5 Ways to Improve Arrow Next Season

The finale of Arrow has aired, and the consensus view is that this whole season has been a mess. I certainly don’t disagree with that, and in fact I am probably harsher in my outlook than most people who are still watching. I think that current head writer Marc Guggenheim is simply a bad writer who seems to think that we should find the show to be awesome just because it depicts comic book characters.

Some of the ways to make the show better next season are pretty obvious: make the dialogue better, get a good villain portrayed by a strong actor, write character allegiances that actually make sense, and next time you say a character won’t forgive something, make sure they actually don’t forgive it when it actually happens. They are certainly necessary, but for this post, I’m going to concentrate on some of details that I think people are discussing a little less.

1. Give the women some independence and agency

This season was just a bad one for women. Sara was unceremoniously killed just to motivate the characters for the first half of the season (the fact that she’s coming back for Legends of Tomorrow may indicate that the writers realize how stupid that was). Thea was manipulated at every turn and then was also killed in order to force Oliver to join the League of Assassins (she got better, but she was still reduced to being a plot point). And Felicity’s primary function was to be a love interest for two of the characters. Before this season, all three of these characters had rich backstories and interesting motivations. In Marc Guggenheim’s hands, they became pawns to be moved around by the men.

Ironically, the most independent-minded woman this season was Laurel. I thought her motivations were really stupid and that Katie Cassidy was incapable of selling her as an action hero, but at least she was going her own way without being mind-controlled or told what to do.

2. Bring back the ridiculous cool archery

Remember in the pilot episode when Oliver threw a bunch of tennis balls in the air and then nailed them all to the wall with arrows before they hit the ground? Or how about that time he shot an RPG out of the air? Those moments have mostly disappeared this season, and that’s been to the show’s detriment. It’s Oliver’s defining characteristic. Yes, it’s unrealistic, but that concern sort of goes out the window in a world with the Flash and a pit of water that can resurrect the dead.

In the comics, Oliver Queen has been known to curve the flight of arrows, fire them backwards over his shoulder, and shoot an arrow right down the barrel of a gun. How awesome would it be to see that happening on your TV screen?

3. Stop with the secret keeping

It just doesn’t work. It always ends up making people look stupid. Cut it out.

4. Make the stakes smaller

In season 1, the eventual big threat was an earthquake machine which would destroy a big portion of the city. In season 2, the threat was an army of superpowered soldiers overrunning the place. In season 3, it was a biological weapon. At this point, I think the trope has been played out and has nowhere else to go (incidentally, this is the same criticism I have of the Marvel movies and why I’m strongly unenthusiastic about the upcoming Infinity War). There’s only so many times you can threaten Starling City with utter destruction before it just gets boring.

There are plenty of other ways to generate dramatic tension. You could put one of the character’s lives at risk by infecting them with some disease so that our heroes have to spend several episodes searching for the cure. We still haven’t resolved Detective Lance’s feelings about costumed vigilantes (and he did have some good points when he was allowed to articulate his opposition to them). And how about Oliver’s unknown baby? The revelation could do all kinds of interesting things to the character dynamics.

5. Have some fun

Arrow has always been on the darker side of TV shows, but this season has gone a little overboard. Remember when Felicity would babble too much and inappropriately say what she really thought? Or when Diggle complained about always being cast as the chauffeur during undercover operations? Remember that moment in Season 1 when Oliver and Felicity were in an elevator with a guy hitting on Felicity and Oliver deliberately spilled the guy’s papers in order to get rid of him? Now try to think of a similar moment from this season. The closest we’ve gotten is Nyssa being pleasantly surprised at how good milk shakes taste.

I’m not saying Arrow should be a comedy. But it did allow humor to show up sometimes, and behind-the-scenes videos have shown that all of the cast members are pretty funny people. Humans living in even the bleakest environments have nonetheless usually found something to laugh at. It’s how they survive. Relentless tragedy and grimness just gets monotonous after a while.

Supergirl: Hero or The Devil Wears Lycra?

