Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Arrow 4x05 "Haunted" (Something's Made Your Eyes Go Cold)


"Haunted"
Original Airdate: November 4, 2015

Last week I posed the question of whether or not people and circumstances can ever be truly redeemed. As someone who places a lot of emphasis and weight on the ideas of grace and hope, I have to believe that everything can be redeemed — that pain is a temporary part of a larger story that is being woven. It's something that gives me comfort and something that gives me purpose. It's also pretty much foundational to my faith. So in this week's Arrow, the question isn't whether or not people and circumstances can be saved, but whether people should even be rescued. And remember, I asked the very same thing at the end of "Restoration." Because the truth is that you can bring someone back to life — like Laurel did with Sara — but the problem still lingers: if you bring someone back to life without their soul, are you really bringing them back at all?

Arrow hasn't dabbled much in mysticism, though it is — by my classification — much more of a mystical series than its sister show, The Flash. While The Flash deals with metahumans who have superpowers, their powers are explainable: when the particle accelerator exploded, it affected a lot of people and gave them these powers. It's a simple cause and effect. But the appearance of John Constantine and talks of resurrection and magic and an in-between world to rescue someone's soul wouldn't fit in with The Flash's themes at all. That series is based on science and logic and reason (and still faith, but faith in a much more metaphorical sense — i.e., the faith they have in one another as a team at S.T.A.R. Labs, or the faith we place in heroes, etc). Arrow, on the other hand, is the kind of show that seems more appropriate to feature mysticism and magic.

And though we haven't seen much or any magic before this season and, indeed, hadn't really begun to dive into mysticism until toward the end of last year with a field trip to Nanda Parbat, Arrow feels rather at home with "Haunted" and its premise being nearly entirely mystical. While the team in Central City deals with containing scientific abnormalities and conducting experiments, Team Arrow deals with saving souls and casting spells. I liked a lot of elements of this episode and I can't say that I loved it (it's probably the most invested I've been in certain characters, but the least invested I've been in plot so far this season), I definitely think its integration of John Constantine fits in well with what we know to be true about the series in general.

So let's explore some magic, shall we?


LAUREL LANCE: THE NEEDLESSLY DEFIANT


Okay, so a lot of you might know this and some may not, but I was a huge fan of Community. That's the show that launched this site into existence, and it remains (with the exception of a few seasons) a pretty solid sitcom. But something happened with the show that — to this day — bugs me. Because of the erratic writing, Community took a character (Britta Perry) who was extremely independent, bitingly sarcastic, but still absolutely lovable and relatable and turned her into a sour, harsh shadow of her former self. One of the things that irked me the most about her character development was that in the second season of the show, she just became downright MEAN. She had a sour look on her face permanently and was haughty, constantly crossing her arms. There is even an episode in the series in which the other characters refer to her as "the needlessly defiant." She argued for the sake of arguing, and all of the other characters grew rather irritated with her attitude. "She's pro-anti," another character once said of her after she ranted.

(And, for the record, I do adore Britta Perry, who is played by the lovely and sweet Gillian Jacobs. I'm just mad that the show CHOSE to destroy her. And I will always lament the fact that Community could have turned her character around and done infinitely more with her than they did. Ugh. Writers.)

Unfortunately, Arrow has decided to go a similar route with Laurel Lance. Once a confident and competent attorney, this woman's characterization has taken a downward turn over the years, following the same trajectory that Britta Perry's did. Laurel has become brash, insensitive, and judgmental. She talks about Oliver's judgement but Laurel can be just as judgy too, sometimes, and condescending.

You all know that I fight for female characters. I try to never be the kind of person who puts down a female character in order to prop another one up. So that's why I try my hardest to not compare Laurel and Felicity or Thea and Sara. Those four women are completely different with separate identities and wants and desires. But — I'm sure you knew this one was coming — I can't simply overlook characterization or writing flaws, either. I can't say that just because a character is a woman, she doesn't deserve criticism — that just because she's a woman and I'm a feminist, I have to like her. Because I did like Laurel Lance for a long time. I understood her and I did my best to understand her story and her strengths and weaknesses.

