For years, one of the biggest criticisms leveled at Arrow has been its willingness to engage in fan service. The most cited example was Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Felicity’s (Emily Bett Rickards) romance, typically because people felt it distracted from the superhero action. I, however, think last week’s premiere was the worst example of fan service I’ve seen on this or any show. I’ll direct you to my recap of that episode rather than rehash it here. Anyway, I went into this week expecting very little and while this episode was an improvement on last, it still didn’t give me much hope for this season or the future of the show.
It’s a close race, but the worst thing about last week’s episode was how insufferable Oliver was. Then, Thea (Willa Holland) and Felicity were the unlucky victims of his damaged ego. This week, it was the new recruits. While I still think it’s patently ridiculous that this show is suddenly pretending masked vigilantism is the noblest thing in the world after four years of saying the exact opposite, this is apparently what the people want, so screw logic and continuity.
Case in point: recruiting one-time Black Canary, Evelyn Sharp (Madison McLaughlin). The last time we saw her, Oliver gave her a long speech about how Laurel (Katie Cassidy) wouldn’t want anyone to kill in her name. Implicit in his speech, was that a young girl should absolutely not be spending her time as a vigilante. And yet, with no explanation, Oliver chose her to join the new Team Arrow. The only possible justification I can think of is that somebody needs to fill the Speedy role—a theory that’s only reinforced when you realize how much of a Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) Rick Gonzalez’s snide Wild Dog is. However, that would make Curtis (Echo Kellum) the Diggle (David Ramsey) of the group and that definitely doesn’t track.
Speaking of the former Spartan, John Diggle is having a terrible year. After trading a daughter for a son thanks to “Flashpoint” (a lame twist that achieves nothing except to threaten us with a baby vigilante should the show continue for another decade), Diggle also had the misfortune of getting embroiled in some bizarre army corruption plot overseas. While it’s still too early to tell where this is going and Ramsey deserves a meaty storyline after all these years, this subplot is probably the 4th most interesting.
Far more exciting is Thea’s storyline. I don’t know how former teen drug addict Thea Queen became the closest thing to an adult on this show, but here we are. There is something thrilling about watching her competently run the mayor’s office and drive her responsibility-phobic brother to be more attentive to his job. She is the only Queen actually thinking about what’s best for the city and as Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) put it, maybe she should have been mayor. Take her behavior to the aforementioned former detective and current alcoholic. While Oliver was shockingly callous about giving Quentin a helping hand, Thea didn’t hesitate. While giving him a job–especially Deputy Mayor–will undoubtedly backfire at some point, her decision and empathy in that moment were the only true moment of heroism in the entire episode. I suppose I could point out that it would be more believable for Felicity to take an interest in Quentin’s well-being considering he could have conceivably become her stepfather, but why nitpick one of the only good things about the show right now?
Speaking of Felicity, after being a bit of a (justified) nag last episode, she was back to her light and funny self last night. Just about the only good thing about the show’s decision to regress back to season 1 is that Felicity is leaning into the Girl Friday/Moral Center role that made her a breakout character in the first place. She has always functioned best as the voice of good that pulls Oliver back when he goes to far and she had her work cut out for her as Oliver once again proved why he is terrible at teamwork. This show’s biggest lie has always been that Oliver is the leader of Team Arrow. He’s its mascot sure, but he’s never been particularly good at training or directing them. I mean, he chose to initiate the new recruits with an exercise he learned from the Bratva in which, when he did it, everyone died at the end. In truth, any time a new member has joined the team, Oliver has fought them tooth and nail to keep them away, eventually just accepting them as a partner after they refuse to listen to his demands. In truth, it’s Felicity who focuses and leads the team.
Nowhere was that clearer than in the conversation she and Oliver shared about the Bratva and the new recruits. Listening to Oliver talk openly about his fears and shortcomings about the new team was really satisfying. Admittedly, part of that was thanks to Rickards and Amell’s chemistry. Rickards had a really fun, flirty rapport with Tyler Ritter in that scene where Felicity lied poorly to her cop boyfriend about vigilante work à la Oliver in season 1, but there’s no competing with the intimacy and subtext of that Olicity scene. That moment, in terms of character and substance, was the highlight of the episode and if the majority of viewers truly think that that relationship is the wrong kind of fan service, then they deserve the complacent, stupid show Arrow is quickly becoming.