Our first look at Supergirl is here, and the reaction seems to have been decidedly mixed. On the one hand you have people who think it looks like fun, the special effects are pretty good, and the lead seems very appealing. On the other hand, a lot of people are disappointed or even angry that the show seems to be a light rom-com. Take a look at the trailer below and see for yourself. Then follow me below the fold for my thoughts.

Continue reading “Supergirl: Hero or The Devil Wears Lycra?”

10 Questions for Arrow

  1. If the Canary jumps off the rooftop of a building with no way to save herself and the Arrow doesn’t manage to grab her hand in time to save her, does she become the Splat Canary?
  2. If police officers are chasing a deadly archer and they find him along with several other archers on a rooftop, why would they just let those other archers go?
  3. Along the same lines, why does Captain Lance trust the word of someone who kidnapped him and employs a bunch of really obvious archers who could be the copycat of the Arrow?
  4. Why is Oliver taking responsibility for Laurel’s decision not to tell her father about Sara’s death?
  5. Why did Laurel think it was a good idea to march three uncostumed, really obvious Arrow associates into police headquarters to see Oliver? And why didn’t Captain Lance arrest them?
  6. Did Shado never tell Oliver about her twin sister that entire time on the island?
  7. After Oliver learned his lesson about the power of telling the truth from Shado’s sister, why did he spend the next two years of his return to Starling City busily keeping every kind of secret imaginable?
  8. Are the police really going to believe that Roy Harper is the Arrow when he’s noticeably smaller and skinnier?
  9. Why does Thea keep disappearing at random throughout this episode? Doesn’t she at least want to visit her brother in lockup?
  10. What exactly was the point of the Ray Palmer storyline when all this other stuff was happening?

Arrow S03.E12 — Uprising

If we assume that Malcolm Merlyn really can teach Oliver to defeat Ra’s Al Ghul (which is a huge assumption that I’ll get to in a moment), then both Oliver and Felicity are right. Felicity is right because Merlyn’s crimes really are unforgivable and it should turn anybody’s stomach to work with him. He can claim that he was trying to protect his city all he wants, but he murdered numerous people and drugged his own daughter to get her to commit another murder (of Oliver’s friend and lover, no less). Felicity’s parting words (“I don’t want to be a woman you love”) were rather hurtful but also contained a lot of truth. Oliver goes through lovers at a rather alarming speed, and they tend to end up dead.

On the other hand, what is Oliver supposed to do? Ra’s Al Ghul killed him last time they fought. He has to be realistic about his chances when the League of Assassins tries to enter his city again. If Merlyn offers the only chance he has, then he has to take the bitter pill.

That last part struck me as rather silly, however. Only the student can best the master and therefore only Merlyn can teach Oliver how to defeat Ra’s Al Ghul? How exactly does that work? I teach martial arts, and there aren’t very many of my students who could beat me in a fight. Nor would I do very well against my grandmaster, and my students certainly wouldn’t learn how to beat my grandmaster from me. I suppose the justification is that Merlyn will understand Ra’s Al Ghul’s sword tactics and that Oliver will be able to discern a weakness in the technique by learning them. But even assuming that’s true, why not just have Maseo teach him? And besides by this logic, Merlyn would be able to defeat Ra’s Al Ghul himself.

So it all seems like a bit of a forced dilemma, but I suppose I’m ok with it for now as long as the show isn’t trying to force a Merlyn redemption arc. The flashbacks reveal a pretty sympathetic Malcolm Merlyn who is lost and doesn’t know what to do when his wife dies. His first kill was rather heartbreaking to watch. And John Barrowman’s hair to indicate his younger self was hilariously awful.

But he killed hundreds of people! And he brainwashed his own daughter into killing another person, all the while claiming to love and care for her. He’s just not redeemable. And I’m a little afraid that this seems to be where the writers are taking the show given how various characters talk about how Malcolm Merlyn truly cares. Roy, of all people, shouldn’t fall for that line.

