Sunday, November 24, 2013

Arrow - 2.07 - State vs. Queen - RANT

Note - This is neither a review nor a recap. This is a full-out, no holds barred, if I cursed there'd be nothing but symbols, complete and utter rant. I LOATHE this episode. You have been warned.

Arrow season 2 has been riding a high since the premiere. The characters are better presented and more well-rounded for the most part, the storylines more gripping, new characters have worked, and the pacing has been superb. Even the flashbacks were more interesting. The writers were riding a creative high that had Arrow tied for my favorite show of the season. All that came crashing down last Wednesday. I'm not usually one to pronounce doom and gloom over one episode that doesn't go my way. I like to give shows a full 1-2 seasons to disappoint me. However the more I like a show, the more the betrayal stings when writers and show runners throw out show integrity. And this episode was indeed a fan betrayal.

I could have taken the myriad plot points that made no sense whatsoever, the horrible pacing, and senseless filler in an overly packed episode. That's simply bad writing. I cannot abide breaking your own story structure rules. Malcolm Merlyn coming back was a betrayal. To quote Dean Winchester, "What's dead should stay dead." People can fanwank his resurrection all they want but when Arrow left in season 1 Malcolm Merlyn was declared dead. I highly doubt they would have said he was dead without a body so it's not like he vanished. I don't care who he is or what resources he has, magic Romeo and Juliet sleeping potions are a huge cop out allowing the writers to hit destructive levels of fan pandering that have left the integrity of the show in ruins. Arrow itself has become an untrustworthy narrator, leaving everything that happens on the show from this point questionable. Is Tommy really dead? What was to stop Merlyn from administering a special "take away your booboos" draught that magically healed the gaping hole in his chest? When the writers run out of ideas will he come back as a metahuman villain for a "shocking" finale? With Malcolm's return it opens up the possibility no matter how farfetched it may seem now. And what about the Count? Surely he's not dead just because he fell off a high rise with arrows in his chest. Perhaps one side effect of Vertigo is the ability to instantly heal. I mean when Seth Gabel fans start whining about their favorite being gone, it will be time to resurrect him too.

The simple fact is that by allowing Malcolm Merlyn to return, they've opened up possibilities that could ultimately kill this show. The premise was that Arrow would be different from other genre shows because it was grounded in reality. This plot reveal is about as far from reality as you can get. Magic potions, really? Tommy's death was the main reason why the season 1 finale was such a powerful, engrossing hour of TV. It actually hurt to see him die and the after effects changed almost everyone on the show. It set up season 2 to be great. However, in returning a villain from the "dead," they negate the power of all future deaths - turning it into Supernatural, which has become a sham as far as death is concerned. When someone dies in it, the first thing I think isn't how sad I am that the character is gone. I think, "I wonder how long it will be before this character comes back." Unfortunately, this is now my first thought on Arrow. To take away the gravitas of death takes away a powerful story component and betrays the trust fans have in the narrative.

And what did it gain them? Is it a decent trade-off for trashing their own story structure and the trust of the audience? I would argue no. First off, John Barrowman's portrayal last year made Malcolm Merlyn one of the most cartoonish and cockeyed villains in a sea of overacted baddies. He was neither plausible nor scary, and a large part of why fixing the villains was high on my season 2 wish list. Unlike Joker in Batman, Merlyn was laughable in a bad way. Almost every time he opened his mouth, I knew hyperdramatic eyebrow acting was coming. However, even the poor choice of a stunt casting do-over is overshadowed by the announcement that Thea is Malcolm's daughter. What kind of lame Passions-inspired farce is this? Are you kidding me? If I wanted to watch sexual scandal and Maury Povitch-style drama, I would Netflix Dynasty or Dallas. Is this really the best plot line you could come up with in order to bring back an already dead character? He's motivated by his love child. Is this kind of nonsense what passes for the impetus of Thea's character development? Willa Holland and Susanna Thompson deserve much, much better. Must you turn their characters into a bad soap opera cliché? Argh! Even the thought of slogging through this nonsense for the rest of the season dampens my hopes for Arrow. If you've run out of ideas, just say so and hire some new writers before you make this entire show unwatchable. Love child? Really? Go fire yourself and take your freaking canon retcon with you.

