Thursday, March 26, 2015

Arrow: Tremors

One of the best things about this show is that it isn't stingy about The Reveal. When the time is right for characters to learn the Arrow's identity, they find out and the story commences with this new insight shaping the course of the cast dynamics. Tremors finally brings together Oliver and Roy as partners and allies; definitively drawing together two plot-threads that have been running parallel to each other since Roy's introduction, and introducing Roy to the rest of the team – no take-backs, no psyche-outs, no back-pedalling.
For all its faults, Smallville didn't dither over "the secret" either, but after five years of Merlin I'm certainly not used to this!

So I have to start with a confession – I honestly didn't remember Ben Turner a.k.a. Bronze Tiger. Having a quick trawl through the Arrow episode guide tells me he was in Identity, and in my defence the general consensus seems to be that Michael Jai White was wasted in the role. Here at least he came across as a legitimate physical threat for Oliver and his new sidekick to face, and was afforded a bit of nuance as a man who was not evil, just amoral.
So after the most ridiculous jailbreak ever, in which a clawed knuckle-buster is smuggled into prison after being artificially inseminating into a guy's HAND which somehow results in his death, Bronze Tiger manages to escape into the night (the commotion gets the cell door open, but what about all the other cops on duty in what looked like a fairly high security facility?)

His expression really sums up this moment.
Elsewhere, a masked and voice-modulated Oliver is trying to teach Roy to control his strength and channel his rage, with mixed results. For the most part the narrative follows the predictable route of "impatient young apprentice tries to rush into things too quickly to the anger of his mentor when things go terribly wrong", but I think the episode tries to give Roy's point-of-view some sympathy when he points out that the endless repetition of the training exercises is having an adverse effect on his temper.
When you're pumped full of mirakuru and you already have an anger management problem, perhaps it's not the best idea to slap water for hours on end. Roy does not have Oliver's patience, he doesn't want to attain archery skills, and he doesn't need to build muscle so much as learn to control the unnatural strength he's already got.
Oliver seemed to recognise this, but was nevertheless still putting him through the wrong kind of training. It reminds me a little bit of Korra's frustrated attempts to master air-bending in The Legend of Korra, or Jory's inability to grasp meditation in Tamora Pierce's Cold Fire, in which both mentors realize their techniques aren't compatible with the personality of their students, and reshape the format of their lessons accordingly.
And in this case, controlling his strength was not something that Roy had to learn, but be reminded of. And the most potent trigger in achieving this is his love for Thea, who will potentially bear the brunt of any damage he causes if he doesn't get his temper under control. It skirts a bit of an uncomfortable line, especially since Thea has already had cause to tell Roy "you're hurting me!" when he grips her arm too tightly; not to mention the inevitable "we must keep this a secret from Thea to keep her safe" spiel that Oliver almost immediately starts pounding into Roy's head.
(I liked Roy's response: "Keeping [loved ones] safe is what keeps them safe," though I'm confident he'll forget this by the time the next episode rolls around).
It eventually transpires that Bronze Tiger was busted out of prison so that he could assist in the theft of yet another earthquake device from Malcolm Merlyn's abandoned mansion (in a nice touch, Roy obliviously points out some pictures of Tommy that Oliver can sadly emote at). Naturally, the first attempt to stop him goes terribly wrong thanks to Roy's anger issues, and when round two happens, he once again ends up pounding the life out of his opponent.
This episode has quite a few ridiculous contrivances (I suppose all do to one extent or another, but in this case it's particularly glaring) as at this point the fence for the earthquake machine decides to activate it because "he's dead anyway" if it isn't delivered. Really? Destroy half the city and hope that some debris falls on you when you could just put a gun to your head?
Whatever, the point of this is to get Oliver into the right headspace to reveal himself to Roy. With the timer ticking down and Roy beating the crap out of Bronze Tiger, there's no other way the hooded vigilante can get through to him.
And it's a great sequence, directed/performed with enough care and commitment for it to feel like one of the "big moments" in the show's history. Oliver realizes he can't bust through the crate where the earthquake device is stowed:
Sees Roy out of control:
And makes his decision:
To Roy's shock:
The reveal itself is shot from Roy's point-of-view – that is, we don't actually see Oliver take off the mask and voice modulator, though we do hear his voice change from the computerized monotone to his natural speech just a few seconds before his face appears on-screen. It's a fantastic way of staging the surprise.
The shock of it jolts Roy out of his rage, but he's struck dumb by the sight of his girlfriend's brother standing next to him. Colton Hayes' does a great job of conveying this struggle just to mentally process what's in front of him, and it's not until Oliver's mention of Thea that the reality of the situation finally breaks through.
He breaks through the walls of the metal crate, the inevitable "run from the explosion" shot happens, and in the aftermath, Roy isn't looking at the fire:
Compared with the screen-cap below, you CAN'T  tell me
that they didn't emphasis the height difference on purpose.
And the first thing he does is thank Oliver for saving his life – not just literally, but in giving him purpose and meaning. One gets the sense that he had been rehearsing this speech in his head should he ever see the true face of the vigilante; as such it means something that it comes now, and not immediately after they began their training. He offers his hand as though they're meeting for the first time (which in a way, they are); Oliver takes it and says: "We're just getting started."
It's wonderful. I loved it. I'll admit to getting a little tingle down my spine. This team-up of Oliver and Roy has been building for a while, and the payoff makes it worth the wait.
So I guess what I'm saying is that my favourite (current) dynamic on the show is the white dude bromance. This has never happened before!
In a minor, but clearly important subplot, Moira meets up with Walter and is given some surprising news: he wants her to run for Mayor. As with Bronze Tiger, her face pretty much sums it up:
Yeah, this is a ludicrous proposition, not least because she's got a million secrets, she was recently on trial for mass murder, she'll be forced to run against a man who has clearly and repeated condemned her actions, AND she knows Malcolm Merlyn is out there somewhere and could destroy her campaign with the flick of his hand, but – well, it appears she's going for it.
As absurd as it all is (like I said, this episode is big on contrivance) it puts Moira's character on a fresh trajectory, and I liked seeing the return of her Lady Macbeth side. Susanna Thompson is great at capturing the sincere warmth and love she has for her children, but also the coldness when it comes to taking down those standing in her way. She's like a slightly more likable Cersei.
Miscellaneous Observations:
In another interesting storytelling choice, we learn more about Slade in the present before the flashback reaches the events in question; that is Oliver telling Roy that "I had to put an arrow in his eye." We already seen Slade's eyepatch, we've now been told Oliver is responsible for it, and all that remains is to anticipate seeing how exactly this altercation went down. That "not what but how" mode of storytelling is the gift of any prequel, and the Arrow writers know how to use it.
Over in the flashbacks, Oliver and Sara hunt down Slade (while the latter unknowingly foreshadows the end of this episode by stating: "love is the strongest emotion") and discover him about to aim the rocket launcher at the freighter – and their only chance of escape. Oliver still wants to tell him the true circumstances of Shado's death, which for some reason means telling him that "she died because of me."
Gah, Professor Ivo did NOT kill Shado because of Oliver. He killed her because of authorial fiat!
And then of course it's more authorial fiat that prevents Oliver from going through with his confession. He manages to talk Slade down from the rocket launcher without mentioning Ivo's nonsensical ultimatum, leaving this revelation to simmer away until what will no doubt be the worst possible circumstances for the truth to come out.
Bronze Tiger was paid ten million dollars just to courier the earthquake machine?? Again with the absurdity!
So... the Amanda Waller's Squad... I wish I knew what that meant, but it appears my ever-growing knowledge of the DC mythos doesn't stretch quite that far. 
Hey, it's Joanna! Nice to see her again, though I suspect she'll disappear again after this. It's a shame, Laurel really needs a friend to talk to who is totally removed from all the current crap going on in her life. 
And unfortunately, she can't really count on her father, who decides to trick her into attending whatever the substance abuse version of Alcohols Anonymous is. NOT COOL. Surely the most important thing about these meetings is trust, and you don't get that when you're brought to such a place under false pretences.
And on a final note, to all props departments everywhere; an important announcement:
NEVER try to pass off screen-caps as photographs.
Next week: NYSSA AL GHUL!!!

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