Ten Common-Sense Ways To Fix "Arrow"
Over the course of season three, my opinion on The CW’s Arrow drifted from “Well, this show is problematic, but there’s tons of potential here, and I sure do like this cast” to “This is half-assed and sloppy, and I’m wasting my time.” Is it a hopeless case? Yeah, probably; I’m not going to bother watching it (or doing my illustrated recaps) any more, because I don’t have any faith it’ll improve. Still, here are my suggestions for what the show would need to do to claw its way back up into the general realm of “watchable”.
1. Give Oliver a personality. Okay, sure, I guess “moody, entitled douchebag” is a personality, of sorts, but viewers deserve more from the main character of an action series. Apart from his remarkable physicality, Oliver is a feeble excuse for a protagonist. In the beginning of the series, this made sense: he was a spoiled, feckless party boy who endured a dehumanizing trauma that turned him into a soulless, personality-free killer. Hey, that’s sort of interesting! There’s something in that worth exploring, at least. Three years on, though, Oliver has barely evolved past that point, and it’s grown tedious. He’s not even enough of a raging asshole for that to be his defining character trait (after all, some of the very best fictional characters are raging assholes). Instead, he’s just perpetually sour and unpleasant, like room-temperature yogurt. On a season that brought us two effortlessly charming and charismatic supporting superheroes in Brandon Routh’s Atom and Colton Haynes’s Arsenal, it was hard not to wonder why we were spending so much time focusing on the moody douche instead of on either of those aforementioned cuties. It’s time to make Oliver smart, or witty, or compassionate, or acerbic or arrogant or introspective or awkward. He needs some key character trait, something—anything!—to justify keeping him at the heart of the series. Because no one wants to watch a show about room-temperature yogurt.
2. Caffeinate the actors. I like all the cast members, every last one. They’re cute. They’re talented. They seem like swell people. They’re all cheerful and fun on Twitter and Instagram and such. But snakes alive, that cast has problems with flagging energy; Stephen Amell in particular often seems to be sleepwalking on set. Amell has had some strong moments as Oliver, but were I in charge of Arrow, I would’ve strongly considered replacing him early on for his decision to deliver his opening monologue—the one that starts out “My name is Oliver Queen...”, the one that plays at the start of every single episode—in a bored and vaguely irritated sing-song. Over the course of the show, he’s recorded several different variants on that monologue; they all start out with “My name is Oliver Queen…”, and he sounds bored and testy in each and every one. It gets the show off to a rough start.
3. Give Felicity her spine and her soul back. Oh, Felicity. You used to be so great! You were smart and funny and cute and fresh, and audiences went crazy for you. And then… this season happened. Producers shoehorned you into an ill-fitting romance with Oliver, and you quickly became awful. You were alarmingly incompetent. You sobbed all the time. You threw tantrums. You deliberately sabotaged Diggle and Roy in the middle of a dangerous mission, and then quit the team in a huff when they called you on your crap. You became willfully self-absorbed and selfish, and you were a total jerk to your nice mom. That most of this damage to your character was done because of your single-minded, obsessive, improbable love of Oliver, for crying out loud, is ridiculous. I’m sorry the show did that to you, kiddo. You deserved better.
4. Knock it off with the sexism. Ray Palmer entices the chief technical officer of his multibillion-dollar corporation into going out on a date with him by giving her the whole Pretty Woman treatment: he buys her a fancy dress and loans her diamonds. It works! By the end of the evening, Felicity is smitten! This is… problematic. Sure, some women love jewels and couture. Some men do, too. Nothing wrong with that. But prior to this episode, we’d seen nothing to indicate that Felicity would go crazy for couture or jewels, and Arrow’s assumption that this would be a surefire way to her heart—and thus, by extension, every woman’s heart—came off as sexist and gross. It didn’t help that this came in an episode where Thea is successfully wooed by an obnoxious DJ who uses insults and general assholery to worm his way into her affections. Was this as sexist and gross as the show-crippling blunder early in the second season when Oliver forced Felicity—elite tech whiz, MIT grad, all-around smartypants—to be his executive assistant because he needed (ahem) a “Girl Friday”*? Not even close, but it still wasn’t good.
*There’s so much to unpack in that: That the Arrow creative minds think “Girl Friday” is an acceptable term to use in a professional corporate environment in this day and age, that Oliver assumes his executive assistant must be female, that he forces that job upon Felicity despite her lack of interest or qualifications simply because she’s in possession of a vagina, that he’s nasty and condescending to her when she raises valid objections to this crap… It still boggles the mind that anyone thought that plotline was a good idea.