On another note, I was rather happy to see Sin make an appearance. One of the things about Sara Lance’s story was that it was detailed enough to make its own TV series. It was so rich in fact that she had her own secondary characters one of whom was Sin. I was wondering if the writers were just going to pretend that Sin never existed and that Sara had never made a promise to Sin’s dying father. I’m glad to see Sin wasn’t just tossed aside and forgotten. But it still highlights what a stupid and insulting idea it was to kill off Sara’s character.

Last thought: that street brawl was an impressively big scene and well shot. But the two armies have some pretty strange tactics what with both sides lining up opposite each other and charging into melee range despite the fact that they both have firearms. Diggle was carrying an assault rifle!

Thoughts on the Legend of Zelda for Netflix

You may have heard by now that Netflix is developing a live-action Legend of Zelda series. I have always had mixed feelings about all the efforts to adapt the Legend of Zelda games into a film or TV series. On the one hand, I’m a major Zelda fanboy. I spent a year writing a very long fanfic based on Ocarina of Time. I have purchased and played every console game, and I’ll finally get a Wii U just to play the next Zelda game. I ought to be part of the prime audience for this series.

On the other hand, the games have never seemed suitable for adaptation to me. The Legend of Zelda series is renowned because of its gameplay, not its storyline. Even the more narratively complex Skyward Sword had a pretty simple storyline when you boil it down to the basics. There’s an anonymous boy in a village, he’s called to action, and he fights evil while saving Princess Zelda. The games are a pretty basic interpretation of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth. There usually isn’t much in the way of character development either. Most of the characters have basically one personality trait. And the main character is so blank that he literally doesn’t speak. He’s just an avatar for us to project ourselves onto, after all.

So is this series going to be any good? Well, first of all we should keep in mind that Netflix has only announced that they are developing a series. Nobody has been cast, and the whole project could yet stall. But if everything does come to fruition, I would say the choice to do it in live action is a very risky choice. The Legend of Zelda games have an animated sensibility about them, and not just because they are aimed at a family audience. Link’s movements are faster than any actual human is capable of since he’s supposed to respond instantly to player commands. The world is bright and colorful. And then there are all the inhuman creatures who will probably be rendered in CGI. If you’re going to do a family-friendly Game of Thrones story as the article suggests, I don’t see why you wouldn’t do it as an animation.

Still, it’s not impossible that they will get the look of the show right. What then? Hopefully, the writers will move beyond the typical captured princess story and come up with something richer. Since it’s a Netflix series, it does not have to follow an episodic formula as most network and many cable TV shows do. Instead, it can just tell a long, multi-episode story. I personally would like to see an exploration of the origins of Hyrule and a lot of world-building. Anything coherent will do. We all know that Nintendo has been pretty much making up the history of Hyrule as they go along, and I very much doubt that they really do have an official timeline plotted out that explains all the apparent contradictions. That’s ok for a videogame series, but I would enjoy a more comprehensive mythology for this series.

And yeah, I suppose Link will have to talk. That’s ok, too. But I think his role will mostly be to play the straight man against all the other characters, much as he does in the games. That means casting him will be tricky since he’s inherently a much less interesting character and his actor will have to bring a lot of substance to the role. It doesn’t help that judging by cosplay pics, women are much better at playing him than men.

But nothing is set in stone yet, so who knows? I’ll keep an open mind about the project. But I’m also not getting my hopes up.

Arrow S03.E11 – Midnight City

In my view, this whole season of Arrow has been about the show making the best out of a really bad, insulting decision (namely, killing off Sara Lance and making her sister the Black Canary). This episode continues the trend. In itself, Laurel’s continued development into a costumed vigilante is not terribly done and even makes her kind of interesting sometimes. But it’s still the result of a stupid plot development that should never happened.

Laurel is pretty bad at this fighting business, it turns out. And she never really gets better throughout the course of this episode even as people keep reminding her that she’s not her sister. I can’t help but feeling like there’s a little behind-the-scenes subtext there: “You’re also not Caity Lotz.” Katie Cassidy can’t really help that she needs a stuntwoman and camera tricks to pull off her fight scenes, but it still makes me miss Caity Lotz. In the show, they acknowledge that Laurel’s inept superheroing has real consequences such as the death of a city alderman. It will be interesting to see how Oliver deals with her new hobby when he comes back. It’s pretty clear to me that Laurel is barely functional as a fighter and not even really able to take on the average street tough.

