Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Arrow 4x15 Review: "Taken" (Heal What Has Been Hurt)


"Taken"
Original Airdate: February 24, 2016

I was struck by an episode in this season of New Girl, where a main character wanted to skip all of the awkward first dates, the fighting, break-ups, and more dating in order to get to the whole "settling down" part of her life. As I thought more about why the episode resonated with me so much, I realized it's because it taps into something fundamentally human in me: I don't like waiting — for anything. I don't like waiting for test results or job opportunities or guys to ask me out. I want results. I want things to fall into my lap without having to do the hard work it takes to get me there. And that probably sounds insane, because it is. But isn't that the way we often live our lives? We're always in a hurry to get to the next thing or person or fix that we think will fulfill us because if we pause long enough to think about anything or to wait, maybe we won't like what we find. Maybe we will have to face some difficult choices. Maybe we just won't like ourselves anymore.

There's this theme of the tension between wanting results and healing that struck me in Arrow this week. It's something that Curtis' physical therapist husband points out to Felicity when she becomes frustrated she can't take a step without falling. He subtly tells her something relevant to her circumstances but also really applicable to our own lives. And that is this — there is a difference between getting results and being healed. And until we understand what we actually need, we'll never — like Alexander Hamilton tells Angelica Schuyler — be truly satisfied.

(You're welcome, Hamilton fans.)

So let's talk more about how the tension between waiting and healing plays into the stories in this week's episode, shall we?

YOU COULD NEVER BE SATISFIED... GOD, I HOPE YOU'RE SATISFIED


Okay, everyone. Let's take some deep, cleansing breaths because after the past two weeks of Arrow, we (or at least I) desperately need them. This superhero show hasn't always hit the mark in the writing department, and I think that on some level, it knows that (in a way that The 100 has yet to realize, but prayerfully will soon discover). It's no surprise to everyone that I abhor this whole baby mama drama story that the writers seemed intent on shoving down our throats, and I've explained in multiple ways, multiple times, how absurd it truly is.

So let's do it again. ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING!

This. story. is. absolutely. and. positively. pointless. 

Furthermore, when the characters in your own show point out how pointless it is? It's not being meta so much as being more proof of your failures as writers, Arrow staff. Multiple times in this episode, the dialogue pointed to the fact that Samantha's ultimatum was harsh (even SHE said so) and that everyone knew about William besides Felicity (basically). Furthermore, this story is now more holey than a pound of Swiss cheese, and worlds less satisfying.

Because nothing about the decision to have Oliver lie FOR NO REASON and then JUSTIFY HIS LIES and have OTHER CHARACTERS JUSTIFY HIS LIES makes any sense. Like, literally, nothing has ever made less sense on this show except perhaps the end of an episode last season where Arrow tried to convince us that its entire cast inhaled poisonous gas and died in Nanda Parbat.

If you want to know why I'm upset, it is because this whole baby mama drama plot breaks all of the rules of normal storytelling. Heck, we are not even talking about GOOD storytelling here. We're just talking about normal, respectable storytelling. If the writers presented this plot and these past few scripts to a college writing class, they would be torn apart and receive a C-, at the bare minimum. It's because conflict is supposed to lead to consequences.

In Dan Harmon's storytelling circle, characters are supposed to pay heavy prices for what they do, whether good or bad. I mean, that's not even really storytelling so much as common sense now, is it? Even the best manipulators in the world eventually hit a point where they cannot run from the consequences of their actions any longer. What really is completely maddening about this story is that it's not a real story until Oliver realizes the consequences of his actions and takes ownership of them. The problem is that the majority of "Taken" is spent with the writers shoving horrible dialogue into the mouths of characters who otherwise would never say the things they do.

When everyone learns of Oliver's son William, Felicity is obviously trying to process the bombshell, Thea reveals she already knew, Diggle and Laurel have the sense to look properly horrified at the fact that they found out the information at the same time Oliver's fiance did, and no one handles the news quite well. But one thing I found especially frustrating was how the writers chose to have every character justify the lie and shift the blame from Oliver onto either Samantha or into thin air. John Diggle — the man who is supposed to be this show's moral compass — tells Oliver not to place blame on himself (uh, actually this is the one time that Oliver's guilt is actually well-applied), and that he was in an impossible situation.

