Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Arrow 4x10 "Blood Debts" (In the Details With the Devil)


"Blood Debts"
Original Airdate: January 20, 2016

When I was growing up, the scariest thing I can remember when it came to how I was parented was whenever my dad would get angry. It happened so rarely that it was startling — something I genuinely had a difficult time comprehending and still do, to this day. 

When people who are typically calm and even-tempered get upset, you know that there is something to be concerned about. You know that whatever is making them yell and scream and lose their temper is actually worth it. Take a moment to think about the thing that, if it was threatened, would cause you more pain and heartbreak and anger than anything else in the world?

We’re going to talk about that all (never fear), along with Darhk’s dastardly plans and how the rest of Team Arrow is handling the temporary absence of Felicity Smoak and the new Queen family trait of blood lust.

SO, THAT’S A SOLID “NO” ON AN ENGAGEMENT PARTY, THEN?


In Arrow’s mid-season finale, Felicity was shot. Not the best engagement present from Damien Darhk. Personally, I would have preferred he give the happy couple a Bed Bath & Beyond gift card. But this isn’t the first time that Oliver Queen has ever had someone he cares about threatened. Heck, this isn’t even the first time that he’s had FELICITY threatened. So what makes this time so different? What makes THIS the thing that sets off a chain of “out-of-control-Oliver” moments that would usually have me running in circles crying “character regression”? (We will discuss this later, but even though the story kind of works, it also kind of falls apart.)

Well, if you really think about it (or don’t even think about it hard at all), this is the first time that Oliver Queen knows truly and completely what he has to lose.

When Felicity was threatened in “State vs. Queen,” he cared about her. A lot. And he was moving from that platonic feeling into a more romantic one. When she was threatened in “Unthinkable,” he knew he loved her but couldn’t say it yet. She wasn’t his to lose. And when she was threatened in “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak,” she... ended up fending for herself and proved that she didn’t need him quite as much as he thought he did to rescue her. 

But when Darhk harmed Felicity, Oliver knew what he was losing if he lost her. This woman — this light and happiness wrapped in a petite blonde package — is his present and his future. So unlike The Count potentially taking away his friend, or Slade taking away a woman he loves, or Cooper taking away the woman he-loves-but-is-too-dumb-to-admit-it, Darhk threatened Oliver’s entire world, not just a part of it.

For Oliver – at this point in his character journey — losing Felicity would be losing everything he is and everything he could be. If that sounds a little bit dramatic, I promise you that it’s not. Just ask anyone who has ever lost their spouse or fiancĂ©. I know people who have remarried and will still always mourn their deceased spouse. Love is a thing that binds and it’s a thing that — when threatened — people will not only fight for, but will be willing to kill for.

I talked a few episodes ago about how much I loathed the character regression in Oliver Queen because it made no sense that he would lie blatantly to Felicity — that this would be his first response to something like, oh, having a secret child. It’s inconsistent with everything I have come to know about Oliver and Felicity’s relationship. 

In “Blood Debts,” I can’t exactly call character regression on the way Oliver handles Felicity being in the hospital. But I can tell you that I’m none too pleased with the way Oliver dealt with his grief or pain. Multiple times throughout the episode, characters called Oliver out (rightfully so) on his avoidance of seeing Felicity and the excuse that he gave was shoddy and unfortunately backed up by Felicity herself. While Darhk was still out there, Oliver couldn’t just sit down and wait for Felicity to get out of surgery. He had to DO something about it.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say “this is what ___ would have wanted.” People tend to do that a lot whenever someone passes away. They pretend that, however close or distant they were to the deceased, that somehow they knew them well enough to read their minds. Had Felicity been in the Arrow cave, would she have told Oliver to do whatever it takes to track down Darhk? Would she have approved of Oliver’s reckless behavior? Would she have signed off to the absolutely terrible, illogical, downright stupid plan Oliver had to let Anarky go?

HECK. NO.