... But "Haunted" pretty much cemented the fact that Laurel's reckless and rash behavior will not only continue throughout this series, but will also be excused in some way, shape, or form. Laurel is an addict, and I think that alcohol and drugs are stumbling blocks for her just as much as self-righteousness is. Because you see, even though she apologizes to Thea in "Haunted" for bringing Sara back to life and, you know, essentially marking Thea for death in the process, it doesn't feel real. It doesn't feel like Laurel has learned a lesson. And really, in fact, it feels like if she had to do it all over again, she would have made the same decision (except maybe using different shackles for Sara).

What's really horrifying to me is the way Laurel responds to Thea saying she's going to give herself up as a sacrifice for Sara. Laurel's response isn't abject horror. It isn't insistence that Thea not even entertain the thought or idea of essential suicide. Instead, Laurel essentially says that if it comes down to her or Sara, they'll find a way to make both work.


Yeah, no, Laurel I don't think that's the right thing to say to someone who has almost been killed multiple times in the course of a few days by your vengeful zombie sister, but okay. Sure. Whatevs.

The other thing that really irks me about Laurel in this episode is that the writers made it so Oliver essentially goes back on his beliefs in order to placate Laurel. In her weak apology at the episode's end about how Oliver was right (duh-doy) about Sara and also thanks him for saving her soul, Oliver talks about how much he wants to start fresh and become friends with Laurel again. Because earlier in the episode, Laurel and Oliver have a huge blow-up at the hospital. It's not as big as their fight in the hallway where Oliver walks away and says that he's done chasing after her, but it's close. Laurel accuses Oliver of never seeing her as an equal. And she calls out the hypocrisy of no one telling her about Thea in Nanda Parbat. About no one, really, telling her anything.

There are parts of this fight that I really like and I think are true to Laurel as a character. We don't know a whole lot of what Oliver and Laurel's relationship was like before the island. We saw glimpses of it, sure, but we don't really know what transpired there and how they treated one another. So it's very possible that Oliver never did see Laurel as his equal. Arguably, in this episode at least, it makes a great case for WHY he never tells her things. She reacts pretty brashly and recklessly when he does. That doesn't give Oliver the right to withhold things from people, but it does make a bit more sense as to why he would.

The thing is, though, "Haunted" really didn't feel like any sort of resolution or closure or progression for Oliver and Laurel's relationship or for Oliver as a character. Maybe he'll tell her more information from now on, but I still don't think that he can fully trust her. She reacts on emotion first and logic second, which nearly always lands her into trouble. You would think after years and years of doing that, Laurel would have learned.

But she hasn't. And therein lies my real problem with her character.

The Arrow writers can write monologues or fights or reunions all they would like that involve Laurel. They can wax poetic about the importance of her being a part of Team Arrow and how she's growing. But I don't see that, from a writing perspective. All I see is a woman who keeps making similar mistakes and only learns fragments — crumbs, really — of lessons, then blames the rest of the world for her problems and gets angry at others. Laurel constantly acts and treats others like the world is out to get her and she's the only one making the right decisions. She justifies bad behavior and poor decision-making and only — ONLY — pauses long enough to think about the ramifications of her actions when they have heavy consequences. And even then, she still manages to try and place the blame on someone else. So really, Sara almost killing Thea? That's not HER fault... it's Oliver's. Because Oliver never told her about Thea's near-death, Lazarus Pit experience. And if he had — if he had treated Laurel like an equal and clued her into everything — then maybe she wouldn't have decided to bring Sara back from the dead and Thea wouldn't be in danger.

... Literally, that's basically what Laurel says in her hallway fight. But in "Haunted" it takes Laurel Lance far too long to realize that what she did was not smart, and even when she DOES realize it, she only takes the blame for part of the situation, framing the entire dilemma in a larger picture in which she's disrespected and makes poor decisions because of it.

