Saturday, August 9, 2014

Arrow: Dead To Rights

Okay guys, let’s talk about assassins. I know you want to write about them. I know you want to see them on your TV screen. It’s understandable. They’re cool. They’re scary. They’re simple. They kill people for a living!

That final sentence is the most pertinent one.

See, when people kill other people for a living, you can be pretty damn sure they’re good at their job. Getting paid thousands if not millions of dollars to commit a crime that could get them landed in jail for the rest of their lives is not something they take lightly.

Which means that trained, professional hit-men (or women) do not fail. And in fiction, the moment you pit one of these guys against a main character, you know they’re going to fail utterly. And that leeches all the tension out of them.

"Wait, we can't kill him yet!"

Did anyone out there really think that Malcolm Merlyn was going to die in this episode? Anyone? What made matters worse was the convoluted nature of how the assassins went about their hit. They killed at least five waiters in order to take their place in the complex when all they needed to do was hit the fire alarm and get Malcolm outside long enough for Deadshot to make the shot. Heck, they didn’t even need to do that – with Deadshot in a sniper position on the opposite building, all they had to do was wait until the party was over. I mean, he’s got to leave sometime, right?

Then once the lights go out and the alarms go out they kill a bunch of security guards right in front of Malcolm, giving him ample opportunity to grab his son and make for the panic room in his office. Let’s see, then there’s a couple of assassins toting machine guns that can’t seem to hit anything, and a couple more who – on coming face to face with their intended target – hesitate long enough for Malcolm to get the drop on them. Bang, they’re dead.

Grr. I’ll let Kate Mulgrew explain how very not difficult all this has to be.

I’ve skipped ahead to the climactic scene, so let me backtrack a little.

This episode is built on the hook that the last episode finished on: Moira approaches China White and the Triads in order to place a hit on Malcolm Merlyn. But the core of this episode turned out to be (surprisingly) Oliver and Malcolm, with both men pursuing something that they really shouldn’t, accumulating in a scene laden with irony in which Oliver saves Malcolm’s life from curate poisoning.

When I say “pursuing something they shouldn’t” I’m talking about Oliver continuing to date McKenna and Malcolm once again attempting a reconciliation with Tommy.

This whole Gender Flipped Dating Catwoman scenario with Oliver and McKenna is a bad idea just waiting to explode. Regardless of what happens between them, it’s horribly unfair for Oliver to date a police officer, especially one that’s been put on the case of trying to track down The Hood.

How long is it going to take before Oliver takes advantage of her inside information? And how gutted is she going to feel when/if she discovers the truth about the vigilante? I’ve veered on the side of “it’s just a TV show” when it comes to Ollie’s extra-curricular activities, but this is the first time he’s actually felt like a bit of an asshole.

More interesting is Malcolm’s desire to reconnect with Tommy, a gesture I wasn’t sure was truly sincere the last time it happened. Yet now we’ve been given a bit more insight into his psyche, not just that his wife Rebecca was mugged and shot in the Glades (which makes her yet another tedious example of a Disposal Woman, a female character whose only importance in the narrative is to spur her male partner into action) but that on realizing that the complex is full of assassins, the first word out of his mouth is “Tommy.”

So despite the cliché of the motivation, at least this is a villain who has some degree of nuance to him, as well as the conviction to go ahead with what he truly believes is right. Though in saying that, I couldn’t help but feel that his acceptance speech was a mix of genuine emotion over his wife’s death, and a pointed barb at the vigilante when he repeats his mantra over the microphone: “my city – and I failed it.” Emphasis on the “my.”

Then the woefully terrible assassination attempt goes down, and though there’s probably a body count of over a dozen once you take into account all the waiters, security guards and Chinese mafia, the intended target only gets a mild case of curate poisoning. Yeah, between Ollie shooting a fire extinguisher to ward off McKenna and helping Tommy perform an impromptu blood transfusion, there was quite a bit of silliness here.

"Damn, why didn't we shoot him instantly?"

Still, it was all lead-up to one key moment: that in order to save Malcolm’s life, Oliver has to reveal himself to his best friend and hope that he’ll take the news well. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t. Between watching his father effortlessly kill someone and realizing that his best friend is a vigilante (and great continuity on Tommy recalling that Oliver actually killed the men sent after them in the pilot episode) and he’s had one heck of a bad night.

Still, this was a fun episode that played around with identity and alter-egos and how they affect each character’s personal life: how Oliver hides from McKenna, how Moira hides from her children, how Malcolm hides from Tommy (though was presumably right on the brink of revealing his identity as the Black Archer before he got shot), and how Oliver ultimately decides to expose himself to his best friend. This was a major step forward in regards to shaking up the status-quo, for now that Tommy has been let in on the secret, he’s got to do some lying and hiding of his own.

(I think it’s safe to say he won’t be enthusiastically joining Diggle and Felicity in the Arrow Cave).

And it would appear that Deadshot is still alive! I probably wouldn’t have assumed he was dead if I hadn’t been completely ignorant as to his importance in the comics, but he’s back and newly equipped with that red eye-patch thingy. This puts Diggle back in a subplot that involves more than just Oliver, even if it is just another round of the “you killed my brother!” cliché.

Oh, and in the barest hint of a plot that probably should have been saved until the next episode, Laurel gets a surprise visit from her mother – who is River Song! What a Tweest!

Miscellaneous Observations:

Ten points to Janina Gavankar for delivering the pure exposition of: “what do you mean the chopper’s about to touch down, the flight log doesn’t have him due for another twenty minutes!” and actually make it sound like something a person would actually say.

When Guillermo Barrera stepped out of that helicopter, I honestly thought it was David Boreanaz. Then once Oliver said: “You have failed this city!” I thought he would come back with: “I only just got here!” Altogether the whole confrontation was rather anti-climactic. Was he supposed to be a comic-book guy?

So Laurel’s sister Sara had a black canary for a pet when she was a little girl. Get it? GET IT? Seriously though, I usually like these little hints as to where all the characters are going to end up, but this one felt so arbitrarily shoehorned in that it felt just plain silly. 

That was a neat sequence in the Chinese Restaurant with Oliver getting back, getting information and slipping into his seat without anyone noticing. The hot sauce in the face was perhaps a bit of a risk though.

Nice to see them finally let Kelly Hu unleash in her fight scene with The Hood; even if her hair is about the least likely thing an undercover Chinese mafia assassin would ever chose to wear.

The Lost comparisons keep on coming, with the use of yet another Odyssey reference when Slade/Oliver overhear radio plans for something called Scylla. Turns out that it’s a missile launcher, and since it’s being compared to a six-necked, four-eyed, multiple-tentacled sea monster with a cat’s tail, it’s probably not going to be used for the good of mankind.  

A nice little character beat was the fact a question has been raised in Malcolm’s mind – why on earth would the vigilante save his life? Hopefully this thread will be pulled later, along with Detective Lance’s observation that the vigilante also happens to have a vested interest in the Merlyn family. And I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what “man” Malcolm came across on his own island (figuratively speaking) that inspired this Undertaking.

The cherry on top of Moira’s assassination attempt being thwarted by her own son is that now she’s caught in a case of Hired To Hunt Yourself, courtesy of a very angry Malcolm.

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