The Green Arrow can’t do it alone.
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
Arrow’s sixth season has been in need of a big change for several months now. The general status quo of the series isn’t connecting, and its main villain certainly hasn’t been measuring up. At long last, “The Devil’s Greatest Trick” attempted to provide the shakeup the series has been needing. Whether it will ultimately prove successful remains to be seen, but it’s a start, at least.
One thing I’ll say in this episode’s favor is that it built a sense of urgency that’s generally been lacking this season. It quickly became clear that, one way or another, things would be very different in Star City by the end of the night. Maybe Cayden James would be convinced to abandon his misguided attempt to blow up the city. Maybe a new villain would emerge to replace him. Whatever the case, it was enough to know that something new and uncertain was in the air.
The three-way manhunt for James’ ex-partners helped get this week’s conflict off to a fast-paced, exciting start. It also dovetailed nicely with the escalating tensions between Black Canary and Black Siren, the former of whom is almost completely consumed by a thirst for vengeance at this point. The first half of the episode boasted a strong blend of martial arts goodness, suspense and solid character drama as Dinah’s relationships to her former Team Arrow allies and to Quentin were sorely tested.
Unfortunately, “The Devil’s Greatest Trick” started to lose some of that momentum once all the big players were gathered together under one roof. Part of that is simply that the big mystery of the Arclight betrayer wasn’t much of a mystery at all. Once it was made clear that one of James’ three partners was the traitor (and therefore, the real evil mastermind driving Season 6’s conflict), was there any doubt as to their identity? Of course it was going to be Ricardo Diaz. Heck, the title of this episode practically gave that away on its own. I’d rather the writers jump straight to that reveal rather than muddy the waters by having the villains escape once again. Because of that, the final showdown between James and Ollie didn’t carry quite the weight and sense of dread it needed.
That said, this episode did ultimately give James a decent sendoff. There’s no way to truly redeem a character whose background and motivations have been so blandly predictable and formulaic all along, but at least this conflict emphasized James’ lonely, misguided nature. The flashbacks tended to help in that regard, showing that this entire supervillain plot was really little more than a man desperately overcompensating for having been such a poor father. I wish the series had done more to really take advantage of Michael Emerson’s talents, but at least James was able to go out on a relative high note.
For the time being, I’m very mixed on the idea of Diaz taking over as Season 6’s main villain. On one hand, yes, this show really needed something – anything – more creative than another bad guy who wants to blow up Star City because his kid got killed. There’s something to the notion of Diaz as an ambitious, pragmatic crime lord. He’s not motivated by some elaborate revenge plot against the Green Arrow. He’s just a crime boss who sees an opportunity in Star City and has the presence of mind to keep to the shadows, unlike Danny Brickwell before him. In that sense, he is fairly unique among Arrow’s major villains.
On the other hand, this reveal might have carried more weight if the series had given us much reason to care about Diaz one way or the other. He’s been such a non-entity up until now. You can see the method behind the writers’ madness now. They obviously had a purpose in mind with keeping Diaz out of the spotlight. But that’s still no excuse for failing to flesh out a character who’s suddenly become such a critical player in Season 6. Nor does it really justify devoting so much time to Cayden James, a character who now is revealed to have been merely a means to a greater end.
A couple sidebars worth mentioning. Firstly, for a brief time I actually wondered if the writers were going to throw a huge curve ball and reveal William as the evil mastermind. His squirrely behavior in this episode seemed very odd, even with the justification that he needed to be close to his father while the threat of death loomed. Honestly, I would have loved for the series to veer in such a crazy direction, but alas.
Secondly, I wasn’t too keen on the Flash “cameo” this week, if you even want to call it that. Many times over the course of this series I’ve found myself wondering why Ollie doesn’t call up Barry more often to help him out of a jam, especially when the entire city is on the verge of destruction. For the most part, you just have to suspend disbelief and accept that these shared superhero universes only extend so far. But when the show draws attention to the fact that Barry could be solving Ollie’s problems in the blink of an eye, it becomes a little more difficult to look the other way. Why would Ollie call on Barry to be his personal Uber service but not then ask him to stick around long enough to find James’ bomb? What was intended as a purely fan service-y moment instead opened up all sorts of nagging questions about storytelling logic. In the end, that quick cameo did a lot more harm than good.
On its own, “The Devil’s Greatest Trick” is a solid installment that loses some of its early momentum leading into the climactic showdown. But it’s real importance can only be judged when the series returns in March and we see just how much the Ricardo Diaz reveal shakes up the status quo and helps Arrow overcome the flaws that have plagued it all year long. I’d like to be optimistic, but this season hasn’t given us much reason for optimism up till now.