Friday, February 28, 2014

ARROW: "Time of Death" -- Hit and Miss

Just one look... can ruin a relationship.

And that's exactly what happened in the last 30 seconds of Arrow's "Time of Death" episode when, as Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) babbled adorably about being his girl (but not his "girl-girl"), Oliver (Stephen Amell)gave her a pitying look. 

With that look, Felicity was transformed from an unsteadily sexy computer wiz with moxie (and a puppy-love crush on her hero boss) into a piteous creature.

Now, before anyone gets all up in arms that I seem to be criticizing the talented Amell (and he is, him and Rickards, and David Ramsey and the rest of the cast, and crew, and writers etc. are why I watch the show -- I'm not normally big on comic-inspired shows), let me assure you that I'm not. That look was right for the scene as written, it's just that the Felicity-Oliver story arc went awry halfway through the episode.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. That moment wasn't the only misfire in the episode. 

There's the fact that Diggle (Ramsey) and Roy (Colton Haynes) seemed to be merely glorified extras in an episode that should've been even more focused on the growing pains of this rapidly expanding crew. 

Not to mention the over-the-top B-story that also transformed the on-the-edge Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) into a piteous creature while suffering his own lovesickness. 

Of course, there were a number of great moments, too. After all, Arrow is consistently better than most of the shows on network television. 

Here's my detailed analysis of the hits and misses...

MISS: Felicity-Oliver Relationship Arc

Whether you like it or not, there are romantic notes within this relationship that may not have been intended, but should not be ignored or written out of the show (as it seemed that last exchange in this episode attempted to do). 

The Felicity-Oliver relationship is so dynamic and compelling because each provides the other with something that no one else give them. 

For the first time in Felicity's nerd-girl, wallflower existence, a man has openly acknowledged (albeit subtly) her attractiveness and femininity. She's a woman, not just a technological genius, and to have a man of Oliver's caliber and status be the one to first recognize her desirability (no matter how briefly), how could she help but crave for more.

What Felicity provides Oliver is clarity in his self-appraisal. She sees beyond his baggage, beyond his heroics, beyond his morally questionable deeds to continuously reveal to him that he still retains the soul of a good man. One could argue that Diggle provides a similar window for Oliver into his own soul, but it is a very different type of window he opens. Diggle notes Oliver's heroism in his words and deeds, building him up to help him stay a hero. Felicity reaches beyond this to soothe his vulnerabilities in a way only a woman could. Neither Sara (Caity Lotz) nor Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) can truly reach Oliver in this way because they both helped him pack some of that baggage he's carrying. Felicity only knows Oliver as the man he has become, so she's the only one who can help keep him arrow straight (no pun or double entendre intended) on the path of the good man he's striving to be.

That doesn't necessarily mean this relationship needs to grow into a grand romance (although some swoony part of my soul would love for this odd-duck underdog to get the guy someday). However, the relationship developing between these two seems to be headed down either the sexless, but deeply intimate path of Joan Watson & Sherlock Holmes (Elementary), or the deeply intimate with a suggestion of off-screen romance path of Mulder & Scully (X-Files).

Personally, I'd love to see this relationship culminate (not this season, but perhaps next) in a one-night stand after his relationship with Sara ends (as it must -- but that's another story). To me, this would be the perfect way for Felicity to mature beyond her crush. In one, brief passionate night with Oliver, Felicity would fully accept herself as a desirable and powerful woman. Then the relationship could evolve into one that has more equal footing, while retaining its enticing sexual tension -- and without the axe of any "in-love relationship" potential constantly hanging overhead. 

This would work beautifully, as long as Felicity left the bed first. And as long as Oliver didn't say a word meant to caution her against falling in love with him, or against sex happening again. Because from this moment on the roles would flip, and Felicity would be in the driver's seat of their relationship. Because she can see that Oliver will never be capable of the normal, loving relationship she needs and deserves. They would simply be together but not involved for the long haul -- providing physical or emotional intimacy for one another when needed but not expecting any commitment or exhibiting any jealousy when either of them are in a relationship with someone else. Well... she wouldn't. He would, but just a hint of jealousy, and not jealousy that she's with another guy, but that she's able to have the normal, loving relationship he can't have.

But I digress.

The issue in "Time of Death" is that their relationship veered sharply off course halfway through. 

