Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Arrow "League of Assassins" Review

Arrow is starting to play with the other toys in the DC comic universe. Sarah Lance’s reluctance to tell her family about her continued alive-ness is explained through a series of post-fight scenes and flashbacks. Two episodes ago, it ended with the Ra’s Al-Ghul name drop (I missed it completely, naturally). “League of Assassins” takes a dip into the shallow end of the pool of the league of assassins while also introducing the villain of the season, presumably. The villain is a Dr. Anthony Ivo, a quick Google search will tell you more than you need to know about the character right now. Ivo, simply, wants to save the world or its people or something like that, or he wants to transform humanity. I’m not well-versed in DC comics history. My knowledge extends as far back to Michael Keaton’s Batman films, so I’m not sure how Ivo relates to the League of Assassins.

“League of Assassins” does not leave one gasping for breath and a drink of water by episode’s end. The revelations don’t come quick or surprisingly. The episode’s more thoughtful than it is action-packed, full of twists and turns, and TV’s version of Batman Begins. Caity Lotz’s Sara Lance anchors the story, emotionally. Lotz plays hardened and closed off fine, but she struggled to carry the episode through its emotionally charged scenes. I’m thinking of the scenes between her and her father as well as those early scenes with Oliver in the basement lair. The soundtrack’s orchestral. The notes swell to its most tragic heights. Paul Blackthorne’s quite good in his scenes with Caity Lotz. Still, I felt nothing watching the interactions despite the tragedy of the situation.

I felt much more watching Sara Lance in action. One of the first things I learned about fight scenes, from former ANGEL writer Steven S. DeKnight, was what it meant. Characters can’t fight without a reason; fight scenes should help a character’s development or advance a plot. “League of Assassins” uses the fight scenes for both. The writing treated Sara Lance’s league of assassins connection like a surprise, though it was obvious two weeks ago. The man sent to bring Sara Lance back to Ra’s reveals he trained Oliver. Perhaps he didn’t. The writing was either obvious or confusing. The man, Olowalo (I botched the spelling), addresses Oliver directly when speaking the line of training him. It’s possible he’s addressing Oliver because Oliver revealed he wasn’t alone. The line would then address why the man feels unafraid facing two instead of one. He trained her; therefore he will beat her. For Sara the fights show what she’s become and why she’s reluctant to tell her family she’s alive. The episode’s great threat isn’t the league; it’s Sara’s past, what she’s done and to whom. She’s a murderer, and she fears her family will reject her for what she’s done.

Two scenes capture Sara’s anxiety: Sara approaching her father in order to save his life, and Sara killing a man in front of her father. The League threatened Sara’s family after she and Oliver escaped from the second fight. Ra’s wants her back, dead or alive. Sara does not want to return. Like Oliver, she’s the sum of her choices. Unlike Oliver, she doesn’t know how to deal with the sum of her choices. Murdering makes her less human—that’s the way she sees herself. One’s thought would then extend to the family—what would they think of me if I think of myself this way? It’s not dissimilar from depressed people who cannot love themselves and cannot understand the ones who do love them.

Sara’s dramatic reunion with Quentin skirts around what matters most. She tells him no more than what Oliver told Moira and Thea last season. Quentin’s swept up in seeing her and doesn’t bother her with questions until he learns why The League targeted him, because they want her. Paul Blackthorne’s excellent in the diner scene. Blackthorne is having a tremendous season. The diner reunion does a few things at once. Sara learns of her parents’ divorce. Quentin cries throughout the scene. He’s overwhelmed by his daughter’s reappearance and he’s thinking about what happened since she was gone; perhaps it also touches on Quentin’s feelings about what might’ve been prevented if she came back sooner, but that’s never expressed by him or intuited Sara.

Sara kills the man in front of her father before letting the other one go with a message to Ra’s Al-Ghul about leaving her family alone. Quentin doesn’t hate her for what she’s done; he wants her to return home, where she belongs. Her sense of belonging is like her sense of self—she can’t resolve what either is. Quentin promises to keep her secret because it’s safer than letting Laurel and her mother know the truth. The climatic scene of Sara’s story states the obvious, which is that Quentin wouldn’t condemn her for what she’s done, but it underlines Sara’s need to forgive herself for what she’s done. The story’s well drawn and layered, but the acting doesn’t quite get to where it needs to.

Oliver plays the role of support throughout the episode. Oliver’s just as cool in a support role. Laurel takes a handful of bags after Oliver takes her to dinner and walks her upstairs but declines a kiss. Oliver’s also dealing with his own reluctance to tell the truth to Diggle and Felicity about what he experienced during those five years. An additional subplot supports the Sara-Oliver storylines involving Moira and her children. The obvious theme of the episode is the fear of what truth will do to the people the confessor loves most, but I’m trying to avoid writing about the obvious theme and how each story illustrates that theme. Oliver begins to tell Diggle the story the audience watches unfold weekly in flashbacks. Moira receives reassurance that whatever comes out during the trial will not jeopardize her relationship with Oliver and Thea. The Queens find some peace, but not Sara.

“League of Assassins” is a mixed bag, though, overall. Some scenes struggle because of weak dialogue or subpar acting. The continued plunge into DC’s bag of goodies is fun and promising. As I wrote in the beginning, though, the episode didn’t leave me gasping for breath nor scrambling to tell people to watch on Twitter. It’s the weakest episode of the season.

Other Thoughts:

-Paul Blackthorne’s been tremendous this season, but his fake accent sounds very silly.

-The end of the episode wasn’t worth the week wait. Sara kicks Oliver for speaking, since he’s a prisoner. I just want to see Celina Jade again.

-Jake Coburn & Drew Z. Greenberg wrote the episode. Wendy Stanzler directed it.

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.