Thursday, October 9, 2014

ARROW: "The Calm" and After You Get What You Want... You Don't Want It

Sometimes dreams do come true. And sometimes, maybe they shouldn't. 

On the season 3 premiere of ARROW, the dream that became a reality could've turned into a nightmare. But thankfully the episode "woke up" before that dream reached it's "happily ever after" moment.

Of course I'm talking about the unexpected (but longed for) Felicity/Oliver romance. I say unexpected, not because it came out of left field, or didn't feel right. It just seemed a little rushed.

And even though the Felicity/Oliver romance is something I'd wished for, it left me feeling like this:

Not that I'm completely against the idea of a Felicity/Oliver romance now that it's happened. I've said before that Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) is the only woman for Oliver (Stephen Amell) -- given the baggage that comes with the Lance ladies. 

And I still fully believe that.

And I even believe that it's perfect timing in season 3 to start exploring the possibilities between them. 

I'm also on board with Oliver's preempting of their relationship and Felicity's reaction.

However, I do think this episode missed a few subtle beats in the unfolding that could potentially derail the season if they're not handled right in the future.

Let's look at where this premiere was on target, and the few moments where it missed the mark...

ON TARGET: The Felicity/Oliver Romance Arc

Although it shocked me that their romance began so suddenly at the beginning of the episode, it was a pleasant surprise.

Uncertainty reigned between them last season as Oliver's attitude toward her seems to waver between casual flirtation, genuine interest and pity over her school-girl crush from episode to episode. So it was nice hear a flat-out declaration from him (even if it was technically John Diggle {David Ramsey} who made Oliver's declaration of love for her). 

The rest of the arc unfolded nicely as well. 

The awkward ask out -- and Felicity's oh-so-perfect confidence in her acceptance. The flirty request for a cuisine preference mid-chase. The nervous first date quickly becoming comfortable. The explosion that realized Oliver's ever-present fear that his actions as the Arrow place the people he loves in danger. His withdrawal from the romance.  Felicity's reaction to his withdrawal and her desire to put off the relationship-ending talk. Oliver's kiss goodbye and Felicity's walking away from him.

It all happened as it should to amp up the unfulfilled sexual/romantic tension between them that I'm hopeful we'll see a lot of this season.

There was even a moment when they both exhibited the ability to compartmentalize their relationship from their work as crime fighters and potential corporate executives -- a skill they'll need when they do finally get into a full-fledged relationship (which will hopefully happen at the end of this season at the earliest, but would be better if it happened 1-2 seasons from now).

All-in-all, the introduction of the pair as star-crossed would-be lovers was rolled out well.

OFF THE MARK: Felicity/Oliver -- The Missing Little Moments

But it could've been that much better had a few little things been tweaked. And quite frankly, most of them are simply reaction shots that should've been there to add complexity and nuance to the scenes, but were inexplicably missing.

Missing Moment #1: The focus pull that was supposed to highlight the look between Diggle and Roy (Colton Haynes) when Oliver and Felicity were flirting in the opening lair scene didn't do its job. It was too subtle. A close-up of that exchange inserted there would've drawn attention to the idea that these flirtations were nothing new, and that both men were of the mind that it was time for the pair to light a fire under their romance. Highlighting that look would've served to tell us that this budding romance had developed between the pair while they were cleaning up Starling City (which is what purportedly happened during the hiatus). 

Missing Moment #2: There should've been another close-up in that same scene -- between Oliver and Felicity. Just after the "I let you get me a bed" exchange, we should've had a close-up on the pair so we could see the more interesting non-verbal exchange that always follows flirting. That reaction shot would've told us how to read this flirtation and made the coming announcement that Oliver loves Felicity that much more believable. Instead that moment was lost in the focus pull that was supposed to (but didn't) highlight the look between Diggle and Roy.

Missing Moment #3: Any indicator that Felicity now works in an electronics store. And why. Quite frankly, I almost fast-forwarded past that scene, as it looked like one of those story-driven commercials like they did last season. Perhaps if she'd mentioned hating wearing a name-tag, or simply just carrying her uniform before we abruptly saw her in it. As to that, it makes no sense to me why she would be working at an electronics store given her talent and credentials. Why wouldn't she be a tech guru at some other big company that would certainly pay more? Is it to get the discount on all that super-cool technology that's in the lair that is now supposedly out of Oliver's price range? (Although, if they're really that low on funds, how could they afford to make those super-cool shape-morphing bows?) At any rate, it's a funny twist for her character that could've been better had they simply commented on it.

