Thursday, January 21, 2016

Arrow "Blood Debts" Review

Photo: CW
Arrow started season four with a flash-forward six months in the future. Oliver stood by a fresh grave. Barry joined him. They spoke in vague language about revenge. No one knew who died, why it affected Oliver, why no one stood with Oliver (besides the obvious fact that doing so would ruin the surprise of who’s in the grave), and the first part of the season didn’t return to the grave. “Blood Debts” opened at the grave, four months from now. The intent, at first, seemed to be ‘make the audience think Felicity died.’ Darhk’s ghosts shot up Oliver’s and Felicity’s car immediately after he proposed and she said yes. The show wouldn’t kill her, because not enough time passed for the grave scene to work. The wound needed to matter, though; thus, Felicity can’t walk after the shooting. The bullet paralyzed her. Oliver comes closer to his season one ‘kill anyone’ self than he has since he decided to change his ways of delivering justice to those that failed his city. Oliver’s so consumed with the blood debt that he does not visit Felicity until after her surgery. He freed Machin. He nearly killed a ghost. Laurel reminded him what Machin’s capable of, and Oliver justified it by citing Machin’s mutual desire for revenge against Damien Darhk.

The episode ended with the continuation of the grave scene. In the car with the tear-stained face of Felicity, she tells him that she needs to kill him. Oliver agrees. A great big unexpected twist may loom. Darhk didn’t appear until late in the episode—to defend his wife and daughter from Machin—and when he did he spared Oliver’s life because Oliver saved his family from a fiery death. Diggle, Laurel, and Lance reminded Oliver how his journey from killer to mayoral candidate (not in those words). Oliver’s a lite CW version of Hamlet. Does he act or does he not? By acting will he lose his soul or will he lose everyone around him? Supposing he doesn’t act when he has the chance, when he and Darhk fight after Darhk’s promise not to kill him for a few weeks, and he costs the life or lives of people him and Felicity love, one may read Felicity’s words as not only sadness but deep rage, the kind of rage one only conveys in a slow, monotonous utterance. Oliver screwed up somewhere, and it cost someone more than his or her ability to walk.

“Blood Debts” continually circles where Oliver was and where he is. The question seemed to be “What will it take for Oliver to kill?” Someone hurting Felicity is the what. It’s a no-brainer. Their first scene together after her surgery’s really sweet. Oliver showed his devotion in a look after Felicity thought her paralysis meant he no longer wanted to marry her. The ring, which he (did he?) put on her finger, acted as the symbolic pact. The episode raced through scenes. The writing served a lot of different parts of season four’s stories. Amazingly, the writers found a spot for Thea and Alex. Diggle beat the nonsense out of his brother, worked through his complicated history with him, and began reconciling with him through a card game, the same one they played together as children, when they were free from the violence of the world. Lance told Laurel about him and Felicity’s mother. Thea had to deal with the consequences of her blood lust again via Machin. Plus, the flashback stuff continued.

The episode was a typical Arrow episode. Good fight choreography. A clear threat. The group worked and worked leads til they found something. Between the action was decent scenes of character development. And it pushed the season forward.

Season four’s been a better season than the wreck of season three. Season three had two of the worst episodes I’ve seen in TV. I don’t think the show will reach the peak of season two. Some weeks I think, “Well, I’ve had enough Arrow.” Since I stopped writing about the show weekly, nearly every dead character returned to life, and everyone’s part of the vigilante crew. Stakes don’t exist. It’s silly how many characters returned from the dead. I continue to watch for the characters. Oliver’s still a well-drawn hero. Stephen Amell’s fantastic playing him. I care about Felicity, Diggle, and Thea. I wonder how the gang will stop Damien Darhk. He seems unstoppable. Slade and Ra’s seemed unstoppable, too, until Oliver stopped both. The writers will conclude the story of season four, unlike Marvel, which seems to tell stories only to introduce more stories without resolving the initial story because the initial story will continue until the sun explodes.

I think 22 or 23 episodes is too much for a single season of Arrow, but Mark Pedowitz is NOT looking at TV With The Foot for tips regarding how to run his network. Arrow definitely has weaknesses. Its plotting gets wonky. Marc Guggenheim answers weekly fan outrage on his Tumblr page. Why? Why do that, Marc Guggenheim? Arrow, more recently, displayed a bit of the poor habits of ABC’s atrocious superhero show, No Ordinary Family, which boasted the talents of Guggenheim and Berlanti. Arrow, like a growing number of shows, lacks individual identity episode-to-episode. The writers force characters into situations without doing the work. They half-assed Laurel becoming Black Canary. (I know it’s an old criticism). Arrow used to stand out among the superhero shows. As more and more and more and more superhero shows come out Arrow more and more becomes another face in the crowd. I like the show some weeks, and I forget why I liked the show other weeks.

Essentially, it’s an inconsistent show (somewhat like this review!). I think it stems from the haphazard writing. Network TV shows will never have meticulous planning of cable shows or streaming shows. Plus, the creative team’s thinking of two other shows all the while, sustaining a franchise, and an entire universe. Rumor was the writers had no idea who was in the grave when they wrote the scene in June or July and when they shot it. Certain writers produce great work when they write off-the-cuff, when they write themselves into corners, and certain other writers do not. Arrow suffers more than not from it.

The central arc works well. Oliver’s increasingly personal war with Damien Darhk’s solid and focused. Diggle’s arc with Andrew has worked. It’s the rest of the parts that aren’t that great.

Other Thoughts:

-On the day At The Drive-In announced a world tour and new music, I thought I'd match it by writing an Arrow review. I haven't written about Arrow in a year and a half. 

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About The Foot

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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.