"The Man Under the Hood," puts the Arrow characters in a holding pattern. Everyone ends the episode pretty much where they were in the last one. To make it up to us, the story is an homage to many, many films, including The Dark Knight Rises to Django Unchained. Check out the nonstop homages.
You know it's a slow episode of Arrow when Laurel has the biggest emotional journey. Except for one development, the series is holding its breath for the final few episodes. To keep us entertained it shows us stories lifted directly from many, many other movies. We end up where we started, but what a ride!
The episode begins with its oddest reference - Django Unchained. A group of people in balaclavas are taking a black van to an undisclosed location. One of them loudly complains about the badly placed eye-holes in the mask, causing most of the rest to pull their masks off. They then argue, comically, about the plan. The highlight?
Ollie: "Felicity, this was your plan."
Felicity: (The one who didn't get her eye holes lined up.) "I didn't think you'd say yes."
Their plan is to break into Queen Consolidated's science division and take out the building, and everything in it, before Slade can use it to make the prisoners he captured in the last episode into mirakuru supermen. As they're running around, knocking out guards and planting bombs, Felicity says, "This is where we first met Barry." I'll leave Rose to make the comparison.
The destruction of the science division annoys both Isabel and Slade. Slade responds with a teen horror movie - a specific kind of teen horror movie. This is such a perfect homage that I can't imagine someone wasn't trying for it. There are two kids, a boy and a girl (Cisco and Caitlin, we find out later), packing up an old warehouse full of crazy science equipment (from STAR labs). And, of course, they're doing it at night. The camera tolerates their expository banter for a little too long for them to be killed, which is why the security guard dies when the madman break into the building, giving them a chance to run. Slade, though we've seen that he's fast, even conforms to the 'villain walks slowly but catches up with the heroes anyway,' trope. He calls after them, "I know what you did last summer!" Kidding. Actually, he says, "The longer the chase, the slower the kill!" Then Cisco shoots him with a laser gun and the kids get away, but he'll be back. They always come back.
Especially if, like Slade, they get a biotransfuser that lets them safely shoot their convict army up with mirakuru and transform them into supersoldiers. All Slade needs is to give the convicts a healthy transfusion of blood that was already laden with mirakuru. Ollie and company decide that Slade will be drained after giving the prisoners his blood, and they'll be able to locate him by the power dip when he turns on the transfuser.
It doesn't work out that way. In a twist that I admit took me completely by surprise, Ollie comes in to the building to find that Roy is being drained instead of Slade. (This is a rare scene that doesn't seem based on anything, although is anyone else getting a Dark City vibe from the layout of the lab?) Slade and Isabel are ready to kick some ass, especially when Ollie shoots out the power. Ollie manages to shoot a grapple to the ceiling, take Roy in his arms, and lift him out of there like Roy is Vicky Vale - but only after a pretty chaotic fight with both Slade and Isabel.
Now let's get to Isabel. I so want to see Summer Glau having drinks with Glenn Close, because those two have played pretty much the same character. It seems Isabel and Robert had an affair, and he left her. She is getting back at him by destroying his family. The Queens are lucky they don't have a rabbit. And just when you think she's about to triumph? Boom. Shot right in the chest. (By Dig instead of Michael Douglas's fictional wife. But it still counts.) The difference is, Isabel rises again, along with Slade's mirakurued army, at the end of the episode.
Before Isabel got her brand spanking new body piercing, she lets slip something about Robert Queen. He always knew that Thea wasn't his. (Well of course. He's blond. Moira's blonde. Their best friend has dark hair and is John Barrowman. Moira gives birth to a dark-haired kid. How could he not put that together?)
Ollie and Moira are in a financial bind. They need Thea's signature before they can transfer assets away from where Isabel can get at them. Thea, being Thea, ain't signing. In fact, when Ollie makes the big revelation to her at the end, about Robert loving her and choosing to be a father to her, her whole reaction is, "he was a liar." This made some people - on the internet - pretty mad. Me? Not even slightly. Oh, my darling brat! I thought I'd lost you forever! You've been so good-natured, supportive, and smart! It's so good to see you screaming and stomping and whining while enjoying, unquestionable, the best life on the show. I'm glad you didn't change.
But Thea's actual story was tough to pin down. She wasn't really Scarlet O'Hara, for all the brattiness. She wasn't exactly Electra (from the Greek myths) either. Then, when Ollie said he was her brother, she pointed out that he was her half-brother. And Tommy was her other half-brother. "Tommy-who-I-tried-to-kiss." Haaaaaaaaaaaa! Yes! She totally did have a crush on her half-brother for years! And that's when I realize, Thea's in Flowers in the Attic. The messed-up but gorgeous mom, the mansion, the great family fallen on hard times, everyone having affairs, and, oh yes, the ever-present V.C. Andrews incest. I am going to look on this character with a new eye from now on.
Laurel is also running around looking at people with a new eye. After being told that Ollie is the vigilante it doesn't take her very long to realize that Sara is the "woman in black." And since Quentin is facing jail time if he doesn't give them the name of both, Laurel has a dilemma. The situation comes to a head when Quentin is beat up in prison, in a scene so reminiscent of Oz in its brutality towards any and all good characters that I expect people to be talking about prags and jizz.
When Laurel tries to tell a hospitalized Quentin who the vigilante is, he stops her. And we have the battered older cop making a sincere speech about how if we knew the truth about the hero, "He couldn't be what he needed to be. What this city needed to be." Hello, Dark Knight Rises. In what I think is a nice resolution of the situation, Laurel decides not to let anyone know what she knows, opting to hug Ollie instead of revealing anything to him. That's what I think the Batman movies needed, actually. More hugs. Would have set a nicer tone. (Oh, and she again blackmails the DA, this time into letting Quentin go. Hugs and blackmail. I like it.)
Although a lot got done, and got done entertainingly, most of the characters haven't made much progress. Laurel is still out of the loop but on the mend. Quentin is still a cop. Roy is still drugged up and in Starling City. Isabel is still alive and vengeful. Thea is still resentful as hell. Moira and Ollie are still in dire financial straits. The major progress was made in the flashback, when Ivo, in exchange for a quick death (that Ollie hilariously delivers in the middle of Ivo's monologue), reveals that there is a cure for mirakuru. The Arrow team will make the cure, with help from the two horror-movie kids, who I have a feeling we will see in the Flash series.