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Saturday, November 21, 2015

Arrow: Deathstroke

I will get through this season, so help me!
This was a fairly pivotal episode, one in which secrets are revealed and agendas become clearer, though at the same time the main storyline was complete nonsense. In order to recruit a bunch of convicts being transferred to a newly rebuilt wing at Iron Heights, Slade stages a diversion that involves kidnapping Thea off the street, sending a live feed of her to the mayoral candidacy debate, and leading the police and Oliver on a merry dance around the city.

Okay, seriously? ALL THAT just to keep Oliver distracted from an operation that seemed to take about twenty minutes, tops? I suppose it was also a demonstration of Slade's power and Oliver's helplessness, successfully demoralizing him and splintering the family by telling Thea the truth about her paternity – but still. That's a lot of effort for a simple prison vehicle hijacking.
*reminds myself that we're dealing with comic book logic*
As you'll recall, the last episode ended with Oliver's amazing plan to keep Thea safe by having Roy break up with her, which led directly to her hopping in the back of Slade Wilson's car.
This sense of weird cause-and-effect planning continues when Slade drops Thea off in a seedy part of town, forcing her to run down the street and straight into Brother Blood's waiting arms, even though this risked the possibility of Thea slipping away down a side-street. (Why not drive her straight to the warehouse?)
It gets better.
Rather than simply send a hostage tape to the Queen family, Slade rigs the mayoral debate to broadcast Thea live to the entire audience and her family. This is quite a stunt he managed to pull off; surely someone should have been vetting the video material before it aired. (But hey, I can deal with this part of the plan – like I said earlier, this is a show based on comic books, which requires showy, over-the-top demonstrations).
Isabel Rochev returns for this episode, who Oliver makes CEO in the ensuing chaos. This turns out to be a mistake, for in a twist I didn't see coming (though I probably should have) it turns out she's working for Slade and promptly seizes the company for herself.
Oliver rounds up his team and they confront Slade in a so-easy-to-find-it-has-to-be-a-trap location. The scene feels like the writers are trying to capture the Reality Ensues trope considering Oliver foregoes a bout of persuasive strong-arming to find out where Thea is in favour of promptly handing Slade over to the authorities.
It backfires considering he has no proof whatsoever that Slade had anything to do with the kidnapping, which lands Detective Lance into trouble as well. It's only a matter of minutes before Slade is freed.
It's around this time that Oliver learns Isabel is in league with Slade, and she puts up a pretty good fight in their boardroom (I bet Summer Glau was just waiting to bust out those moves). She gives him Thea's real location, and though there's some tension over whether she's telling him the truth, it turns out that Slade has already let Thea go.
So basically the kidnapping, the hostage crisis, Slade's arrest and Isabel's exposure as a mole was one big distraction so that Slade could intercept a prison transport, kill the guards and recruit the men. Elsewhere, Lance ends up getting arrested for collaborating with the vigilante (even though he got the right guy by arresting Slade) and Roy, frustrated with Oliver's control over the rest of the team, checks that Thea is alright before leaving town.
It's an episode in which our heroes run around like headless chickens while the villain smoothly carries out his Batman Gambit. I can appreciate that setup; I just wish the gambit itself had a more interesting outcome than a handful of new converts. It doesn't really justify such an elaborate distraction to obtain them.
And it all ends with Slade dropping two life-changing secrets, though probably not the ones you'd expect: Thea learns that Malcolm Merlyn is her father but not that her brother is the vigilante. Instead that bomb is dropped on Laurel of all people, and the episode ends with her trying to process the revelation. (And I expect it'll be a temptation for her not to use the information to bail out her father).
***
Over on the island flashbacks, Sara is still largely in charge as she decides to go ahead with the Oliver/Hendrick swap. Peter the Missionary tries to inject some morality into the situation, arguing that they'll be responsible for Hendrick's death if they hand him over, yet Sara responds by making the exchange even MORE morally compromised by rigging him up with an explosion from one of the landmines so he'll end up taking Slade down with him.
Wow. I mean, wow. Can we really believe it was the League of Shadows that hardened Sara into a merciless killer? Because turning a man into an unwilling suicide bomber in the hopes that he'll blow up a bunch of other guys with him is stone-cold.