While the far-reaching, structure-killing elements of this episode are my main complaint, let's be honest. There is enough cringe worthy dialogue and absurd plot design to earn this episode an F even without the last 2 minutes. The trial alone is enough to make Dick Wolf weep. I know genre fans are not always compatible with the police procedural crowd, but egads! Do you think we've never heard of a trial before? The trial of the century took 2 days. 2 days! Did the trial take place in Iran? Opening arguments were immediately followed by Thea for the defense. Let's just ignore the fact that opening arguments of the OJ Simpson trial lasted 4 days, twice as long as this whole trial. Did the prosecution do anything at all? Did they call any witnesses or make any arguments? Was their entire case replaying Moira's confession? What exactly has the ADA been doing? At first I thought following the opening with Thea was a goof. Perhaps Starling City is actually located in a country where the defense goes before the prosecution? But no. The writers are just inept and they made the prosecution look that way too. Not that the defense looked any better. Also, shouldn't the legal world have questioned why the DA didn't take on this high profile case? I don't care if she was working with Malcolm or not, the idea that she hands their most prestigious trial over to their newest hire on the flimsy excuse that Laurel was there for 1 whole day should immediately bring her under suspicion while someone had best start a jury tampering investigation. Nothing about this entire trial made any sense and if this is how they intended to pursue it, they should have just killed Moira off. I understand trials are boring to watch, but this was a farce. Better they'd brought Oliver back on the guise of his mom's trial starting than the company freefall subplot. They could have had opening arguments in the premiere and then let the newscasters keep us updated throughout the first 10 episodes. It's not like their constant interruptions about the freaking particle accelerator aren't getting tedious at this point. Yes, we know it's a crucial plot point. Enough already. Better to have news reports move the less glamorous parts of trial throughout the season without having to cut into the pace instead of packing 32 of them into this overcrowded episode alone. That would have at least made sense unlike anything executed here.

To top that, everyone in the episode suddenly turned practically brain dead levels of stupid. Moira gets acquitted under very hinky circumstances and no one is worried someone in the Glades might execute their own justice? She ought to have more protection than the president at this time. Plus am I supposed to believe that neither Oliver nor Thea would be there to take her home? Really? They've spent all this time building them up as the family that can overcome any obstacle and they leave her to take a cab? Hitch a ride with her lawyer? Gah! There is no excuse for lazy character assassination just because you want to force a plot twist. Bad, bad writing! Speaking of, what the hell kind of lawyer is Jean in the first place? Telling Moira to slip out the back in front of all the media? I mean there were microphones in her face when she said it. Why not take out a billboard? Then in preparing the case did she really think the prosecution would leave Thea not visiting her mom in prison for so long unaddressed? I know the DA was incompetent too but really! Thea should never have been thrown by this line of questioning given that Jean should have prepared her for it. Then we got Shado, a formerly smart, resourceful woman, plucking out the hosen right in front of Sara, who was clearly working with the enemy before Oliver pulled her. Yes, people use the fact that Oliver forced Sara to go with them as an argument, but if someone was willing to blown me up over the hosen, I'd be very careful about whom I showed it to. As for blowing up the plane, what kind of mush-brained moron tells his lackey to blow the plane up before actually entering it to see if there is any evidence in it. He's looking for the freaking hosen but doesn't bother to see if it is in the plane before blowing it up? I had great hopes that even if he was far too melodramatic, at least Dr. Ivo would be a smarter criminal than most on Arrow. But no. He's the biggest nincompoop of them all. I no longer care what his role is; I'm just counting down the days until he dies. He's too stupid to take up story time.