I really think that everyone in this episode needs the definition of "impossible" clarified for them. Because the thing is, Oliver didn't have a gun to his head or a noose around his neck. Samantha — a woman, by the way, he BARELY knew to begin with... and this was before he got her pregnant — made some thinly-veiled and vague threat (with no legal clout behind it), and Oliver made the conscious decision, multiple times, to lie to Felicity or withhold information from her. Samantha, in a conversation with Felicity, tried to shift the blame onto herself, saying essentially, "Just remember, it was me who asked him to not tell you."

It may have been Samantha who asked, but it was Oliver who willingly obeyed.

That is what absolutely infuriates me. Oliver makes excuse after excuse for himself in this episode as it is, and then the other characters (the level-headed ones like Diggle) go and make excuses FOR him? The Arrow writers clearly wanted to evoke some sort of sympathy from us for Oliver, but their heavy-handed insistence that Oliver had no choice only served to illuminate the fact that he HAD a choice, and he chose wrongly. Moreover, he chose wrongly and expected the people around him to simply let this lie slide, just like they let so many others slide, too.

But that did not happen at the end of the episode.

Because the truth is that you can make excuse after excuse. You can justify your lies and tell yourself (and others) that you did what you had to in order to protect a person you cared about. You can try and shirk responsibilities. You can try to outrun the fallout. But no one — not even Barry Allen himself — is fast enough to outrun consequences. They will come back to bite you, no matter how fast you run away.


DAR(H)K IS THE DAY; HOW CAN I FIND MY WAY HOME?


Here's something to ponder: a lot of Arrow's characters would have their problems solved if they simply did two things: 1) stopped lying to each other and keeping secrets, and 2) tried to heal rather than simply placate themselves. Think about it: have many of these characters actually taken the time they really need to heal? Or do they simply try and brush past their feelings and problems in order to move onto the next ones? How many times has urgency been stressed in the Arrow cave? How many times has Oliver grown frustrated with things not being done quickly enough? The difference between growing and remaining stagnant (or worse, regressing) is the difference between wanting results and healing yourself. Healing anything takes time, whether literal, physical wounds or metaphorical ones.

Before this episode aired, I was thinking about it and I came to this conclusion — the only way that I would believe Felicity was healed (both physically and emotionally) is if the show allowed her to take the time to do so. I want to feel tension. I want anger. I wan resentment and sadness. I want frustration and pain. And I want acceptance and willingness to listen and I want it to be rough. Because the only way I will be able to appreciate the Oliver/Felicity love story after the complete and utter trainwreck that the writers slammed into them this season is if I am given time to heal my heart alongside Felicity.

Anything else feels completely and utterly cheap.

So, as character after character in this episode became the absolute dumbest people on the planet, I worried that the episode's final moments would have Felicity Smoak accepting Oliver's lie, or — in the very least — justifying it for herself. Because Oliver? Well, Oliver was a... word-I'm-not-going-to-use-because-I'm-a-good-Christian-girl. He had the actual audacity to try and justify his lies to Felicity MULTIPLE TIMES and by appealing to her emotions as a woman who someday wants to be a mother (by basically saying that he had to lie in order to eventually have William become a part of their lives, too, and GAG ME WITH A SPOON. No, wait, gag Oliver with it).

When Felicity placed her engagement ring on the table and told Oliver that she needed space, I actually perked up for the first time in three episodes. I watched with rapt attention as Felicity told Oliver — who still, by the way, tried to talk her back into a relationship... and seriously, do we need to find Ra's' sword and stab him again and kick him off another mountain before he gets it?! — that he keeps choosing time and time again to do everything without her.

He makes decisions without her. He doesn't even give them a second thought. He lies to her and he hides things from her. In the beginning of the episode, Felicity accurately points out the fact that if Oliver's first instinct whenever things are difficult is to lie and hide something from her, there is something wrong with him and it says more about how he views her and their relationship than anything else.

For the record? I totally and completely agree. If this break-up had teams, I would be 100% #TeamFelicity. Because these final moments of the episode remind us all why we love Felicity Meghan Smoak in the first place. We love her not because she is one half of "Olicity." We love her because she is fierce and independent and loving and strong. But the reason we — or, at the very least, the reason I do — love her so much is because she knows her value and will not settle to be treated as anything less.