For the first half, the arc was deliciously on track. Felicity was forlorn, but not quite jealous of Oliver's obvious relationship with Sara. (Although I wish there'd been just a hint that Oliver wasn't quite comfortable flaunting their intimacy in front of Felicity -- or Diggle for that matter; his character doesn't seem like he'd be big on PDA in his "real" aka "arrow" life, unlike his Oliver-the-playboy life.)

Then there's that moment when Oliver remarked on Felicity's workout wear. A small beat, true, but written, acted and directed perfectly. It could've come off as a stereotypical moment of a jock-guy mocking a nerd-girl for attempting anything athletic. Instead, Amell played it with a hint of interest and flirtation that was respectful and only a touch amused. And Felicity brushed it off beautifully, without any typical tongue-tied shyness.

Even that moment when the computers exploded, the episode avoided any cliched overblown anger or misplaced blame. Just a hint of unwarranted guilt harbored within Felicity herself -- guilt which clearly played as an expression of her faltering sense of self-worth as she compares herself to Sara.

But then, Felicity goes out into the field alone to prove her worth, both to herself and the rest. And Oliver doesn't seem to care, beyond one one explosive, "[You did] What?" 

True, we didn't need any trite "What were you thinking? You could've been killed!" exchange. However, the story did miss this beat. There needed to be a reprimand with a hint of concern from Oliver pointing to the fact that Felicity DOESN'T have the training to be in the field, especially alone. To which Felicity should've had a chance to reply with something like, "Considering that, since I've met you, I've had a bomb strapped to my neck, etc. etc., maybe I should have that training." Which she should, from all three of them. This episode provided the perfect opportunity this season to let this story point develop -- but it didn't take it.

Now, we arrive at that "one look" moment that totally toppled the unbalanced scale that is the current relationship between Oliver and Felicity. That moment knocked Felicity off the pedestal that Oliver's casual flirting had helped her see herself on and placed him back on an even higher pedestal than Felicity had him on when they first met. 

Clearly, this moment was just wrong for their relationship arc. However, it could've been saved... if it had lasted just 10 seconds longer. Just imagine: what if, just after that look, when drug-addled Felicity closes her eyes and leans into Oliver's cupped hand, she had whispered, "I don't like you." At his surprise, she'd confusedly clarify, "I mean I like you, I just don't like-like you. Again, different in my head." (A callback to the "girl sounds different in my head" statement she's just made). Then, a reaction shot back on Amell that's a mixture of relief (that he doesn't have to worry about jealousy tensions between them) and regret at learning she isn't as into him as he's suspected (after all, everyone likes to be adored).

For Felicity, a moment like that would've been a maturing step in shaking her schoolgirl crush. For Oliver this could've been an opportunity to move beyond that moment of pity to gain a fresh level of respect for Felicity as a woman, and perhaps see her on a bit of a pedestal himself for the very first time. After all, who could help but admire a woman who could handle jealousy and a crush so well, as she turned it into an opportunity to improve herself rather than indulge in self-pity.

But that didn't happen. And now the trajectory of their relationship is off kilter. 

Of course, the Felicity-Oliver relationship is simply one facet of this fascinating show...

HIT: The Clock King

What could be better than a criminal mastermind meticulously manning the timetable of a heist while bearing the weight of his own ticking clock in the form of a terminal disease, all while wearing a Steampunk-esque ensemble? Casting the arousingly-fiendish Robert Knepper to play him. He exudes a dangerous allure both in appearance and voice that makes him the perfect foil for innocent Felicity. However, the power of what Knepper brought to the role leads to...

MISS: The Clock King as Felicity's Nemesis

Who says The Hood/The Arrow is the only one worthy of a nemesis? (Okay, so Diggle has Deadshot, and Sara assassins, lol...) True, the Clock King only defeated Felicity's technological talents because of the device he stole, but he clearly had to have skills to use it. The episode even does an excellent job setting the King up to be a Felicity-focused nemesis, it just didn't follow through. All it would've needed is one short shot sequence -- and one that would've quickly tied up the loose end of just leaving the Clock King wounded on the floor. Instead of transitioning right to Sara sewing up Felicity's wounds in the lair, picture this. Oliver and the rest watch from a rooftop as police swarm the scene below. As the Clock King is loaded into the ambulance, he looks up. ECU on Felicity, as if the Clock King had the power to defy physics and stare right into her soul. Then, ECU on the Clock King as he mouths "Tick-Tock." One last quick shot on a nervous Felicity as she realizes she'll have to face this madman again.

