Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Arrow 4x14 Review: "Code of Silence" (Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire)

"Code of Silence"
Original Airdate: February 17, 2016

Sometimes when you don't know what to say, it's best not to say anything at all.

It's never, however, in your best interests to lie.

When I was a pre-teenager, I had a problem with lying. It started out as stupid stuff — lying about grades or notes that I passed in class that my mom would find in my room or backpack. It got to the point, though, that I started to believe my own lies. I would spin a story around in my head so much that I actually managed to convince myself on multiple occasions that what I was saying was actually true. My relationship with my parents, as you might imagine, suffered immensely because of my refusal to tell the truth. I had lost their trust. How could they believe that anything I was telling them was the truth when I could look them dead in the eye and — without even flinching — lie to their faces? They couldn't, until I broke down and realized that lying, no matter what the reason, is never something that repairs relationships; it only breaks them.

No one ever cares about the reason you lie in the first place, really. You could have the best reasoning (trying to protect their feelings or safety) or the worst (trying to make yourself feel better or protect your own interests), but that doesn't matter when they find out that they can't trust your word anymore. And lies of omission are some that hurt the most because they're sneaky lies that we justify as half-truths. "Well, I never said that, technically..." or "I mean, they didn't really ask so I didn't tell them."

Sometimes silence is for the best, but even silence can be a lie, too. Oliver Queen knows that pretty well, and is feeling the guilt over lying to Felicity about William's existence. Also lying in this episode? Quentin Lance as he tries to protect Donna Smoak's life and safety. There are webs to untangle and mayoral campaigns to discuss, so let's get to it.


Let me first jump right in and say this: stop trying to make the Moonlighting Curse happen, television writers. It's never gonna happen.

Actually, that's not true. I'll write about this more extensively in a piece later this weekend, but the placebo effects of this so-called curse have plagued television in recent years. While contemplating the topic today, I wondered exactly why writers felt the need to interject unnecessary drama into established couples on television series simply in order to enact conflict. It was then that I decided that this may be because of the Moonlighting Curse. For those who are unaware of what this is, let me summarize for you: this is the idea held by television writers that once a will-they-won't-they couple on a show gets together, all of the magic is immediately lost and audiences immediately detest the very couple they rooted to get together (this happened on Moonlighting, hence the name). I've theorized that television writers are so afraid of contracting this curse that in order to prevent their couples from growing stale and (in their minds) create tension, they fabricate drama.

The problem with this is two-fold: 1) audiences immediately revolt and shows end up hurting characters deeply by regressing them for the sake of shoddy plot and drama and 2) the Moonlighting Curse? It's not even real to begin with. Writers think that they doom their characters the moment they get a will-they-won't-they couple together. Instead, writers doom their characters when they fear upsetting their audience so much that they decimate their characters in the process. Newsflash, television writers: creating meaningful and organic conflict is one thing; but conflict doesn't need to be unnecessarily strewn in just to make your couple "interesting." I am not really sure what it is with writers (particularly in dramas) that makes them think they need to have a scandal separate a pairing in order for audiences to not become "bored" with them.

Here's a novel concept: if television writers spent time figuring out what made their characters interesting and then wrote THAT, we would have no need for this ill-conceived baby mama drama between Oliver and Felicity, and we certainly wouldn't need to fear a stupid "curse."

Arrow has done some things right this season — it's provided us with a really complex and actually interesting "Big Bad," it's allowed for varied character pairings, it's seen Felicity face her fears and overcome them, it's provided Thea with some potentially compelling materials, it's not tried to shoehorn Laurel into plots, etc. But one of the biggest missteps in this entire season (and series) has been this absurd baby mama drama. In the Flash/Arrow crossover event this year, I was struck with how absolutely horrifying it was that the writers decided Oliver blatantly lying to Felicity's face about having a son would be in-character. That, if you recall, was the REAL timeline, before Barry went back and saved it. After giving him some bad advice, Oliver decided that it would be best to not tell Felicity that he has a son, all while preparing to marry her.

For some Oliver/Felicity fans, this has cast a shadow over the couple's arc this season, and understandably so. While I tried to separate their scenes from the overarching lie, I found that I just could not. And I will admit something to you — my personal feelings definitely cloud my judgement when it comes to this storyline. As someone who loved another person for a year, dated them, could see a future with them, and then discovered that he had spent the entirety of our relationship lying... well, I can't exactly forgive or justify Oliver's actions, no matter what excuse he gives. He had the chance to tell Felicity something early in the season — to tell her that there's something weighing on his heart and he can't quite talk about the details, but that it is there no less.

But Oliver lied.

And that is the problem.

