Arrow Review: “Vendetta” (Season 1, Episode 8)

fe38595860508833d20c187ca380bd88 Arrow Review: “Vendetta” (Season 1, Episode 8)

The struggle between seeking justice, and getting revenge, is one of the most important cornerstones of the superhero genre, and the debate usually boils down to whether or not the hero kills people. Justice is about the punishment fitting the crime, but even when the hero themselves isn’t the one directly harmed by wrongdoing, the temptation to make sure a bad guy never has the chance to repeat their offenses is always there. Can the forced isolation of one person ever really make up for all the lives that they’ve destroyed? Is it worth putting an evil genius in prison when he’s inevitably going to break out, and wreak havoc all over again? Even when given the luxury of living in a world with clear moral distinctions between good and evil, the choice to take a life for the greater good is one most heroes are constantly weighing.

The conflict is always there, but by definition, most comic book heroes are such because they always place unshakable value in a human life, no matter how degenerate the person living it. It’s that vain hope that maybe if Superman lets Lex Luthor live, he’ll finally change, and the world will be just as safe with him in it, as it would be without. The idea of a hero living by one intractable limit is a fascinating one, because writers get to use that as a reflection of the character’s identity, constantly throwing new, and horrible decisions at guys like Batman in order to test how far their resolve can bend, before it breaks. It’s why the Batman/Joker relationship is arguably the greatest in comic books: it asks whether we value our faith in humanity more than lives themselves, and if the pursuit of justice is merely an illusion, or the only way to keep the world sane.

In the comics, Green Arrow crossed that line after the madman Prometheus turned Star City into a smoldering crater, with Oliver avenging his city, and his sidekick’s daughter, by putting a shaft right through the villain’s head. It was a huge turning point for the character, one that ultimately got him kicked out of The Justice League, and put on trial for his crimes, because justice dictates that murder is murder, no matter the victim. Arrow’s take on Oliver Queen has been far less concerned with said moral implications, which is part of why it can feel so damn frustrating when the show tries to tackle the subject halfway through a very bloody first season. The potential is there for making Oliver’s changing views on capital punishment a part of his character evolution, but “Vendetta” whiffs it pretty hard, by letting the ethics of the question at hand become secondary to the childish behaviour of those doing the decision making.

You could argue that the frequently overdramatic and rash actions of the characters are the result of their ages. Most of the paragons of superherodom are usually upwards of 30 years-old, while young guns like Spider-Man often have their youth and inexperience serve as defining characteristics. The CW, of course, doesn’t make much room for any character over 30 (actors is a whole other story), but that can work to the show’s benefit. It’s a nice change of pace to see Oliver cut loose a bit now that he’s finally gotten laid, and an early scene with him and Helena playing target practice at the Arrow-cave is fun and flirty in a way that’s hard to mess up. Less successful is when the two have a tête-à-tête over each other’s preferred method of bad guy dispatching, taking the Huntress story to its logical destination in bumbling fashion.

Flipping the genders (if nothing else) on the speech Rachel and Bruce had in Batman Begins, Helena is driven by the need to make her father pay with his life for the one he took away from her, while Oliver argues that true justice matters more than getting even. The problem is that, knowing what we know about Oliver, and what he’s done, it sounds pretty hypocritical. Oliver has killed plenty of people, both since his return to Starling City, and almost undoubtedly during his stint on the island. Mostly it’s just goons and henchmen he kills, but they’re people regardless; “Legacies” made a big spiel out of how Oliver would show mercy if he understood the circumstances of those he hunts, and while not every bodyguard is as sympathetic as the Reston family, to count them as unredeemable merely by their association with a list target, is conveniently shortsighted.

So yes, Oliver has gotten his hands dirty, but does any of the guilt or regret that might come from those actions help him bring Helena to his side? Nope, he just takes her to Sara’s grave, and trauma-one-ups Helena into submission with his backstory. Worse, the writers then reduce Helena’s motives to little more than romantic grieving. Their relationship as crime fighters quickly becomes entirely dependent on their, well, relationship, via a baffling rally of maudlin angst. “You were on an island too,” “I can’t get hurt again,” and “I’ll never hurt you,” are a few of the choice quotes that damage the underlying moral quandary of this two-parter in ways you always feared a CW show would, by making the decisions of the characters have more to do with their sex lives than self-definition.