As an added bonus, this would provide a more powerful "call to action" for Felicity. It's a much stronger story if Felicity is motivated to learn self-defense tactics because of an outward threat rather than just because she wants to impress Oliver or achieve equal standing with Sara.

HIT: Laurel-Oliver Closure

I don't read the Arrow comics, so I don't know if Laurel Lance is intended to be Oliver's Lois Lane, but on TV, theirs is not shaping up to be the show's epic romance. This is partially due to the fact that they hooked up in season one, which forced their relationship arc to accelerate and abruptly burn out. However, there's also the fact that Cassidy and Amell simply don't have the same level of chemistry that he has with both Rickards and Lotz, and even some of the others on the rotation of guest star leading ladies. That isn't to say Cassidy and Amell don't have any chemistry. Nor do I mean to imply that I see Oliver's "I'm done," moment in the hallway as an indication that their relationship has been labeled as DNR (Do not Resuscitate). Perhaps in the very distant future these two could evolve enough to give it another shot. But for now, I'm happy that, with the hallway confrontation, the show firmly closed the door on any potential romance between them for a good-long while.

MISS: The Roy and Diggle Neglect

Blame season one for building Oliver, Diggle and Felicity into a team at such a perfect pace for my high expectations of season 2. Unfortunately, this episode didn't meet those expectations. Why? Because Diggle's character had little more to do than some janitorial duties and the dispensation of some bartender-like advice. It completely stood out in the wrong way that Sara and Diggle had almost nothing to say to one another, beyond some banal exposition regarding the blood analysis and the training session which ended with him whacking her in the face. The episode did nothing to indicate how he felt about her joining the team. 

Is he resentful that now she's the one out in the field watching Oliver's back? Is he concerned about her loyalties considering her past actions? Is he worried that the romance between Oliver and Sara may lead to problems in the heat of battle? 

True, these are expansive issues that shouldn't be dealt with all in one episode. However, a well-done episode should have subtle hints of these undercurrents to foreshadow issues to come. Perhaps a challenging look could've passed between Diggle and Sara after he accidentally hit her. Or perhaps just one brief exchange with Diggle informing Sara that she now has Oliver's back, so she'd better be up to the task. No relationship has really been exhibited between these two, so I can't determine for sure if it will be smooth or contentious, but it should be something. 

As for Roy, I actually understand why they didn't have him in the lair -- there was too much else going on. His being there would've resulted in convoluted scenes. It'll be much better to introduce him into the lair in a future episode, when more time can be spent on acclimating and training him. His potential upset over Sara's addition to the team and her obviously active status, while he's still stuck training also provides fodder for a future episode plot.

However, it was simply weird to have him casually hanging out with Thea (Willa Holland) and Sin (Bex Taylor-Klaus) at the party after so recently learning that Oliver is the Hood. Again, there wasn't any need for a big scene to recap this plot point, but it shouldn't have been ignored completely. Arrow isn't the X-Files -- a show that masterfully kept relationships simultaneously static and dynamic by employing subtle hints that things might be happening between characters off screen. 

On Arrow, relationship drama is delightfully front and center. That means that the show must remember that relationship statuses need to be acknowledged whenever any characters are on screen together. 

For Oliver and Roy, this again could've been handled with a simple nod to their current status. Perhaps Oliver could've been late to the party and, after an evasive answer in regards to his whereabouts, Roy could've simply given him a look that said 'Why didn't you call me,' or something to that effect. Oliver could even have mentioned Roy's lack of control over the Mirakuru side effects and having first-hand knowledge of what happens to those who can't suppress them, (maybe even saying "they end up dead" if that's what Oliver believed happened to Slade [Manu Bennett] on the island) -- a perfect bookend to the later scene in which Oliver sees Slade in his mother's living room. I can't definitively say what the Roy-Oliver moment should've been, but again, there just should've been something.


I could go into how the relationship of Quentin and Dinah Lance (Alex Kingston) unfolded so artificially, or the awkward reveal of the Sin-Sara relationship, or the clunky plane detour on the island, or the jarring disjointedness of a renewed Sara-Oliver relationship when we haven't yet seen how things ended between them on the island, or the minutia of a hundred other subtle moments that I both loved and hated, but these are the major hits and misses in "Time of Death."

I can only hope that next week's episode "The Promise" resolves some of these issues...

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