This episode has it all. It has Geoff Johns, co-writer extraordinaire. It has Dollhouse actors doing what they do best. It has new DC characters showing up. It has superhero romance, with multiple couples. And it has a bullet that, maybe, never was.
This episode is called "Muse of Fire," which is an unsubtle nudge to the critics. The phrase is from Henry V.
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!"
The monologue ends with the kind of Shakespearean passive-aggression that he puts in a lot of his plays.
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
That's a good try. Almost as good as Yeats' version of a plea for kindness, which goes, "I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." But TV recappers have never even heard of kindness or softness. It is my sworn duty to rip into a show like a wild dog into a dead goat. But I appreciate the allusions.
For my purposes, I will re-title the episode as, "The Quantum Bullet." It involves a bullet that seemed to flicker in and out of existence between drafts, leaving evidence of both its presence and absence. Was it ever there? And in what reality? You make the call.
The episode begins, as all good episodes do, with a leather-clad figure on a motorcycle. The cyclist is Oliver, who has arrived to have lunch with his mother. She's walking outside her office building, summarily rejecting a dude's business proposition. The episode immediately gets twice as good as, before Oliver's eyes, another leather-clad figure on a motorcycle speeds up. The figure pulls a gun, and fires several times. One of these shots is the first appearance of the Quantum Bullet.
The man goes down, several bullet holes in his back. Moira jerks as if struck and falls to the pavement. For a moment, the Quantum Bullet exists. Oliver runs to her, nimbly leaping he bullet-riddled body of the man, and gathers her up in his arms. As we get a close up of the two, Moira shakily insists that she's all right, she hasn't been shot. So suddenly, the Quantum Bullet does not exist. Oliver shouts instructions to the multiple security guards rushing to their aid to call an ambulance, and chases after the motorcycle, almost catching up with it before he's cut off by a truck.
We next see Moira in a hospital bed without a scratch on her. This doesn't prevent Thea from tromping up to Oliver and hissing that Ollie, "Left Mom in the street alone," which is absolutely not true, since she was on the sidewalk, surrounded by security guards. Ollie says he wanted to get the motorcyclist's license plate. Thea does not in the least buy this, and lets Ollie know about it with maximum cranky head tilt and the lip-glossiest sneer I've ever seen.
Quentin Lance, the Last Detective On Earth, has heard of this sneer, and goes to see if he can match it, letting Ollie know that the guy who got killed was mobbed up, and that Moira was not the target. So the Quantum Bullet remains out of existence. For now.
Digg finds Ollie beating a practice dummy with more than usual gusto, and says that the dead guy worked for Frank Bertinelli, a reputed mafioso. Birds of Prey fans are sitting up in their chairs right now. Ollie says he'll take a meeting with Bertinelli, and try and work his way into the Italian mob, since he already has a position in the Russian mob. (Personally I would love for him to go back in time and try to take up a position in the Jewish Mob with Bugsy and Micky Cohen. You've got the Russian language down, Ollie. I now challenge you to ancient Hebrew!) Ollie nods to himself, probably thinking of the lovely set of Ethnic Mobster Commemorative Plates he'll eventually collect, but Dig says that maybe he should take a step back. It would be good for Ollie to take some time to de-mad-dog himself, says Dig, since he left his mother, "Alone and bleeding in the street." The Quantum Bullet reappears and rips through Moira's mid-section. It continues to wreak havoc as Dig talks about how she was nearly killed, and Ollie should be with her. Ollie says he's not good at family, but is good at tracking down evil-doers, and when he finds the "guy" who did the shooting, "He's a dead man."
The motorcyclist, who must have been traveling for hours, finally arrives back at his or her warehouse lair, and crosses out a photograph of the dead guy. I know this is a visual cue that's perfectly reasonable, but it always cracks me up when TV killers do this. I want them to unpack a grocery bag and, between each trip to the fridge, cross out a picture of tomatoes, of milk, and pasta. Then maybe cross out a picture of a laundry machine running, and sigh at getting all their tax forms rejected because their were Xs through all of them. Anyway, the killer takes off the helmet and - oh my! It's a woman! I wonder if this will change Ollie's determination to kill her! (I don't recall Ollie killing a woman, yet. I always find it intriguing how superheroes in general tend to be extremely hesitant to show male heroes killing, or even striking, female villains. In fact, I kind of suspect that a female villain who shows up later does so because at last we have a female crime-fighter - because we all know that this is the first appearance of The Huntress - to fight her.)
