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Monday, July 20, 2015

Arrow: Time of Death

Yikes, it's been a while since I last caught up with Arrow! Since then the third season has ended, the fourth been announced, and a second spin-off commissioned (technically two if you count Vixen). But Arrow remains my "enjoyable enough when nothing else is on" show, which may not sound like high praise – but I wouldn't keep commenting on it if I wasn't engaged.

Hey, it's the Clock King played by that creep from Prison Break! When I consider some of this show's less-interesting Villains of the Week (and there have been some doozies) the Clock King comes across as a great addition to the mythos – even if they had to borrow him from Batman.
I love the concept behind this character, as making micromanagement a superpower opens up so many fun and innovative sequences, particularly when he tells the thieves listening to his commands via an earpiece to stop in the middle of the stairwell, and later has them disappear into a crowd of protesters. How to be the right place at the right time, how to adapt if things go wrong, the need to trust the person feeding you instructions – it's all good.
But you know what I really hate? The Territorial Smurfette. This is what happens when a second female character is added to a team that only has one – and because it's a biological fact that women can't be within a six feet radius of one another without our hormones repelling each other like magnetic forces, the original female member suddenly can't handle the competition inherent in no longer being the single woman on the team. I still grit my teeth when I remember Kate from Robin Hood snarling: "what's the reason for her?" the second she laid eyes on Isabella.
It's a terrible, terrible, terrible trope. But guess what – it didn't happen here. Hallelujah!
Sara is back from the dead and free from the League, so it's time for her to be reintegrated back into normal life. And just like Oliver in season one, she's having trouble adjusting, finding it more comfortable to spar with Diggle and Oliver in the Arrow Cave.
But someone else is having trouble coping with the new team dynamic and that's Felicity, who feels a bit intimidated by Sara's prowess and life experience. And though it's certainly a woman-based tension (I don't recall Felicity displaying feelings of inadequacy when Roy signed up) the writers thankfully tread around the possibility of overt jealousy and resentment.
This show doesn't always do right by its female characters (Shado!) but I appreciated that Felicity could be portrayed as insecure around Sara instead of territorial, and that Sara herself wasn't cast into the role of some sort of interloper. Instead she reaches out to Felicity, resulting in the two of them being the ones who finally take down Tockman – especially sweet is that this takes place after the menfolk have told them to stay put.
William Tockman is after a MacGuffin that can be used to break into any bank vault, and his hacking skills allow him to sneak right into the heart of Oliver's operation and address his team directly. As you may recall, Mayor Wilkins from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was never scarier than when he casually sauntered into the library to taunt the Scoobies, and though this doesn't have quite the same punch, it still sets up a no-win situation in which Oliver is forced to choose between catching the bad guys and stopping a bus headed for a collision with a train.
Of course, this rests on the completely absurd detail that somehow William Tockman didn't notice Sara on the security cams entering the bank along with Oliver (seriously, how the heck is that possible?) but I'm forced to let it go considering the payoff of watching Ollie catch up with the bus, intercept it with his motorcycle, and lock eyes with the driver while the train speeds past inches behind him. That was cool.
As was Sara dismantling her staff mid-run and throwing one half at Tockman's face hard enough to draw blood. She uses the DNA sample to find out he has McGregor's syndrome which Felicity cross-checks on her computer and voila! They get an address, but even this turns out to be a trap, with Tockman leaving behind a device that destroys Felicity's computer system.
After they return the favour by making a large deposit in Oliver's bank account to lure him in (this was another ludicrous plot device we'll just have to handwave) Felicity rigs up his cellphone to explode on her command – saving Sara's life, getting a bullet wound and reclaiming her self-esteem all at the same time.
So well done show, I'm impressed that you (technically) pitted two women against one another, both of whom are romantically linked to the lead male character, and yet a) didn't vilify one of them in favour of the other, and b) ensured that the tension wasn't about said male character, but their own inner foibles.
Which brings us to Laurel. This is the episode in which she hits rock bottom (unless the writers manage to find new depths to push her into, but God I hope not) and slowly begins to crawl her way out again.
I know there's a lot of anti-Laurel sentiment out there, and I don't even want to think about how the haters reacted to this episode, but I find that my sympathies still lie with her. Surely she has every right to be pissed with a situation that finds her hosting a party she didn't feel ready for which has been organized as part of a ploy by her father to try and get back together with his estranged wife, which is crashed* by her ex-boyfriend who cheated on her with her sister who's just come back from the dead, both of whom have hooked up with each other in less than a week after her return. Geez, I'm exhausted just writing that sentence.