The ruse to fool poor Detective Lance is getting ridiculous. He really deserves a better storyline than this, but what else can they do when Laurel is predestined to be the Black Canary? The actors are actually making the best they can out of the storyline, playing it all without a false note (even Katie Cassidy is doing well). But it’s still a stupid story.

At least Brick is turning out to be a worthy adversary. I’ve always enjoyed seeing Vinnie Jones on the screen even if he always plays the exact same character. I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be super powered or not, though. Unlike his comic book counterpart, he seems to be a normal human. But his gimmick is that bullets don’t bother him. And then again, Roy can still hit him with an arrow. So what gives?

Meanwhile, Oliver is recuperating, and it turns out that he and Maseo rescued Tatsu. That’s great and all, but I still wish she hadn’t been reduced to a pawn for people to trade around. In the comics, she is the superhero Katana and one of the premiere martial artists of the world (she trains with Batman). But I suppose at least she has super healing skills in the modern day that allow her to bring Oliver back.

Oh yeah, that douchey DJ is still there. And he’s still sexually harassing Thea. I’d advocate for her to dropkick him out a window, but at least his last scene reveals that he’s tied to the League of Assassins. Malcolm Merlyn is not going to be happy to find out about that.

Agent Carter S01.E04 — The Blitzkrieg Button

I’ve been trying to write this review for a while. I keep staring at my computer screen waiting for words to come. And they don’t.

This is the first episode of Agent Carter in which the previous energy just didn’t seem to be there. Oh sure, it was kind of surprising when Dottie broke that guy’s neck. But not really. I said before that you don’t just bring in Bridget Regan to play a one-off nobody. And I guess watching Peggy Carter clean up after Howard Stark’s womanizing in much the same way as Pepper Potts will do for Tony Stark was kind of amusing. But that was just a little too cartoonish for me, not least because Howard Stark’s actor is no Robert Downey, Jr. I just don’t believe he’d be able to talk his way into a woman’s bedroom within minutes. And even with Tony Stark the directors would take a few moments to show her flirting with the woman and working his considerable charm before they got into bed.

Oh yeah, there’s a rift which has developed between Carter and Stark because he lied to her. I’d feel the betrayal more if I cared about the lie, but I really don’t. So he had her steal some of Captain America’s blood. So what? We know nothing will come of it because in the modern day Steve Rogers is still the only super soldier left. And we know Carter and Stark will eventually found SHIELD, so they’ll patch things up sooner or later.

And Souza will find out about Carter’s secret. At this point, I’m ready for him to just get on with it.

Every TV series has a slow episode, and at least this one is setting things up for the future. But I still feel that it could have been a lot more memorable than this. Oh well. Onward we go.

The Flash S01.E11 — The Sound and the Fury

This episode was all about introducing a new member of Flash’s Rogues Gallery. In the comics, the Pied Piper plays a special flute which he controls with such precision that he can hypnotize unsuspecting people into doing whatever he wants. He can even become imperceptible to people by hypnotizing them into not noticing him. He also dresses like a court jester.

The TV show has followed their usual strategy of adaptation by getting rid of the sillier, campy elements of the character and turning up the danger and menace. There were a bunch of interesting choices here. The most notable was that the writers made the character gay. This had the potential to backfire really badly since the evil homosexual is one of those old Hollywood tropes that has come to be rightly reviled in the modern day. Here I think the writers managed to strike the balance. Hartley Rathaway is gay, but that’s just one fact about him which is mostly incidental to his motives (unless you think he was in love with Harrison Wells, which is not out of the question). Of course, as a straight man, I am probably less sensitive to these things. All I can say is that it seemed to me that the writers felt comfortable enough to make a gay character who is the villain.

They also made him a pretty irredeemable asshole. Whenever a villain gets extra characterization, the typical trick is to give him a sympathetic backstory that explains if not outright excuses his behavior. Not so in this case. Part of his story is actually sympathetic (he was disowned by his parents when he came out to them), but we see in the flashbacks that he’s a totally unlikable jerk. He may have drawn a tough lot in life, but that doesn’t excuse the way he treats his colleagues.

