Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Arrow: The Odyssey

It’s been a while since I’ve watched and reviewed Arrow, so luckily for me this is one of the strongest episodes to return to. For the first time the island flashbacks do not feel like flashbacks at all, but rather the meat of the story, contained within a framing device of Diggle and Felicity tending to a badly wounded (and unconscious) Oliver.

But first we have to discuss the opening scene. At the conclusion of the last episode, the vigilante burst through Moira’s office to deliver his “you have failed this city” speech at arrow-point. It’s a fantastic setup in which Oliver holds his own mother at bay without her knowing it, only for Moira to cower behind a picture of Ollie and Thea. But the moment Ollie lowers his bow, Moira reaches for her gun.

It’s a great character moment for her, presenting her as a woman who may be begging for her life on behalf of her children, or could equally be using them as a diversionary tactic. Obviously it doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario, but the audience has been privy to a number of scenes that demonstrate she’s more than a mother – yet at the same time, that she’s treated more as a pawn than an active player. Here the question is, what’s stronger: her maternal instincts or her self-preservation?

Oliver spends the rest of the episode fighting the after-effects of the bullet, suggesting (on a meta-level at least) that it’s the latter. Ollie naturally doesn’t see it that way, and despite Diggle’s misgivings, orders an end to their investigation into Moira. Unfortunately, this means that the show has put the Ollie/Moira confrontation on the back-burner indefinitely, and despite Felicity being let into the club, it feels as though they’ve opted to maintain the status quo.

This can work for a little while, whetting an audience’s appetite whilst holding back on the full-course meal, but too much stalling will only make me restless.

So perhaps to make up for this cop-out, the island flashbacks are as compelling as they’ve ever been, answering some questions at the same time they raise others.

Slade is preparing Ollie for a supply plane that lands in ten days time, hoping to sufficiently train him to such a degree that he’ll be a help and not a hindrance in the attempt to take control of it. A throwaway line reveals that six months have passed since Ollie arrived on the island (really, that long?) though he still seems to be struggling with the art of stick pounding and gun grabbing.

The training is a bit of a contrivance to justify all the show's martial arts (instead of simply teaching him how to fire a hand gun), but the episode is structured much like a drawn-out montage, in which each new obstacle Ollie faces depicts him attaining a higher level of capability.

This is as good an excuse as any to put this here:

When we begin Ollie is being completely decimated by Slade in training, only for him to rely on steady nerves and quick thinking when he stands on the land-mine, and decisive action when it comes to taking out the guard in the radio tower. In this he fails, yet it’s a with  literary reference that Ollie gets to surpass his mentor, realizing that the answer to the challenge code is the second half of a quote from The Odyssey

It’s a relatively neat way of watching him evolve from frat boy to his current badass persona, yet the fundamental difference between Ollie and Slade is still clear: Ollie rejects Slade’s creed that everyone is out for himself and decides to go back for Yao Fei before Slade can bomb the entire island. And though Slade does opt to follow him back, his decision – much like Moira’s – seems split between two possible motivations: the chance to save Ollie or a desire for vengeance against his old partner Billy Wintergreen. This theme continues into Yao Fei, who we learn here is only working with Fyre in order to keep his daughter Shado safe.

Brain versus brawn, choices versus leverage, commitment to a cause versus mercenary employment – these were the underlying strains of the island flashbacks.

Strewn throughout were a number of interesting symbols and objects used to unify the proceedings. Much like a connect-the-dots puzzle, they had virtually no meaning to anyone but the audience; the distant spectator who sees all and remembers everything. Yao Fei noticing a copy of The Odyssey on Fyre’s desk, for example. It has no bearing on Oliver’s ability to crack the challenge code at a completely different time and place, but it puts the text in the audience’s mind for when the radio tower scene comes.

We also witness Slade picking up his mask and staring at it significantly before leaving; a reflection of Wintergreen’s reappearance in his identical mask – linking their histories even if we only know the basics of what really happened between them. And finally, the tattoo of the dragon on both Shado and Ollie’s backs – two lingering shots that have no bearing on the characters at all (that is, no characters respond or react to them) but which serve as an indicator to the audience of future developments – or so I assume.

Miscellaneous Observations:

I noticed the name “Hannibal Bates” in Ollie’s notebook. Heh.

There were some nice character beats during the framing device: Felicity’s multi-coloured nail polish, Oliver’s prepared blood and Diggle’s rudimentary medical training.

Though it seems fairly ridiculous that Fyre would order Yao Fei to instruct his men in archery when they’ve all got assault rifles, I suppose it’s meant to be another puzzle piece that will eventually intersect with Ollie’s own skills with the bow.

Interesting how Billy Wintergreen didn’t bother to start talking until Slade turned up, and that Ollie once again fell back on money to wriggle his way out of a situation (by offering Wintergreen more than Fyre).

And now the question arises: who is Fyre working for? The most obvious guess would be Malcolm Merlyn, but that didn’t sound like John Barrowman’s voice on the phone.

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