Back at home, Ollie is leaving, as usual. Thea pouts because she wanted to go out tonight to a club, after spending a whole few hours of the day with her mother, who possibly got shot on some plane of existence. Tommy shows up to ask after Moira, but then shifts his attention to Ollie. He announces that he and Laurel are going out, and asks if Ollie is okay with that. I have to give Stephen Amell credit for this piece of acting. Ollie immediately reverts to the Ollie of the first few episodes. Suddenly Ollie has the eyes of a mutated alligator that Ed Gein flushed down the toilet when it was a baby as he says "That's good. If you hurt her I'll snap your neck. Just kidding." Tommy laughs nervously, horks up his lunch, and scuttles off.
Now that Ollie's got himself in the serial killer mood, he meets with Frank Bertinelli and his "associate," Nick Salvati. Salvati is played by Tahmoh Penikett, the obsessed cop from Dollhouse! Hi, Tahmoh! Wouldn't it be funny if you ended up getting beat to hell by a small, dark-haired woman in this show, as well? But what are the odds of that?
I have to say, I like ensuing scene, as Ollie and Frank talk about life, business, the shooting, and, eventually, Frank's daughter, Helena, who has just wandered in. Frank doesn't drip evil, or even make any scary insinuations. He comes across as at nice, straightforward man, and a regular dad. Given what we absolutely know about him, that's way more interesting than a threatening mobster. When Salvati informs him that there's an emergency meeting, he encourages Ollie and Helena to go out to dinner together and continue discussing business. With some hesitation, and some significant eye contact, they agree.
Now it's time to check up on everyone's evening!
Frank and Salvati meet up with the platinum blonde China White, who assures Frank that it's not the Chinese Triad that's killing his people. He doesn't believe them. Monitoring all this is Quentin, The Detective Who Never Sleeps, Eats, or Does Anything Else. He worries that there will be a war between the two mobs. (He also says that only about half the assassin's bullets strike the target, again indicating that Moira might have been hit.)
Tommy and Laurel are having a good time at dinner. At last Laurel seems to have retained some memory and character from episode to episode, at least to the point of knowing, "Tommy = Good." They have a nice time, and flirt, and express hope for their relationship in the future. And then Tommy's credit card gets turned down.
Thea has continue her jaw-dropping lack of sensitivity, when she laughingly complains to Moira, who's stuck in bed with the Quantum Bullet still flickering inside her, about how Thea has to be there because Ollie won't. I can't think of anything that a mother would rather hear, when she's sick in bed, than a little comedy routine about how one of her children refuses to be near her and so the other child will grudgingly do it. Especially when her husband has just walked out. At this point, I'm kind of surprised that Moira doesn't drape the sheets around her neck and hang herself from the bedpost. Instead, she hugs Thea, the Quantum Bullet flickering out of existence enough to let her move easily, and tells her that they have to forget the Ollie who went to the island, and accept the Ollie who came back. "Everyone has secrets," she says.
Interspersed throughout all of these scenes is the dinner talk between Helena and Ollie. At first they're a little awkward, but as time goes on, they get to know each other. Helena refers the his time on the island as a "crucible," and tells him that she understands that it changed him. He asks about her cross necklace, and she tells him that it was a gift from her fiance, whose death was her crucible. At the end, as the restaurant is dark around them, and the rest of the tables are empty with their chairs stacked on top of them. Ollie and Helena get into deep eye contact and both get a little intense, before Ollie is called away by Dig. He pays with cash - clearly the key to a successful date in this universe.
Dig has told Ollie that Salvati is collecting enforcement money from a lot of businesses, and the next on his apparent list is the one that Ollie's at. Sure enough, Tahmoh gets his villain on inside, smashing bottles and ordering fingers broken. The fingers are saved. Sadly, the bottles all perish before first the Hood and then the Huntress come in, beating up and gunning down mobsters respectively. The vigilantes then fight each other, and Ollie rips off Huntress' helmet to reveal - Helena! You can actually him eat the words, "he's a dead man," as she runs out of the place and he, I'm serious, emotionally pushes back his hood in a room full of mobsters.
