Warning: spoilers for Arrow up through episode 5×17
Despite the myriad of cliche lines in the preview for Arrow’s “Kapiushon” (a symptom of CW shows as well as their marketing strategy), this episode delivered some of the best performances of any DCTV show to date. Practically the entire episode hinged on Stephen Amell, as flashback figured prominently and we didn’t even get a glimpse at the rest of Team Arrow until the last act of the episode. This is sometimes a risky move with superhero shows that have evolved to rely on team dynamics and running gags; we didn’t have any Felicity hacking moments, Mr. Terrific T-sphere jokes, Diggle witticisms, et al. Thankfully, the fearless writing, smart scene cuts and transitions, and stellar acting by Stephen Amell, Josh Segarra, and David Nykl cement this episode as arguably Arrow’s best of season 5.
The main premise of the present-day portion of the episode consists of Prometheus torturing Oliver by pushing him to reveal his greatest secret – something that Oliver hasn’t even admitted to himself yet. At the onset of the episode, I considered the possibility that his secret would be that he ruins everything he touches (cue the Charlie Brown scene) and that he never should have donned the hood, but he has already stated his regrets about his time as a vigilante and his effect on those around him, so this couldn’t be the thing that he lied to even himself about. No, that secret was much darker, if somewhat cliche; season 1 Oliver Queen killed because he liked it.
This reveal is the climax of an intense episode, mainly due to the flashbacks. Prometheus’ torture of Oliver is horrific, especially the emotional turmoil he puts him through via Evelyn Sharp’s reappearance. Oliver forgives Evelyn immediately and refuses to kill her, an action in line with his season 5 reformed version of Oliver Queen, the man who is Mayor of Star City because he cares about its people, the man who has lost so many people close to him and yet still has hope that there is good in everyone. The climax is made all the more potent by the tension between this present-day Oliver and the Kapiushon (i.e. “The Hood”) that Oliver is turning into in the flashbacks. We knew from season 1 that Oliver would need to continue to be desensitized to killing by the end of the season 5 flashbacks. What we didn’t know was the extent to which the writers and Stephen Amell would take this. While his threat of skinning the Russian alive was horrific in and of itself, even more terrifying was the scene after where Anatoli finds that not only has Oliver gone through with his threat, but also continued to skin the dead man – for “practice”.
I’m pretty sure the episode went directly to commercial after that, which is great because that’s when I started screeching and therefore would have missed the entire next scene. This is the monster who returned to Starling City five years ago. While we know this is not the case for present-day Ollie, this is still a harsh revelation, and a reminder that Oliver could have turned out much worse if he hadn’t made the oath he did to Tommy at the end of season 1 and tried to turn himself around. At the end of this episode, the two Olivers are in opposite states; Bratva Oliver has been forged into steel, while present-day Ollie has shattered like glass.