This is Your Sword

**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.22 of Arrow, “This is Your Sword”**

I never thought I’d see the day when Thea Queen was the only one making any sense on this show, but this is that day. And I’m mostly glad that the one person everyone tries to protect and coddle is the only person not pulling her punches, so to speak. She never asked Oliver to sacrifice himself, and I’m glad she finally said it out loud. You go, Thea!

This episode of Arrow started with a particularly inelegant reveal that Oliver is not truly brainwashed — I am so surprised that six weeks of… starvation? waterboarding? didn’t make him completely forget his friends and family — by having him visibly react to the news that Maseo is the one who supplied R’as al Ghul with the same deadly virus that killed his son, Akio. I want to reiterate one more time that it does not matter that Oliver isn’t brainwashed. He’s still killing innocent people and he still endangered Lyla’s life, for the greater good doesn’t cut it anymore.

I think this show made a mistake when they tried to trend away from the gritty on-the-streets vigilantism that put them on the map. They’ve been trying to go Bigger Picture by introducing the League and getting R’as al Ghul interested in Oliver on a personal level (which still makes no sense) so that now Oliver is making decisions for everyone. He’s not Superman, and he was never supposed to be. He’s supposed to be a localized vigilante, the protector of his own city, who only gambles his own life for the greater good. We can’t even count on one hand the other lives he’s gambled this season, and for what? The characters barely mention Sara anymore, I can’t even remember the last time Oliver talked about her. Isn’t that where this all started? With Sara’s death? By Malcolm’s hand? But no one’s thinking about Sara anymore (Laurel is, of course, I know she is, so don’t attack me, Laurel fans!) and no one except Thea is holding Malcolm accountable for bringing this mess to their doorsteps.

Speaking of Malcolm, he’s the one who is sneaking to Nanda Parbat, which I guess is next door to Starling City based on how quickly everyone always gets there, to help Oliver with his infiltration of the League. Of COURSE the faux-brainwashing was Malcolm’s idea. Oliver gets the bright idea to send Tatsu, a woman none of his friends have ever met, to convince his team to come to Nanda Parbat and destroy the virus. Tatsu, who is amazing, talented, passionate, and smart… takes time out of her busy day to tell Felicity that she was Oliver’s last thought on the mountain. More and more, this is feeling like fanservice and not like authentic character moments.

I have to say that part of the reason this show is such a slog now is that Felicity is constantly. crying. She used to be the light of the show, but now the show has taken that concept in a more literal direction and they’re using her as the Optimistic Beacon of Hope that Oliver is still out there. Laurel accuses Felicity of being sanguine when really, Felicity is just telling herself that the Oliver she loves is dead now. This show was better when there was balance, when there were light moments of humor and banter in between the darkness of death and revenge, and Felicity was often the source of that sort of light. Now it’s all just constant doom and gloom all the time, much like my reviews.

Nyssa continues to treat her impending nuptials as if it’s her execution, and things only get worse when R’as decrees that she will bear Oliver’s child. *shudders* The League is so gross, and R’as is the grossest of the gross. He continues to threaten Nyssa with torture and pain if she doesn’t go through with the wedding, so really, he and Malcolm are probably in the running for the Father of the Year award on this show.

There’s a pretty good fight sequence in the field where the team successfully takes down the plane that supposedly bears the virus, but it turns out R’as still has the virus and they’re all taken into custody, where Malcolm promptly tries to turn on everyone. In a way, it’s pretty amazing. But mostly awful.

The most hilariously tone-deaf aspect of this episode — of the entire season — is how the drama hinges on Felicity finding out about Oliver’s upcoming wedding. She is crushed. Just devastated. The music swells, she looks thunderstruck and heartbroken, and you’re made to believe that this is it, this is truly the worst thing that’s ever happened to Felicity Smoak.

A wedding. A sham wedding. She’s devastated by a sham wedding, when Oliver’s been threatening and kidnapping and killing for the last few weeks. Those things are just sad, but a wedding, whoa boy, THAT is the true tragedy. (She’s gonna be hysterical when she finds out about Oliver’s secret Central City kid.)

Things get even more tone-deaf when Oliver pulls Diggle aside to try to talk to him and Diggle rips him a new one about trust and respect, and how Oliver has lost both of those things as well as his friendship. I really, truly hope Oliver’s actions from last week are long-reaching, as David Ramsey has hinted, because I’ve just about had it with everyone forgiving Oliver for these “morally grey” decisions.

And then the whole Al Sah-Him contrivance unravels even more when R’as, after Malcolm’s betrayal, finally considers the possibility that Oliver might not be totally loyal to him and the League. You know. After he spent a year bullying and torturing Oliver into joining the League. R’as makes Oliver unleash the virus on his friends, and they all cry and scream at him as he seals the room.

They all fall asleep very slowly and dramatically as Oliver weds Nyssa. We are genuinely supposed to believe they are dead, and then it’s totally ruined by the promos for the next episode, where everyone is very much alive — and angry.

There was nothing really wrong with this episode (aside from the tone-deaf scenes, which at this point are just part and parcel of the storyline) except that it’s a pretty lame climax to a very lame season-long story arc. We’re supposed to care about Malcolm’s motivations, but we don’t. We’re supposed to be cheering for Oliver, but we’re not. Felicity, the “normal” point of view for the viewer, is too wrapped up in dramatics and hysterics to really follow, and Laurel was pretty much sidelined emotionally, again, even if she did have more screentime in this episode. Digg is the only one we can really relate to, but we’re probably not, as the viewers, supposed to be so angry with Oliver.

Other notes:

– RIP Maseo Yamashiro, who was killed by Tatsu. He thanked her for freeing him from his prison. I feel terribly for Tatsu, but I could watch an entire episode of Katana fighting bad guys.

– Ray secretly transferred ownership of his company to Felicity. I’m not willing to suspend my disbelief long enough to buy that Felicity would sign documents without reading them, and I still distrust Ray enough that I feel like these are for nefarious reasons, even though the writers insist he’s a Nice Guy.

– Nyssa tries to stab Oliver during the vows, which makes her my new hero.

– Despite Laurel being kind of relegated to a backseat role, Katie Cassidy really held her own in this episode.