Okay, sure.



A SHOT IN THE DARHK


You know what I would really like? A new beginning for the world and a glass of Merlot.

Just kidding. But that's exactly what Damien Darhk wants in "Haunted," and it made me realize that he and The Blacklist's Raymond Reddington are probably BFFs. Just imagine the monologues they would trade and stories and sass that would result. I've now decided, in fact, that I really would like Neal McDonough and James Spader to have scenes together. Universe, grant me this.

But back to Darhk for a moment: this week, much like last, we didn't get superfluous scenes with his character. And you know what? I think that's what really is selling me on Darhk as the "big bad," along with the absolute glee and humanity with which McDonough plays this character. Last year, we were inundated with discussions of Ra's and scenes with Ra's and it just felt unnecessarily overwhelming to have so much of him. Ironically, the more we saw him, the less I believed he was a real villainous threat. But Darhk is such a great villain. He's calculated and sassy (the line about the cupcake actually made me giggle), but he's also not omniscent, which I think is fascinating. Watch the hesitation and startle with which he reacts to Quentin revealing he saw Andy Diggle's name on the list of files to be deleted. It's subtle, but you can tell that Darhk wasn't expecting Quentin to look through the file or to care about that particular name.

Also, in this weird way... I think Damien Darhk's humanity is what makes him such a powerful villain and character. Anyone can be unnecessarily and recklessly evil, but the fact that Darhk has a child and presumably a family at one point feels a lot more important and powerful than, say, Ra's' backstory last year. Damien has lines he does not cross, even in his evildoing. That makes him human. He reacts to things with anger and frustration and sometimes with just complete eye-rolling sass. That makes him human. And the way that he told Quentin to put Sara down last week (and his discovery this week that he didn't do that) feel more compassionate than we've seen from previous Arrow villains. All of this to say, really, that I absolutely adore Damien Darhk.

This week, though, even though he is still the "big bad," we focused more on saving Sara's soul than anything else. But Darhk does something for Quentin, who enlists Diggle's help on the mission that Darhk sent him on to delete a bunch of files from a database — he gives him the file on Andy Diggle. And what Dig discovers about why H.I.V.E. had his brother murdered is clearly not good. You know, it's funny. Sometimes when we get the answers we want, we realize that they're not what we want after all.

Which brings us to...



WHO LIVES, WHO DIES, WHO TELLS YOUR STORY


There is a lot of discussion about life and death within this episode, as it introduces us to the mystical presence of John Constantine. And really, the idea that when you get what you want, it might not be what you wanted at all applies directly to Sara Lance. Laurel wanted her sister alive, but in the process of bringing her back, the team forgot something very crucial — they forgot that her body would return, but they have to rescue her soul. So (after a lot of people nearly died, including Thea), Oliver and Laurel take a trip with Constantine into another realm to do just that.

The build-up to this saving of Sara's soul is dramatic, but the act itself really isn't. At all. It's actually quite underwhelming. Oliver and Laurel pull Sara's soul from the Pit while Constantine battles demonic creatures who won't give up Sara without a fight. Again, the hero in this whole thing is really Constantine if we're being honest. At the end of the episode, though, Sara's soul is rescued and all is well in the Lance family again. Maybe. Probably. Who knows at this point.

Elsewhere in the episode, someone else is struggling with the idea that when you get what you want, it might not be what you think — Felicity. After approaching Curtis with the final words from Ray Palmer, she requests he look more into the file. There's something weird with it and wrong with it. At the episode's end, the two discover that Ray's message isn't what it seems. It's not a final confession. It's an S.O.S. Ray is alive and he's in trouble.

Oliver and Felicity have a conversation early on in the episode which I think is really poignant and encapsulates the ideas of "Haunted" as a whole: not having to say goodbye to someone doesn't give you any sort of closure. Laurel resurrecting Sara isn't going to give her a sense of closure, just because she doesn't have to grieve anymore. Grief, as Oliver explains, is a process and it's something you deal with every single day. He still thinks of his parents and Tommy.

