All right, "Arrow," we need to talk. I need you to know you didn't do anything wrong. And I'm not trying to pull the "it's not you, it's me card" because, well ... it's not me.
I'm still sitting here every Wednesday, waiting for you to spark up some of that old magic. Remember all the fun we had with Deathstroke? And Malcolm Merlyn the year before that? I even forgave you for that whole Ra's al Ghul nightmare ... but ... I mean ... don't you feel it? Like we're not as great as we used to be?
Arrow came back from its midseason (or three-quarters season?) hiatus with "Broken Hearts" on Wednesday night, and like most of Season 4, it didn't do much wrong, but it didn't do anything to excite me, either. The episode served as a refresher course on the two main plot shake-ups we faced last month — Damien Darhk is in prison, Ollicity is no more — and it's completely serviceable in that regard.
But that's also the problem. We're entering the season's home stretch, and I've got no excitement, no urgency, no sense of the stakes. "Serviceable" is the most positive word I can find to describe "Broken Hearts." Even stranger, an episode dedicated to the relationship at the center of "Arrow" actually seemed to drag during the Ollicity scenes and only flourish when we focused on ... Laurel?
Forgive me, Father, perhaps I know not what I do, but on March 24, 2016, I am prepared to say Laurel Lance was the best part of an "Arrow" episode. I know the Hellmouth is about to open beneath me, so tell my kids I love them, but the Darhk courtroom stuff was the saving grace of "Broken Hearts."
But in the courtroom, she's in a class all her own. She has a standalone function there. A power, if you will, that no one else does. Oliver isn't going to kill Darhk, so the only person who can conceivably deal with him on a permanent basis is Laurel. She can convict him, put him under the jail and melt down the key. Or so we hope.
The courthouse also provides another showcase for Paul Blackthorne, who has been killing it as Quentin Lance this year. His testimony seems both cathartic and painful. He finally gets to stick it to Darhk, but probably ends up throwing away his career at the same time. Of course, we know where sacrifice gets you in a comic book story arc. So while this seasonlong resurgence for the Quentin character helped boost his stock (and Laurel's), it's also increasing his odds of winding up in that media-res grave we saw back in the season premiere. Darhk's got plenty of reason to want Quentin dead now, no?
This shouldn't come as a shock to anyone, but the courtroom scenes work because they have (gasp!) stakes. If Darhk gets out of prison, people probably die. If Quentin testifies, his career and maybe his freedom are forfeit. If Laurel fails in court, a place she rarely falters, that could have personal consequences.
Outside the courtroom, well ... they're not fooling anyone with this Oliver-Felicity schism storyline. The scenes are well acted, and using Cupid to force the couple into feigned nuptials was a clever little touch but, well ... no one really believes they're breaking up, right? Aside from the fact that we've literally seen the future where they're riding in a limousine together at that grave site, the series has given me no reason to believe these two can actually stay away from one another.
Again, there's nothing wrong with how the writing team has set up this separation. Felicity and Oliver's split over the existence of William is completely believable. It's a complicated wedge, and they both have points on each side of the argument. But it's simply hard to invest in a storyline where I feel like I already know the outcome.
The ham-fisted dialogue doesn't help these scenes ("I don't want to let you go" / "I'm already gone" sounds like the exchange that launched a thousand Dashboard Confessional away messages back when AIM was still a thing), and neither does the presence of Cupid, a villain I generally enjoy whose "love is death" mantra bludgeons a point that's already being hit on the nose.
At first, I liked the re-introduction of Cupid as a warrior against love as opposed to the crazy ex-girlfriend she represented during her debut in Season 3. Now, stung by the death of two of her assumed loves (Deadshot is actually dead, and she thinks the Arrow bought the farm as well), this lunatic wants to kill celebrity couples so the world can "know her truth."
This might have worked in a different episode, and Cupid is better than most of "Arrow's" villain-of-the-week candidates, but it's tough to juxtapose Cupid's very insane romantic issues against Oliver and Felicity's grounded-in-reality relationship drama.
Merlyn is still out there somewhere, and Darhk is probably going to break out of prison because the Star City correctional officers are literally the worst.
I know we've got a chance to be great again, "Arrow," to be the way we used to be.
I'm holding on "Arrow." In the words of the great philosopher Smoak: I don't want to let you go.
Left In The Quiver:
- As for the headline, I worked in New Jersey for five years. I am legally allowed, if not obligated, to make a Bon Jovi joke in an episode that involves a woman literally shooting people with heart shaped arrows.
- Seriously? Who hires the corrections officers in Star City? How is Damien Darhk walking around with a ring in his mouth? Is he gonna get his mojo back after only one episode?
- Bad timing aside, more Cupid please. The Green Arrow doesn't have a deep villain bench, and with Merlyn missing a hand, Deathstroke imprisoned and Vertigo dead (may he stay that way), the series is hurting for non-Batman villains to use as week-to-week antagonists. Cupid's a good character; she just needs an episode where she can drive her own storyline and not be used to advance someone else's.
- The preview for next week made it look like we're getting Queen Bee as an episodic villain. Queen (insert many expletives here) Bee. Can Cupid just break out and give us a two-parter? We seriously need an expansion draft for "Arrow" villains. Can somebody get me Sinestro's agent on the phone? Solomon Grundy? Anyone? Hell, I'd take Bizarro, since Superman is busy fighting a certain "Bat" on the big screen this weekend.
- The show also seems to be getting away from humor in recent weeks. The absence of Ray Palmer has been felt this season, but even more so whenever Curtis isn't around.