And yet despite all of that, he was still right in the end. He warned Wells not to turn on the particle accelerator (although I personally think Wells deliberately created the disaster in the first place in order to give Barry his powers in order to save some unspecified future timeline).

Speaking of Wells, we now have confirmation that he has super speed. And that his powers are unstable and come from tachyon particles somehow. It still makes me wonder how he pulled off the trick of appearing in two places at once when he confronted the Reverse Flash. I also wonder incidentally why he called out Iris at his press conference. Was he trying to do her a favor? Or was he trying to avoid a question and assumed wrongly that a cub reporter would go easy on him?

Some people have found Iris’ story unbelievable, but I actually don’t find it so hard to swallow. No, she never showed an inclination for journalism before, but that doesn’t mean she can’t start. And she has no background at all in traditional journalism skills like interviewing people, double checking sources, and confirming timelines. She is simply a blogger who got lucky. But it’s also pretty clear that she wasn’t hired on because of any journalistic inclinations, and her mentor is right to be resentful of her for that. Iris is coming to the realization that the only thing her editor wants is Flash exclusives and he couldn’t really care less how well she writes otherwise. That doesn’t seem so unbelievable to me. And besides, have you seen who they’re allowing to write for newspapers these days?

My last thought is about how the confrontation between the Flash and the Pied Piper played out. When The Flash crossed over with Arrow, Oliver made a point of showing how tactics and strategic thinking could overcome inherent advantages. It looks like Barry didn’t totally learn that lesson because he charged headlong into the fight with Rathaway without an obvious plan other than run really fast and strip away the weapons. Rathaway anticipated this the second time and planned accordingly. If it hadn’t been for some quick thinking from Wells, Barry might have died. This is what is going to make the Pied Piper a very interesting adversary going forward. He’s actually not all that inherently powerful, and without his gadgets he’s just an ordinary human. But his intelligence is what makes him dangerous.

By the way, you can’t actually vibrate a human apart by hitting the body’s resonant frequency. We’re not rigid enough, and by the time you’ve put enough force into your sound waves to damage us, you’re probably creating an explosion anyway. Oh well.

Gotham S01.E13 — Welcome Back, Jim Gordon

Welcome back indeed. And it’s not too long before Jim is charging around breaking things like the proverbial bull in a china shop. The fact that Jim is completely incautious is one of his defining traits, but I have to say it’s starting to get a little tiresome, too. Hopefully, his realization of what it takes to bring down a dirty cop and the cost of doing business with the Penguin will make him slow down and be a little more circumspect.

Also, apparently the hierarchy of corruption at Gotham PD is that some cops will stand by you when you arrest a dirty detective but they won’t when a mob hitman comes to kill you. And speaking of dirty cops, a lot of people online are expressing surprise that Harvey Bullock and Fish Mooney are romantically involved. It certainly didn’t come as a surprise to me, but I’m not sure exactly what their kiss means. Something about their interaction seems deeper than a mere sexual relationship. I’ll be interested to find out what their history is.

Meanwhile, Oswald Cobblepot and his mother are still extremely creepy. I actually found myself wondering if he really does love his mother or if he just puts up with her overbearing nuttiness. His alcoholic bender after she was gone seemed like relief that she was finally gone. But maybe I’m reading too much into it. I guess this nightclub he’s gotten is the precursor to the Iceburg Lounge that Penguin owns in the comics. He’s obviously not home free, though, as Fish Mooney is still out to get him and the previews indicate that Sal Maroni has his suspicions. Let’s talk about that shootout, though. Those were some terrible gun tactics on both sides! Apparently in the world of Gotham the way to win a firefight is to stand there in the open and keep firing without moving anywhere. That’s how one of Zsasz’s henchwomen got herself killed. At least when Butch was adopting that firing tactic, he was deliberately trying to slow down the enemy.

