Arrow recap: Season 1, Episode 13

10 Feb


Arrow is an adaptation of DC Comics’ Green Arrow on the CW. It is either an adorably earnest-but-clumsy attempt to bring a gritty superhero franchise to television, or a market-minded attempt to fuse two proven recipes for profit: Christopher Nolan’s Batman and empty-headed CW melodrama. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is this is a show that features many men being shot with arrows, which is scientifically awesome. What follows is my first attempt at an episode recap that tries to capture what exactly I find so irresistible about this deeply silly show.

Tonight’s episode of Arrow begins, as they all do, with Oliver Queen (aka “the Hood”) telling us how he wanted to clean up his city, so he had no choice but to kill a bunch of guys with a bow and arrow, because lack of arrow murder has obviously been the major oversight in urban development programs up until now. Is this all in Oliver’s head, or is he saying it to someone? I kind of hope it’s the latter. And that the “someone” is a mangy Labrador he lives with in a semi-truck sleeper in the future, after he’s gone 100% shit-on-walls insane. I also really hope that an earlier draft of the monologue had him saying:

“To save my city, I had to become someone else. I had to become something else. I had to become… AN ARROW.”


The episode opens with Cyrus Vanch (David Anders) getting out of jail, because of course a guy named “Cyrus Vanch” is evil. Calling a kid “Cyrus Vanch” is the stereotypical bad guy equivalent of stereotypical Jewish parents naming their kid “Doctor Accountant.” Cyrus Vanch had the choice between career criminal and salad dressing brewmaster.


So Vanch swaggers out of jail with his open-chested peacoat that doesn’t really look like it fits him in the arms and gives his girlfriend a big, sloppy evil guy kiss. This sets the stage for their scenes throughout the rest of the episode — which is to say that she exists purely so he’s not just standing around by himself, occasionally trying to give the air an angry lick. Then they go to Vanch’s old business associate’s house, and Vanch greets him with a friendly hug that doubles as a fatal stabbing.


We are now definitely sure this is the bad guy.

Meanwhile, Oliver is still reeling from last week’s end-of-episode revelation that his mom was in possession of the same secret book of bad guy names he’s been using as a hit list. Diggle makes the pretty reasonable observation that, hey, being discovered with a handwritten list of every major criminal in the city at around the same time your husband goes missing is a little bit suspicious. In one of the best lines of dialogue in the episode (possibly ever), Diggle suggests that this is grounds for Oliver to have an “arrowside chat” with his mother. Here’s hoping that barely-comprehensible jokes about historical speeches becomes a regular thing.


When Diggle manages to convince Oliver that he should at least talk to his mom about her being obviously super evil, he does confront her about the list. She responds by taking the list from him, throwing it into a fireplace that is on in the middle of the day, telling him that he “would be happier” if he “stopped asking questions,” and then turning into a bat and flying out the window. Even though I made that last part up, you might think this display of cackling villainy would be enough to convince Oliver that his mom is in serious need of an Arrowsburg Address. You might think that, but then you would be watching Arrow wrong. Because you would be thinking.


This makes Diggle take the taking-the-law-into-one’s-own-hands into his own hands, and he starts driving Mrs. Queen around in order to spy on her. This leads to several more terse conversations where Diggle is obviously right and Oliver is obviously stupid, and one unintentionally-racist scene where Diggle follows Mrs. Queen into a building, and she and a crowd of her super-rich-and-mostly-white friends recoil in horror at the sight of an African American at their party. This isn’t how the scene is supposed to be read, but if you’re splitting your attention between your computer monitor and your scratch paper full of hugstabbing jokes, you will probably spit your tea onto your keyboard.


But all this season-level intrigue with Oliver’s magical murder list can wait while we deal with Vanch, who is living up to his name as the bland ranch dressing of TV bad guys. David Anders plays the one-note villain with an engaging oiliness, but his motivations never really develop beyond a vague desire to hurt people for fun and profit. His big plan is actually to “beat up the toughest guy he can find,” which is the Hood in this case, because he “learned that in prison” (i.e. “saw that in a movie about prison one time”). Now, I’m definitely not trying to suggest he needed more depth and nuance – my favourite thing about Arrow is how it’s devoid of both. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is one of our first bad guys who isn’t based on one from the comic books. Last week’s Heroin Vampire might have been a ridiculous take on Count Vertigo, but there’s no arguing it was at least a colourful one.

Vanch shows up on Oliver’s radar after Laurel calls up the hood and asks him to illegally gather evidence for her, because it’s already been strongly suggested that in the Arrowverse illegal evidence might actually be more useful than evidence gathered through traditional (read: boring) means. Since Laurel has already wrestled with the moral dubiousness of vigilante justice, it is literally the very first thing she thinks of when her heretofore unseen colleague all but says “Gee, I sure wish there was a way to bring this evil guy to justice without going through the police – WINK.”