Even Team Arrow was struck by brain deficiency. Several weeks ago they learned the Dollmaker escaped from prison in the earthquake and the police covered it up. Did they think he was the only one? Shouldn't finding out if any other dangerous criminals escaped have been a top priority? Felicity has mad computer skills so I find it hard to believe that the Count's escape was beyond her grasp. Besides, the whole police actually keeping this a secret was too farfetched the first time, much less the second. They better not have any more upcoming "surprise" villains. (These villains sucked enough the first time around, but more on that next paragraph.) Then they follow up the non-info by having Felicity go to the van alone. I'm not talking about Diggle going with her or even apprising Oliver of their plans. I can let both of those skate. I'm talking about her not even wearing the Bluetooth ear pieces that they ALWAYS use on missions. Always. Diggle might be sick but surely he can monitor Felicity from the Arrow Cave. After all, that's what Felicity does every single time she's not being used as bait. This makes Felicity a plot device in the exact same manner they made Laurel a plot device last season. It didn't work for them then, what makes them think it will work now? Felicity playing the stupid, damsel in distress so that Oliver can have a crisis moment and they can end with Ollicity is bad enough, but to do it in an overstuffed episode that already had crater-sized plot holes made it worse. The Count needed to have his own episode…

In as much as he needed to be brought back at all. I have no idea why they didn't get rid of him 2 episodes ago. One of the biggest flaws of season 1, according to most people I talk to about Arrow, was that the villains were too over the top. They came off as silly and were hard to take seriously. They also didn't have the depth any serious foe should have, making them like cardboard cutouts of villains in a theme park. It became a sticking point and one of the top items on my season 2 wish list. In fact, I wholeheartedly agreed with @NakiaSamuels' Twitter assessment: " I am tired of drug guy, Deadshot, & the Asian mafia chick." They were bad enough the first time around, why test drive them for a second? Then came last week's episode and imagine my surprise when for the first time, Deadshot actually felt like a human instead of something off Cartoon Network. They gave him a meaty part and included him in Diggle's character growth. It was all I could want from a recycled villain. I was eager to see if they could do the same thing with the Count, a character sadly in need of major overhaul. In fact, comparing and contrasting how they presented recycled villains in season 2 was to be the subject of this episode's review before they shot the whole series to hell in 2 minutes flat. The Count would not have come off well in that article anyway. Combine some of the most atrocious dialogue yet with Seth Gabel's sing-song, lispy delivery, and I was longing to go through the computer and push him out a window myself. Lilith says the Count is supposed to be Arrow's Joker. If so, they have missed that mark by a country mile. The Count would actually have to be entertaining instead of irksome to achieve that. Plus the Joker should be clever and witty. The only thing the Count screams is the need for a dialogue coach. If he is well and truly dead, which is intensely debatable these days, it is the only great thing that happened this episode. Sadly, I expect him to be resurrected into Blood's army by February sweeps.

Other nitpicky items that bugged me in an already abhorrent episode:

1. When the Count moves the camera away from ADA Adam to himself, he is right by the gigantic records department symbol. The Count is another in a long line of unworthy opponents who have learned nothing from other villains on this show. Why not go on TV, Mayor, and let everyone see your face? Go ahead. Blow up everything in sight and then hope that the one small item you've been searching for for years didn't just get blown to bits, Ivo? Why not give a long-winded victory speech detailing your entire plan before going for the kill, 70% of Arrow baddies? Argh! How villains manage to step out of the prison without falling is farfetched in Starling City. My only hope for a smart, chilling villain so far this season is Blood and he brings his own set of problems.

2. Namely, the super soldier serum. Call it what you will, but we've got the beginning of metahumans here. For a story grounded in reality (compared to other superhero stories of course), the producers are sure walking the line here. Before this episode I would have been wary but trusting. Now I expect people to be flying and glowing rocks to shoot forth alien people by the end of the season. Bring on the outside underwear and cape, Guggenheim. I dare you.

3. Why does Oliver take time to change into his Arrow outfit if the Count already knows who he is? He's already proven a couple weeks ago he can fight just as well in a suit. Grab a bow and go. It's not like he was pressed for time between Felicity being kidnapped and jury deliberations for his mother's trial or anything?

