Arrow Episode 1.20 Review — Next Stop, Pickle Relish

 Arrow Episode 1.20 Review — Next Stop, Pickle Relish

Hiatuses are beginning to feel like summer vacation. You chill out for a few months, binge on some Nick at Nite until the wee hours of the morning, maybe go to the Grand Canyon with the family. You do something other than sit in a stuffy classroom all day listening to a boring teacher drone on and on about geometry proofs (as if you’re ever going to use a geometry proof in your entire life outside of this place). So, when you go back to school, you’re feeling refreshed and excited. You’re going to see your friends, eat some food that is allegedly meatloaf during lunch, and hit those books hard.

One day in and you’re totally drained. Three months of I Love Lucy reruns wasted. You’re counting down the days until next June and stumbling through quadratic equations.

That’s how I felt about Arrow. We got a little mini-break. The show and I were in a pretty good place when we parted. I expected us to come back and still be besties. Instead, I find Arrow stole my boyfriend, wrote mean things about me on the bathroom stall door and started a nasty rumor I hooked up with that guy in chess club (the one with the retainer and the acne scars).

Why, Arrow, must you do this to me? I thought we were BFF.  Are we really frienemies?

Charles Gunn, Hired Gun

I’m going to try to start and end with positives, as there were some really strong parts of this episode (including that requisite opening image of Diggle and Oliver getting all sweaty and aggressive on each other). I squeed like a fourteen-year-old when I realized J. August Richards (Angel) was in this episode. I loved his character. He reminded me of someone out of Terminator, an unstoppable killing machine that was truly menacing. The scenes where he ambushed the Moores (a family Laurel was representing in a case against Edward Rasmus) were probably the most gripping of the episode. They were definitely stronger than the climax at the Queen Mansion.

This show tends to do weekly villains not so well. We always know whoever it is, they’re going to wind up numbered in a morgue (literally, Det. Lance will show you). There is little to no suspense. This episode, there was suspense. I didn’t think he’d kill Oliver, but I was truly afraid of this guy. August’s portrayal was chilling. He would kill anyone and anything who got in his way, even an adorable little boy. You don’t get more ruthless than that

Kudos, show, on one of your better villains-of-the-week.

Oliver, the Great and Powerful

I know I complain about the writing of this show. As someone who spends more time reading books on the craft of structuring fiction than I do actually creating fiction, I think I’m extra sensitive to the quality of writing. It’s my passion, my dream to someday create a piece of work that springs forth from my imagination and might entertain people (surely if Fifty Shades of Grey can find an audience, my little supernaturals and cozies can, too, right?). So, when I see a show like this that is so night and day on its quality, it frustrates me as a viewer. That, in turn, frustrates me as a reviewer.

Mine is not a mind designed for academic feats. I’m never going to cure cancer or discover some galaxy hereto unknown by those average folks at NASA. My brain pretty much exists solely as a sponge for the most random pop culture trivia possible. And, I’m okay with that. We all have our strengths and I’m sure if I ever find myself in a horror movie where I’m isolated with a bunch of people and a psycho who is killing us based on our ability to answer basic trivia questions, everybody is going to want to be my friend. My point? I don’t ask for much from my television shows. I watch soap operas. I readily accept things like people blowing up in cars and coming back with a new face after being presumed dead. I even bought Erica Kane’s unabortion (mostly because Colin Egglesfield is ridiculously hot, but I digress). One of my favorite shows right now is featuring a story about pickle relish. This is where the problem comes in. When a show makes the work of Ron Carlivati look like a master class in nuanced writing, I cannot help but take issue with it

The unevenness of this program is glaring. It runs the spectrum from epic to mind-bogglingly awful. Tonight, unfortunately, it stayed solely in the red zone of the latter. I’ve never before felt like every single character on this show outside of Oliver is a one-dimensional cardboard cutout designed to prop up Oliver and make him look like the most special snowflake of them all (a crown presently held by Elena Gilbert). Tonight, all layers, all self-reliance were sucked away from these characters. I haven’t seen writing this lopsided since … well, since Sabrina Santiago was introduced to Port Charles and everyone from Liz Webber to Lucy Coe was chopped off at the knees so they could look up to her.

To put my issue with the writing as succinctly as I can, I question the longevity of the series beyond next season. I don’t know where they’re going. Sadly, I don’t think the writers do, either. Which leads me to our hero…

I realize this is a show about Oliver Queen. That he is the main character, that he is the hero, that we’re supposed to root for him. And, most of the time, I do. Especially when he doesn’t spend an hour whining about how he’s an island. But, I have to ask exactly what the writers of this episode have against the side characters? “Home Invasion” took characters who have proven to be resourceful in the past and turned them into helpless peons who probably wouldn’t be alive were it not for Oliver.

