Arrow 2-06: “Keep Your Enemies Closer”

Roy Harper alerts the Arrow to a counterfeit-money exchange taking place. The Arrow and Diggle arrive and take down the miscreants. When Roy joins the fray, he ends up getting arrested by Quentin Lance, who releases him after he discovers Roy is a fellow secret member of Team Arrow. Digg, meanwhile, gets waylaid by Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), head of a shadowy government agency known as A.R.G.U.S. (Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans, obviously), who alerts Digg to the recent abduction of A.R.G.U.S. agent Lyla Michaels, who disappeared in Moscow while on the trail of Digg’s brother-murdering nemesis, Deadshot. A.R.G.U.S. can’t rescue Lyla without risking an international incident, but Waller thinks Digg might be up to the challenge.

As soon as Oliver hears about Lyla’s disappearance, he insists on accompanying Digg to Moscow to find her. Good for Oliver, especially considering how he spent much of last season taking his partner-in-vigilantism for granted. Oliver, Digg and Felicity are joined on their Moscow excursion by Isabelle Rochev, who is (understandably) suspicious that that they’re misusing corporate funds by taking the Queen Consolidated jet for a joyride to Russia. While this is a pretty good episode for Isabelle overall, she loses huge points here when she accuses Oliver of sleeping with the “blonde IT girl”—that’d be Felicity—before promoting her (I’m reasonably certain Felicity would put “promoting” in sarcastic air quotes) to his executive assistant. With all the gross disrespect Isabelle and Oliver have shown toward Felicity’s brains and academic pedigree in recent weeks, they each deserve a firm whack on the nose with a rolled-up copy of her MIT diploma.

The scenes in Moscow are… well, they’re not good. Everyone wears adorable fur hats and does vodka shots, and the Kremlin is slapped into the background of one shot via CGI, and that’s pretty much the extent of the attempt at verisimilitude here. Were I feeling kindlier toward this season in general, I’d describe it as endearingly half-assed, but honestly, this sub-Smallvillean level of attention to detail is just embarrassing. It takes more than a bust of Lenin and a tray of vodka shots to make Vancouver look like Moscow. 

Diggle and Oliver meet up with Anatoli Knyazev (David Nykl), Oliver’s old cellmate from his time imprisoned on the freighter, who makes gloomy proclamations like “We have no word for ‘optimist’ in Russian” (fun fact: there is a word for ‘optimist’ in Russian). They make a plan to rescue Lyla, who is being held in a gulag legendary for being THE WORST IN RUSSIA. (We also learn that Lyla is Digg’s ex-wife, which is a tidbit that maybe should have come up in conversation during one of her appearances last season. Whatever, Arrow). As part of their plan, Digg, wearing a coat lined with explosives, sits by the side of the road with a huge-ass bag of drugs and patiently waits to get arrested.

Sure enough, in no time at all, he’s arrested and hauled off to the gulag. Which, for being THE WORST IN RUSSIA, doesn’t seem all that bad. Just a chain-link fence, maybe a little razor wire on top, concrete walls, a few dangling light bulbs. Pretty standard prison-type stuff. Digg’s cell looks a lot like my old dorm room at USC, minus the fluorescent lights and cheap nylon carpeting. If there’s any forced labor going on—which would be the defining characteristic of a gulag—we see no sign of it.

(The gulag also seems to be in the middle of Moscow—in any case, Oliver and Felicity will later drive there from their hotel in no time at all—whereas gulags are traditionally located in remote areas, i.e. Siberia.  That, combined with the lack of forced labor, makes it increasingly tough not to reach the conclusion that the Arrow writers didn’t realize “gulag” isn’t just a fancy Russian term for “prison.”)

Anyway, while Digg is in the gulag (or “gulag”), Oliver is off doing vodka shots with Isabelle Rochev. When Oliver presses her as to why she’s been so hard-assed about the merger between Stellmoor and Queen Consolidated, she replies, “Despite what Sheryl Sandberg might say, it’s still not that easy to make it as a woman in business.” Wow. That’s Isabelle’s takeaway from Facebook COO Sandberg’s best-selling book Lean In? That Sandberg thinks it’s easy to make it as a woman in business? Really? Here’s Anne-Marie Slaughter’s take on the subject in her review for the NYT (emphasis mine): “[Sandberg’s] point, in a nutshell, is that notwithstanding the many gender biases that still operate all over the workplace, excuses and justifications won’t get women anywhere.” And here’s how Sandberg kicked off her acclaimed 2010 TED talk on the subject: “[T]he problem is this: Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world.” Which is… kinda the opposite of what Isabelle just said. There’s been some critical pushback lately on Sandberg for not appreciating that her hard-fought path to corporate success isn't available to all women, but it’s lazy and wrong-headed to interpret that as Sandberg saying women in the business world have it easy.