And therein lies my problem. The writers used Felicity as Oliver’s excuse for doing things when it was convenient for them this week, and they used her as an excuse for him to not do things when it wasn’t. In spite of their two lovely scenes together (“for better or for worse”) there’s still this problem of Oliver reverting constantly to behavior he is being told is childish and yet continues to act out on. Every single character in this episode, Felicity included, knew what Oliver was doing was reckless and stupid. And yet Oliver continued to bark orders and pretend to know best because his judgement was clouded. He did the exact same things in the field that he rips Laurel apart for.

And I’m kind of tired of the show playing this see-saw with Oliver as a character. One moment, he’s evolved and letting his team function like a team, rather than a dictatorship; the next, he’s letting psychopath criminals free because he would rather take a (dangerous) shortcut for a vendetta than do things the Green Arrow way.

What exactly IS the “Green Arrow” way of doing things anymore? Can someone help me out, because I’m rather clueless at the moment. I know character development is not linear. It would be absurd if it was. But these days, Arrow feels more prone to backsliding than putting in the hard effort to think about what developing Oliver naturally would really look like. In a lot of ways “Blood Debts” felt like season three, and I suppose it did with reason — there was a lack of Felicity. Whenever Felicity is absent, so is the light. Whenever she is gone, Oliver digs back into his stale bag of vigilante tricks.

And for as much as I love Oliver and Felicity, she should not be the glue that holds his broken character together. She just CAN’T be that. So this show needs to start figuring out ways to develop Oliver a bit more organically, because it’s getting a bit frustrating to fluctuate between loving and hating (or just feeling ambivalent toward him) with every passing episode.


That said, I think that the complex questions lingering between Oliver and Felicity are far from over, especially given the fact that he was scared to visit her in the hospital. That’s my interpretation of this episode, and you can take it or leave it. Oliver was scared. He was terrified. Because he sees Felicity Smoak as amazing and strong and seeing her in the hospital without a way to fix all the things that happened to her probably broke his heart into small pieces. I get that. And I wish the show had dwelt on it a bit more. Because that’s a really complex element in their relationship now: the fact that Oliver did not visit Felicity. You can sugar-coat it however you would like, but the truth is that he didn’t see her until everyone in his life forced him to.

He was terrified to see her because he was terrified of whether or not his heart could take it. So he distracted himself with finding Darhk because if he could just put an end to that, all of their problems will be behind them. ... Except that they won’t. And I think this is going to be the thing to trip these two up moving forward — Oliver wants to fix things permanently, but relationships will always have a next problem or a next fight. Oliver sees his future and he predicts a happy ending, but in his heart of hearts, he knows there will never be another Damien Darhk, sure. But there will always be another villain. A Slade Wilson, or a Ra’s al Ghul, or a Malcolm Merlyn, or a metahuman, or a sea of bullets.

He’ll never be able to run from danger if he is still fighting crime and wearing a hood and mask. 

So maybe Oliver is scared, and I bet Felicity is, too. And the avoidance of these fears will only lead them toward more problems in the future (as we see in the flash-forwards). But for this episode, at least, the two made the best step they could into the future — one where they did it together.


MY SONGS KNOW WHAT YOU DID IN THE DAR(H)K...


Sigh.

I missed making puns about Damien Darhk. Didn’t you?

As we learned in the mid-season finale — in what is perhaps the most low-key shocking moment of “Dark Waters” (because we all saw that Oliver and Felicity would be in danger the second they stepped into a limo and drove away with two minutes to spare in the episode), that Darhk has a family. Yes, that’s correct. We see a ruthless villain who has a loving and adoring family. Isn’t that a bit startling? Isn’t that more startling than someone like Slade Wilson?

We know that Slade was ruthless and his quest was always centered on vengeance. Most villainous quests are, if you really boil them all down. Most people — like Anarky, for instance — become villains because they lost something and are intent on hurting other people in hopes that they will be able to inflict the same pain on others that they feel themselves.

Or, villains are vindictive so that they can punish those who have wronged them and make them pay for their crimes. Villains are just people who use their own pain as an excuse for their behavior, typically. It’s kind of tragic and a bit absurd when you think about it, but that’s generally the motivation behind any villain.