– There was a cute Felicity scene during the big battle where she tossed her broken tablet at a bad guy and momentarily grinned when she thought it worked to stop him — until he turned to reveal an arrow in the back from Malcolm Merlyn. Felicity: “Oh. That makes more sense.”

– Yes, Oliver and Nyssa are officially married, and yes, Oliver took time out of his honeymoon to go to Central City last night and help Barry with his Reverse Flash problem. I can only imagine the Flash writers sitting down to write this episode with a couple of Arrow writers and being like “Wait… WHAT did you to do your own show? How are we supposed to work with this?”

– Celebrate! The one great thing that came out of this episode is that Thea is now Arsenal! I’m gonna cling to this morsel with the hope that next season will be better than this one.

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Al Sah-Him

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**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.21 of Arrow, “Al Sah-Him”**

I have great news! I didn’t hate every single aspect of this episode! It’s refreshing, really, because I know these reviews have gotten very doom-and-gloom of late, and the silver lining is that we are almost at the end of the line. Our long national nightmare known as the R’as al Ghul storyline will hopefully be a distant memory. (That’s me being optimistic.)

How great were Nyssa and Laurel? And I’m not even saying it in a “Nyssa was great, and Laurel was there!” kind of way, I mean I genuinely liked both of them in this episode. I think for a long time what Laurel really lacked was a good dynamic to bring a new dimension to her. All we see is her dealing with grief and fallout from other people’s actions (Oliver, Tommy, Quentin, the list goes on and on and it’s filled with men) and reacting accordingly. I didn’t always agree with her reactions, and eventually it got redundant because she never got new material. It felt like every time Katie Cassidy got a new script, it basically said “grief and anger” and that’s about it. She got a reprieve for a while when she got to actually be a sister when Sara was around, but then Sara was tragically taken from us and Laurel amplified her grief and anger. Even her short-lived arc with Ted Grant (why did he leave?) was fueled by vengeance.

But as we saw on The Flash a couple weeks ago, it IS possible for Laurel to smile, to banter, to talk about something other than all of the injustices of the world, even if it’s just for a minute. Cisco Ramon has that effect on people. And thankfully, someone got the message because we got to see Laurel palling around with Nyssa, eating fast food and sipping milkshakes and just chatting like normal friends. It really demonstrated that when Laurel isn’t written just to frame Oliver’s story, she’s capable of being dynamic and interesting.

It doesn’t hurt that it was fun to see Nyssa out of her comfort zone, dipping a fry in a milkshake and making an amazing face of intrigue and slight disgust before she tasted it.

Even when it all went downhill, and Laurel finally broke the news of Oliver’s ascension to the League Throne, we got to see the best aspects of both characters as the events played out. Laurel stayed fiercely loyal and protective, searching for alternatives and refusing to back down, while Nyssa bravely accepted her fate and went off to battle like the warrior we know and love. Laurel’s refusal to trade Nyssa was endlessly endearing, and I’m pleased to say that the only good side effect of this whole R’as al Ghul fiasco is that I’ve softened my opinion on the Black Canary.

So that was the great news. Unfortunately… that’s the extent of it.

When an episode starts with Oliver stabbing a hallucination-version of Diggle through the heart, that doesn’t make me think “Oh, thank God, it was just a hallucination!” It makes me certain that Oliver is capable of killing his best friend and brother. They did this to raise the stakes for the showdown later in the episode, but after a weak 30-second montage of Oliver getting tortured and laying sideways in a cell, it’s just awful. I find it hard to believe that someone who survived on an island for two years (at least) was so easily breakable — that it was so easy to make him stare blankly at his friends and family.

He’s instructed to remove his rival heir to the throne without mercy, and Nyssa warns Diggle and Felicity before going to face the fight. They’re all horrified when Oliver shows up on a rooftop and doesn’t seem to recognize Diggle and Laurel.

The hard part about watching Felicity and Diggle’s steadfast faith in Oliver’s ability to withstand brainwashing is how wrong they end up being. Either Oliver really isn’t as strong as they think he is, or he is only pretending to be brainwashed; if it’s the latter, then he still abducted the mother of his godchild and almost fatally stabbed Diggle in the ensuing gun-and-swordfight. Either scenario is likely, because let’s face it, this wouldn’t be the first time Oliver endangered loved ones For The Greater Good.

But the long-reaching consequences of his brainwashing are damaging to the structure of the show, because Oliver is a powerful weapon in his own right. If he’s capable of being manipulated and brainwashed into a killing machine (sort of like Roy when he was on Mirakuru) then that means he’s innately vulnerable for the rest of the series. The conceit of the show up to this point was that Oliver’s heart was his biggest asset as a hero. If that can be taken away by a few weeks of vague “reprogramming techniques” then what do we even have to hold onto as viewers? So really, either scenario is terrible in my mind.

How many times are we going to have to hear “Oliver, this isn’t you!” before they accept that this is who he is now. And I don’t mean this expressionless, wooden R’as al Oliver from this episode, I mean the Oliver we’ve been dealing with ever since Sara died. He’s lied and manipulated and treated his friends and loved ones like crap, because he’s been convinced all along that he knows what’s best for everyone. When Felicity extends this plea to Oliver in that warehouse, she’s wrong. He’s standing there facing off with his friends in a R’as al Ghul costume because that is who he is. There was no cosmic force of events that led him to being in that place at that time — it was all choices he made on his own, aided and abetted by Malcolm Merlyn.

Increasingly, Felicity’s insistence of Oliver’s steadfastness and strength of character began to ring false as the episode wore on, and not because she didn’t believe it, but because we were tired of hearing it. We are tired of hearing the excuses, even from Diggle, for Oliver’s actions over this season. At this point, I can’t think of an endgame or resolution that will make me okay with anything that’s happened.

If things weren’t whisky-tango-foxtrot enough as it was, the episode ends with R’as sparing Nyssa her life at the last minute (for the head of an assassin organization, he sure is sparing a lot of lives lately) and then demanding that Oliver marry Nyssa to “unite our families.” Nyssa, of course, would rather die, and I don’t totally blame her. She definitely got the crappy end of that deal.