Miscellaneous Observations:
I've probably griped about this before, but Slade ... is not a great villain. Not a bad one, but not a great one either. It's not the actor, as Manu Bennett is great at emitting a quiet, simmering menace, and it's not his nefarious plotting, as for the most part the deeply sown seeds of his vendetta are bearing fruit in unexpected ways – it's his motivation. He's doing all this because of a toxic substance in his system and a girl who Just Wasn't That Into Him. I don't find it particularly interesting, especially since Malcolm Merlyn was given the exact same MO in the previous season (misplaced rage over the death of a fridged woman).
However, his condition did get a bit more interesting in this episode when it's revealed he's being coaxed along by a hallucination of Shado. It helps humanize him a bit (even as it calls into question his mental stability) and throws some added light on the effects of mirakuru. As I recall, it had a similar effect on Oliver when he was injected with the drug, and suggesting that Shado (or at least a simulacrum of her) has been whispering in Slade's ear throughout all of this puts past events into an interesting new context.
And I liked the way she was always hovering slightly out of frame, which was an unsettling way to shoot her.
Honestly one of the best shots I could get of her.
***
What frustrates me most about the show at the moment is the strange division of blame that gets apportioned to various characters, and who the writers think should be held accountable for what. I get the feeling I was meant to side against Roy for disagreeing with Oliver's orders, even though Oliver's plans to a) have Roy break up with Thea and b) hand Slade directly over the police, were actually pretty crap.
But Oliver is the man in charge, so how dare his followers question him, right?
Yet on the other hand we have all those stupid lines from Oliver about how: "Shado is dead because of a choice I made." NNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Shado is dead because she was shot by an evil lunatic in a set piece that never made much sense anyway. To say that Oliver is responsible or should carry guilt for what happened is applying man-pain at its very worst. I've linked this essay before, but I'll do it again and add an excerpt:
The weight of the world is on my shoulders! I have so much power, oh it is hard to have power, woe, why do I have this power, dear God will you not take this cup from my lips... I have power, and with great power comes great responsibility, and with great responsibility comes SADFACES. I have power and I am the decider, it is my job to save you, but I didn't save you, and now I have guilt – therefore I am the one who is sad when [Shado] gets [murdered] by the Evildoer I Didn't Stop. This fetishizing of power and privilege is one of the ways that, one of the techniques through which, (white) men get to be the most important people in scenes that are ostensibly not about them.
You get the gist.
And I get the feeling here that they were trying to create a parallel between Oliver feeling responsible for Shado's death and then BEING responsible for Thea's kidnapping, but Roy was the only one who spelt out the connection – and he was shut down pretty quickly by the rest of the team. The theme is further muddied when we throw in Isabel's remark that her vendetta against Oliver is based on "the sins of the father" – as with Shado, we're left with Oliver getting punished for something he can't possibly be responsible for.  
The writers want Oliver to shoulder the manly burden of other people's lives, whilst carefully constructing the narrative so that nothing is technically his fault. And the cases in which he IS responsible for other people's suffering are quietly ignored. Only Roy made the direct link between Oliver micro-managing Thea's life and her subsequent kidnapping, and even he remains unaware that it was Thea's emotional turbulence that led her out onto that dark street at night and into Slade's car.
It's frustrating and somewhat cowardly storytelling. Either give your hero serious flaws and make him face the consequences of the decisions he makes BECAUSE of those flaws, or don't.
***
For a crazy second there after Thea says: "Mr Wilson?" and he replies: "Call me Slade," I thought it was going to continue with: "Mr Wilson is that football Tom Hanks kept talking to in Castaway."
I don't doubt that Roy will be back, but for now his departure is a disappointment. Back in Tremors I got chills at the sight of Oliver/Roy finally "meeting" each other and the ensuing handshake that took place after such a long and careful build-up. Now he's quitting already?
Things are still tense between Moira and Oliver; though Susanna Thompson got a few nice emotional scenes. But jeez, she doesn't even tell the truth about Malcolm Merlyn when she thinks Thea's life is at stake. Sara's not the only stone-cold conniver around here. (It's awesome).

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