Oliver and Felicity wax poetic about trusting one another and being upfront. One of their major stumbling blocks pre-relationship was the fact that Oliver kept everything to himself and wouldn't let anyone help him deal with his pain. That changed when he began to embrace his humanity and a "new way" of doing things. And it's changed for Felicity this season. She's become more vulnerable and willing to communicate than before. She tells Oliver pretty much everything — all she is feeling and thinking — and believes he is reciprocating. And the thing that kills me is that Oliver could and SHOULD be at least telling Felicity what is happening internally. He doesn't need to tell her details. He can tell her in time that he has a son. Because that would be the thing to progress characterization, right? That is the thing that would be consistent with what we know to be true of Oliver Queen in the fourth season. This is the guy who believes in teamwork and partnership. He's the one who is supposed to value honesty and "finding another way." And yet, for the sake of some contrived drama that serves no purpose but to regress a character who has made a world of progress since last season and punish a woman who was already paralyzed for the sake of... errr, I'm not sure. Character development? Sure. We'll go with that.

For the sake of some conflict between Oliver and Felicity this season so that the writers wouldn't "bore" us with the characters we already found interesting and compelling, this baby mama drama was contrived. And Felicity, worst of all, believes her husband-to-be had evolved from some slick playboy who only cared about protecting himself into a hero who occasionally messes up but sees her as his lifelong partner in every sense of the word.

The thing that I hate most about this Arrow storyline (besides everything, because it's regressing Oliver's character and making Felicity a punching bag in a way that she doesn't even remotely deserve in any planet or universe) is that Oliver is, in my opinion, no way justified for how he lies to Felicity and he emerges from this episode not just looking like the bad guy, but the stupid bad guy who magically poofed in from season three. Which leads us to...


I think that I need a new word to describe exactly how heavy-handed and appalling this episode was. "Code of Silence" spent 95% of its time force-feeding lines of dialogue into its characters that addressed the huge elephant in the room of Oliver's lying. Between Quentin telling Oliver that he's changed and is no longer the person who spends his time in the darkness to ANOTHER conversation where Quentin literally says how grateful Oliver should be that he has a partner he doesn't have to lie to anymore. And then, don't forget, there is the conversation between Oliver and Thea where Thea: a) figures out Oliver's secret in a RECORD amount of time, and b) tells Oliver to keep lying to Felicity.

No, I'm not making this up. Thea tells Oliver that he isn't doing anything wrong — he's really just keeping a promise and hey, lies keep people safe! Funny, Thea, but I don't remember you being okay with Roy lying a few years ago to keep you safe or Oliver lying to you to keep you safe or... well, everyone lying to you to keep you safe. That's because YOU WERE NOT OKAY WITH IT. Not telling someone because you think you're protecting them is wrong. And I'm glad that — at the very least — Arrow showed this to us by having Quentin tell Donna the truth about H.I.V.E. this episode.

Anyway, I could rant and rave about Thea's appalling moral compass and Oliver's genuine acceptance and thankfulness for it (he literally thanks her for telling him what he needs to hear — namely, that it's okay to keep lying and he can feel better about himself by justifying it in the way Thea presented), but I'm going to spend my time talking about the fore-SMASHING (my new term for describing something that is so obvious it does not deserve to be called foreshadowing) conversation between Donna and Felicity.

Occasionally, television writers use characters as their mouthpieces in order to push a particular agenda or to say what they want to say but can't because of their limitations as a creator. Dan Harmon's mouthpiece on Community was always Abed Nadir, while it's clear Ryan Murphy used Kurt Hummel on Glee as a puppet through which to talk. This week, the writers chose to use their two fan favorite characters — Donna and Felicity Smoak — and push this terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad baby mama drama story. Here's the thing about heavy-handed stories: they're insulting. They are insulting because by using them, you assume that your audience is too stupid to pick up on subtle clues.

So you cut out the subtle middleman, and you go to work pushing your agenda and beliefs onto the audience. It's invasive and it backfires pretty spectacularly when enough audience members are offended. This week, in a heart-to-heart conversation that should have been about literally anything else (could Felicity have talked to her mom about oh, I don't know, maybe being paralyzed? That seems important), the writers constructed a scene in which Donna talked about how she knew Quentin was lying to her, and Felicity spent a solid few minutes justifying Quentin's lies and actions, saying that he's doing everything to keep her safe. The conversation then shifts around to discuss how glad Donna is that Felicity has Oliver. "You don't lie to each other. Ever," she says, emphasizing that last part like someone would emphasize a mallet atop a whack-a-mole. Donna, apparently, is living vicariously through Oliver and Felicity's relationship and idolizes them. Meanwhile, all this time, Felicity is spouting off line after line of understanding how lies are used to protect people. The two women then weirdly transition into wedding and how Oliver is going to make a great dad someday (WHACK, WHACK, WHACK... oh, sorry, it feels like the writers think we haven't yet gotten the message), to which Felicity agrees (WHACK) excitedly (WHACK), which is weird on a few fronts but also because the last time we saw Felicity talk about kids, she wasn't sure she was ready for them anytime soon and wasn't too keen on them but okay (WHACK) we'll go with it because I don't have a choice in this matter anyway.