Missing Moment #4: "Shirtless... all the time." That little bit of dialogue did SO much for the first date scene. It was sexy, flirty, both brazen and shy at the same time. I couldn't help but anticipate Oliver's reaction to it. Would he be embarrassed? Touched? Turned on? Exhibiting some anticipation himself? What would his reaction to this dialogue that served to push their fledgling relationship into a new realm of intimacy be? Unfortunately, we'll never know. Because that reaction shot was missing.

Missing Moment #5: The kiss. It ended. Of course it had to end, but the end shouldn't have been mutual. Which it was. Either Oliver or Felicity should have been the one to end it. Oliver because he couldn't stand the thought that this was to be their first and last kiss (or so he currently believes...). Or Felicity because she wasn't about to let that kiss keep her hanging on to hope for their future. Perhaps the mutual ending could've worked had there been a bittersweet quality to it, as if they'd both prefer the kiss to continue and lead to more, but knew it couldn't/shouldn't/wouldn't. But for some reason that quality was missing. Why? In my opinion it's because that exchange was completely profile, so you couldn't fully see either actor's true expression. And both of them are so facially expressive in their acting (as exhibited in much of the date scene) that the moment could've been truly beautiful -- but too much of the subtlety of their performances was lost because we were looking at their cheeks instead of their eyes... Just a 3/4 cheat toward the camera (on each of them) would've solved it.

As I said -- the moments missing from the episode were mostly minor, and mostly reaction shots that would've told the subtleties of the story better than any dialogue ever could (and I'm a writer that thrives on witty dialogue exchanges).

OFF THE MARK: Roy is Still... Roy

Okay, this is a tiny issue for me -- but nonetheless worth mentioning. Why is Roy still Roy? And I don't mean to refer to his character, I'm talking strictly about his work on the missions. Oliver calls him Roy over the intercoms. Why?

It's never bothered me that Diggle doesn't have a nickname like Oliver has the Arrow, probably because Diggle already sounds like a nickname and he doesn't suit up like Oliver and Roy do. (Although I'm now wondering why he doesn't... He's out in the field like everyone else, so why doesn't he get a cool disguise?)

At any rate, since Roy has that sleek red leather outfit, it seems only right that he should have a nickname, too. Although I can't think what it should be, because he's just a regular guy now, right? He's been de-Mirakuru-ed? 

Which begs the question -- why is he still on the team if he has no super powers and has proven to be erratic in the past?

Not that I'm wanting to get rid of him. I love what Roy brings to the operation. I'm just noting the story inconsistencies while hoping we'll soon have a Roy-centric episode to get into how he's handling the transition back to being an ordinary man, his direction in life, and the loss of his love, Thea, too.

ON TARGET: Introducing Ray Palmer

Ooo... I am loving the groundwork laid for what this character could potentially bring to the season. 

A foil for Oliver -- as Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) is the epitome of what the playboy Oliver might have become had he not had his 5-year island detour. Successful, wealthy, suave and (fingers crossed) a relatively good guy worthy of a woman like Felicity. 

Played right, Ray will play a dual role for Oliver, as a (hopefully) good guy that playboy Oliver was too self-centered to ever become, and the good guy that the island-improved Oliver cannot now be due to his responsibilities as the Arrow.

He's also perfectly placed to become a potential love interest for Felicity (and it seems likely that's where it's headed). 

And now that Oliver's interest in Felicity has given her femininity and sexuality the confidence boost they needed, it's almost certain she'll have the confidence to enter into a relationship with him on equal footing instead of an underdog as she otherwise might have.

I only hope that when Oliver feels the jealousy he naturally would/should, that the writers/directors will be smart enough to not indulge in those trite conversations between Felicity and Oliver ("You're dating..." "Why shouldn't I? You wouldn't..." "I wanted to..." "He's dangerous..." "You're jealous..."). Hopefully they'll instead let the jealousy/romantic tension/regret/desire that should be flowing between Felicity and Oliver to happen mainly through reaction shots -- so much more meaningful and impactful.

And I also hope they don't get rid of Ray too soon...

OFF THE MARK: Is Oliver Poor? Why?!? And... HUH?

Okay, I understand that they lost the company. And the house for some reason. But he's so poor that Diggle thinks buying a simple silver necklace is too expensive, yet he can afford all the fancy new equipment in the lair, including those cool new morphing bows?


