Thursday, May 19, 2016

Arrow "Lost in the Flood" Review: Let's Get Ready to Rubble

It's a bit weird being in a place where I think Legends of Tomorrow ended up having a better penultimate episode to its season finale than Arrow or The Flash did this year. Admittedly, it helped that Legends was less-than-great for most of its first season, so performing a really entertaining run-up to its finale was less of a leap and more of an "About time!" moment.
Anyway, here I am, looking at "Lost in the Flood" and thinking to myself that at least the show finally got to do something it always wanted to do: destroy a chunk of Star City! I'm also thinking that after nuking a city in the previous episode, leaving a big hole in the hero's home city ended up feeling a touch anticlimactic. Obviously Darhk isn't done playing with his nuclear toys—if the hacker you hire gets beaten by another hacker, you kidnap that other hacker, naturally—so the threat of more nuclear annihilation continues to looms over Arrow as it heads into the Season 4 finale. Of course, Arrow won't nuke Star City. It's why the show already obliterated some other city and put a big hole in Star City.
When this season premiered, I was half-lured into thinking that Arrow was going to start taking Star City seriously. It was dying, its population was fleeing, and Damien Darhk was slowly pulling it under his control. Oliver went on a pirated broadcast and promised hope as the Green Arrow and then ran for mayor promising to fight in the light. Both actions were intended to bring Star City back from the brink. Then the show pretty much forgot all about the hope aspect of things. The Green Arrow never seemed to do much as a hope-giving vigilante figure, and Oliver's campaign floundered as a storyline before it ended up shut down in the actual narrative.
I rehash all this because Arrow has decided to care about all this again after not caring about it since "Dark Waters" at the earliest or "Code of Silence" at the latest, depending on how charitable you're feeling. It started trickling back in after Laurel's death and the show's attempt to establish a legacy for her that largely existed off-screen, but it really came to the forefront again in "Lost in the Flood" when Oliver and Diggle encountered folks who willingly went into Tevat Noah (H.I.V.E's dome bunker). It was ham-fisted to be sure, but, basically, Oliver wondered why Darhk's message of hope through destruction (and rebirth) was resonating with people who have not only been the innocent victims of various attacks on the city but were never helped by the city afterwards, either.
That such people are on this path of being totally cool with the impending nuclear apocalypse is a little hard to swallow—they're happy to let the world burn so they can get theirs!—since it's such an extreme stance. But what were the alternatives? None, is the answer, because the show never provided any despite apparently being interested in doing so. Oliver's campaign looked promising, but it broke down before it could do much good, and the Green Arrow was never depicted as a bringer of hope to those who needed it most.
To try and bring all of this back as the season is ending felt very cheap, and a sign that the show is constructed in a way that would make more thematic sense if they didn't have to do 23 episodes. I'm not advocating for a shorter season—goodness knows that Legends of Tomorrow couldn't manage to tell a tight story in 16 episodes, somehow—but I am advocating for a cohesive season. If Arrow's going to introduce these concepts and then chuck them in the corner for long stretches until it decides it wants to play with them again, why introduce them at all? I get this is par for the course for Arrow, but given the heavy emphasis this season has placed on Star City, it's more frustrating than it has been in the past.
Stepping away from the larger macro issues, "Lost in the Flood" remained a weird sort of transitional episode. It didn't feel like the show was reaching the peak of rising action here as it headed into the finale, which doesn't bode well for the finale. It didn't help matters that Darhk decided not to kill Oliver because he's feeling so omnipotent that he wants Oliver alive so he can fry in a nuclear blast instead. Classic super villain blunder, Damien. Just a gun instead of sharks with laser beams, or dark magic choking powers instead of a nuclear holocaust. Whichever. I get that it's a genre trope, but it's sort of ridiculous in a situation when the show veers toward the self-reflexive, like when Curtis acknowledged that people in the show's universe don't understand why anyone lives in Star City.
After that, it was pretty much routine. Thea got mind-controlled again, but this time managed to fight it off. Ruvé was killed so Darhk could get very serious about destroying the world and Oliver now, or, you know, Arrow killed off a lady character so a man character could be angry and work through his feelings using violence. Again. There was some good stuff in this. I really enjoyed what the change in location brought to the episode, not to mention having it be set during "the day." The suburban feel enlivened the chase sequence a lot, and the houses were a real step up from empty warehouses with lots of tarps.
Also routine, and in more ways than one, was all the Smoak family drama. First, though, thank goodness for Curtis because I'm not sure I would've gotten through this otherwise. His running commentary on everything basically kept these scenes afloat, while everyone else in the scenes had to find something to do with playing the same damn beats over and over again. "Noah's a criminal! And a liar!" "You all know I'm right here! And that I'm also not denying any of that?" was the extent of what those scenes were about so Curtis could make the observation that Felicity is to Oliver as Donna is to Noah. Which was a decent insight, and I'm glad Curtis, as an outsider, was around to deliver these epiphanies.
The other way this was also routine was that Felicity was written in ways that serviced an endgame instead of being consistent. She found out Donna lied this whole time about Noah abandoning the two of them (Donna actually kicked him to the curb) and was totally cool with it. After being very angry about being lied to this season (and justifiably so), Felicity was basically, "Aw, mom, I get it. It's fine. Can I help fold some more clothes?" There'd been no real sign of change in Felicity's position about lying about big things regarding family, but I presumed this moment, in conjunction with Curtis explaining it all to her, was intended to lay the groundwork for her and Oliver's eventual reconciliation. Not a particularly elegant way to do that.

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