Arrow Review: “An Innocent Man” (Season 1, Episode 4)

There’s a very thin line separating entertainment that’s endearingly cheesy, and outright bad, something Arrow suggested in its first three episodes, before outright proving tonight. The hacky dialogue, erratic fight choreography, and gratuitous focus on Stephen Amell’s muscles are now characteristic “quirks”, but wrapping them up in expedient, just-smart-enough-to-stay-credible weekly plots, that trade heavily on Amell’s charm, was the best way of giving the show a chance to find its footing.

While never unreservedly great, Arrow has made for a fun distraction the last few weeks, and has shown real signs of potential as something more than a guilty pleasure. The problem is that a guilty pleasure can be such a specific mix of elements, that when one or two go missing, the result isn’t something so bad it’s good, it’s just bad.

“An Innocent Man” is easily the worst episode of Arrow yet aired, one where the usual foibles don’t come off as ineptly charming, but as grating distractions in an episode that’s already overly busy in providing what mostly amounts to filler.  All the routine faults are here: okay, Tommy doesn’t pop in randomly for a bad joke, which is nice, but Laurel is unbearably self-righteous, Moira shows up just to hint at the greater conspiracy, and Amell spends the whole episode working on his Batman impression, rather than just five minutes.  As for the strengths, there’s no DC villain introduced to add some colour, no interesting insight into the island vacation, and barely any Diggs.

That last one is surprising considering that “Lone Gunmen” ended on the exciting cliffhanger of Oliver revealing himself to his hapless bodyguard, after returning to the Arrow-cave for some poison treatment. The episode plays it lazy right out the gate when replaying the final scene from last week almost shot for shot, probably because nothing happens in the opener beyond Digg getting infuriated, throwing a couple weak punches, and then walking out on Oliver’s proposal to become partners against crime. Having your life saved by a man who’s being called a vigilante murderer –one who also happens to be the man you’re supposed to be protecting- might raise a few questions for a guy like Digg, but he has to get pushed out of the story early, so that the buildup to his inevitable acceptance of Oliver’s offer has some semblance of tension.

Unfortunately, dragging things out is the theme of the episode, seen both in the A-plot, where Oliver is led to his target by a falsely imprisoned man who’s days from execution, and in the laborious amounts of exposition that make the infodumps of weeks past seem graceful. Getting relationship advice from Thea? Might as well establish Oliver’s current status with the entire Lance family. Has Laurel not mentioned her dad being a cop yet this week? Why not do it when she’s facing down a home invader. You know, as a deterrent. And yes, the villain of the week is introduced explaining to his Head Goon -who, as Head Goon, should know- why it is he’s on Oliver’s list.

Reiterating information over the first few weeks of a new show is a delicate art that’s proven beyond Arrow’s particular set of skills thus far. It’s one thing to worm in information designed just to get new viewers up-to-date (like Digg’s sister-in-law Carly reminding him that his brother died, and the killer hasn’t been found), it’s another to create entire scenes that function solely as crash courses. Even the dialogue concerning new developments is often awkward and forced. Since Laurel lacks the luxury of Oliver’s narration, her sassy partner at the law firm shows up whenever she needs someone to bounce internal developments off of, making her about as unintrusive as the opening prologue.

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