First off, I think it's kind of silly that they decided to make Oliver poor in the first place. Because we don't need our heroes to be poor like us, just heroic. 

I don't understand this trend lately in T.V. to make rich characters poor through some flimsy plot, (although ARROW integrated the rich to poor plot rather well, other shows haven't eh-hem BONES -- money doesn't grow on trees, but it also doesn't just vanish into thin air, either). But I digress.

Basically, this whole plot twist just needs to be clarified.

If he's so poor that he can't afford inexpensive jewelry, a bed, or a place to live, then it just seems unbelievable that the lair is as high-tech as it is (given that it was destroyed last season), or that he'd have the money/clout to even think of buying back into his family's former company.

And if he is that poor, how does he think Thea's able to afford her supposed world-traveling vacation (although we know she's with Merlyn, Oliver doesn't know that). Not to mention that while Slade may have bought the company (and Oliver's house, too, if I remember correctly), the family still owned all the stuff in it, right? So he should have plenty of money from selling off all the paintings, antiques, jewelry, etc. Right?

Is he the "I had to sell my mansion, but I can still afford a penthouse" kind of poor? And he's just living frugally to afford the fancy gadgets? 

Or is he the "I'm crashing in an abandoned warehouse eating ramen and my lair's been tech-ed out by my wish-she-were-my-girl assistant and her electronics shop employee discount" kind of poor?

It's not a huge deal, it just needs to be clarified. 

ON TARGET: The Ever-Conflicted Oliver

As I've mentioned in other ARROW blogs, I'm not big on comic-inspired stories. I didn't read them growing up. I don't go to the Marvel movies (although I am surprisingly watching S.H.I.E.L.D. and enjoying it, and am also looking forward to FLASH, so maybe I should...).

The reason I started watching ARROW is because of Oliver's conflicted character and how well Amell plays it. 

The essence of the character could perhaps be summed up by a handful of the lyrics from "After You Get What You Want, You Don't Want It," the song I posted above:

You've got a changeable nature;
You're always changing your mind;
There's a longing in your eye;
That's hard to satisfy;
You're unhappy most of the time;
Here's the reason why;

Only Oliver's not unhappy/dissatisfied because he's fickle like the subject of the song is. He's that way because he's afraid.

He's afraid that the combination of the self-centered ass he was prior to his vanishing and the violent killer he was forced to become during his absence (and as a flawed hero) makes him potentially more dangerous than any of the criminals he's put away.

If he lets his guard down. If he loses his laser focus on being the good man and justice-seeking hero he's trying to be, maybe he'll slip back into old habits -- which were the habits of a bad man.

With the set up we were given in this premiere episode, it seems we're primed for another exciting season of seeing Oliver struggle with the man he was, who he is now, what he desires and what he thinks he deserves.

And it's because of all this, ARROW is one of the only shows I watch that has me impatient and excited to see the next episode. (And I've got almost 60 series in my DVR series manager, albeit some of them are work-related...)

OFF THE MARK: Hong Kong -- Five Years Ago?

Finally, this is just a timeline issue that nevertheless threw me. 

Haven't the opening credits always been clear that Oliver was missing for 5 years? 

And he spent quite some time on that island, right? I'd say at least a year, give or take a few months, right?

So why did it say Hong Kong -- Five Years Ago?

Wouldn't it be four years ago, at the very least?

I mean, even if he only spent 6 months on the island (although it's hard to believe that all of that happened over the last 2 seasons only happened in 6 months), it doesn't make sense that they'd still be saying 5 years ago at this point in his back story.

Anyway, most of this is just nitpicking at a premiere that was pretty perfect as it was.

But that's what this blog is all about -- honing in on the subtleties that make shows great (or terrible) with the goal of using my insights to become a better writer (and a more in-tune viewer).

I almost can't wait to discover what I'll learn from ARROW next week.