But what he does with that grief propels him to become a better hero. His constant reminder of them isn't a burden or a weight, but a set of wings to help him become who he is meant to be. That's what loss does for us — it keeps us moving forward, one step at a time.

Observations & favorite moments:
  • Since I could not be at Taylor Swift's concert in Tampa last weekend, using her song lyrics from "Haunted" as a subtitle is the next best thing.
  • MVP for this episode goes to (the former) Constantine's Matt Ryan. Admittedly, I'd never watched the series when it was on the air. And so I was a bit apprehensive before diving into this episode, assuming the show would either try to overcompensate by telling me exactly who Constantine was or not telling me anything at all, and letting me try to guess and piece the puzzle of his character and backstory together myself. Thankfully, the show chose to clue me into the pertinent details and let me decipher the rest. I love that Matt Ryan felt like such an integrated part of the cast even though we had never met him in the Arrow universe before. He was snarky and hilarious, but Ryan also walked the line of drama extremely well. Constantine provides a very serious warning to Oliver at the end of the episode about becoming entangled with Damien Darhk and I know Oliver won't heed that warning, but he probably should. Matt Ryan was a perfect fit in the Arrow universe and absolutely felt like a part of the team.
  • In flashback-land this week, we're introduced to Constantine and basically he and Oliver go on a hunt for a magical artifact that Constantine knows is on the island. Once they find it, Oliver saves Constantine's life, and the man owes him a favor (which we see cashed in on when he returns to Star(ling) City in this episode to help Sara). Oliver lets Constantine escape.
  • "I parachuted in on a secret spy mission!" That bit was HILARIOUS. It's so absurd, it can't possibly be true! *wink*
  • "Felicity... look at me. Gym bag. Gym clothes. Do any of those suggest anything to you?"
  • "This is some serious Nicholas Sparks-level stuff." Echo Kellum is utter perfection in this role, have I mentioned that?
  • Speaking of Echo Kellum (from the tragically cancelled Ben and Kate), Parker Young made his first appearance in this episode (from the impeccable, also cancelled, comedy Enlisted). Basically what I'm saying is that I need every actor from my favorite cancelled FOX comedies to make their way onto Arrow.
  • I figured out that the girls Sara was attacking looked like Thea about fifteen minutes before Team Arrow did.
  • "THIS IS YOUR OVERLORD, FELICITY SMOAK." Felicity, let me love you, beautiful tropical fish.
  • "And if I have a judgmental look on my face right now, it's because YOU played with forces you don't understand and now people are dying because of it." SHOTS FIRED.
  • Literally in my notes I put: "Why can Constantine have an accent but Paul Blackthorne and Alex Kingston have to be American?" That has nothing to do with anything, but there you go.
  • "Laurel told you?" "Not exactly." "You have to admire her consistency." SHOOOOOOOOOOTS FIRED AND SHADE THROWN, QUENTIN.
  • Okay, I'm terrible and didn't even notice Diggle was absent from the beginning of the episode until Quentin showed up. How bad is that?
  • Oliver and Felicity were insanely adorable and so domestic this episode.
  • I was SO HAPPY with the scene where Thea fought off Sara. One, because it's believable — Malcolm trained Thea, and he and Sara trained in the same place, after all. But two, because she used common sense to kick open a door as a decoy for Sara to go through.
  • How many times has Laurel's apartment been completely destroyed throughout the course of this series? I need someone to count for me please and comment below with the number.
  • Laurel said "I love your family" during her fight with Oliver in the hallway, which parallels when he said that to Quentin in "Public Enemy."
  • "I'm on the side of the angels, mate." Anyone else waiting for Sherlock to finish that quote? Anyone?
  • I thought it was REALLY interesting and great that the show reminded us that Thea's bloodlust is different than Sara's — with Ra's already dead, and him being the one who killed her, that will never really go away for her. I definitely didn't notice or think of that before. Great job, show.
  • "... Would you like a cupcake or something?" DAMIEN DARHK IS THE BEST.
  • I liked Constantine a lot, because he was so sassy and dry.
  • The embrace and clinging to and forehead kiss between Oliver and Felicity was beautiful. It totally displays that she's home to him and that he never wants to be away from her like that again.
  • "Well he's a very specific kind of yummy." "UGH. I'm gonna pretend I did not just hear you say that." HILARIOUS.
  • "I don't have the right to be mad at anyone for keeping secrets." WELL HALLELUJAH AND PRAISE THE LORD, OLIVER QUEEN MAKES SENSE AGAIN.
  • "I'm alive and I'm in trouble."
What did you all think of the Constantine-filled episode of Arrow? Hit up the comments below and let me know! :)

