Arrow Review: “The Huntress Returns” (Season 1, Episode 17)

“Me being happy isn’t what’s important right now” – Oliver Queen

Phew. Man, that is a relief to hear. Thanks for taking a load off my mind Ollie, because, boy, this was not a great week for you, was it buddy? I like to take notes when watching Arrow, and about halfway through “The Huntress Returns,” I punched in a line about how this week was trying to demonstrate the damage that could be done when people know about Oliver’s double life. But during each commercial break, I had to come back to that line, and keep bumping the font size up a notch for emphasis. Even after we’ve seen him tortured on the island, beaten within an inch of his life by the Dark Archer, and left heartbroken by the woman now trying to ruin him, “The Huntress Returns” stands out as a particularly rough episode for poor Oliver Queen.

Let’s circle back for a second, first. After the disappointing conclusion to her two-part introduction, back in those salad days of twenty ‘O twelve, I was nonetheless optimistic about the inevitable return of Oliver’s psycho-ex (Digg’s words), Helena Bertinelli, AKA Huntress. Anything to break up the “listee of the week” formula was a breath of fresh air, even by episode seven, and bringing about the change in tempo through an unexpected DC big shot made for a memorable one-two introductory arc. Memorable, tough not altogether successful, mind you. The character of Huntress got lost amid the show’s schizophrenic approach to Oliver’s moral code, which had him executing crooks by the barrel load one week, then suddenly finding his scruples the next, much the same way some of us rediscover our compunction at the end of a row of Oreos…before starting in on another layer a day later.

But I was hopeful all the same, because, despite how long it may have taken, Arrow has proven it can prop up initially anemic characters, even some I basically dubbed irredeemable months ago. Whenever the show takes a first stab at a newcomers to Starling City, it usually winds up well off the mark, and the second shot rarely lands much better. Roy Harper is a prime example. He’s off having a little protector-protectee romance with Thea, she having taken a shine to the hoodied dreamboat, the way many a young gal might when trying to save a brooding bad boy that looks like a pocket-sized Channing Tatum. There’s basically nothing to this plot as of now, beyond giving Willa Holland a reason to show up on set each week, and the promise that, yes, Roy Harper will probably end up being Oliver’s sidekick, the way he was in the comics (except updated to fight using parkour, like the kids like!).

But hey, promise like that can keep the geek recesses of my mind intrigued longer than is rightfully warranted, so there’s no to blame but myself for finding the Huntress’ return not quite as triumphant as the title makes it out to be, yet still looking forward to when she does some more returning. Even though Helena’s been globetrotting and soul searching for months since we last saw her, Stephen Amell’s hair has shown more growth, as she’s still got a mad-on quest to murder her former-mobster/current FBI snitch of a father. I liked Jessica De Gouw’s performance more back in “Muse of Fire,” than in the follow-up episode, “Vendetta,” and I figured out why tonight: turns out, she’s a much better actress when keeping Helena’s motives close to the vest, rather than shouting them out to the cheap seats.

Unfortunately, Huntress picks up emotionally and dramatically at the exact same place we left her, so there’s more iffy De Gouw to be found this week than good. Her best scene occurs when Helena first comes knocking on Oliver’s door, found miming giggly chatter with Thea in Queen Manor, only to turn on a dime, and give her old beau an ultimatum: help her take the head off the Bertinelli family tree, once and for all, or see Oliver’s own lose a few branches. Good stuff, for starters, but Helena abandons all pretense of being coy about things afterward, and proceeds to stomp all over everyone in Oliver’s life, despite his belief that helping her will minimize collateral damage.

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