Felicity has been loved by Oliver in all of the right ways and been mistreated by him, too. She's been dismissed and brushed aside. She's been lied to. Felicity, like us, realized something: she did not deserve any of this. She did not deserve to have Oliver's betrayal sugarcoated and shoved down her throat. She is better than this — she always has been. And until Oliver realizes how to become a partner, she could never marry him. Nor should she.

If Felicity forgave Oliver in "Taken," it would cheapen and diminish the Oliver/Felicity love story. It would say that Felicity is weak and susceptible to Oliver's charms; it would convey the idea that Oliver is in charge in the relationship, and Felicity just a participant (and often an unknowing and unwilling one). Do you see how that greatly hinders a love story and turns it into something toxic? So for the first time in what feels like forever, I am happy about how the writers surprised me.

Not only did Felicity break off the engagement, but she actually GOT UP AND WALKED AWAY. (Admittedly, this felt weird because at the beginning of the episode, she struggled to plant a foot on the ground, much less feet in stylish wedged boots.) Besides telling me that Felicity is just as desperate to run away from this horrible storyline as I am, this act is telling.

Felicity finally found her strength again.

And it wasn't in Oliver.

God bless her for remembering her worth and value and for refusing to settle for anything (or anyone) less than what she deserves.

LITERAL SPIRIT ANIMAL


I'll be honest here and say that I definitely didn't follow anything related to Vixen prior to this episode of Arrow, but I absolutely love Mari and wish she could stay around forever. (Actually, I tweeted that I need Mari to leave Star(ling) City because she brought way too much truth and logic and you know that if she stayed, that would lose all of that very quickly because logic has no place in this show.)

I REALLY loved Mari. I love her ambition and her determination. I love that she is so totally confident in who she is and does not let anyone diminish her power. I love that she is fierce enough to kick a Big Bad's butt, but compassionate enough to have an honest heart-to-heart with Oliver. And the thing I love most about Mari is that she is unafraid to tell people the truth they don't want to hear. In a conversation with Oliver, Mari tells him that he needs to let William go. Oliver, determined to be there for his child, cannot see what Mari can — the life he is giving William by forcing himself into it is no real life at all. The best gift, she insists, that Oliver can give his son is the gift of a normal childhood.

This is the most compelling reason for Oliver to let his son go, and Mari knows it. (Because she's smart, duh.)

The thing is, we can try and make everything we want happen on our own timetable. We can fight and we can lie and we can try and cheat our way into getting what we want by taking shortcuts. We can justify our actions and tell ourselves repeatedly that whatever we're doing, it will be worth it in the end. Heck, that's what most of our characters do in "Taken." But the truth — the real, hard, uncomfortable truth — is that we can never be healed until we are truly broken. The only way we will ever be able to be whole again is if we allow ourselves time and space to do so. 

And sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves and the people we love in our healing process is walking away.

Observations & favorite moments:

  • MVP of the episode is a tie between Megalyn Echikunwoke and Neal McDonough. First of all, their scenes together were absolutely fantastic and their scenes apart were stellar. Megalyn commanded attention in every scene that she was in. Nothing about her performance was over-the-top or overacted, and there was this gentleness behind the ferocity in the character she played. Mari and Vixen are fantastic, strong characters who know who they are and are confident enough to try and fail until they can succeed. I really hope Vixen returns to the DC TV universe soon. I would totally watch a show that she starred in. Just saying. Additionally, Neal was at the focal point in an episode once more, and it was so welcome. From the moment he returned to screen, I was reminded of why I missed him. Darhk is the perfect villain — a great mix of humor and snark and menacing power. Neal's piercing eyes and facial expressions convey that sense of gravitas. He's so great and Darhk remains my favorite villain by a mile.
  • Grave Predictions: Welp, considering William and baby mama have made it out of town unscathed, the chances of either of them in the grave seem low. I still maintain Mama Smoak as frontrunner, with Quentin in second place.
  • Sometimes I forget that Star(ling) City has other weather states than "dark" and "rain." It's weird seeing daylight.
  • I'm not paying any attention to the flashbacks. I've muted them, in fact, and am now playing a game of "guess what is happening on Lian-Yu." This week... Oliver's tattoo is also glow-in-the-dark and creepy dude whose name I never bother to remember is even creepier when his eyes are glazed over in white. I assume he's possessed. Or something. Really, who cares at this point, right?
  • "Sorry about the limo. LOVE the wheelchair." Darhk made me giggle with that line, which should not have happened but here we are.
  • "Who makes that kind of ultimatum?" Writers' rooms who are experiencing delayed effects of Community's gas leak season?
  • Baby Mama Samantha apologized to Laurel for sleeping with Oliver. Laurel said that she wasn't the one to blame, and Oliver was. Oliver looks guilty and Laurel looks mad. I cheer.
  • Speaking of Laurel, there was a tiny little detour into flashback (not those ones, thank goodness) land this week when she admitted that it stung to hear of Oliver having a kid with someone... because it was a someone he cheated on her with. This is one of the only times in the past few weeks I have actually totally and completely understood Laurel and felt for her. It already sucks to know you were cheated on, but to know that you were completely aloof and Oliver had a KID because of his affair? That's just a huge punch to the gut. It felt a tad unnecessary to add a Quentin/Laurel scene in this episode, but I appreciated this one enough to allow it. (Plus, it's one of the few scenes in this episode that didn't fill me with rage!)
  • Oliver said he and Vixen had an "animated encounter," and I see that wink and nod, writers. I'll allow it. It's cute.
  • Diggle supporting Oliver's lying makes me want to hurl Diggle off the roof he was standing on.
  • "Well... that happened." And I cackled. Thank you, Neal McDonough.
  • The special effects the show used when Vixen was trying to break the totem? Super cool. I loved all the animals swirling around her.
  • Oh, right, everyone found out that Malcolm is the one who kidnapped William. And then Thea confronted him at her home about, you know, him being HORRIBLE. And when she told him off and brought Robert's name into the equation, Malcolm spewed some vitriol about how Thea would be dead a thousand times over if it wasn't for him. Yeah, okay, whatever Malcolm. You're still the worst. Sometimes it's amazing that John Barrowman — the most hilarious, fabulous, wonderful man — plays this venomous human being so well.
  • "You don't need a totem [to be a badass]." "Damn right I don't." Applause for DAYS.
Well folks, that's it! Arrow is on hiatus until the end of March, so speculate away in the comments about Cupid's return, Oliver/Felicity's break-up, and what animal's spirit you would most like to embody! Until then. :)

6 comments:

  1. Great review! I understand that "Arrow" is supposed to be an origin story, but sometimes I wish they'd show Oliver taking more steps towards becoming an actual hero, as far as his character (ie. who you are in the dark) is concerned. I know you don't write the show but he makes it difficult to cheer for him. Also, I've been a Vixen fan since Justice League Unlimited and she's still a fantastic character!

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  2. Ah "Taken" this episode was the best of Arrow Season 4 I loved this episode. I saw Vixen season 1 and everyone who's a fan of the DCU should go watch it. As for the flashbacks, I know you don't care but I still care just want to let it out that I do and I`m paying attention. I mean there is a chance we could get Dr.Fate or the Parliments, Nekron or Eclipso. I want to know what's in the cave and who's guarding it.

    Now as for the episode itself...Felicity....I have mixed feelings. Felicity now being able to walk brings me back to Barbra Gordon flashbacks and how that filled me with rage. Plus the fact that characters who are made handicapped then get "fixed" also I do not like.

    But what happened at the end was perfect it worked for what it did. Felicity found her strength and walked away and the scene works for what it did. I still feel like its a cop-out on that arc but they are not coping out on what Oliver did and letting that play out. I hope they play this out for a long time.

    Whether or not "Olicity" comes back or not does not matter. If it comes back then it should come back right. If it leaves then it left on the proper note.

    Also I`m blaming Lyla for letting Cupid out because she probraly disbanded the Suicide Squad. Reminds me of the Waller shaming on the Flash bleh. But still this is the best episode of Arrow this season. I enjoyed Vixen, I enjoyed Oliver taking the heat, I enjoyed Laurel and Thea. I even enjoyed Dhark the jokes he made and how he got beat. I also enjoyed the fallout and Felicity choice. Excellent episode.