But not Darhk. And I think that’s not only what makes him the most fascinating Arrow villain, but also the most complex. Because if the team eliminated Slade Wilson, they might feel momentary regret but they could justify it by evidence of his evildoing. Same thing held true for Ra’s and will hold true for Malcolm, too. But Darhk has a family. A family that our vigilante team manages to save from Anarky.

So the complexities in Damien (this whole “take down the city to build a better future for my wife and child like I promised” thing and then the “I’m the Big Bad of the season, hear me roar”) make him so interesting. Because when you can step back from a villain long enough to examine his layers and recognize that the difference between Damien and a hero is not a wide margin at all, you’ve constructed a very well-made villain. I really love Damien Darhk as a character and even though he wasn’t in this episode a lot, his villainy was contrasted with his humanity in a way that I find to be both compelling and also frightening.

You get major bonus points for this character, Arrow writers.

... SO LIGHT ‘EM UP, UP, UP


Remember that terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day that Thea had after she took a swim in La Pool de Lazarus? Well, she’s officially learned (as has Oliver) that actions have consequences. Moreover, really, really bad actions? They have really, really bad consequences. These two knew this, of course, long before they realized the psychopath they torched turned into an even bigger psychopath because of the aforementioned torching.

Thea’s blood lust this season seems to be a bit of a hamster wheel that the writers have her spinning around. And though I don’t mind Thea having something to do and a story of significance that doesn’t directly involve romance (entirely) or Malcolm, I think that I’m going to need some answers soon, too, and what this all means for Thea Queen moving forward. The problems that I have with The Blacklist are numerous, but chief among them is the fact that the show often provides a hundred questions for every answer it gives you. So, too, seems to be a pattern on Arrow. I don’t like when stories are dropped, so I don’t want them to forget about Thea’s blood lust entirely, but I would like to see a point to it soon other than just: “Oh no, she has no control and the only thing that helped was a creepy conversation with Darhk.”

Still, “Blood Debts” circles around the question of whether or not anything will ever be okay again (all right, angsty teenager much, Arrow writers?), and Thea tells Laurel that she isn’t sure anything will. When Laurel force-feeds Thea the clichĂ©d, “we’ll catch the bad guy and save the day” line, Thea — for once — pretty much echoes what many viewers think whenever we hear such things uttered: “Really? Do you really believe that?”

Because for all of the darkness (and Darhkness) I have seen, it’s pretty easy to side with Thea on this one and call shenanigans on the whole warm, fuzzy, after-school special vibe Laurel is trying to put down. Thea has no idea who she is anymore. (Is it a Queen family thing to have an identity crisis every season? Shouldn’t we all just chip in and send them to therapy?) And unlike my identity crisis-related problems with Oliver’s characterization last season, this feels pretty on-par for what we know about Thea.

Thea has NEVER known who she is. Even when she thought she was a Queen, she discovered she was a Merlyn. Literally nothing in Thea’s life has ever made any sort of sense to her. So while, on the one hand from a story-progressing perspective, I would like for Arrow to wrap up this whole “blood lust” thing or send the story somewhere a bit more meaningful, I also understand that we keep circling this conversation because it’s never answered. Thea Queen has yet to figure out who she is, and every time she does, that identity is ripped back away again. She was a Queen, then a Merlyn, and is now a Queen again. 

This is a young woman who realizes, through Anarky, that she has darkness within her. She could easily become a supervillain (guys, I WANT THEA TO BE A VILLAIN SO BADLY. WHY CAN’T I HAVE THE THINGS I WANT?), and the one thing stopping her is the fact that she has to hold onto who other people tell her she is. Alex says she has steel within her. Laurel tells her she will be okay. Oliver promises good things for his baby sister. And because Thea isn’t sure if she’s good or bad or dark or light, she has to listen to the voices she trusts. Because the ones who wish to turn her and harm her are just as loud.

I am so compelled by Thea, but I really hope this story picks up some sort of trajectory soon. At the moment, while a lot of the elements are good, I still feel like I’m wading through quicksand to get to the point of it all.

