Friday, 25 March 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E16 - 'Broken Hearts'

This season's initial promise of an Oliver Queen committed to a happier and more hopeful outlook seems to have momentarily set aside as we move firmly into 'post break-up' territory with Oliver and Felicity.

Here, we see Oliver at what might be his lowest point, so far, as he is forced to accept that his chance at a happy life with Felicity may have been lost – ruined by his own insistence on keeping secrets from the woman he intended on marrying. Felicity, meanwhile, seems to decided to hide whatever she might be feeling behind an almost aggressively cheerful mask, while taking passive-aggressive pot-shots at Oliver whenever the opportunity presents itself.

It all feels very real, of course (or, at least, it does in a heightened and melodramatic sort of way) – but, its not exactly a lot of fun to watch. Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards were as good as they have always been at portraying this phase of their respective character's increasingly complicated relationship, of course – but, as someone who has only ever been vaguely tolerant of the time spent on it in the past, I can't really say that I felt all that invested in what I was seeing, here. It's not that I have any real issues with romantic sub-plots, in general – I've just never been a fan of the overly melodramatic way that romance is handled on the sorts of shows that The CW puts out. In that regard, at least, I suppose I just don't fit the target demographic.

Unfortunately, it was clear from the start that the end of 'Olicity' (and, hopefully, that's the only time I will ever have to type that word) was going to be the primary focus of this episode. Even when the episode's chosen villain, Cupid (Amy Gumenick), makes her return, it's with a plan that is clearly intended to play on this theme in a manner that feels almost painfully heavy-handed. Cupid, it seems, has decided to declare war on the entire concept of 'love' as a result of Deadshot's death in her last appearance. Her plan, it seems, is to target celebrity couples in Star City – murdering them soon after their wedding, and leaving them for the police to find as part of some sort of vague 'statement' intended to convince the general populace of the futility of love (she's crazy, of course – so, her reasoning doesn't need to make much sense). With Oliver and Felicity being exactly the sort of celebrity couple that Cupid would target (and, in fact, with them actually turning out to be one of her targets), it's only natural that this particularly plot-line would resolve itself with a staged wedding.

Apart from my issues with romantic plot-lines in CW shows, in general, another fairly significant issue I had with this episode is the fact that Cupid is an absurd character – and, she always has been. Her obsession with the whole concept of love, and the way in which she instantly fell in love with people who had saved her life (first Oliver, then Deadshot), came across as being more 'cartoonish' then real. Her war on love, in this episode, came across in much the same way.

Cupid is a 'comedy' villain, more than anything. While her previous appearances were each a lot of fun (with her unique brand of 'crazy' adding an entertaining lightness to her episodes), this episode's attempt to place her in a more serious context simply doesn't work.

Fortunately, this wasn't all that this episode of Arrow had to offer – as, there was also Damien Darhk's arrest at the end of the previous episode, and the issue of whether or not his trial would go ahead. The elements of court-room drama that this sub-plot added to the episode was much more compelling than anything we saw with Felicity and Oliver and Cupid – and, by the end, I found myself wishing that the episode could have focused more on this. Honestly, it felt much more important, to me.

With Darhk's lawyer working to have the case dismissed (through a somewhat outlandish story portraying Darhk another victim), this episode also Laurel the opportunity to return to her original role – as a prosecutor determined to see Darhk's trial go ahead. With Darhk's lawyer also skillfully undermining Diggle's testimony, the episode also give Detective Lance the opportunity to step forward. With Detective Lance being in the perfect position to testify against Damien Darhk, it seems that Laurel's case may hinge on allowing him to take the stand – but, of course, with his career and his reputation on the line, the cost of revealing his role in Darhk's plan will be extremely high.

As compelling as these court-room scenes were, it was also painfully clear that this was simply a sub-plot for this episode. The comparatively brief amount of screen-time devoted to Damien Darhk's arrest, and trial, meant that the true drama of these moments was constantly undermined. If the episode had been structured differently, so that this was the primary plot-line (with everything involving Oliver and Felicity's relationship, and Cupid being a sub-plot), then I'm convinced that the episode, as a whole, would have been much more successful.

Unfortunately, what we had instead was a genuinely compelling piece of court-room drama, built around one of the most engaging villains to have appeared on Arrow throughout its entire time on-air, buried beneath scenery-chewing craziness and heightened melodrama. The after-math of Felicity and Oliver's break-up was ground that needed to be covered, though – so, now that it has been, hopefully the focus can shift back to more interesting territory.

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