(Hey, Isabelle? You know what makes it hard to succeed as a woman in business? Getting accused of receiving an undeserved promotion by sleeping with your boss, despite the lack of any evidence that would suggest such a thing. Like the way you accused Felicity of sleeping with Oliver.)

After a few rounds of shots, Isabelle and Oliver end up in bed together, which, while no doubt reckless and ill-advised, is sort of fun and unexpected and sexy. Those three adjectives are not often used to describe Arrow. What’s less fun and unexpected and sexy is the way Felicity gets gloomy and hurt when she discovers Isabelle in Oliver’s room the next morning.

One step forward, Arrow, and one step back.

Back in Starling City, Moira’s defense lawyer orders Thea to break up with Roy: The media has gotten wind of the fact that Thea is dating a felon, which Moira’s lawyer thinks will damage her case if it comes out at the trial. So Thea abruptly dumps Roy without giving him any explanation, which leaves Roy adorably nonplussed and befuddled.

At the surprisingly cushy gulag, Digg gets into a fight in the mess hall. As punishment, he’s strung up on a hook in a meat locker. On a neighboring hook is his old nemesis Deadshot (Michael Rowe). Deadshot offers to lead Digg to Lyla in exchange for help escaping from the gulag. They rescue Lyla and, with the timely help of Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle’s exploding coat, blast their way to safety.

Before going their separate ways, Deadshot gives Digg one final piece of information: He was hired to kill Digg’s brother by an organization known as H.I.V.E.

Back in Starling City, Oliver and Felicity have an awkward scene where he explains to her that his fling with Isabelle was meaningless, and that given his dangerous lifestyle, he thinks it’s better not to get involved with anyone he could really care about, i.e. Felicity. Felicity still acts wounded and betrayed, even though she has absolutely zero romantic claim to Oliver, and it’s yet another example of the way this confounded show constantly sucks all the zest and joy out of male-female relationships.

Moira summons both Roy and Thea to jail, where she commands Thea to reconcile with Roy: “Your social life is not going to be the determining factor in my trial.” Incarceration agrees with Moira. She’s been a much better character this season: more responsible, more sensible, less spineless, less neurotic. Huge, huge improvement. Keep it up, Moira.

Flashbacks: On the freighter, Dr. Ivo fills Oliver in on his evil scheme: He’s looking for an Imperial Japanese Navy submarine that ran aground somewhere in the island chain during World War II. The submarine carried a Japanese serum known as mirakuru—miracle—that gave test subjects superhuman strength. Sara sneaks Oliver out of his cell, convinces him to contact Slade and Shado on the ship’s radio, and betrays him to Dr. Ivo. Armed with the knowledge that Shade and Shado are still alive, Ivo makes plans to invade the island to kill them and find the serum. Meanwhile, on the island, Shado nurses Slade back to health by smearing unguents on his badly-burned face and using her own body heat to warm him up. And the odds of a future tedious Oliver-Shado-Slade love triangle just increased a thousandfold.

What a baffling and sloppy show this is. At least Felicity and Roy are still being angst-free and adorable while flagrantly shilling for Bose products in the second installment of the Bose-sponsored web series “Blood Rush”, and hey, it’s better than nothing. I take my good news where I can find it.


DKoren said…
Finally finished watching this ep... in like six or seven sessions. I was glad you recapped, as I was getting fuzzy on what happened in the beginning of the ep!

Felicity feeling hurt sooooo didn't work for me. I was kind of hoping she'd giggle or laugh and go, "really, Oliver? You slept with her?" But no, mopey instead. Sigh.

I did like the fact that Deadshot made it through the ep. I am extremely fond of enemies working together, so that whole bit with those two worked well for me.

As usual, you summed up all the problems quite nicely. I agree 100%. I love the "one step forward, one step back" comment. So true!
Morgan Richter said…
This show frustrates me SO MUCH. All the nice, subtle work the show did last season establishing Felicity's character, and establishing kind of an interesting, complex bond between them (mutual respect, plus getting a quiet kick out of each other's abilities) has been tossed aside in favor of... having Felicity mope about Oliver. You're right--having her laugh and roll her eyes at Oliver's hookup would have been far fresher, and far more in character.

The show is terrible at handling female characters. They'll get a good idea on paper -- Felicity's a quirky computer whiz! Isabelle's ruthless corporate titan -- and then ruin it by falling back on lazy gender stereotypes. Isabelle could be formidable and intimidating and awesome (and I do like her and Oliver having a reckless but angst-free hookup), but as written, she's more often... just kind of senselessly bitchy. It's unnecessary, cliched, and disappointing.

Glad they didn't kill off Deadshot. The show needs more recurring villains with complex relationships with the good guys, i.e. Deadshot and Diggle.

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