Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S05E07 - 'Vigilante'





At some point, I suppose I just have to accept the fact that, out of all of the CW's DC related content, Arrow is the one that I enjoy the least.

While the others all seem more than happy to embrace varying degrees of 'comic-book'-inspired fun, Arrow is a series which has always wanted to take itself very seriously. It is a series that has gone out of its way to add layers of complexity on top of the standard 'super-hero' action – giving us a conflicted anti-hero for a central character, and often seeming intent on exploring the moral ambiguity of his actions.

But, as interesting as that might sound, I have never quite been able to shake the impression that the series, as a whole, just hasn't done a very good job with any of that. Instead of feeling invested in Oliver Queen's struggles to become a true 'hero', I have often found myself just feeling frustrated with him, as a character. It also doesn't help that the series, itself, often seems to go back and forth on what it wishes to portray as 'right'.


Is it fair that I judge Arrow by different standards to those I tend to apply to the rest of the CW's DC related content? Well, probably not – but, then, the people behind the series seemed to invite that when they settled on such a serious tone for the series. When you compare Arrow to something like Netflix's Daredevil (which aims for a very similar tone), then the CW's series just seems to fall a little short.

Despite all of that, though, I have felt some compulsion to stick with Arrow, over the past few seasons (if only because of its integral part in the broader universe that has been built) – and, I am also prepared to admit that there have been plenty of episodes, of the past few seasons, that I have found to be genuinely entertaining. By focusing so heavily on Oliver's first year as a vigilante, though, the previous episode just seemed to bring all of my lingering issues to the foreground – and, at a glance, that seemed set to continue, here.

If nothing else, though, then this episode's emphasis on a fairly classic battle of ideologies, as Oliver is confront by a much more ruthless new vigilante (helpfully called 'Vigilante'), does promise some entertaining action.

Oliver, still trying to distance himself from his own past, seems intent on passing moral judgement on this new vigilante – declaring his actions to be a danger to the peace and stability of Star City despite, at a glance, not seeming all that different to Oliver's actions in the first season. His team, on the other hand, seeming willing to consider the possibility that 'Vigilante' might actually be doing the right thing, and that they might all be on the same side – despite the fact that they were angered and horrified by what the learnt about Oliver's past, in the previous episode. Honestly, the title of this episode could have just as easily been 'Hypocrisy', and it still would have fit. Although, it is a level of hypocrisy that does seem to fit with what we have learnt about these characters – and, in the case of Oliver's team, it is a level of hypocrisy that is directly addressed (also, I suppose, you could make the argument that Oliver actually has 'evolved' – and, so, he is in a position to pass judgement).

Meanwhile, Diggle, despite being willing enough to accept the life of a fugitive that Oliver and Lyla practically forced on him, is now angry and resentful about the true cost of that decision (in particularly, at being forced to miss his son's birthday) – and, is taking that anger out on anyone who gets in his way.

In the end, I think that the most interesting aspect of this episode, for me, is the fact that it all actually worked as well as it does. Vigilante, himself, makes for a impressively intimidating figure – and, his presence allows for some very entertaining action sequences. More importantly (and, regardless of my opinions about the characterisation of Oliver Queen), this conflict of ideologies between 'heroes' is something that I have always enjoyed. It's not just Vigilante's ruthlessness that is at issue here, of course – but, also, his recklessness. Vigilante displays a casual disregard for the lives of innocent bystanders which Oliver, even at his worst, would not be willing to condone. So, naturally, he needs to be stopped.

Elsewhere, things were a also a bit 'hit or miss'. Diggle's frustration over being separated from his family is understandable – though, perhaps, played a bit too strongly throughout the episode. It makes sense that he would be upset at missing his son's birthday, of course – but, portraying him as so angered by that fact that he is willing, and able, to threaten physical violence against seemingly innocent witnesses doesn't do him any favours. To be fair, though, this whole sub-plot does lead to a pretty great moment between Diggle and Wild Dog – so, there is some pay-off, at least.

Also, it was great to see the previous episode's clue that Quentin Lance might actually be Prometheus be directly addressed, and seemingly immediately abandoned, here – with both Quentin and Thea coming to the conclusion that the real Prometheus must simply be targeting Quentin. Of course, why Prometheus would do such a thing is a question that can't possibly be answered, at this point – but, it should hopefully lead somewhere interesting (and, hopefully, a little more plausible than the idea of an alcoholic ex-cop suddenly becoming a ninja). Also, Thea's continued determination to help and support Quentin, despite his constant efforts to push her away, is genuinely touching. I have to admit that, as a character, I like Thea more, now, than I have at any previous point, in the series.

Oddly enough, though, the true high-light of the episode would have to be, for the second episode in a row, this episode's continuation of the flash-back story-line – and, once again, that would have to be owed primarily to Dolph Lundgren. Konstantin Kovar is set to be the final challenge Oliver had to face during his five years 'lost at sea' – so, it makes sense that they would to fill the role with someone who could portray an appropriate level of menace. Honestly, though, I think that the series outdid itself by getting Dolph Lundgren (the man who once put Sylvester Stallone in hospital) to play the part. At this point in his caress, Lundgren could probably play this sort of character in his sleep – and, he easily manages the mix of charisma and intimidation necessary to make him a truly compelling figure.

While I'm well aware of the fact that my own lingering issues, and personal biases, do occasionally seem to get in the way of my ability to enjoy this series, I would still like to think that I am capable of admitting when Arrow does manages to get things right. There was actually quite a bit to like about this episode – with some great action, some great moments of character drama, and a 'flash-back' story-line which is turning out to be a genuine high-light for the series (rather than the frustrating distraction that it has been, in past seasons). Also, I have to admit that, so far, Vigilante is shaping up to be a much more interesting antagonist than Prometheus. Although, given that Prometheus is meant to be the more important figure, of the two, that's not necessarily a good thing – at least, as far as the season, as a whole, is concerned.

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