I don’t care much about Edward’s storyline, and I really hope they aren’t going to have the typical TV storyline where a woman rejects the unwanted advances of a man but he wears her down by continually hanging around and she starts to change her mind. There are some hints that this is indeed what is happening, and I find that irritating. Hopefully Nygma turns to a life of crime instead and saves Ms. Kringle from turning into another television cliche.

Poor Bruce has had his little heart broken. Selina Kyle said she lied about seeing the man who murdered his parents, but the relationship between the two of them has gotten mixed up enough that young Bruce almost certainly conflates his hopes for solving the murder with his budding romantic feelings for Selina. But this is, after all, a pretty accurate portrayal of their future relationship. He’s always trying to get her to come to his side and settle down, and she’s never quite able to stay away from the allure of the streets.

So all in all, it seems that this was more of a placeholder episode while other plots get put into motion. Looks like what we’ve got coming up is a villain who is the precursor to Scarecrow and some hot romantic scenes between Jim Gordon and Leslie Thompkins. Which could be unfortunate for Barbara if the romance turns out to be too interesting and believable.

Arrow S03.E10 – Left Behind

In the DC Comics, Oliver Queen died and the role of Green Arrow was taken up by several others in his absence. Eventually, he was revived in the story arc “Quiver” written by Kevin Smith (yes, the Jay & Silent Bob guy). I quite liked it at the time because it dealt a lot with the repercussions of his death on all his friends and loved ones. And I mention it here because Quiver has some potential story elements which may show up in Arrow. There was the emotional devastation left on all his friends and loved ones. He had unknowingly fathered a child with a woman who was not his current love interest. People were not always happy to see him back, and I think the same will be true on the TV show.

You’ll notice that I haven’t made much of a big deal out of the reveal that Oliver is still alive. That’s because as I explained in my review of the last episode, his survival is not a surprise at all. Of course he’s alive. I previously guessed that Oliver’s duel with Ra’s Al Ghul and death was all a ruse arranged between the two of them to fool Malcolm Merlyn. It’s a little disappointing to find out that the truth really is exactly what it appears to be on the surface: Oliver died and was brought back by  a Deus Ex Machina. It’s nice to see that he was rescued by Tatsu who is still alive. Hopefully when we get to see the flashback of her rescue she isn’t too much of a damsel in distress. But all the same, this means Ra’s was dumb enough to believe Oliver’s claim that he killed Sara and that Merlyn was dumb enough to believe Oliver could actually win. Admittedly, it is rather nice to see Merlyn panicking a little.

Meanwhile though, there are those left behind to pick up the pieces. It makes sense that Diggle would be dealing with loss the best since he is a soldier. It was also a lot of fun watching him play the Arrow. Oliver’s normal outfit really is rather tight, isn’t it? I also have to point out that when he was in action with a pistol, I’m fairly certain he probably killed some of the people he hit.

I actually kind of like Laurel as a tough prosecutor. I didn’t think the show could get me to like her at all, but I admit Katie Cassidy is effective when she’s being stern and bitchy. Perhaps the show’s problem all along is that the writers have tried to make her a weeping, sad angel when that’s not in her range. If we can forget all the wonky characterization of the past two seasons, this could actually go well for her. Too bad it had to come at the cost of sacrificing one of the richest, most well-written and well-acted characters to appear on the show (Caity Lotz as Sara Lance). Unfortunately, Laurel is always going to end up looking like a pretender to me unless she manages to forge her own style and identity.

Vinnie Jones is always fun to watch as a tough guy. His character is Brick, and in the comics, he’s a metahuman with red, tough skin. In here he seems to be a normal human although there’s some hint that he’s not bothered by bullets. It seems a little inconsistent though, unless I’m missing something. Arrows do seem to pierce his skin.

There’s a plot with Ray Palmer continuing to build his suit, but honestly I don’t care until he actually finishes it and becomes the Atom. In the meantime, it does give Felicity a chance to give a heartbreaking speech about the people she’s lost. Emily Bett Rickards has nothing to prove as an actor at this point. She can sell any emotion she needs to. But in this case it helped that her speech was pretty well-written.

Serious question: does Thea ever wear shirts that don’t expose her belly?