Lastly, the family scene with Thea, Felicity, and the Diggle family was admittedly cute. It’s really important that the show is finally having Thea and Felicity communicate closely. It’s also important to note that Thea is in infinitely more pain than any of the rest of them. Oliver was the last vestige of her family, he was her champion and ultimately her hero, and the only reason she doesn’t feel alone in the world right now is because of John and Lyla thoughtfully taking her in. This is something that I absolutely want to continue seeing, no matter what happens with Oliver in the future, because I am sick and tired of seeing Thea be treated as an afterthought or a pawn by these writers.

Other notes:

– The Canary Cry was a letdown. Sorry.

– Did anyone else notice the weird blocking in this episode? A lot of staring off in weird directions, walking across rooms pointlessly, turning away from other characters at odd beats… it was all very awkward.

– R’as mentioned Damien Darhk, which has caused the internet to predict that we finally know the identity of Felicity’s long-lost father. More importantly, he’s presumably the leader of H.I.V.E., thus he’s likely the Big Bad for season 4. Here’s hoping they cast this villain correctly.

“What is a black and white milkshake?”

“I will not cower in the shadows, waiting for death.”

– In the flashbacks, they manage to take down an attempt to release a virus, but unfortunately it’s already taken hold in Hong Kong. The episode ends with Akio falling ill.

– Lyla was a total badass during the fight scene.

– I love that Thea was the one to stop Oliver in the end.

– Oliver is killing now, by the way. Ultimately, Tommy’s death meant nothing after all.

– Felicity finally breaks the news to Thea that Roy is alive, and she gives Thea his contact info and the choice to move away and start fresh, or to stay in Starling City and continue grieving.

– And, surprise! R’as wants Oliver to unleash the exact same virus from the flashbacks on Starling City! Because apparently Starling City is a modern-day Alexandria! Time truly is a flat circle.

Tomorrow night: going to the chapel and we’re gonna get maaaaaarried! It’s funny to me because I actually imagine it going a lot like any of those KGB spy marriages. Or, like, Oliver and Nyssa sitting in marriage counseling. C’mon. If you don’t laugh, it’s just tragic.

Nanda Parbat, Sex Club

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Note: Apologies for not posting a recap last week, I had every intention and then I fell ill. 

**This post contains spoilers for 3.20 of Arrow, “The Fallen.”**

There have been rumors floating around my Twitter feed that season 3 is just one giant alternate timeline gambit, and that thanks to The Flash and his ability to time-travel, we will be hitting the reset button and reliving the entire season in a newer, brighter, League-less fashion. I don’t believe that theory, honestly, but I want to believe it, especially after this week’s episode.

When you find yourself at a crossroads in your life, you should always consult a reliable, trustworthy person to advise you and guide you in your time of need. Say you’re considering a move to a new city, or you’re choosing between your dream job and the love of your life, or you work up the nerve to tell your hairdresser, “I want blunt bangs!” You need someone there whose sage advice will help you make the right decision, to guide you through the process, or to put a comforting hand on your shoulder and say “Oh honey, no, you don’t have the face for blunt bangs.” This person will ideally be:

– 100+ years old
– a ruthless murderer
– a relentless bully
– an absentee father
– creepy
– unable to pronounce his own name
– owner of a fountain of youth
– questionable at interior decorating
– incapable of being in a long-term romantic relationship

If you think this is a ridiculous set of criteria for a wise advisor, well, you must think you’re SO MUCH SMARTER than Felicity Smoak, who is a certified genius. Surely if such a person is good enough for Felicity, he would be good enough for you! So next time your life partner decides to go head up a team of ruthless killers, just hop on over to Nanda Parbat, confront “Race” al Ghul, then stand there all silent and defiant as he doles out some unsolicited advice about love, life, and the perks of the one night stand! Nothing can go wrong!

And hey, don’t forget to drug your partner against his express wishes after the awkward sex, so that you can determine what is best for him.

Honestly, the promotion for this episode was 30% Thea getting healed and then leaping out of the Lazarus Pit, and 70% “OLICITY SEX!” with blinky lights and glitter bombs. And as a metaphor for the entire season, BOTH storylines fell flat in an almost spectacular fashion. Thea was momentarily confused, then disoriented, then sad. Malcolm was there. It was hot. A lonely gray couch. “Oh look!” cried Ned. And the kingdom was his forever, the end. (Sorry if you don’t get that reference… I’m a little punchy.)

So naturally, even though Thea deserved to be the main focus of her own death episode (Oliver got three episodes dedicated to his death and resurrection!) production saw fit to just wring out every last vestige of characterization from Felicity and Oliver. Her reasons for going to him were twisted and felt gross, since it was on dubious advice, and the scene itself was stilted and… A friend described it as almost “wholesome” which is not exactly a word you want to ascribe to a steamy sex scene. There was a distinct lack of passion, and it was one of the few times that the viewer can feel themselves watching actors portray characters instead of watching characters be themselves. This is not the Oliver and Felicity of seasons 1 and 2. This is awkwardness, or discomfort, or phoning it in. Maybe it’s on purpose. Maybe the reset button people were right.

And honestly, fandom should be more upset about Felicity drugging Oliver against his will. If the roles were reversed and he had drugged her, that’s all anyone would be talking about this week. As it is, if they were going to the extreme of having Felicity do something so out of character, they should’ve at least used the opportunity to have Oliver rethink his actions in the past. If he didn’t like having someone else try to dictate what was best for him, maybe he would stop trying so hard to “protect” his sister, or Diggle, or Laurel, or Felicity. But of course Oliver, Professional Agency Stealer, immediately forgives Felicity once he quickly and miraculously comes to at the right time, because her heart was in the right place. They’re just baiting me now.

Felicity goes and cries on Laurel’s shoulder, which actually feels like a more meaningful moment for Laurel than anyone else, until you consider the fact that Laurel deserved to be part of the proceedings as well. Why did she have to stay home while the team trooped to Nanda Parbat? Is she part of the team or not?

I can’t believe that a year ago, we were deeply mired in the Mirakuru plot. Episode 2.20 was when Moira was killed, and that was an amazing and tragic episode. Everything after that was full throttle, and we knew we were heading for an epic showdown. What are we aiming for here, exactly? Who is Oliver’s enemy? It should be Malcolm Merlyn, or “Race” al Ghul, but he’s teamed up with both of them right now. What is the endgame? What are we hoping for? Because everything I hoped for is gone — there is nothing left of the characters I once loved, the characters I once wanted to defend to death. There’s no good story to tell when your characters have been compromised in unchangeable ways.