I walked away from this scene really and truly mad, but maybe not for the reason you would think. I'm not maddest that Felicity and Donna were used as mouthpieces. I'm not maddest that this stupid drama will live on to see yet another episode (good God), and I'm not even maddest because of all of the heavy-handed dialogue.

I'm mad because the writers used the Donna/Felicity scene as a way to write themselves out of conflict resolution. They made Felicity empathetic to LYING TO PROTECT SOMEONE WHO IS VULNERABLE AND YOU LOVE. Do you see what that does? That undercuts her eventual anger. That makes us believe that she is — on some level — okay with Oliver lying. Now, do I expect Oliver/Felicity fallout? Yes. Do I expect anger and bitterness and a break-up? Yes. But the most maddening thing to me is that the writers slid this scene into the episode as a reference point for them that should never have needed to exist in the first place. Now, when things hit the fan down the line, they can point to "Code of Silence" and say: "See, this is why Felicity forgave him! Remember when she said she understood why someone wold lie and thought it was okay?"

Lying is lying, and generally if you're not okay with it in one instance (like your dad lying to you an episode ago) you won't be keen on it the next (like this episode). I'm not saying Felicity cannot or shouldn't forgive Oliver. I'm only saying that I'm severely disappointed that the writers manipulated Felicity as a character to deliver this shoddy dialogue so that somewhere — down the line — their jobs will be easier in messily wrapping up a story that should have never existed in the first place.

Observations & favorite moments:
  • This episode was not great. And maybe I'm just coming down hard on it because I expect better, but this is two weeks in a row that I've been vehemently ANGRY about something that Arrow has done. This season started out worlds better than season three, and it's slipped so quickly back into the problematic writing it had back then.
  • Grave Predictions: Now that Donna knows about H.I.V.E., I worry she could be in the grave. Who else would Felicity be that angry about in the future? It could also very well be William in the grave, but I really don't know if he's important enough to kill at this point.
  • I DO NOT CARE ABOUT FLASHBACKS. Just kill off the annoying love interest (and that's saying something, since she still annoys me and I mute the flashbacks) already, and let's go to Russia please.
  • Upon opening the glitter-bombed invitations, I had flashbacks of Taylor Swift glitter-bombing an entire audience at this week's Grammy Awards.
  • I definitely could have done without the extremely obvious CGI building collapses. But all of the stuntwork and fight choreography in this episode was aces. I really loved the short little bursts of the building collapsing from the inside though. Those were pretty cool.
  • "She got away. Again." Do you ever think that sometimes Team Arrow is just really bad at their jobs?
  • There were so many mentions of Andy tonight and they all felt weird... like Dig was going to hang out with his friend "Andy" but we all know that's really the name of his imaginary friend!
  • Damien Darhk was back and I missed him a lot. I don't care as much about Ruve, who just seems like a bland, generic female villain.
  • The "baddies" of the episode were people who blow up buildings for H.I.V.E. and occasionally the people in them. See, there really IS a place for everyone on Darhk's team!
  • Felicity calling Ruve a "pot of evil stew" was cute though.
  • Curtis Holt is, by far, the best thing about "Code of Silence." He creates technology that will help Felicity walk again, hopefully by her (soon-to-be-called-off-I-assume) wedding. He's seriously the best and Echo Kellum does such a fantastic job portraying him.
  • Thea pulling the fire alarm was pretty great.
  • I think Laurel got shot with a nail gun? Do we even care at this point?
Guys, hit up the comments and try to make me feel better about this episode by pointing out something good!... Or don't, and come commiserate with me. :)


  1. I so agree with you. They are shoving the Oliver lie down our throats. Did you note that no one has mentioned Malcolm losing his hand to Thea. Hey sis, I cut your dad's hand off last week. This show should have been called Pretty big Liars! Kudos to your review!

  2. I am gonna have to disagree with what you said about this episode. Sorry!

  3. I passionately agree with you. I was so offended by Thea excusing Oliver's lie and worse encouraging him to continue after her vehement upset with secrets and lies in season two. I look forward to this show all week and I almost turned it off after this scene.

  4. I also find this storyline ridiculous, and I have no idea why a)Felicity had to suffer from paralysis, when PTSD would have been a more compelling storyline. Oliver will always suffer from it to some degree, so it would have been an interesting direction to take. b)Thea telling Oliver to lie! It's almost laughable at this point. Arrow is an amazing show, but nothing has been as good as S2. I thought that they were back on track, but after last week and this episode, I am very disappointed. I don't even know if I want to watch it anymore, which makes me sad. At least Damian is back, but those flashbacks need to stop. Seriously, just put Oliver in the Russian mob, and get on with it! This island storyline makes no sense. Honestly, I think that the writers have been stretched too thin. I know a lot of people have been disappointed with some of The Flash this season, ( I loved last night, but many did not) so I think they should have stuck with Arrow, The Flash and added Legends of Tomorrow, and waited to add on anything else. I say Legends, because it has characters from both series. That's it! Great review.