This was, by far, the most frustrating episode to date for me. Would it have killed the writers to let Laurel rescue Taylor and Tommy (I’ve given up on the idea that perhaps Tommy could be the savior)? Sure, Oliver is the hero, but we got a glimpse of Awesome Laurel (recognizing the badge was a fake, going all Clint Buchanan with the shotgun). Couldn’t we have ridden that wave to see how high it went? Instead, she’s then revealed to be completely inept and they’re rescued by Oliver.

More frustrating still was that everyone lined up to remind the audience that Oliver and Laurel are meant to be together (despite having the chemistry of a barrel of dead fish). From Moira (who proved her evilness tonight by admitting to hoarding the good cookies) to Tommy, it was almost as if the producers went to the supporting cast and said, “We’re going to terminate your contract unless you agree to pimp Oliver and Laurel.”

I knew it was going to be rough when the episode opened with Diggle and Felicity questioning Oliver’s lunch date with his best friend’s girlfriend. Subtlety is not one of this show’s strengths. It makes Randy Jackson look clever. But, the fact that Oliver cited that he could not be with Laurel because of his secret life (and not because, oh, I don’t know…she’s dating his best friend) to Tommy’s face was completely mind-blowing. Is he honestly so lacking in self-awareness? Or, are the writers? And, while we’re on the subject of screwing over your friends for your ex-girlfriend, I was cheering when Diggle called Oliver out on choosing Laurel over him and pretending he was doing it for the kid. Go Diggle!

Look, I get it. Oliver and Laurel are the OTP of this show. Please, stop hitting me over the head with it. Any more, and I might get brain damage. The kind that’s permanent and cannot be cured with a recast. And, please, stop ruining perfectly good characters by making them look like they’re the second coming of Rose Nylund. I fangirl Katie Cassidy relentlessly and even I was praying for a stray bullet to Tara her so it would put an end to the sledgehammering.

One step forward, fifteen steps backwards. At least Tommy and Diggle got to do the dumping.

Love Triangle Island

I realize that I don’t focus as much on the island as I did in the front half of the season. There’s a good reason for that – I connect to nothing that is happening on Flashback Island as a viewer. I liken it to being in a car that cruises at breakneck speed for approximately one hundred feet and then suddenly someone slams on the brakes. In the last installment, I was inspired to write nothing about the island, even though there was a monumental moment in Oliver’s development by picking up his first bow.

This week, I made a concerted effort to pay attention to the island. I’m almost wishing I hadn’t. I’m not sure which was worse – that there is yet another triangle, or that we were fed the laughable “I’m in love with someone, let’s make out,” scene. I’m more than willing to accept that, despite being shipwrecked while having an affair with Laurel’s sister, being isolated from his friends and family made Oliver reevaluate his feelings and realize how deeply he cared for Laurel. It’s actually a beautiful sentiment. And, if this development came at some time other than when he was going to first base with Shado, I’d likely be more accepting of it. Somehow, the circumstances cheapened it.

Also cheapened? Slade. I know he’s coming back next season, and I am hoping against hope that it’s not to take revenge on Oliver for stealing his island squeeze of exactly fourteen seconds. But, on a show where all men are reduced to sniveling pipsqueaks in the presence of the Almighty Oliver, I’m not holding my breath.

Oh, and Yao Fei led Fyers’ men to the trio. Considering I’m not caring all that much for Shado (or Slade, despite how freakishly hot he is), and that I know Oliver makes it off the island, that cliffhanger isn’t much of a cliffhanger.

 Who Wants to be a Vigilante?

Thea and Roy were the one bright spot of “Home Invasion.” Maybe it’s because they were almost completely separated from that mess of a main plot, but I liked them tonight. Then again, after the sledgehammering, I’m pretty sure my arachnophobic self would have preferred watching mutant tarantulas. Unlike the main story, I couldn’t tell where things were going five sentences in. I was genuinely curious. How come Roy’s meeting with Det. Lance? How come he’s stealing that radio? Of course, it all had to come back to him feeling “connected” to the Vigilante and Thea teaming up with Roy to find him. But, for a few blissful minutes, there was something else to focus on than Oliver, Patron Saint of Vigilantes.

Final Thoughts

For the past several months, I have vacillated between adoring this show and feeling cold towards it. This is my first gig doing reviews for a television show season-long. I try to be as professional as I can be and to minimalize my bias and ranting (impossible as the task may be), but episodes like “Home Invasion” make me feel like I’m a tube of red lipstick and a bad Brooklyn accent away from a split personality. It’s boggling to me how a show can be so good and so downright offensive at the same time. It’s 2013. The girl can save herself. Can’t she? Or has Nikita spoiled me?

Final Grade: C-