Besides John Diggle running around being all amazing all the time, there’s literally nothing else to talk about from this episode. Oliver is officially becoming the next R’as, and we’re supposed to be excited about that. I will say that the stunts were better in this episode, don’t say I can’t find a silver lining!

I can’t wait for this season to limp into the hiatus. I hope they spend that time getting their act together.

Bonus: Tumblr has a sense of humor about it.

Quentin Lance Wasn’t a Very Good Detective After All

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**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.18 of Arrow, “Public Enemy.”**

In the three years since the Arrow has appeared in his city, Quentin Lance, detective-turned-beat-cop-turned-captain, hasn’t figured out his true identity. This is besides the fact that the Arrow’s sidekick was Oliver Queen’s bodyguard, that his other sidekick was Queen’s executive assistant, that his daughter Sara Lance, aka the Canary, was dating Queen when she ran around saving the city, and that his other daughter Laurel, aka the Black Canary, has taken over that mantle.

I’m not sure how we can interpret this other than Quentin being a colossal idiot who is terrible at his job, but hey, at least he probably knew it on some level. Sigh.

It really undermines the incredible pathos that Paul Blackthorne puts into Lance’s storyline in this episode. He’s on a rampage to get to the Arrow because he’s grieving, he’s hurt, and he believes he’s lost everything. He’s reacting irrationally, but in a way that makes sense — he can’t trust Laurel because she burned that bridge, and he’s similarly angry at the man under the hood. In his mind, neither of them did anything to protect his daughter, and they spent the intervening months lying to him about her true fate. It’s awful that his inability to figure out the truth about Oliver has clouded this otherwise compelling story.

Lance is captured by “Race” al Ghul, who not only reveals the Arrow’s identity, but also tells Lance that Sara spent some time on Lian Yu. He announces the Arrow’s identity to the entire city, effectively shutting it down and forcing Oliver to turn himself in. Oliver tries to do it in exchange for immunity for his team, but none of them are thrilled with letting Oliver take the fall.

 

Ray, meanwhile, saves Felicity’s life or whatever. He ends up in the hospital and he’s still SUPER boring there, even on his literal deathbed, as he talks about his “teeny tiny robots” which can break up a blood clot. Then he goes from boring to psychotic in a teeny tiny robot second when he tells Felicity that he loves her. You know. Less than a year after he lost his “beloved” fiancee during Slade’s Mirakuvasion. This is definitely manipulation on his part.

It’s all gonna be okay, though, because Mama Smoak is back! “Hey! At least you finally have a boyfriend!” (Literally my mother. Like. Seriously.) Felicity confides that Ray said he loved her, and Donna lays it out for her: “You don’t love Ray, because you’re in love with Oliver.” She sweetly tells Felicity that it’s time to make a choice.

Roy abruptly goes off the deep end, consumed by sudden and random guilt over everything he’s done. It almost reads as out-of-character until we get to the end of the episode, when he dons the Arrow leathers and reveals that HE, in fact, is the Arrow. (Nice try, Roy, but are you saying that YOU saved YOURSELF from that man on the train back in season 1?)

“Race” al Ghul is still trying to bully Oliver into taking on his mantle, and make no mistake, this is actual bullying. Stephen Amell can tweet his faux-excitement to be “the next R’as!” all he wants, it’s not gonna fool me into thinking this is actually a good turn for him. This show needs a huge reset button for this storyline and I hate that they’ve driven me to the point of actually wanting time travel or Lazarus Pits or anything that will get rid of this stupid “Race” al Ghul storyline once and for all.

By far, one of the best scenes from this dismal season is the one between Lance and Oliver in the back of that van. “Well, was it worth it? All the pain and misery you brought back from that island? Merlyn, Slade Wilson… wouldn’t it be better if you just died there?” Then he goes on a heartbreaking list of the casualties of Oliver’s war: “Tommy. Hilton. Your mother. My daughter. And now you’re set on killing Laurel too.” It’s not fair for him to put all of this on Oliver — Tommy and Sara’s deaths aren’t on his hands, especially as Oliver chose Sara over Shado on Lian Yu — but it really punctuates Lance’s actions in this episode. None of this is fair, but we can see the thread of logic that runs through it all. Oliver IS the common denominator even if he’s not the instigator, and Lance, in his grief and anger, has boiled it down to its most simple solution.

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done, huh? What you’ve done to all of us, to the people you claim to care so much about? You’ve made us criminals! You’ve made us liars and victims! You, Mr. Queen, are not a hero! You’re a villain.”

And then —

 

Mmm whatcha saaaay…

Other notes:

– Nyssa is still around! She gives Team Arrow the absolute minimal amount of help when she gives them Maseo’s location, but that’s enough for me! #TeamNyssa

– In the flashbacks, Oliver runs into Shado’s (long-lost, never-mentioned) twin sister, Mei. SUSPICIOUS. This raises so many questions, but until we find out from a third party that Shado definitely had a twin, I’ll remain suspicious.

“If your father were here –” / “He’d be arrested.” Bits of backstory on Felicity’s father.

“You, Harper, Sara, the freak in Central City, the Huntress, I got a new guy flying around the city!” I love Lance’s breakdown of the various Starling City vigilantes.

– I assume something happens to Akio in the flashbacks, prompting Tatsu’s present-day grief and Maseo’s alliance with the League, but they keep dragging it out and it’s getting tiresome. This whole show is tiresome.

TONIGHT: Felicity and the punchable Ray Palmer make appearances in Central City where huge revelations are made, and probably reversed thanks to time travel. So watch The Flash if you need your Felicity fix.

TAX DAY: I just watched the extended promo for this week’s Arrow and while I’m looking forward to an Oliver-and-Roy centric episode, it’s also gonna be heavy on Bootleg Iron Man, so my mental countdown for when Ray goes to his own show has already begun. SPOILER: Supposedly someone will die, too. The internet is rampant with theories from Roy to Diggle, but like I listed above… Akio, to our knowledge, is not alive in the present day. And presumably, his death or disappearance has to happen soon. I haven’t delved too deep into online (okay, Tumblr) theories but I don’t know why people aren’t considering Akio to be a significant death… since it sorta sets Maseo’s, and by extention Oliver’s, current storyline in motion.