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  6. I think this is the angriest you've been on your reviews. As for Code of Silenice goes hmmm Thea she was angry that everyone lied to her. But if memory serves when Oliver told Thea he was the Arrow Thea did not get mad but accepted Oliver's lies. She said he was doing good and the lies were okay. I`m just really wondering if Thea has some sort of blind spot in that area. Or did Thea change and accept secrets but she was angry about lying about Sarah. The writers are all over the place.

    As for the rest of the episode I love we are putting attention on the fact he has a kid I still don't like the current storyline with it. Though a custody court case would probraly ruin Oliver's election but then agian Grover Cleveland had the same issue but he didn't lie about it and go elected to be President.

    The biggest issue aside from the lying was the introduction of the chip. I will be honest, I don't want to chip to work I really don't want it to work. This is what happened with Barbara Gordon she was Batgirl, got shot by Joker became Oracle and a stronger character. Then the Nu52 happened and she got out of the chair and regressed then went to Burnside which is another matter entirely.

    Listen when a person has a disablity or gets disabled I really don't like it when its "fixed" I feel its unesscary. its depressing that we can't have divesrity in characters. Felicity got shot consequnces happened and now we are going to remove them. I do not like that idea if the chip works then I really won't care for Felicity anymore as a character. Because it would be a major backslide for the show and for her.

    Oh and the flashbacks were the best part of the episode and Diana is the dark Felicity the one that turns Oliver Queen into the "Hood". I hope they go that route with her because that line "It takes Monsters to kill Monsters" was like a Felicity line if she was more cynical.

  7. I was actually really glad to see in the promo though that it is Oliver that tells Felicity about William. I mean, his arm is twisted by Darkh when he does, but I thought it was a lot better that he is the one to say it. I think it will minimize the blowup of it, but I do think we are in for a rough time, because how could Felicity not be extremely hurt by the lie? I am also extremely annoyed and a little let down by the last two episodes. I'm not sure that I like where we're heading.

  8. When I first saw spoiler-y photos for 4x08 with Baby Mama, I was upset. I didn't want this crappy storyline, but everyone in the fandom said first watch, then judge. And then 4x08 airs, and I never in my life screamed so much to screen of my laptop. That was like they took what I love the most of Olicity and then throw it to trash. I hate lying, and to me that lying to protcet someone is not excuse at all. I dated someone who was lying to me, our relashionship didn't survive this. But what important since then I never dated anyone serious again, because I can't open up and trust somebody again. So don't tell me it's just innocent lie. And Thea, don't get me started on Thea, the great patsy of season 1-3, when practically everybody lied to her, now telling it's ok to lie. And Felicity with this whole: lie to protect crap. Don't get me wrong, I want Felicity forgive Oliver, but I want it to be earned, not some quick resolution in last episode of the season like last year. I want Oliver to suffer, to understand what he's done. Because broken trust is not easy to rebuild. I can understand why writers ( who by the way are lazy storytellers, and I don't trust them with these characters anymore) and cast protect this storyline, they're selling show. But I definitely can't understand most of Olicity fandom, whose justify Oliver's lies and actions. The only highlights of epsiode: Curtis and Quentin telling Donna truth (good God someone tells somebody the truth and world survive. This show should be called "The Lying Game").

  9. This episode was better than last week but there are still so many plot holes. And the last person I would see was Thea telling Oliver it was OK not to tell Felicity. Hypocrisy-plain and simple. Thea was the one so upset with Oliver and Moira from keeping the secret about Malcolm being her father. WTF are the writers thinking. These are better writers than this. Two positives from this episode Mama Smoak/Felicity scenes and the Curtis/Felicity scenes.

  10. Yup, issues with this week's episode abound. Trying to shore up a storyline that has some major holes is just digging them deeper into plot and character problems.

    I would add one question- why couldn't Lance just say to Donna, "I am a police chief involved in a very dangerous investigation right now. The details are confidential but I'm worried it could blow back on you. These people are really scary and I think we should keep some distance between us until the case is resolved." Why would that be so hard? Seriously people, you can be honest and yet not tell all the details. Maybe it's because my spouse has a position where he can't share info with me. All he has to say is "I can't talk about it." and it's done. I know why and I know why it's confidential. Things could be so much simpler if both Lance and Oliver were honest that they had to keep some things to themselves even though they don't want to. C'mon writers- this is just logical.

    There were some lovely scenes and the action and direction were excellent. The scripts just now are not serving this show as I believe they could.