  1. Thank you for your blog entry on the "Arrow" season 3 premiere. I enjoyed reading it, and I share your opinion regarding the relationship between Oliver and Felicity. May I comment about two points in particular? The first one is about the alleged timeline problem that doesn't exist as far as I can see it. The flashbacks are always "five years ago". Two years ago, in 2012, when the show started and Oliver came back to Starling City, the flashback scenes that showed him stranding on the island in 2007 were "five years ago". Now we have seen two years of Oliver as Arrow (20012-2014) and, paralleling this, we saw two years of Oliver on the island (2007-2009). So now it is 2009 in the Hongkong flashbacks and 2014 in the starling City scenes... again "five years ago". - The second point concerns Mr. Amell as an actor. You said: "The reason I started watching ARROW is because of Oliver's conflicted character and how well Amell plays it." I agree with you on that. But I know that some people criticized him for being "wooden", i.e. not showing any emotions in his facial expresions and in his voice (and apart from this other things were faulted, for example: his letting his arms dangle by his side all the time during dialogues, making feigned pauses while speaking, not looking at his interlocutors during a conversation etc.) I personally like Amell's more "cautious" or "guarded" way of portraying his character, because on TV, with all the close-ups, you can easily carry the performance too far and exaggerate and overdo things. (Actually, other actors on Arrow were critized for being over-the-top in their ways of portraying their characters.) Although this has nothing to do with the writing of the episode, I would like to know: What do you particularly like about Amell's performance? Is there any scene you have in mind where you thought he was exceptional? Have a nice day, and I would be happy to read more future entries in your blog about Arrow. Sincerely, JK

    1. Thanks for your comment, JK. And for pointing out the solution to my timeline confusion. I had no idea each season was supposed to represent a year, and that the flashback scenes were chronologically representing that same year -- which explains the 5 Years Ago (something I never noted until this season).

      It makes me wish they noted this passage of time in the episodes, either in each season premiere or finale. Maybe noting his birthday passing each season both in flashbacks and present day would do it. Better yet, some significant ritual would do the job, like matching tick mark scars/tattoos to represent each year in the flashback/present. Just something to mark his year gone/year back anniversary would be much appreciated.

      As to Amell's "wooden" acting, I've read that and thought it was off the mark. For me, his Oliver portrayal is spot on. Whether heavy on action or emotion, his scenes never read false or stilted to me (except insofar as the Oliver character is internally stilted by his own inner conflict). True, Amell's acting isn't overtly expressive in its body language, but that’s appropriate for Oliver. His "at alert" stance may look a little stiff, but that non-verbally implies he's on guard against danger physically, even when he isn't focused on it mentally. His soldier-at-attention stance has never bothered me.

      For me, Amell's acting subtleties come through best in his facial expressions, specifically his eyes. For example, the date scene, as he spoke to Felicity of Hong Kong and meeting her. The passing looks in his eyes and the expressions on her face lend the scene a quiet depth that went beyond the words. And that's because the CU shots allowed us to see the non-verbal performances both actors were giving.

      Unlike the kiss scene, when those missing CUs omitted the intimacy of the performances. Because, although Amell and Rickards have lovely profiles, their cheeks simply aren't all that expressive. Of course, no one's cheeks are (even Meryl Streep's), so unless you let us see those minute expressions, those scenes are going to fall a bit flat, and the actors' performances are going to be unjustly labeled as wooden.

      I also want to mention that part of the reason Amell's acting has been called out IS because of the writing/story. And that's because the Oliver character doesn't have many scenes to exhibit any emotional depth beyond anger, grief, revenge.

      Don’t get me wrong. I understand why, and that it's (mostly) right for the character. Oliver did a lot of growing up on that island in every way, except in relationships. And given that he was an immature playboy prior to his vanishing, it makes sense that he would suck at relationships. To put it bluntly, Oliver may be physically and morally developed, but he's emotionally stunted.

      But now that the Oliver/Felicity relationship door has been set ajar, I hope their friendship becomes more intimate (NOTE: intimacy doesn't have to equal romance). Felicity is primed to become his platonic (for now) confidante. I know Diggle typically fills this role, and that should continue. But no matter how deep their bromance goes, Oliver needs a woman he can talk to about his emotional conflicts that he could never fully discuss with a dude.

      This fledgling relationship has the potential to reach the emotional intimacy of the pre-realized romances on CASTLE and BONES (as well as the sexless intimacy between Holmes and Watson on ELEMENTARY). If the show handles this intimacy with lingering looks, reaction shots to seemingly innocuous action/dialogue that pack emotional punches and what's left unsaid between them, the Felicity/Oliver relationship has the potential to become epic. I'm hopeful it will develop into a Mulder/Scully (X-FILES) style relationship where a moment every other episode will be enough to keep the smoldering embers of their unrealized relationship thriving on unfulfilled anticipation for several seasons to come. ~ C