Review: (spoilers ahead)
Expect me to increase the threshold on my suspension of disbelief so I can enjoy watching a series of otherwise impossible events? You got it. Make my ears suffer through line after line of theme- and thought-declaring dialog, rob character interactions of all subtlety and nuance, so any hormonally imbalanced 12-year-old can stumble into an episode 20 minutes late and pick up the story without missing a beat (or asking even one question)? Done and done. Abandon tactful marketing practices and accost me with blatant product placement? Hey, man, those “special effects” won’t pay for themselves.
But try to persuade me that two characters share a romantic connection absent a hint of sexual tension, and lacking a number of relationship-building conversations, and I’m calling that bluff. Fraud of such magnitude I cannot abide. And frankly audiences shouldn’t either, especially when the genesis of this particular romance is rooted in crowd pleasing. For clarity’s sake, I’m referring to the extraneous love triangle shoehorned into the plot of last night’s Arrow (though most scenes spotlighting Roy and Thea likewise qualify). The word disingenuous can’t quite encapsulate all the emotions very much not on display in “Keep Your Enemies Closer,” so I’ll try my best to expound adequately.
But first, a brief synopsis.
Under the pretext of a business trip – or pleasure jaunt, the characters seemed to confuse their cover stories –, Team Arrow travels to Russia bent on liberating Lyla Michaels (Audrey Marie Anderson, Diggle’s ex-wife) from a gulag. She was investigating the whereabouts of Deadshot (Michael Rowe) on Dig’s behalf and, as they often do, plans went awry. Also, spoiler alert, Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) might’ve had something to do with it. But enough about that. Ollie’s new business partner, Isabel Rochev (Summer Glau), intercepts the gang moments before takeoff and parlays herself a seat on the Learjet. She’s tired of Oliver shirking his corporate responsibilities as the (co-)CEO of Queen Consolidated, by bailing on important company meetings, etc., so she wants to keep a close eye on him and thus complicates the faux-business trip by tagging along.
How a billionaire, or two if you count Rochev, could travel without any fanfare or media presence is beyond me, but, remember, you’ve got to suspend that disbelief. I have not yet arrived at the juicy part. It quickly becomes clear, via more of that sloughy dialog, that Isabel believes Oliver and Felicity to be romantically entwined because (1) Felicity’s pretty, and (2) for an administrative assistant she lacks a multitude of secretarial qualifications, like experience and a professional wardrobe. A brief aside: while it’s great for showrunners to address the unrealistic or incongruent aspects of a character, recognizing their existence is not the same as rectifying them. So don’t be fooled. Anyway, Oliver becomes suddenly distressed by this news. Although the reason why rumors of a workplace paramour matter at all to him, when he’s trying his damnedest to appear feckless, remains unexplained, and his brow furrows regardless. And the writers’ machinations begin to unfurl.
Meanwhile, Felicity remains oblivious to this development (though likely not to the rumor itself because some scenes hint that she might be its progenitor). So Diggle’s off on his rescue mission, and Oliver runs into Isabel in the hotel lobby; the two share what could pass for a real conversation over vodka shots. One drink leads to many and one thing to another, and they wind up trying to kill some loneliness between the sheets. Felicity arrives in time to witness Isabel sauntering out of Ollie’s room and her face instantaneously cramps with simmering distraught. Her reaction to the situation is unwarranted for a number of reasons, but one in particular. Up to this point, Felicity’s relationship with Oliver has primarily consisted of her transforming even his most innocuous remarks into impossible double entendres while Oliver patiently waits out her babbling and then, ignoring it, moves on. Oh, and she fetched him a cup of coffee once. So, you know, there’s that. But such behavior does not a romantic overture make. And there hasn’t been one palpable spark of attraction between them nor even a flint, like close friendship, from which a spark could ignite.
But when she catches Oliver behaving like the philanderer he’s pretending to be – a ploy she must be aware of because she’s substantiated it at every turn – her emotions tailspin and subsequently incinerate her opinion of him? Color me reasonably doubtful. Regrettably, the situation is exacerbated by Emily Bett Rickards, who’s prone to overacting in a show inclined to overcomplicating on a network that’s famous for overreaching. However, it bears mentioning that Rickards’ promotion to a series regular was all but demanded by the Arrow fanbase, and perhaps this latest hiccup is just another attempt to reward the fanboy fervor.
Consequently, some of those petulant Smoak supporters might try to argue that all of Felicity’s forced awkwardness and unchecked logorrhea was merely a byproduct of her attraction to Oliver, that he made her nervous and lightheaded and that explains her strange comportment. The argument has some merit and a shred of plausibility, but collapses upon cross examination. Felicity behaves the same way towards every character she comes into contact with, including characters she’s never met before (e.g., Sara Lance), so the problem is likely congenital not circumstantial.
Either way, Kreisberg, Berlanti and Guggenheim need to tread lightly. They’re already wading into dangerous waters because their show has no definitive personality. At turns, it’s a drama, where character relationships and narrative arcs dictate tone and pace, or it’s a procedural, where weekly villains and action sequences take precedence, or it’s a crowd pleasing endeavor where all things Felicity Smoak (usually in eye-popping attire) reign supreme. Do I have a preference? Certainly, but any of the three will do so long as the show remains consistent.
My two cents: don’t bother trying to please everybody because the effort alone will kill you, and ruin your series in the process. Better to make a show that’s really good at being one thing than a show that tries, and fails, to be moderately good at three things. Who knows, it just might change some minds. Superb television, like any superb art, finds a way to transcend boundaries. And what’s better than making a proselyte out of an unbeliever?
I know, converting the lot of them.