YOU’RE THE DUMBEST BOYS IN SCHOOL


Let’s all just take a moment to dwell on the stupidity of Team Arrow this episode. Okay, cool. I needed to make sure we took adequate time to remember that Oliver caught Anarky, let him loose, realized what a boo-boo he made, tried to recapture him, failed, and also failed to do anything to stop Darhk.

Good job. You’re DEFINITELY who I want protecting my city.


THE CITY OF BROTHERLY LOVE


I don’t have much to say in terms of Diggle brotherhood, except for the fact that I’m proud of Diggle for listening to Lyla and trying to see Andy as a person and not a ghost (or, if you prefer, Ghost). Though this whole storyline is a bit too exposition-heavy for my liking (the scene with Lyla, though great, was basically her saying “this is how you feel” rather than us being shown how Dig feels), it is nice to see Andy serve some sort of purpose in the story at large and in Dig’s development. Furthermore, the final scene with them playing cards was a really nice touch.

The Arrow writers and producers promised a “lighter” season, but maybe they just meant there would be fierier explosions? Because from where I sit, things have only just started to get dark and are about to get even dar(h)ker from here. I hope you all brought your seatbelts, because we all need to buckle up for this one.

Observations & favorite moments:
  • I actually don’t have an MVP for this week’s episode. Shocker, I know!
  • The Arrow writers have confirmed what we all knew to be true anyway — Felicity is not in the grave. But it doesn’t look like Oliver/Felicity fans can rejoice just yet; while Oliver gets into a limo with Felicity at the grave site, she doesn’t appear to be wearing her engagement ring. Looks like things are rocky for Mr. and Mrs. Felicity Smoak four months down the line. Eesh.
  • Moving forward, I'm going to start predicting who is most likely to be in the grave each weeek! We're going to call them Grave Predictions. This week, I'm convinced it's Mama Smoak.
  • Let me just say the same thing I do every week and admit that I am barely hanging in watching the flashbacks. I legitimately do not care about anything that is happening in them and feel like the show is wasting its time and our time in producing them.
  • Laurel, Mama Smoak (!!!), Dig, and Thea beside Felicity’s bed before they prepped her for surgery was perfect.
  • This show needs more Lyla, which apparently we will be getting next week!
  • Laurel found out about Donna and Quentin dating and it was absolutely everything I wanted it to be.
  • “That’s... not at all creepy.”
  • “Oh, that’s pretty. Do you take voice lessons?”
  • Diggle described Felicity to Andy as “a woman better than you and me put together.” I’m pretty sure Dig is the founding member of the Felicity Smoak Fan Club. Sorry, Oliver.
  • Oliver and Laurel continue to be really vicious to each other. It’s kind of uncomfortable to watch sometimes because it just seems especially harsh.
  • “This might be a vendetta, but it’s not personal.” Ooooooookay, Oliver. Whatever helps you sleep at night.
  • “Tell me you haven’t gone off the rails.” “... Well...”
  • The flashback girl is so boring that I would have rather watched paint dry than listen to her read lines.
  • “She’s stronger than all of us.” “You won’t hear an argument from me.” Laurel is the secretary of the Felicity Smoak Fan Club. Diggle is clearly the president, Oliver the vice-president, and Thea the treasurer. Malcolm Merlyn and Quentin Lance are also members.
  • “MAKE UP YOUR MIND.” #gpoy
  • “My brother would’ve liked you.” Oh, you mean the one OLIVER MURDERED?!
I’m torn because while “Blood Debts” was just okay, I know this show has the potential to do so much more and is going to in the coming episodes. So I only snark because I know it can be better than it was. What did you all think of the episode? Let me know in the comments below and holler at us if you, too, would be in the Felicity Smoak Fan Club. :)

3 comments:

  1. The flashbacks are picking up at least we are focusing on the Constantine tatoo. I think I might be one of the few still paying attention to the flashbacks mostly because they lead up to Season 1.

