Arrow Review: “Betrayal” (Season 1, Episode 13)

Among the biggest differences between network, and cable television is the presence of a unified vision. While Mad Men and Breaking wouldn’t be half the shows they are without their respective creators, network procedurals encourage outsourcing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, When getting a bunch of different writers to approach a particular formula, results will vary, depending on the quality of the premise, and those giving input. A lot of funny material is mined from different comedic sensibilities riffing on the same subject (see: the best scenes in any Judd Apatow movie), and coming up with an original murder mystery is something that crosses the mind of just about every writer at one point or another.

But while Tommy and I agree that a dozen chefs doing their own spin on the same meal can be nice, having the same twelve chefs all work on a single ginormous meal can quickly become a hot mess. In TV terms, it’s clear that a single firm hand on the steering wheel will help drive a show better than a dozen trying to pull it in all different directions. Any artistic effort done at a scale as large as television will always demand collaboration, but separation of creative church from financial state will only yield good results if the latter bows to the former, and not the other way around.

Networks tend to be skittish when it comes to handling the reins of a program, because sometimes showrunners turn out to be uncontrollable nightmares. Community’s Dan Harmon was notoriously difficult for NBC to work with, such that his firing off the adored, but little-watched comedy was understandable. Ditto for Smash, a behind the scenes Broadway drama that failed to generate enough entertainment as juicy as what was going on with its pariah of a showrunner, Theresa Rebeck. She too got the boot, after the once promising show had its following become increasingly populated by twitter comedians and hate-watchers.

There was a method behind the madness though: word on tonight’s Community premiere (under new management) is that the show’s wild stallion spirit has been replaced with that of a camel, an inoffensive amalgam of functional ideas, but destined for the glue factory all the same. Meanwhile, Rebeck got her revenge on Tuesday, after Smash found itself a new showrunner, and lost half its original audience along the way. What does that mean for Arrow? Not much just yet: the ratings continue to be very strong, and the show seems well on its way to figuring out how to stay around long term. What I’m worried about, though, is that the people in charge of the long term aren’t bold, or crazy enough to make that long term worth sticking around for.

The show has been on a modest roll since coming back in January, so it not only disappoints me to tell you that the latest episode ranks among the most myopic, but also that it’s hard to summarize what exactly makes “Betrayal” any worse than other entries. Nothing about the plot went horribly off the rails, nor did its momentum grind to a halt. Eventually, Oliver was going to have to not just get wise to, but also accept the fact that his mother has dirty hands. Both are dealt with tonight, and I’d be lying if I said that a cliffhanger where Oliver’s alter ego violently forces a meeting with Moira isn’t kind of awesome.

I can’t even resort to the cliché of saying that Arrow came close to freefalling off its tightrope walk this week, because the balance it’s had to strike isn’t all that complicated. Have Oliver fight some baddies, throw in a couple flashbacks, do pushups, give some nods to the comics, maybe mix a few “will theys” with the “won’t theys,” and you’re set. “Betrayal” had all that (minus the pushups), so if anything, the heavy emphasis on action, and near complete absence of Thea, gave the episode a better chance of being great than most.

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