The next morning Tommy stomps up to his father, demanding to know why his trust funds has been emptied, his cards have been cancelled, and all his lovely money is gone. His father is fencing, which, I believe, Lionel Luthor from Smallville did as well. Clearly, this is the preferred sport of Evil Fathers. The father does the usual aristocratic father disappointed in his son bit and then whips off his mask to reveal . . . Barrowmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan! I literally gasped when this happened. It was a good reveal, but it does mean that Barrowman's character, who so far is still listed as "Well-Dressed Man" would have had his son at fifteen years old. He's done very well for himself, as a teen father.
Ollie is settling back into his role as a wild-eyed psychopath trying to lure women into the shadow of a defunct bus station very well. He walks up to Helena, at night, in a graveyard, and when she asks how he found her, says, "I followed you from your house." Sadly, he's one-upped in threatening creepiness when Salvati forces them both into a van. Next thing they know, they're both tied with zip ties at an abandoned warehouse. Salvati found Helena's cross necklace in the restaurant, and knows she's the one killing them off. She explains that she knows her father killed her fiance. He explains that her father found a laptop in her fiances bag that indicated he was talking to the FBI. She explains that that was her laptop, and she was talking to the FBI. He explains that then her fiance's death was all her own fault, and that's enough for her to go Echo on his ass.
Ollie and Helena both slip their zip ties at once and kill the hell out of the mobsters. She especially does a good job with Salvati, who she holds up against a wall before breaking his neck with a single hand. He expires, but not before Tahmoh Penikett's eyes seem to exclaim, "I am like eight feet tall. How do I keep getting beat up by every single person in every single show?" We don't know, Tahmoh. But you sure can take a punch.
Tommy comes to Laurel at her apartment, and confesses his new money problems. She feeds him leftover pizza, and gives him a "buck up little toaster" speech. It's very sweet, but I'm stunned that we don't see Ollie mashing his face against her windows in the background. We get an explanation for his absence in the next scene.
Walter comes back to Moira, who is on her second day of bed rest with the Quantum Bullet that never was. He says he didn't come back because she was "hurt." He came back because he missed his wife. My flutter of excitement at my favorite couple getting back together is squashed when the camera turns to see Ollie peering at them through the door. Hello, Hamlet! So this is why you preferred not to see your best friend making out with your ex! Spying on your mom is so much better. Thea walks up, is glad to know that Walter's back, and makes up with Ollie.
And Ollie's last stop of the night is over at Helena's apartment, where Helena hits him with the ultimate supervillain line - "We're the same, you and I." He makes a token effort to talk her out of her revenge plot, but mostly they just inch closer to each other and talk ever more intensely about how good it is so have someone to talk to. (Dig: "Hey!") At last, they grab each other and kiss. (Dig: "Never mind. 'Talk' away.") It's a good ending, but I have a bone to pick with this scene. In a series absolutely stuffed to the gills with shirt-doffing, this big passionate love scene displays the least amount of skin of any scene in the entire series. Did you come all this way to lose your courage now, Arrow? Really?
But we end with a question: Was Moira shot, or not? Strictly speaking, she wasn't. But it's clear that at some point she was supposed to be. You can see it in the amped up emotion in every scene talking about her and the shooting. There's also the fact that many people say she was hurt and bleeding. There's the way she was pushed, as if by a bullet, in the shooting scene. And there's absolutely no reason why a perfectly fit and healthy woman would need multiple days of bed rest, with supervision, when all that happened to her was falling over near where a shooting happened. I think the Quantum Bullet appeared in some early incarnation of this episode, perhaps after they'd shot a few scenes. At some point someone decided that they'd struck the wrong emotional beat with Moira being shot and reduced it to a near-miss. It's unlikely that Ollie would be justified in making out with the person who shot his mother, even if it was an accident. The staging and reaction, though, are so odd, that both I and the people watching with me had to check again and again if she actually was shot. What do you think?