4. Oliver the Oversensitive. I was the loudest person on Arrowcast calling for Oliver to stop being a douche last year, so I truly appreciate a kinder, gentler, more caring Oliver this year. He makes Team Arrow scenes far more enjoyable, but even I call foul on the courthouse scene with Oliver and Laurel. Either Oliver traipsed the Black Forest opium flowers with Alice in OUaT Wonderland this week, or he's a pod person. No way anyone is that solicitous to the person who for all intents and purposes just sealed their mom's fate not 10 minutes earlier. Rationally, Oliver should be able to understand it and maybe come to grips with it after some time had passed, but not 10 seconds later. Laurel is right to be incredulous. So am I. No human being acts this way.

5. If the Count can piece together that Oliver is Arrow from Felicity's id badge, why the heck can't anyone else? Quentin has Felicity, Diggle, and Roy as puzzle pieces and he can't make that leap? Heck he's been practically nose-to-nose with the magic eye shadow and still couldn't guess despite figuring out Sara was Masked Blonde with far less clues 2 weeks ago.

6. Plus the Count calls Oliver "Arrow" but the entire time Count was around, he was called The Hood. No one officially has called him Arrow yet so how would he or Blood know about the name change. Even the media still calls him either the vigilante or the Hood. The only ones who don't are Quentin and Oliver himself.

7. And this is a big one. In less time than it takes Oliver to change clothes and hear his mom's verdict, Queen Consolidated's Applied Science department has a cure for Vertigo addiction and Diggle is magically better. Perhaps they should try cancer. They'd have it cured in a week. There is a remarkable lack of consequences for anyone's actions on Arrow these days. People rise from the dead, poisons that threaten to take down an entire city 1 season ago have fairy godmother cures, collusion in killing 503 people is a 2 day side conversation, the targeting of an entire class of people is simply political rhetoric, etc. For a show supposedly grounded in some kind of reality, there is no gravitas. If nothing has consequences, it is hard to become invested in the drama since the fallout will be minimal. That's bad drama. If someone doesn't shoot Moira in the next episode, I give up on consequences of any kind…and I love Moira.

Despite cutting the show's foundation underneath it, the character idiocy, horrid pacing, and all around execrable writing, there were a couple of positives in the episode. Of course the Count's "death" is debatable goodness, but there's no denying the touching scene between Thea and Roy when he has her vent her anger through boxing. Willa Holland is the best actress on this show so giving her a meaty scene in the midst of the chaos was a nice way to slow the pace and allow at least one character to actually react to the unfolding events. I like their dynamic anyway, but Roy has shown that he really gets Thea in the last few episodes and theirs is a nice switch from love triangles. I also found Laurel a saving grace
here, which is unusual for me. Her scene in the prison with Moira is tied for best Laurel scene in Arrow. It demonstrated how much she really cares for the Queens, beyond just Oliver, and I hope they get more scenes together. I also thought their scene in court and the one with ADA Adam grilling Thea were well done. Shocking since the trial was such a mess, but it goes to show that they could have done it much better if they had allowed it to flow throughout the season. Despite my distaste for Ollicity pandering, I also thought the scene at the end with Felicity and Oliver was well done. I don't see it as a declaration of Oliver's love for Felicity as some do, but it was a necessary scene to show the partnerships Oliver is allowing himself to have this season and good character growth on his part. The no killing rule was always going to be problematic, so it's nice to get it over pretty quickly. He would have had no choice whether it was Felicity, Diggle, or Thea and I like that he acknowledged that. Other than that, the acting was good as always and we even got an island explosion to cover the utter lack of action. Still, these small victories in no way cover up the massive failures.

Grade: F

Only Reason to Watch - tie - Thea and Roy

Screencaps by and Perez Hilton

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  1. Thanks so much to Arrow Fan 1 for promoting this post on their tumblr. I don't have a tumblr account or else I would have posted it there. If anyone has 1, please pass the word:

  2. Sorry about the typos...I was in a bit of a hurry!