Are you excited, or are you dreading it?

I, Raybot

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**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.17 of Arrow, “Suicidal Tendencies”**

Talk about a polarizing episode.

No really, someone talk about it, because I don’t even know where to begin.

Sigh. Fine. Here goes nothing.

I’m not happy with Arrow, and if you’ve been reading along, I think you’re aware of that. I keep trying to write about it, but it’s exhausting to be this angry over a TV show. It’s just a TV show, right? I mean, now it is. It used to be well-crafted and a real genre-buster, but now, it’s not even formulaic. It’s really not even basic. It’s bad. And no one is willing to listen to us.

I will grant that there is a very vocal and often irrational side to fandom that might drown out the constructive criticism of the show. There are fans of Oliver/Felicity that are so angry about their ship that they’ve taken to all platforms to rant and rage at anyone even remotely related to Arrow production. I understand that it might be easier to lump the entirety of fandom in with that group and pretend that we are all just screaming nonsensically, but at the end of the day, the showrunners are ignoring a very well-spoken and deeply concerned corner of fandom that is just wondering what happened to their once-great show.

I’ve made no secret of my allegiance to Oliver/Felicity — I would call myself a shipper, I think my videos speak for themselves — but on Arrow, I value the story over the ship. I’m willing to lose Oliver/Felicity for a while, to see them in other relationships or just apart, if it means they’re telling a good story. I’m willing to sacrifice romance and true love for characterization. I will always value the team — even including Roy and Laurel — over the ships. That’s because all I want, all I’ve ever wanted, is to watch a good story.

I was willing to watch Oliver choose to be alone, to watch him push Felicity away for her safety, and to watch her rebound with another guy. I’m actually a fan of slow burns in romance, and Oliver/Felicity is rife with so much angst that the slow burn could’ve been great. I was in complete agreement that Felicity deserved a break from the Oliver Queen Angst Show and that she should date a guy with less baggage. But they chose to saddle Felicity with the worst possible character in the history of television* when they brought in Ray Palmer, and all he’s done is dragged down her character and sucked the life out of her.

(*except for Chuck Bass)

I’ve covered Ray’s stalking, his manipulating, his general air of entitlement, and I think I’ve even mentioned that I think he’s dead behind the eyes. He carries himself like he’s handsome and suave but he actually seems like one of those humanoid robots that knows it’s supposed to feel emotions and does its best to manufacture them, but they’re always a little off and ultimately they just creep you out. So we end up watching scene after scene where Felicity should be acting out the plot to I, Robot and kicking Ray in the face Will Smith-style, but instead she’s actually flattered, touched, and flirty with the robot. The more she submits to his programming, the creepier and more upsetting it gets for the fans. In the most recent episode, “Suicidal Tendencies,” she even let him shame her for keeping Oliver’s big secret from him, like she somehow owes Ray her allegiance. She doesn’t. He’s never been completely forthcoming with her, and she’s never revealed Oliver’s secret to anyone unless Oliver’s life was in danger, so why would she owe Ray that truth? Why does he think he’s entitled to it?

He does the same thing to Laurel later in the interrogation room, when he’s trying to tell her that Oliver is the Arrow. Laurel isn’t as susceptible to Ray, possibly she can hear the whirring of his machinery in the quiet of the interrogation room, and when she points out that Oliver was arrested under the same suspicion two years ago, Ray isn’t stymied — he immediately claims that Laurel is similarly compromised because of her past with Oliver. Laurel had demonstrated composure and professionalism with Ray during this conversation, but his first instinct was to treat her like an irrational woman, and he did it all with that smarmy look on his face that we are supposed to find — charming? Endearing? Handsome? (These are times where I find myself wondering, yet again, how differently this all would play out if they’d cast a better actor in this role.)

 

To add insult to injury, Ray shows up for his big fight with Oliver and immediately turns it into some kind of contest over Felicity. Oliver’s literally standing there in leathers with just a bow and arrows as his defense, Ray is standing a head taller than him dressed in metal and looking like a freaking idiot, and he’s crowing “show Felicity what kind of man you really are!” Like Felicity doesn’t know, after three years. Like Oliver’s even worried about Felicity’s opinion. Like Oliver’s not preoccupied with clearing his name, finding and fighting R’as al Ghul, and not letting Felicity’s boyfriend trip over his metal feet and kill himself on accident. This is a fight for survival for Oliver, just like it always has been, but it’s just a game to Ray — and the writers don’t seem to realize that that’s the message they’re sending about Felicity, too. She’s just a game for him as well.

It’s all very comical when Oliver simply disables Ray’s dumb suit, and instead of killing him and putting us out of our misery, he takes his hand and they forge some kind of truce.

Honestly, the writers should’ve course-corrected around the time Oliver fell off that mountain and decided to make Ray Palmer a villain. Screw canon. ATOM is dumb anyway, and Ray Palmer is no Tony Stark. If you can’t get your actor to actually connect with the audience the way you intended, then why not lean into it and pretend that this was your plan all along? Then at least all of his manipulations of Felicity would have pathos instead of just being “Oh tee hee that’s just Ray, he’s such a scoundrel! And also he’ll follow you back to your apartment so take the long way home.” Sure, he’d still be the lamest supervillain to ever supervillain, but… oh wait, no, we still have R’as al Ghul ringing in at Lamest Supervillain, so I guess Ray would get second place. My, how the mighty supervillains have fallen since Slade Wilson was in town.

I don’t even want to get into the lunacy involving Oliver actually considering becoming the new R’as al Ghul, but this show is determined to crash and burn spectacularly, I suppose.

But I have a silver lining for this cloud, and that is Deadshot. Poor guy suffered from PTSD and ended up in jail and losing his family, which is how HIVE got ahold of him and turned him into a sniper for hire. He and Diggle have an unlikely friendship that is downright fun to watch, and Deadshot’s interactions with Carrie Cutter were even better, because he saved her life so now she’s obsessed with him. That might be part of the reason he decided to sacrifice himself for the cause and got blown up with the hospital that the Suicide Squad was trying to save (and that storyline had some of its own WTFness going on) but I’m pretty sure Deadshot is still very much Alive-shot somewhere. It wouldn’t be the first time this show half-heartedly killed off a beloved character only to bring him back three episodes later, would it?

