Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Arrow: Muse of Fire

Every hero must someday meet their Shadow Archetype. For Buffy it was Faith, for Frodo it was Gollum, for Harry it was Voldemort, for Merlin it was Morgana – heck, I could do this all night.

For Oliver, it’s Helena Bertinelli. He’s already had a minor Not So Different experience with Deadshot, but the deliberate comparison set up between himself and Helena is explicit, disturbing and (as yet) unresolved. In the final fight between Oliver, Helena and her father’s employees, my eyes were on the verge of a mighty roll, foreseeing Oliver trying to talk Helena down from her killing of the hit-man who murdered her fiancé. Instead, two things happened.

The first is that at the same moment Helena snaps the neck of the hit-man, Oliver has another assailant in the strangulation hold he had on his own murder victim in the pilot. The second is that as soon as Helena has killed her attacker, she turns to Oliver and says: “I didn’t have a choice. I can’t let anyone know my secret.” These of course are Oliver’s exact words when it came to making his aforementioned kill in the pilot. It’s not a coincidence.

Meaningful echo in 3...2...1...
But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The episode starts when Moira is nearly killed by a masked gunman on a motorcycle who successfully shoots the man with her: an associate of mob boss Frank Bertinelli. In an attempt to track down the killer Oliver sets up a meeting with Bertinelli and ends up going out to dinner with his daughter Helena instead. (Frank is called away to an utterly pointless meeting with the Triad gang in order to deliver a threat that could have surely been done over the phone). To his surprise, Oliver finds himself enjoying Helena’s company.

But when the restaurant is attacked by a protection racket, Oliver and Helen quickly realize each other’s secret identities. He’s The Hood and she’s the Huntress. Yet by the time we get the whole picture of who Helena is and why she’s assassinating employees of her own father, it’s clear that Oliver has very little moral high-ground when it comes to judging her.

It turns out that she’s not simply out for vengeance over the killing of her fiancé, but that he was killed after being falsely blamed for spying on the Bertinelli family for the CIA. Yet it was she who was the spy, secretly working to undermine her father’s criminal network. It takes an incredible amount of integrity to defy one’s own father on moral grounds and refuse to continue living off the backs of other people’s suffering. To have the man you loved killed as a result of trying to do the right thing may not strictly justify cold-blooded murder, but it sure as hell explains it.

For the record, Huntress is one of my favourite DC characters. In many ways she’s heavily reminiscent of Catwoman, but her background as the child of a mob family gives her vigilantism an interesting twist. Plus, I adored her incarnation in Justice League Unlimited. Voiced by Amy Acker, given a crucial role in the Cadmus Arc, and one half of the most unexpectedly adorable relationship with The Question, she was one of the highlights of that show for me.

She's awesome.

Here she’s played by Jessica de Gouw, who I was familiar with as Mina Murray from Dracula. I had heard prior to watching this that she didn’t deliver a particularly good performance as Helena, though the same thing is said about pretty much every attractive young actress out there (see also Emilia Clarke on Game of Thrones, who gets a lot of flak for her acting ability despite not being significantly better or worse than any of the other actors on that show who aren't respected British thespians in their mid-fifties). I liked de Gouw’s performance as Helena better than as Mina (in a single episode of Arrow she was given more to do than an entire season’s worth of Dracula) and the similarities with Ollie in regards to their secret activities isn’t the only thing they share – as the final scene demonstrates, both are relieved to finally tell the truth to someone.
Exposure and understanding can be a heady mixture, and the final kiss seems to be based more on mutual relief rather than attraction.
Much earlier in the episode, the reveal of Helena as the motorcycle shooter plays out fairly typically. The person that everyone has pointedly been referring to as “he” enters a garage, crosses out the face of the dead man on a corkboard, and removes her helmet to reveal that – gasp! – it’s a woman. But at this point it’s just a woman – we don’t know yet that she’s Helena Bertinelli.
As it turns out, Tommy is the son of Moira’s mysterious business partner played by John Barrowman. I have no idea whether Barrowman’s character has been formally named yet, so I went ahead and looked it up. His character is called Malcolm Merlyn, and the only possible hint of a familial relationship with Tommy was Laurel’s convenient new tendency to refer to Tommy as “Merlyn” for the duration of their scenes together.

The thing that interests me is this: that although the audience would have quickly figured out the identity of the motorcycle shooter had the writers not almost immediately shown us exactly who she was (and even then, she’s revealed to be the assailant even before she’s properly introduced as Helena), there was no real way for anyone to foresee Tommy’s paternity.

(Unless of course this relationship exists in the comic books, in which case many of you may have already known what was coming. I wasn’t aware of it; certainly not in the same way that I knew Helena Bertinelli was Huntress).

As such, the reveal that the two are related doesn’t have a lot of weight to it. It’s more of a flat “oh” than an excited “ah!” moment. And since John Barrowman’s character has been shrouded in mystery, gifted with only a vague sheen of the sinister at this early stage, we can’t really grasp what a father/son connection might actually mean for Oliver, for Moira, and for Tommy and Malcolm themselves.

Though we do know that Tommy now has a cash flow problem. If his father really does deal in dirty money, it provides an interesting contrast to Helena. Unlike Tommy, she’s actively trying to take down her own father (albeit secretly), presumably with full-knowledge that she’ll lose whatever wealth she currently possesses by doing so.

To be continued...
Miscellaneous Observations:

Like I said above, Frank leaving his meeting with Oliver in order to meet the Triad was utterly pointless, notwithstanding the need to establish that Frank blamed them instead of Helen for the recent deaths among his ranks. But what a waste of Kelly Hu!

The show’s irritating trend of having characters breeze into a room with a line of dialogue that neatly inserts them into someone else’s conversation continues. This week it was Helena quoting Latin out of thin air as she marches into her living room and into Oliver’s life. Seriously, this tactic could be a drinking game. Now that I’ve brought it up, I guarantee that you’ll notice it all the time.

Laurel ordered a mushroom and olive pizza, which is probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard of.

Walter’s back and reunites with his wife in a rather touching scene – though it’s made just a little bit creepy by Oliver watching through the bedroom door. Still I like the idea that Walter might just be the most morally upright character on this show. Moira clearly has a few secrets, and it would be an interesting twist on the usual “wicked step-parent” cliché to have Oliver realize that Walter is more trustworthy than his own mother.


  1. Helena! I simply adore Jessica de Gouw. She was the entire reason I started watching Arrow, actually. Her character is fantastic, and what you're saying about Oliver lacking high moral ground is absolutely true and very fascinating.

    Also, I love olive and mushroom pizza, haha.

  2. I enjoy Jessica as well, and I was looking forward to her appearance here. I think she does fine as an actress; there's definitely nothing of Mina Murray about her.

    LOL on the pizza. Different folks, different strokes, but olives and mushrooms (on or off pizza) have to be my two most disliked foods of all time.