7 comments:

  1. The fact that Laurel didn't seem at all upset about Sara killing people because of her actions bugged me. Good review.

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  2. I find myself not having much to say about this episode although I did enjoy many parts.

    Like many others I found too many excuses coming from Laurel and not enough real regret and contrition. I wish we had seen more of her understanding that her sister's soul has been trapped in that creepy Pit every since the body came back. Maybe we can get something of that nature as we actually get a chance to see Sara post re-souling.

    Speaking of that creepy Pit, I understand what you mean about the retrieving of Sara's soul being a bit of a let down. I think that could have been helped by some more shots of Sara being trapped and showing some real painful effort and fear in getting her out of all those hands.

    I did watch Constantine although I had to fast forward through some parts that were too scary for me. It was such a joy to see Matt Ryan back. I agree with Thea- he is a specific kind of yummy. And I got a feeling that he and Amell enjoyed being on screen together. When Oliver said he would come to help John whenever and wherever I was so glad to see a nice big opening left for another team up sometime in the future. And John's warning about Damian Darhk was so beautifully understated and frightening. It did a good job of upping Darhk's scary factor. (I loved that line when Oliver mention his same, saw John's face and said "Oh no, you've heard of him.) And Constantine made the flashbacks interesting to watch.

    I absolutely loved the interaction between Diggle and Lance. More of that please! There wasn't a whole lot of blaming or yelling or anything dramatic, just facts and understanding between two guys who mean business and work together beautifully. Poor Dig! Talk about a gut punch. I look forward to seeing how he processes that.

    Willa Holland really impressed me again with both her support of her brother and her guilt over Sara's death and the struggle she is facing now. She hit all those moments beautifully.

    Loved the little quiet bits between Oliver and Felicity. The couch talk provided a lovely quiet center to the episode where we could really think about loss. Oliver was making sense all over the place yet again. I love this version of Oliver who still has the pain but seems much more mentally healthy.

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  3. Two other small bits-

    Curtis is not only a tech genius but a Olympic athlete. Felicity may have assumed that his tech-ness meant he was also physically awkward but he just keeps getting more layers, intimidating impressive layers. Yay! And his caffeine overload was delightful.

    Loved the touch of Constantine transferring that protection tattoo to Oliver. Fascinating and I can't wait to see it protect him in the flashbacks and from Damian Darkh. Look at that, I'm looking forward to something from the flashbacks and it might connect in an important way to Oliver's present day fight.

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  4. The biggest take-away I've gotten from this Lance-centric arc is that Laurel is not a heroic character. She's a selfish character and is so far from being fully realized as a hero that it's almost laughable. It's season FOUR. It's time to fish or cut bait.

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  5. I´m just going to say one thing: I don´t care if Felicity isn´t the one for Oliver (although, that´s a lie,I would very much like she was), but Oliver and Laurel can´t end up together because she is the most selfish person ever! I never liked her, but what she did with Sarah and furthermore, not taking responsabilities over it makes me wanna give her an spin off and never see her again in Arrow!

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