Other fun notes:

– Congratulations to Diggle and Lyla, whose second wedding happened in under three minutes flat! I hope they have a third one only because I wanted to punch their officiant in the face. Ray Palmer ruins everything.

– Diggle seriously Diggle’d this bit, and then Ray was absolutely terrifying:

 

You can’t tell me that second gif doesn’t look like a robot that is searching its programming for an appropriate response to a threat.

– This was not a good Felicity episode, no matter which way you slice it. I tend to be a huge Felicity apologist, I’m willing to forgive a lot of the little character lapses that happened along the Ray Palmer Douchebro Storyline this season, but her behavior in this episode was unrecognizable. The same Felicity that stands up to Oliver time and time again was basically cowering in Ray’s self-righteous indignation. I’m starting to wonder if they hired a writer who hates Felicity.

– Laurel’s trainer is “enthusiastic.” And I like the idea that Nyssa’s still in Starling somewhere, grocery shopping and drinking coffee at cafes.

– Maseo killed an innocent woman at the end of the episode, and his arrow was trained on Felicity before the screen cut to black. They’re raising the stakes for Oliver, that’s for sure.

– If Arrow‘s bumming you out lately, have no fear! Community is back on Yahoo Screen, and it’s actually really good!

“I keep my promises, kid.”

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**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.14 of Arrow, “The Return.”**

I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that, Malcolm Merlyn aside, much of the present-day stuff in this week’s Arrow was almost up to par. There were familiar faces, island scenery, a ridiculous booby trap, and some much-needed truth-telling from Oliver. Unfortunately, there were also flashbacks… and the only good things about the flashbacks were Andy Diggle and the incredible Tommy Merlyn. (Sorry, Felicity fans, but you might want to skip this post. I promise this will hurt me more than it will hurt you.)

I couldn’t even write about last week’s episode, aka the Oliver Steals Everyone’s Agency Episode. He was downright awful to Laurel, and he even did it to Roy! It was all just bad, and I think it was a misuse of Caity Lotz when there is still so much of Sara’s story that we don’t know. I will say that Katie Cassidy knocked that one out of the park, but I couldn’t bring myself to write an entire post slamming the episode and then have one paragraph that said “At least Katie was awesome! Go Laurel!” So I’m saying it now: Katie was awesome. Go Laurel!

The only reason I had any sort of hope for this week’s episode can be summed up in two words: Slade Wilson. I don’t even know why I held out hope for him — whether it’s because his season 2 storyline was so great that his face just reminds me of why I loved this show, or whether it’s because Manu Bennett just seems to elevate the show indescribably — but he was definitely a sight for sore eyes. And his scenes with Oliver and Thea brought back a lot of the frenetic action that’s been sorely lacking this season. People like Malcolm and Ray Palmer, they’re calculated and precise, to the point that they get boring. Malcolm Merlyn is boring, his particular brand of psychopath is no longer intriguing because we spent all of season 1 exploring that. There was no outcry when he was gone, because the character arc stopped being interesting the moment Oliver thwarted him.

Slade Wilson’s brand of psychotic is still refreshing, somehow. It helps that his vendetta is focused solely on Oliver, and everyone else is just collateral damage. He’s not acting out of selfishness or self-preservation, he’s still reacting to the love he lost, and he’s willing to die or trade his freedom just to watch Oliver suffer. Malcolm is not that intriguing — selfish characters are not that interesting. Show me a selfish lead character on a show that is fun to watch or is beloved! There aren’t any, that’s why the Bad Boys with a Heart of Gold is even a trope, because people want to believe that selfish people are actually acting out of love. Malcolm isn’t doing that, he’s never done that, even the Undertaking wasn’t really about his wife, it was about control at first, and eventually it became about power.

 

Slade, on the other hand, has never exclusively wanted power. Power, via his Mirakuru army and Sebastian Blood, was a means to an end. Power was what would enable him to torture Oliver Queen. He’s acting out of love, not just for Shado, but for the betrayal he felt from his brother-in-arms. He even said it in this episode: “Maybe if you’d told me what really happened with Shado, your mother would still be alive.” In this respect, Slade is the killer counterpart to Moira Queen. Everything Moira did, she did out of love for her kids. In a way, and I say this grudgingly, it’s kind of poetic that she died by Slade’s hand.

(Sidenote: Did the writers ever think about that aspect of Sara’s death? That Oliver chose Sara over Shado on that island all those years ago, sealing his fate with Slade and leading to the events of season 2, only to have Sara die for no reason by Malcolm Merlyn? It actually cheapens Shado’s sacrifice. And if and when Slade finds out about Sara’s demise… there will be hell to pay.)

So I was hoping Slade’s presence would bring back some of the energy and pace of the second season, especially in regards to people finding out certain secrets, and it worked for the most part. Thea freaks out when Oliver finds out that Malcolm had freed Slade just to turn them into murderers, and it eventually forces Oliver to tell her the truth about Sara’s death: that Malcolm had drugged and manipulated Thea into doing it.

 

They have a fantastic tag-team fight to take down Slade, who holds his own even without Mirakuru now, and Thea has him at gunpoint when Oliver stops her and talks her down. Together, they manage to overcome Malcolm’s ministrations and continue to honor Oliver’s promise to Tommy after he died. That, of course, means nothing to Malcolm. And just when you think this episode is going to fix the fundamental problems with the show… Oliver and Thea go and agree to continue working with Malcolm, because they need him so badly. You know. For the mess he created. Sigh.

I’m sad to see Slade go, but I’m happy that he’s still alive, and I loved his interactions with Thea (he seemed to grow to respect her over the course of their encounters; she’s not the same girl he kidnapped only eight or so months ago) and his last conversation with Oliver.

Slade: “She’s lost, your sister.”
Oliver: “No, she’s not.”
Slade: “You can see it in her eyes. She’s been touched by darkness. Was it Merlyn? He’s an interesting man, to do that to his own daughter. So now you’ve lost your father, your mother, and now your little sister. How’s the girl in the glasses? What’s her name? Felicity. How many people can Oliver Queen lose before there is no more Oliver Queen?”