* Granted, "crashed" is a contentious word. Technically Sara asked him to be there, but neither of them bothered to forewarn the rest of the family and ultimately Oliver's first instinct was correct – he really shouldn't have gone. This family needed to heal without the presence of the guy who originally tore it apart, and as a grown man he was perfectly capable of saying "no" to Sara.  (I find they do this with Oliver a lot – absolve him of bad relationship decisions by framing them as him doing someone else a favour).
For the record, I don't think it's wrong that Oliver and Sara are seeing each other, and since Oliver/Laurel have long since broken up, it's technically none of her business what they're doing. But I do understand her reaction to the realization that they're a couple, and I found it grating that Oliver felt the need to leave the apartment to berate her in the hall.
Does she need to stop blaming others for all the terrible things that have happened to her? Yes – but on both a Watsonian and Doylist perspective, I really don't think it was Oliver's place to yell at her like this. (Surely it's her MOTHER who should have been the one to deliver this wakeup call. Oliver is already too morally compromised when it comes to ... well, the entire Lance family).
And to top it all off, he then marches back into HER APARTMENT. I mean honestly. I'm sure a lot of people were crowing over this turn of events, but my first reaction was "cut the girl some slack! And get the hell out of her house!"
But two good things came out of this. First was that this felt like a definitive end to Laurel/Oliver. They can't possibly get back together after this, which means Laurel is free to pursue her own romance-free storyline. And that point is driven home when it comes to point two: her episode arc closes on her reconciling with her sister rather than Ollie (because seriously, she doesn't owe him a damn thing at this point) and going to an alcohol anonymous meeting. They all have a crucible, and this is hers.
Miscellaneous Observations:
Detective Lance offers an olive branch to Oliver, telling him (ironically) that he's not a killer after all. Which sure, is easy enough to say when your up-until-recently deceased daughter is in the other room and not the bottom of the ocean, but I can understand why he's trying to form a bridge between them. (That said, I STILL don't have any idea why Oliver cheated on Laurel in the first place).
More irony when Thea tells him: "you're lucky your life doesn't revolve around lying." How is it she can pick up the weird vibes between him and their mother but not the whole secret vigilante thing?
Best line of the episode goes to Moira: "this is my house, and if you don't want to pretend to be mother and son, then don't throw parties in my home." HAHAHA. Seriously, there has not been a more ridiculous attempt at estrangement since Morgana stormed out of Uther's throne room with the general attitude of "go to hell... see you at dinner." If Ollie wants to pull off this rift he's at least going to have to ... you know, move out.
How on earth did Sara and Oliver leave their own party without anyone questioning it? Or even, it would seem, noticing?
In an attempt to give William Tockman some degree of nuance, it transpires that he wasn't stealing money for himself, but for a gravely ill sister that needs a lung transplant (or something). The problem with this premise is that once it's established, the plot does absolutely nothing with it. It's great to have villains with complex or sympathetic motivation, but you really don't need to bother if they're just one-shot characters you're not going to explore in any particular depth anyway.
I thought it was a nice touch that Felicity was afraid she'd ended up killing Tockman. It's always appreciated when killing is treated as something that's worth avoiding.
Another thing that bugged – Oliver asking Laurel whether she was going to blame Tommy for her problems. Urgh, that was a jerky thing to say, especially since the show established early on this season that she does blame herself for his death.  
Things are getting suspenseful over on the island flashbacks, with the trio of Ollie, Slade and Sara trying to figure out how to reach the freighter, and a conveniently timed plane getting shot down out of the sky holding the necessary parachutes. More touchingly, Sara stays with the injured pilot while the others fetch medical supplies, and is given a photo of his daughter – as well as a plea that she track her down and look out for her.
I'm ashamed to admit it, but I honestly didn't click as to identity of the daughter in the picture, not even with Sin conspicuously hugging Sara at the beginning of her welcome home party (it's getting hard to keep track of who knows whose secret identity) and my informed friend sitting next to me asking: "can you guess who it is?" But having not realized how this subplot was going to pan out, I shed honest-to-God tears when the reveal came. Well played show.
I'm not totally sold on Oliver/Sara as a couple – I can totally understand why it's happening, but it's built more on necessity and shared experiences than love, and obviously not going to last.
And then there's that cliff-hanger, in which Oliver returns home to find out that Slade is not only alive but sitting in his living room. Strangely enough, it didn't really feel like much of a cliff-hanger, partly because the audience already knows he's alive, and partly because nothing else in this episode – including the island flashbacks – foreshadowed this particular development. Surely it would have been wiser to forestall his moment until we'd seen apparent Slade's "death" on the island? At least then we could have a point of contrast.
And although Stephen Amell has grown on me, is this really the best expression he could summon on learning that his arch enemy is inside his own home?

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