Monday, June 16, 2014

Arrow: Legacies

The good thing about long-running shows is that once the formula has been established, it can then be subverted and explored. For the last five episodes we’ve seen Oliver target elite criminals from his father’s list. This episode inverts that pattern by presenting Oliver with a more mundane adversary, giving them a background that challenges the way he relates to his mission.

This episode starts with a good old-fashioned bank robbery, the latest of a recent string that Diggle calls to Oliver’s attention. Thinking that The Hood’s goal is to fight crime, Diggle takes it as a given that Oliver will help the police try to catch them.

But according to Ollie, he doesn’t fight lowly street crime. Why deal with the small stuff when you’re targeting tycoons and entrepreneurs? As I mentioned in my very first episode review, Oliver’s motivation is unique in that it’s not focused on getting vengeance or chasing justice – it’s all about trying to posthumously redeem his father. It’s a crusade on behalf of someone else, but it’s also rather self-involved.

So things take a turn for the interesting when Ollie learns who these bank robbers actually are. The reveal is set up nicely with the opening scene in which a female hostage desperately tries to convince a plainclothes officer not to intervene in the robbery. Her pleas call attention to the two of them, and one of the masked gunmen shoot him in the back. Yet this scene gets an entirely different meaning when Oliver realizes that though there were fourteen women in the bank, only thirteen came out.

Turns out that it’s not a crew of bank robbers, it’s a family of them. The woman in question is the wife and mother of the gunmen, and her attempts to dissuade the cop were to protect them, not herself. Ollie does some more digging, and it turns out that the family patriarch is Derek Reston, who worked for Queen Industries before Robert Queen outsourced 1500 jobs to China. The Reston family lost their home as a result, and turned to crime in order to secure their sons’ futures.

So now what? Ollie is faced not with punishing the guilty, but in trying to help the ... er ... slightly less guilty. And in an amusing continuation of Oliver/Diggle tension, Oliver decides to reach out to the Reston family, whilst Diggle continues to argue in favour of bringing them to justice. This is actually a really nice bit of characterization here; the way the two men react differently to the bank robberies, then to the sob story of the criminals involved, but still manage to end up with opposing opinions on how to deal with the situation.

So Oliver goes to Derek Reston and offers him a job at Queen Industries. To be fair, he has so far offered an “out” to everyone that he's targeted, but this time he does it without pointing a bow and arrow at the guy’s face. Derek refuses out of pride, and his fate is pretty much sealed.

Fate: sealed.
They hit another bank, Derek’s trigger-happy eldest son gets aggressive with the security guard, and Derek takes the bullet for him. It plays out with poignancy, with a final discussion on how fathers shapes the lives of their sons.
(Though oddly enough, we don’t find out what happened to the rest of the Reston family. Seriously, did they get away, or what?)
It ties in to something that Ollie says earlier in the episode: “I’m not a hero.” It sounds like a standard response to the insistence of minor characters that Male Lead is, in fact, a hero, but here it's true. Ollie is just trying to atone for the sins of his father and make sure Robert's sacrifice wasn’t in vain. At this point, he has no higher purpose other than that. So he’s right – he’s not actually a hero.

Unfortunately raising this question means that the inclusion of Carter Bowen becomes something of a misfire. What could have been a character who embodies everyday heroism; a man who seems to be sincere about his responsibilities, his career as a neurosurgeon and his idea of opening a free clinic for those in need, ends up the butt of a joke.

Of course, there’s a Carter in everyone’s life: that one guy/girl who makes us feel utterly subpar with their amazing accomplishments, but why do it like this? Chuck had Captain Amazing, a brother-in-law who made the lead character feel inadequate, as does Carter to both Ollie and Tommy in their respective subplots. But whereas Captain Amazing (real name Devon) was actually a genuine nice and supportive guy, Carter is ultimately dissed by both Laurel and Moira in order to make Tommy and Moira feel better about themselves.

Here’s where it gets really weird. Basically, Laurel’s pro-bono law firm is in dire straits and Tommy comes up with the idea to throw a fundraiser in order to impress her. Let’s not quibble over his motivation here – Laurel is specifically why he does this. Not because it’s the right thing to do, not because rescuing a law firm that supplies attorneys to those who can’t afford them is an heroic thing to do, but to demonstrate that he’s serious about his feelings for her.

Heck, Laurel even tells Joanna that it’s just an attempt to get into her pants... and it is.

Which is why Laurel is considered a big meanie for going off and dancing with Carter at the dance. Except that she apparently redeems herself by confiding to Tommy that: “Carter is a gigantic ass and the only reason why I danced with him is because he wrote a massive check to CNRI.” But THEN she tells Tommy that: “I owe you a dance. You earned it.” anyone else seeing the problem here? I kind of hate the writers for putting these words into Laurel’s mouth. It’s typical “woman owes man favours for trying to win her over” mentality, and the worst part is that they don’t even see the irony in Laurel doing the exact same thing for Tommy as she did for Carter – owing him a dance because he did something that should have been done anyway.

So it’s really not romantic that Tommy is doing something generous just to impress Laurel, and it’s a bit daft that Carter is described as a “gigantic ass” even though his motivation seemed to born out of a genuine attempt to do some good. It's an uncomfortable subplot in what was otherwise a nuanced episode.

Miscellaneous Observations:

Were the bank robbers’ masks a nod to the Royal Flush Gang?

Like I said above, the opening scene of the bank robbery was nicely constructed, with the female hostage’s attempts to make the cop lay low given a twist in perspective when it became clear who she really was. That it finished with a Held Gaze between her and the masked man was another nice touch, especially when we later realize they were husband/wife.

Before Carter had even said it, I was thinking it was very strange that journalists weren’t knocking down the door for the chance to interview Oliver. Surely he should be getting hounded every second of the day and night.

For the first time Ollie uses a different type of arrow! These ones release cords that pin the duffel bags to the ground.

Moira gets angry that Ollie walked out on brunch. Surely she could cut him some slack on this issue? The problem is that these people really aren’t acting like Ollie has returned to civilization after a five year period of isolation. Of course, we know that things were slightly different for Ollie, but honestly – he needs an adjustment period and it’s just a damn brunch. There had to have been a less negligible reason of getting across the fact that Moira missed her only son.

And an explanation for why Robert Queen’s book was blank when Ollie first found it. Invisible ink!

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