 

I’ve got news for you, Slade: there already is no more Oliver Queen. This guy is not the same Oliver we saw for the last two seasons, or the Oliver we see in flashbacks. This guy is just a travesty… and Felicity is the least of his problems. (I like how Oliver immediately says Thea isn’t lost, like just by saying it, it must be true.)

Nonetheless, the Slade fan in me appreciates how he can just cut right to the core of Oliver, and I think if Oliver weren’t so wrapped up in his League of Assassins stuff, he’d realize that that was, and still is, Slade’s intention all along: to turn Oliver into himself. Slade lost all the people in his life, so he’s no longer Slade Wilson. And from what he’s seen, the last link to humanity lies in Felicity Smoak, which is why he says her name like a threat.

Which goes to show that even Slade Wilson underestimates the importance of John Diggle in Oliver’s life.

 

Hey! Speaking of Diggle — we met Andy this week! We only saw him for a minute, just long enough to establish that Andy got Diggle the Rich Kid Bodyguard gig, and that he thinks Diggle was a fool to divorce Lyla, to which Diggle dryly replies, “Thank you, Andy, I appreciate that.” Heh.

 

Tommy also appeared as an overbearing but good-hearted big brother figure (nice that he turns out to actually be her big brother) to Thea, who was already getting into drugs and acting out. She still goes to talk to Oliver at his gravestone, which is sweet until her drug dealer meets her there. Oliver, who is back in Starling this week for really dumb lampshaded reasons, watches appreciatively from afar as Tommy intervenes. Tommy also flirts adorably with a radiant Laurel, and I had honestly forgotten how delightful they were together until now.

If I could choose one other person to be in flashbacks, it would be Moira. I feel like that deserved a long, resounding DUH after that statement, but unfortunately, this show decided to cater to the lowest common denominator and have Oliver have a near-brush with… Felicity. Who talks to a terrifying picture of him… and calls him “cute” even though he’s dead. It was painful and weird and bad and I hate when shows retcon and rewrite history to have people crossing paths in contrived ways, but the shippers are eating it up. The cynic in me thinks this crew really knows how to manipulate the fanbase.

Oliver kills Thea’s drug dealer, probably causing a lot of emotional and mental harm to his little sister along with the fact that he kind of ruined Tommy’s party, then throws a fit when Waller won’t let him stay in Starling. The only reason Oliver even survived this season of flashbacks is because Maseo is repeatedly sticking guns in his back to keep him from doing stupid things.

They end up capturing China White and turning her over to military custody, with a particularly villainous looking Army guy telling Oliver that he will be debriefed in China before they drop him off wherever he wants to go. Oliver doesn’t seem to notice that Waller seems scared of the Army guy, but we do know that China White somehow makes it out of custody and that Oliver never makes it back to Starling City until the day he’s rescued. Presumably.

The only good thing to come out of the flashbacks is the video Oliver found of his father, Robert, telling him about the list. So that’s one mystery solved, clumsily, but solved nonetheless. I appreciate the casting for Oliver’s father, when he talks, he has a lot of the same mannerisms and facial tics as Stephen Amell, and that’s when the resemblance really comes through.

Quentin was awful in the flashbacks, but in a realistic way. He was deep into booze and blaming the world for his troubles, and it played painfully but accurately; it shows the tremendous growth he’s made since then. Unfortunately, present-day Quentin is really mad at Laurel, not for donning the mask or becoming the Black Canary, but for lying to him for months. He tells her she broke the bond between them, and he leaves for a separate AA meeting from hers. And I’ll just end with this observation: This is the same sort of secret and breach of trust that created the Slade Wilson we know and love today.

Next week: It looks like everyone takes a field trip to Nanda Parbat. Hopefully this ends with Malcolm Merlyn’s demise. Also — ugh — ATOM stuff.

Uprising

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**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.12 of Arrow, “Uprising.”**

Everything is so bad right now, I don’t even know how to write about it. Should I stop? Should I stick it out in the hopes that it’ll get better? Can it get better? I think I’ve set a mental deadline for myself — if things aren’t amazing by the time Slade returns, I’ll be done writing about this show. It’s not fair to keep coming here and trashing something that, judging by social media, a lot of people are still enjoying. It’s getting exhausting. But I can’t sugarcoat my feelings, so the language gets worse, the writing gets more italicized and exclamation point-y, and I end up sighing with relief on Wednesday nights when I hear those blessed words: Previously, on The 100…

The funny thing is, I’m not angry about any of the things I expected to be upset about. I really, honestly thought that this batch of episodes would be hard for me primarily because of Laurel ascending to the Black Canary, but this week, she was the most inoffensive part of the whole episode. There was a snafu with her when it seemed like she actually wanted to team up with Malcolm Merlyn, but ultimately she cast her vote correctly, and my tiny bit of faith was restored in Laurel. I also thought Ray Palmer would be flitting around in this episode, but he was mercifully absent… unfortunately, it made way for other terrible developments and plot devices and ugh.

We didn’t see Oliver fight his way back. Did you know he was stabbed through the midsection, on a snowy mountaintop, and left for dead? Did you know someone dragged him all the way back to a cabin in God-knows-where to have him nursed back to health, sans magical herbs or a mythical healing pool? Did you know Maseo, and by extension Tatsu, risked everything for him? And we see, what — we see him get on a truck and half-heartedly ask Tatsu to come with him back to Starling. Then suddenly, one commercial break later, he’s back in his leathers, shooting people, bellowing at Merlyn in an alley, and moving around like he didn’t just recover from certain death. They made such a big deal about him almost dying, you guys, they pretended he was dead even though we knew better, they had the characters spin out of control in their grief, they had a madman take over the Glades, and Oliver just… appears. Mid-battle. And gives the most hokey, cringe-inducing speech on top of a truck. It was horrible. It was rushed, it was poorly edited, and worst of all, it was hackneyed.

Instead of going immediately to his team, who kept his image going for as long as they could while he was gone, Oliver went to Thea’s apartment to make a deal with the devil. We got to hear all about how Thea is now Malcolm’s redemption, except for the fact that he already ruined her. And Oliver just nods like this is totally normal language! Like, “Yes, I can see how this is a good thing, you know, you turned her into a killer and our mother wouldn’t recognize her today but sure, yeah, your redemption should totally hinge on my twenty-year-old sister who still doesn’t know the truth about Sara’s death! Hey, let’s get drinks later!”

