Thursday, October 18, 2012

Arrow - Honor Thy Father

The second episode of Arrow was as strong (and as weak) as the first. We get a bit more progression of what happened to Ollie on the island and an indicator of where the scars came from. There's a colorful and equally skilled villain for him to face off against in the white haired Asian woman China White. We see the bodyguard Diggle being actually useful and showing some ability himself. Quentin Lance is probably the most interesting of the characters, with more sides to him as his relationships and motivations logically differ depending on who he's interacting with: overprotective parent of Laurel, disapproving and dislike of Ollie, honest cop and upholder of the law against vigilante. It helps that Paul Blackthorne manages to wring some worth out of rather hokey or cheesy dialogue and seems to be about the only actor in the show that really knows how to act with more facial expressions than just glower.

With Ollie, we get a lot of the character conflict that helped Smallville as well as similar themes in how to best honor the wishes of the father. In Smallville a large part of that conflict was due to Clark having two fathers often with opposing goals, as well as the excellent John Glover playing the part of Lionel Luthor, Lex's father. Here, the conflict is out of the type of man the father was, a flawed businessman who made big mistakes and whose dying declaration is for his son to fix those mistakes. Ollie is trying to make good on that mission without actually exposing to the world the type of man his father really was. Redeem those mistakes so that in death, his father's legacy will be the truth of what it was pretended to be in life. And, we see Ollie struggling here as it means he's forced to maintain three identities: the driven and enlightened to his self and the ways of the world, the masked vigilante, and the false shallow playboy from before. And, this episode shows he recognizes that it is a juggling act and that he has to become more comfortable with the latter identity, the one that's more false than the others, if he's going to be successful as the second. But, it's a juggling act he's not good at because when in private with people that he likes, it's the new, enlightened Oliver Queen they see.

The episode falls apart mainly with the resolution. In stereotypical superhero fashion, Oliver shoots arrows around the bad guy while interrogating him, all the while secretly recording the man's confession. He then gives this to the cops and this somehow clears up the investigation/trial with the clear implication that the confession is sending the man to jail. This is a cliche and it's a bad cliche, especially considering one of the writers used to write for Law & Order! There's no way a coerced confession, especially by a vigilante, would ever be admittable in a court of law. If anything it would make the case more difficult, not less. They want to distance themselves from superheroes and be considered a bit more of a crime/action drama, these are the slack storytelling cliches they need to avoid. It's not the costumes, names and powers that sink superheroes. It's the bad storytelling that often goes hand-in-hand, that as soon as the creators see that it includes costumes or powers, it gives them a pass to be sloppy.

The show is already beginning to show some chinks as well. Turns out that it's not the name changes that's annoying but the disregard towards names. We've seen this in the superhero movies. Black Widow not being called that in Iron Man II, Hawkeye not being called that in The Avengers, Catwoman never being called that in Dark Knight Rises and her friend Holly Robinson is not called by name in the film or how the British member of the Howling Commandos in Captain America had his name changed to Brian Falsworth but not actually called by name in the movie... it's a name change via credits only. Some of this is just basic bad storytelling, not giving us the names of people as they appear in the movie despite giving them names in the credits. In many cases though it's the people being afraid of the source material. The show is called Arrow but the show goes to great lengths to not call him by name. He's referred to twice now as "Robin Hood" and as "the archer". I can possibly understand the reasoning behind changing the name of the show, but avoidance of the name in the show itself smacks of shame. The name "Green Arrow" for a character didn't seem to hurt Smallville any. Likewise, the Triad villain in this episode. If she was called by name in the episode I missed it. For all I knew, she was a tv version of Cheshire or Shiva. Had to look it up on IMDB (interestingly, the actress has voiced Cheshire on Young Justice). Next week's episode features Deadshot. Will he be called that.

The other chink is from the pics, it looks as if all the superhero/villain characters go to the same tailor with a large surplus of dark leather. Personally, I think both Deadshot and Deathstroke not only have striking costumes, but ones that could translate fairly faithfully. Dull the colors some, downplay the latter's boots but make them distinctive beyond a few trinkets. The Marshall Rogers and George Perez designs are strong, distinctive designs which would look wonderful as faithfully realized.

There is a bit of irony that a show that is trying so hard to distance itself from the term of "superhero" and seems embarrassed by the characters is racing to include as many comicbook heroes and villains as it can. Deadshot next week, we already have seen hints of Deathstroke and is promised soon. Somewhere soon is the Huntress and in the wings in the distance Black Canary and Merlyn cannot be far behind.

The last chink is one of repetition. The show has a dual mega-story it's telling. What happened to Ollie on the island, and the redemption of his father's name by going after people in the notebook. This gives the show some depth and mystery, a well to draw upon for stories. But, it can also choke a series to death. Tie the story too closely to the mission and you run into future problems such as the show becoming a caricature of itself, unable to move beyond the mission. Richard Kimble cannot find the one-armed man, Jack McGee cannot uncover the truth behind the Hulk, Fox Mulder cannot discover the whole truth, Sam and Diane/David and Maddy cannot become a couple, etc. Eventually the episodes are covering the same beats, the same monotonous tone week in and week out. More importantly, we are seeing that mega-story series fail as often as they succeed. For every Lost, there seems to be about a dozen The River, The Event, Alcatraz etc. Instead, the model should be for the mega-story be more about concept that allows a variety of stories with smaller, major arcs that can be threaded through it such as Persons of Interest. While there are episodes and recurring themes that reveal more of the mysterious backgrounds of the principle characters, it's organic and allowing for many different types of stories. The other major problem of making the show too much about the mega-story is that it becomes impenetrable to casual or new viewers. Miss a couple of episodes and you are lost. Too much effort to get back into.

Maybe I am judging the last a little too harshly based on just two episodes, but I see that this kind of plotting and storytelling driving comics of the last couple of years. A year into Aquaman and we're still on the same mega-story. So far the episodes of the tv show are better at being done-in-one while furthering the ongoing sub-plots, but here's hoping we'll see some of the main plots of the episodes having nothing to do with the mega-story or sub-plots of the same episode, that not everything is connected. For it is there that you will find variety and opportunity for the show to grow beyond its basic setup.

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