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It’s almost saved once the two pull off a hit on a drug runner using Oliver’s tactics, and you can tell they’re on the same page when their kiss looks like two identically poled magnets being forced together (I get that very slowly kissing is hot and what not, but space shuttles have docked faster than those two locked lips). Again, it’s a fun sequence getting to see the two work together, while knowing all the while that they’ll be split by episode’s end, based on the history of Huntress, and guest stars on TV. Digg is distrustful of Helena getting so close to the operation so fast, and believes Oliver’s hopes to end her bloodlust are a risk to his own personal redemption. Seeing Amell lighten up just a tad despite Digg’s warnings while helps show minor development in the Arrow persona, but Oliver’s inevitable heartbreak is far more interesting.

Unfortunately, getting there becomes another exercise in ridiculous character behavior. Running into Tommy and Laurel in the fanciest, brightest lit restaurant in town, the four do a double date that drags out the personal history almost immediately. While Helena is busy being the goth girl who’s new to the party, Laurel and Oliver rather harmlessly share a few laughs, and everybody freaks the hell out. Tommy and Helena bolt, both acting out at the drop of a hat for purely forced reasons. Tommy’s frustration is slightly more understandable given his need to ask for a job from the guy his girlfriend might be sweet on, but it happens so quickly, and his apology to Laurel is so abrupt, that it just feels like the first of many coming moments where his jealousy of Oliver will provide groundwork for his eventual face-heel turn.

Helena on the other hand finds such reason to feel betrayed by Oliver -a man who, despite their connection, she’s known for maybe three days at this point-, that she uses it as an excuse to forsake his lessons entirely, and go on a murder spree, offing the head of the Triads, and forcing their wrath down upon her father. For the back half of the episode, Helena is just a big ball of misty-eyed rage and petulance, a mix that brings Jessica de Gouw’s native accent to the surface more than any sort of pathos. After one of the lamest death fake outs in recent memory, Helena and Oliver part ways, with her holding Oliver’s identity as leverage in case he comes after her. She rides off in an appropriately bratty huff, and Amell force-feeds us a line about how “we haven’t seen the last of her,” and things end on a note that’s far less impactful than it should be.

Like so many of Arrow’s missteps thus far, my frustration with how the Huntress arc has turned out is the result of all the pieces required to make something really good being available, but horribly mismanaged. De Gouw’s readings could be flat at times, but she was confident and kickass when in costume, and seeing another side of Oliver was important, especially now that his post-fling depression sets up some interesting new angles for the future (even though his palpable heartbreak just underscores how stupid it is that everyone automatically assumes he’s in love with Laurel). So yeah, I’ll probably be excited when Huntress comes back to town, because there’s a lot more to this character and her relationship with Ollie that has yet to be touched. But I can only hope that by then, the writers have figured out a way to balance the classic comic book conflicts with the network romantic drama, because when the former is squandered by forcibly combining it with the latter, Arrow isn’t nearly as enjoyable as it could be.

  • Stray Thoughts

-Barely touched on the side characters, but their stories continue to move in inches. Walter is back, and I really enjoy how they’ve flipped the usual “wife is suspicious of husband’s secrets” trope. It’s the exact same mind you, but Walter’s impotence is kinda endearing. His threat to “suspend” Felicity is hilariously unconvincing.

-Felicity is basically a cog of the plot, which is fine, so long as she’s got funny things to say when she shows up. Her quirky kangaroo fear is fine, but lord if her need to awkwardly sexualize every situation doesn’t get old fast.

-I’m worried Carly has some sort of condition where she has to mention that Digg is her ex-brother-in-law every time she talks to someone. There’s a shot of her when Oliver is talking about finding a new love, but if that’s all she’s good for, I’ll be extremely disappointed. On the plus side, Digg and Ollie would be semi-legit bros!

-China White shows up with the Triads, but I can’t say I know her fate at episode’s end. She just sorta, drops, after Ollie shoots at her. I’ll assume she gets away. It’s arguable that’s secretly the most important part of the “no kill” policy: making sure the villains stick around till they’re needed next.

-For a major crime lord, Mr. Bertinelli should probably get updates about his illegal operations from sources other than just the nightly news.

-Ab-tastic Workout of the Week: Two for the price of one, a return of the jumpy bar thing, and upside-down pushups. Seeing as De Gouw is from Australia, she’s probably not all that impressed.

-Awesomely Specific Arrow of the Week: Flashbang arrow. Great for fireworks, and blinding bad guys.

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  • BobSmith111

    I think that so far Arrow has been excellent, and this show has had some pretty good writers too. My wife loves Huntress, and many more DC characters are on the way too. So far I’ve been watching all the episodes with my co-workers at DISH on our lunch break, and we can’t get enough. At home, I’ve been recording all the episodes on my Hopper DVR from DISH so that I can store all the episodes on the 2 terabyte hard drive, and watch all them again with my wife when I get home from work. My wife and I watch it all the time; it’s one of our favorites.