    The Andy and John brotherhood should have been expanded more the Thea vs Anarky thing should have been expanded on it feels like that should have been the focus on Blood Debts. I wouldn't have minded waiting an episode to discover what happened with Felicity maybe a bit more teasing and making us think she actually could be dead. In fact if Oliver Queen did not make an apperance this episode and we focused on the rest of the team..I might have liked this episode more.

    Honestly the come back episodes for Arrow and the Flash left me in a meh state. They are both decent episodes no real dip in quality. its just too many left overs plot lines and I`m starting to feel like its Season 3 dark for the sake of dark.

    I don't know about Felicity she's Felicity Smoak her own character but now that she can't walk anymore I feel ambivalent about it. One I like there was consequnces to being riddiled with bullets..but now there is going to be alot of comparison to Oracle. Which got taken away by DC during their reboot. So I like it but I don't like it this episode leaves me lukewarm.

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  2. I am mostly feeling meh about the episode as well. There were some interesting possibilities but I don't feel super compelled by what actually happened.

    Oliver not visiting Felicity was pretty stupid but I'm not as upset by it as you sound :) Oliver needed to put his anger and guilt somewhere but I was hoping after he let his mother's killer live and be jailed and made other progress that he would process it better. It feels like every time something precious is taken from him or threatened he goes backwards. I know that is human nature but the repeated pattern is losing its power in this story and so the "lessons learned" feel less powerful too.

    I wasn't left as dangling with Thea's storyline. I can see how Anarky really speaks to the darkness in her. I was proud of her for holding back. I think she knows that Minchin got away because she couldn't trust herself to really fight him without going too far. I think that is an interesting story. Someone who wants to fight evil but is afraid to get into conflict for fear of becoming the same. I am hoping her realization of her own strength that she mentioned to Alex actually counts for something in the stories going forward and isn't just dropped. And why didn't Laurel grab onto the fact that confronting Darhk sated Thea's blood lust? She is supposed to be a bright lady and there is obviously some connection or effect going on. Pull on that thread people! Like you I feel like Team Arrow was not operating at full IQ this week.

    I'm intrigued by Ruve Darhk. She seems more steely and pragmatic than her husband and had little time for "good form" when it comes to her goals. Interesting. Although their violent desire for utopia is fairly unoriginal. They feel justified and at the same time would be the very seed of violence and cruelty in their new world should they get one. I always remember Doctor Who in the face of villains like these.

    I liked how the painful distance between Oliver and Felicity in the car at the end of this episode contrasted to the loving closeness at the end of the last episode. It sucks to see they can't really comfort each other and things are clearly very strained which makes me sad. It was just a powerful juxtaposition.

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  3. I know that some people are interested to see what makes Felicity, that beacon of light, so angry that she wants someone to die. For me, it's just sad. Some argue that she needs to be taken to a violent place just like all the other characters. Why?? I refute the argument that someone can only be a true hero or light after they have gone down to the dark. That's bull. I know that it is a common theme in human stories but it's not the only one. That would just mean that going to the dark is inevitable if faced with horrible circumstances, that one can't realistically have terrible things happen and yet act in an honorable and ethical way. I find redemption stories powerful but I also know parents who have lost their children and forgiven afterwards and people who have been the targets of great violence and who refuse to answer with violence. Frankly, they are far more inspiring than the idea that only a decent into violent darkness and coming back out truly makes for great hero. Having someone hold to their ethical position does not make them perfect or "unrelatable" as a character. This doesn't mean I'm disappointed in Felicity per se. We only have one flash forward to go on so we don't know the whole story. I would just prefer if Felicity's storyline was not a retread of the whole "you hurt me and took someone I love so I'm going to kill you" thing we have going with everyone else in this show. I'm just tired of the premise that one only understands pain and darkness by giving into it. Couldn't the writers go a slightly different way with at least one character on Arrow? Just for the sake of freaking variety? After Malcolm Merlyn, Oliver, Diggle, Laurel, Roy, Thea, Moira, and Quentin (the list could be longer) I'm just looking for someone who has a different reaction to pain and loss. Everyone seems to preach against vengeance but the only thing the show has given us are people who say that until they are hurt badly enough who then justify themselves over and over. It's a bit samey.

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