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  3. Watching Arrow often puts me in mind of a great quote from Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn:
    “To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love"

    And I want many characters to go to therapy a lot. I like the contrast you made between results and healing. Oliver (and others) do a lot of damage by brushing past painful things in order to distract themselves with action. Entirely necessary at times as it is often life and death in their world. But they end up doing things that make more problems for themselves and others. Maybe that's what makes for compelling drama but it can also get really tiring to watch. And really tiring to live through I imagine. Props to Felicity for knowing where to draw the line.

    sigh

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  4. I enjoyed your review immensely. I feel like this is an episode that proves exactly why Felicity Smoak is one of the best female characters on tv. Horrible of the writers to wrap up her interesting storyline (living with being in a wheelchair) but Felicity leaving Oliver was fantastic, if not cut short. She had every right to be angry at him and I really believe her reaction in the crossover would have fit perfectly here. But for what it was, she stated her reasons, and left.

    Samantha is quite frankly the best villain Arrow has ever produced. She pulled the wool over everyone's eyes with her "lie to see your son" spiel and we should all applaud her...lies. Lies lies lies. I'm utterly frustrated by the fact that because she's William's mother, she held all the cards and could do whatever she pleased. She didn't even apologise for it!!! Neither did Oliver actually, which is a fantastic failure. What she did was actually illegal. Why could she hold Oliver's lifestyle against him (from 10 years previous) when she cheated with him, whilst being Laurel's friend? No. Then asked him to prove himself by lying to his loved ones. It. Makes. No. Sense.

    However, I actually disagree about Mari. I really enjoyed Vixen as a cartoon but I don't think the action spirit animal thing translated well to live action. I would actually prefer it stayed in cartoon form because I can hand wave cheesy looking things more easily. Why did Oliver take Mari's advice but ignore his best friend? Oliver barely knows Mari, and yes she gas experience with not having ANY parents but Felicity has experience with not having a DAD. Agh stupid show.

    And another thing that irritated me was that Oliver spoke to Mari, Diggle, Thea, the coffee shop guy, the window fitter and Tommy's grave about his son, but Felicity was suspiciously left out of the circle? Leaving Felicity out of every decision was very heavy handed. Is she meant to think he values everyone elses input but hers?

    Mmph.

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  5. I've thought about the baby-mama drama lot over the past several weeks. I hated it from the moment it started in episode 8 and actually didn't watch the break-up episode until two weeks after it happened because I was so pissed off about it.

    I knew the lie was going to lead to a break-up. It was very poorly written and, yes, it would get a C-minus, at best. I don't even know if it would get a solid B in a high school writing class, in fact. It was that bad. Indeed, Arrow could use some stronger writers who come up with their own ideas instead of copy and pasting them from past shows and trashy novels.

    I believe so many people made excuses for Oliver's lie because we aren't meant to be too mad at him. This break-up cannot be too scandalous because a reconciliation any time in the near future wouldn't be plausible or wanted. I don't think Arrow would spend so much time building this relationship to quickly dismantle it for a very long period of time. If they had that intention, I think the break-up would have been written differently.

    Olicity is obviously endgame. All endgame couples must pay their break-up dues. Since the break-up came so soon after they finally became romantically involved, I hope it means they have a lot in store for this couple once they reconcile and that's why they wanted to get it out of the way. Laurel and Oliver were toxic and while I don't need to see Olicity all hearts and roses all the time, because real relationships require work and go through tough times, I don't need or want to see break-up, make-up drama time after time because that, too, is toxic. Oliver is in his 30's now, so let's see progression in his love life as well as in his whole persona. Breaking them up constantly wouldn't fit the story they are telling. I'd rather see a longer break-up, taking time to heal on both ends, than a too quick reconciliation in which they fall apart again rather quickly. There is so much other drama going on in this show, it's not light like Flash is, there is no need to have Olicity in constant angst. Plus, Felicity can be so quirky and funny, I'd like to see them get back to that and I'm not sure it would be believable if she and Oliver were apart at this point.

    All that being said, I'm writing this just before the final five episodes begin and I'm very interested in seeing how they leave Olicity over the hiatus. The fandom's best guess is that they will be engaged again. I've seen spec after spec on Tumblr about it. I'm not entirely sold on that, however. That would make for a very short amount of time apart and I don't see that as a realistic enough amount of time. However, Arrow broke Ray and Felicity up and had Olicity in bed in the course of one episode. So, anything could happen. If the writers wanted to toy with breaking the hearts of Olicity fans and LL fans, they'll wait until after hiatus to reconcile them. So, fun times ahead. A lot is about to happen. I hope the writers finally reconcile some of the bad storytelling with some really solid stuff.

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