead to a tedious break-up with Felicity. Or it could lead to both. Any way this goes, this is going to be interesting…
Code of Silence effectively continues the HIVE storyline with some intriguing twists and character development as the conflict deepens, but it misses some key opportunities to flesh out its villains and suffers heavily from a poorly handled, imbalanced thematic exploration of secrets. It’s a decent episode, but one with some fundamental flaws at its core.