5. Make the show sexier. Holy crap, Arrow has an attractive cast. So many fit, beautiful actors scampering about in tight leather costumes! This should be one of the sexiest shows around, and yet most of the time it somehow manages to be profoundly unsexy. This is never more true than in the actual sex scenes, like the one in which Oliver and Felicity, after a season spent pining for each other, joylessly bone away in Ra’s al Ghul’s lair. It’s not as though Felicity and Oliver haven’t had sexy moments together: Remember Oliver swinging in on a rope to save Felicity from a landmine early in season two? That was pretty hot! You can see why fans wanted them to pair up! But as soon as the Arrow powers-that-be decided Felicity and Oliver should become an item, they drained all the sexy freewheeling fun from the pairing, until their dynamic became nothing but tears and tantrums and squabbling and pining, punctuated by that single bout of joyless boning (Oliver and Laurel’s relationship in season one, by the way, followed much the same trajectory, down to that single bout of joyless boning). Sexiness is about intimacy, about unexpected connections between characters. Arrow’s genuinely sexy moments tend to come out of left field: Laurel introducing a skeptical Nyssa to the joys of French fries and milkshakes, for instance, ended up being far sexier than anything Oliver and Felicity did together this season.
6. Kill the flashbacks. The flashbacks have always been awful, sure, but at least the island-centric ones in the first two seasons were helped out by the always-welcome presence of Slade Wilson. Season three’s Hong Kong flashbacks were nonsensical (Tatsu giving Oliver a third of her dead son’s cremated ashes is one of Arrow’s all-time biggest moments of WTFery), improbable (the U.S. Army tries to decimate mainland China by releasing a deadly virus on… an island), and offensive (to recreate Hong Kong, a glittering high-tech metropolis with a population of over seven million, set designers hung paper lanterns above dirt floors and rickety wooden stalls somewhere on a studio lot in Vancouver). Nobody likes the flashbacks. At best, they add little of substance to the current-day plot; at worst, they bring the show crashing down in a flaming heap of crap.
7. Make deaths stick. Malcolm died, except he didn’t.
died, except he didn’t. Slade died, except he didn’t. Oliver died, except he
didn’t. And hey, spoiler alert, you know how Sara Lance got riddled with arrows
and toppled to her death off of a building at the start of the third season?
Yeah, as it turns out, she’s going to be just fine. Arrow, maybe don’t do this so much? I mean, I’m thrilled that
Malcolm and Slade and Roy are all still alive, because they’re awesome, but
don’t kill off characters in the first place if you aren’t planning to make it permanent.
It’s the sort of thing that destroys the fabric of a show over time, because
subsequent character deaths can’t pack much emotional punch if viewers assume
any damage will be quickly undone.
8. Get a better villain. Granted, it’s hard to follow in the powerful and charismatic footsteps of Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett, you are amazing). And it’s already an iffy decision to turn Ra’s al Ghul, Arabian-born nomadic leader of the dreaded League of Assassins, into a boring white dude. Yeah, sure, Arrow’s not the first high-profile DC Comics property to take this path (hello, Liam Neeson!), but it’s not exactly an innovative approach. Anyway, Arrow already has a boring white dude, and his name is Oliver Queen. One per show is plenty. Despite all that, Ra’s got off to a pretty good start on Arrow. Remember when he whipped off his shirt, impaled Oliver on his sword, and kicked him off an icy cliff to his presumed death? That was great! Way to go, Ra’s al Ghul! Alas, after that, he became a messy, ineffectual, unpleasant enigma. Under Ra’s sloppy leadership, the aims of the League seemed to change from episode to episode—one week, they’re an all-powerful force, effecting vital change in the world through brutal and sometimes supernatural means; the next week, they’re a gaggle of pointless sadists. By the time Ra’s was forcing his lesbian daughter to marry Oliver and convincing Felicity to bone Oliver and offhandedly mentioning his penchant for rape, it was pretty clear he’d lost the plot somewhere along the line. What did Ra’s truly want? What were his overarching goals? These questions should’ve been answered in season three. At this point, hopefully we’ll never find out, because hopefully Ra’s is dead and gone. But this is Arrow. He’ll be back. Of course he’ll be back.
back. In a season
where Diggle ended up perpetually mired in a dull, overlong do-I-choose-my-family-or-do-I-chose-a-life-of-crimefighting
subplot, Roy Harper—that’s Arsenal to you, thank you very much—did a bunch of
cool showy flips and landed in the top ranks of Team Arrow. Roy Roy was great! He was witty and competent and
sexy and fun, he looked great in fetishistic red leather, and he radiated basic
human decency out of his flawless pores. In his absence, I’m happy to see Thea
don his costume and pick up his crime-fighting mantle, but the show has been
weakened by his departure. Come back, Colton Haynes; you are sorely missed.
10. Unleash the full awesomeness of John Barrowman. We’ve gone three seasons, and Malcolm Merlyn hasn’t sung a single show tune? For shame, Arrow!