His team barely reacted when he finally deigned to appear in the foundry; a couple of relieved looks, maybe a grin or two, and Felicity flinging her arms around his neck, but then things got so much worse. Felicity’s been fighting for the Right Thing since Oliver left, she and Diggle are holding the party line, but as the city falls into more chaos, Roy and Laurel have considered making exceptions. Felicity shouted them down.

 

And then Oliver comes back and the first thing he says is that he’s going to team up with the monster Felicity’s been facing down for weeks. It’s unimaginable.

I can’t even get into the horrible Merlyn flashbacks. Some of the scenes indicate that even Barrowman can’t make this crap work onscreen, and the anti-climactic showdown in the alley was just embarrassing for all parties. (No, I take that back, I think Vinnie Jones can hold his chin up after that.) Why bother doing a three-episode arc of a supervillain trying to take over the Glades, then throw in a random last-minute twist that Brick killed Rebecca Merlyn, then not even resolve the bigger issues around it?! The mayor kowtowed to a terrorists! The police were pulled out of that section of the city. That’s not even Gotham-levels of corruption and misplaced power, that’s just BAD. That’s just anarchy and death.

What was the point of twisting it so that Brick killed Merlyn’s wife? He didn’t even do it for a reason, he just needed someone to kill, so it wasn’t even a compelling backstory. It gave Merlyn a reason to kill him, but having him choose “correctly” doesn’t absolve him of the other horrors he’s bestowed on the people he loves. He killed his son. He turned his daughter, who still doesn’t know the truth, into a killer. He killed Sara and sent Oliver to his certain death. And Oliver made a deal with him? This is not Moira — this is not shades of right and wrong meshing and mixing in a gray area, this is black and white, this is manipulation and emotional abuse and Oliver actually making a decision that will turn him from an every-man hero into an Advocate for the Greater Good. And as Diggle rightly pointed out to Merlyn early in the episode — that makes him no better than Merlyn himself.

So ultimately, by the time the last scene rolled in and Felicity was standing alone in the alley as Oliver wandered over to her, I was done. I was livid, I was over it, and I was ready for the whole thing to implode. I’m so tired of this season, of the choices Oliver has been making for no good reason, of our beloved characters becoming warped versions of themselves… I was done.

I can put myself in Felicity’s shoes and picture falling out of love with Oliver Queen in that moment. Here is a guy who, despite the blood on his hands, I thought was a hero. I fought for him. I defended him to cops, to friends, to family, even to myself. He always did the right thing. He saved lives. He loved his mother and his sister, he defended his father’s honor, he chose not to kill in the name of his deceased best friend. He loved me back. He believed in me. He saved me. He armed me for a takedown, and I followed through. Things were good, and then they weren’t, and he pushed me away. I had to choose how to feel, and I tried to move on, but one of our close friends was killed, and that changed everything — that changed him. Suddenly he stopped believing in the good of people. Suddenly he started aligning himself with a criminal. He went to his death even when he knew it would hurt everyone, even when he knew it would leave his sister in the care of a psychopath. But he went anyway, and I asked him to fight, and he died. I mourned. I thought he was gone, but deep down, I wanted him to be alive, I wanted him to fight back and come back to me and decide life was worth living in the light, that being in the streets and in battle wasn’t fulfilling anymore, and maybe he deserved better… But he came back, and he said, “I’m going to work with Malcolm Merlyn.”

Yes. I can definitely see myself falling out of love with Oliver in that moment. At the very least, I can see myself hating him, and hating that he is who I love. I can see every reason behind Felicity’s speech, even if it was cruel, even if it was worded specifically to hurt him. He deserved it. As angry as I am at Roy for lying to Thea and considering aligning himself with Merlyn, as angry as I am with Laurel for even considering it for a moment, that’s nothing compared to the fury I feel when I think that Oliver is teaming up with the man who stole his sister’s agency, the man who killed Sara for no reason. Now Oliver is the hero Starling City has, but he’s certainly not the hero Starling City deserves. Not anymore.

Other notes:

– Thank goodness Sin was back, even if it was just for one episode. I love that character, and it sucks that they shoved off the “Hey that chick in black isn’t Sara” reveal to Lance on her, of all people, but at least he’s going to figure it out now. I kinda hope he tries to kill Oliver when he finds out the ugly truth.

– Also back was Ted Grant, who might or might not have been killed in the Braveheart battle, because why keep around a compelling side character whose backstory we didn’t even explore and who can actually fight when you can keep… Malcolm Merlyn. #ArrowLogic

– My sister was excited about “baby Oliver and Tommy!” but I couldn’t even work up a little bit of enthusiasm since they were part of the Humanize Malcolm Merlyn Campaign that this show is currently on. Still, here they are:

 

– I’m sorry I have to do this, but the absolute worst editing and voiceover work I’ve ever seen outside of The Mindy Project happened at the end of the episode, when Thea and Malcolm were chatting and Oliver walked into the apartment with an “Is my room still available?” It was poorly timed and poorly edited and honestly, it might seem like nitpicking, but after that terrible truck-top speech, I can’t abide it. IT WAS BAD.

– Also, I call it the Braveheart Battle because have you ever seen a crowd with assault rifles start charging at each other? Or do they, you know, hang back and use their assault rifles?

– I’m sad that the Vinnie Jones arc ended so lacklusterly. I’m so sad that I might spend tonight rewatching his episodes of Elementary, because THAT was a compelling villain.

– The only people who managed to make this episode watchable: John Effing Diggle and Felicity Friggin Smoak, that’s who. Diggle really Diggle’d this episode and his criminally few lines by being amazing:

 

And Felicity, well…

– Finally, this needs to be seen in its entirety.

Next week: I don’t even remember the promo for next week. Actually, I wrote this whole thing based on my memory of the episode, instead of rewatching as I write like I normally do, that’s how much I didn’t want to relive it. I think I read a summary somewhere that Oliver won’t be happy with the changes on the team, but hey, that’s what you get for going to your ultimately pointless near-death, bro.