So Oliver decides to kill a bunch of guys to get to Vanch, but not actually Vanch himself, because Oliver is nothing if not inconsistent about the value he places on human life. This leads to Vanch finding out about his connection to Laurel, and then kidnapping her in order to lure Oliver into pretty much the same action scene as the first one. That’s fine, though, because both involve a shitload of guys getting arrowed, which satisfies a need I didn’t know I had before I started to watch this show. Except the second time Oliver attacks Vanch’s mansion he gets the help of Quentin Lance, Laurel’s father and the most tired-looking man on the planet, because Oliver doesn’t carry enough arrows to kill all the henchmen himself. Then, Oliver actually stops Quentin from killing Vanch for moral reasons, despite the fact that Quentin gunned down a henchman only seconds earlier.

My theory is that Oliver became a vigilante so he could have an excuse to kill henchmen, and he leaves the actual bad guys alive because otherwise there would be no one to gather all the henchmen together into easily-murdered little groups. An upcoming Chinese Prison Island flashback will reveal that a random henchman stole the bloody handprint volleyball Oliver made (for companionship and occasional humping), and his vigilante quest for justice is actually just a pathological revenge fantasy carried out ad infinitum against all the world’s faceless goons.


Oh right, the Chinese Prison Island. This week, Oliver meets a British guy who teaches him how to swordfight, because all British people can do that. Of course, this British guy is probably Deathstroke, and is probably involved in the complex game of shifting allegiances that characterizes this part of the story. If you haven’t seen it yet, imagine Lost plus The Prisoner plus comprehensibility.

I have mixed feelings about these scenes. On one hand, we already know Oliver makes it, so there’s not really any tension in the action. On the other, the compactness of each scene makes these sections the most tightly written part of the show. Part of me just wants them to get through it, but another part of me wishes the rest of the writing showed this much discipline. Said the guy who just wrote a joke about f*cking a volleyball.

Back with Diggle, his sluthery finally bears fruit when he follows Mrs. Queen right into a meeting with the big bad himself, Captain Jack Harkness Merlyn. Diggle discovers some critical evidence – that Mrs. Queen is somehow involved in the yacht sabotage that marooned Oliver five years ago – by sneaking into a supply closet adjacent to the meeting and using a bluetooth headset the way the Hardy Boys would have used an empty drinking glass to hear through the wall. When he’s discovered in the act, he gets out of trouble by saying he was just in the supply closet to have a smoke, y’know, the way that everybody does. Yep, you can’t walk by a janitorial supply closet without seeing smoke billowing out the doors, it’s such a common occurrence. It’s amazing that’s not the source of more fires, since it’s such an ordinary, commonplace, everyday thing for people to smoke in closets. In Switzerland, it’s actually illegal to smoke anywhere but a closet. It’s a religious thing.

Where was I? Right, Mrs. Queen. After Diggle plays Oliver the recording, he finally decides to take his friend’s advice and go have a St. Arrowspin’s Day Speech with his mom. While I have a lot of fun mocking Arrow‘s myriad contrivances, I actually enjoy the general feeling of comic book pulp they lend to the show. That’s not meant to be condescending, either – I suspect many of them are intended for exactly that reason. But this week’s final development with Mrs. Queen is one of the first I was legitimately disappointed by, because it felt like it was building to a really cool character moment for Oliver that was aborted at the last second.

Now, this next bit it going to sound an awful lot like a for-real art critique, so I tried to make it sound like a British person wrote it, because that just seemed more legit. The next two paragraphs will be more credible if you imagine they’re being read to you by a person that scientists made by splicing together the Most Goddamn British people they could find, like Winston Churchill, Benedict Cumberbatch and Kate Middleton. So here’s a picture of that to help get you in the mood and/or haunt your nightmares. You’re welcome.

I could have saved myself some Photoshopping if I just found a picture of Kevin Spacey.

Benekateston Churchletonbatch sez:

Roight, so, it’s rather curious that the writers of Arrow would choose to spend an entire episode demonstrating Oliver’s obstinate refusal to accept his mother’s culpability in Starling City’s degeneration, only to deny us any sort of emotional resolution when his opinion is finally reversed. Not only does he burst into her office in an identical manner to any of his previously defeated enemies, the decision to do so apparently doesn’t cause him any manner of distress at all. It’s rather like someone going their whole life never having eaten fish and chips because they’re disgusted by both seafood and the Irish, only to devour an entire wad of them one day without first changing his mind about either.

Put another way, Oliver’s refusal to accept his mother’s likely criminality first appeared to have deeper psychological roots. His family has long represented his shattered-but-mending connection with his humanity, and so it would be only natural for him to delude himself as to their moral character. They are his only tether to normalcy, and so his acceptance of his mother’s connection to the people he hunts as the Hood would be tantamount to accepting his ruthless alter ego as his “true” self. A refusal to use this plot to engage with Oliver’s dual nature is a refusal to acknowledge many of the show’s most compelling extant themes.

Thanks for that, Benekateston. For an abomination of God’s will, you’re alright.

And that’s it for this week’s recap of Arrow. There may be another one next week, or there may never be another one ever again. We’ll see how it goes. If you aren’t watching Arrow, you should. It’s very silly and very awesome. If you do watch it, feel free to add your own butt and or non-butt jokes in the comments.

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