Arrow TV Reviews

TV Review: Arrow, “Suicide Squad” (S2/EP16) – Did Anyone Else Get a Backdoor Pilot Vibe?

To read our other Arrow episode reviews please go here.

Suicide Squad

  • Airdate: 3/19/2014
  • Director: Larry Teng (Medium, Person of Interest, Elementary, NCIS)
  • Writer(s): Keto Shimizu (The Cape, Being Human, Arrow’s “Blast Radius” & “Broken Dolls”) & Bryan Q. Miller (Smallville)

Last week, Arrow took an episode to go all Hitchcock at Queen Mansion and radically changed up the status quo on the Island.   So, now would be a great time to do a Diggle-centric Mission Impossible/Dirty Dozen thing sans Oliver, right?  Right?

THE RECAP –

Welcome to the Suicide Squad –

Diggle’s ex-wife/current girlfriend Lyla beckons and he comes running, thinking she needs his help when in reality it was just a very enticing “I just got back from a long mission” booty call. As if sensing there was joy somewhere in the world for her to stamp out, Amanda Waller shows up to order both of them into a mission.

Suicide Squad
Diggle: “You know, I don’t actually work for ARGUS. I’m not really your’s to just boss around.”
Waller: “It’s cute that you think that.”

The gist: when Diggle and Lyla served together in Afghanistan, he saved Gholem Qadir, a terrorist later released after providing considerable intelligence information.  Now, the publicly reformed rat bastard is privately stockpiling a deadly nerve agent to be sold to the highest bidder.  Waller can’t officially do anything about it, but an off-the-books special ops team led by Diggle and Lyla could.  Their soldiers?  Incarcerated super criminals working as mercenaries in return for commuted sentences.  Welcome to the Suicide Squad: Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, Shrapnel.  Don’t worry, though – if any one of them steps out line it’s death by remotely triggered bomb implanted in their head.

And, just like that, the honeymoon phase of Diggle and Lyla’s renewed relationship is over, the two taking opposing ethical viewpoints on the whole Suicide Squad proposition.  He goes along with it, though.  The Squad fakes an assassination attempt to get Diggle an invite to Quadir’s mansion with the nerve agent.  It works, but Shrapnel makes a getaway, spouting some business about not being controlled by the government.  So, Waller makes that bomb in his head go boom, a somewhat poetic death for the Squad’s explosives expert:

Suicide Squad
Bye-bye, Shrapnel. You will not be missed.

The remaining Squad later converge, Mission Impossible-style, on Quadir’s mansion only to discover they’ve been lied to – the nerve agent is not so minimal that any one squad could covertly obtain it.  Quadir has an entire basement full of the stuff, and the whole point was to get Deadshot near it so Waller could order in a drone strike to target the tracking device in Deadshot’s neck thus killing him and neutralizing the nerve agent.  Waller would have gotten away with it, too, if weren’t for that dang Diggle and his “remember your daughter back home” logic to get Deadshot to vacate his post.  Later, Waller is ever-so pissed because she had to send in an actual official team to clean up the mess.  Diggle’s days as a Suicide Squad freelancer are probably over.  However, so is his feud with Deadshot, the two somewhat understanding each other now.  In the end, Diggle re-embraces Lyla, and acknowledges his need to recognize the grey in a world not usually composed of just black and white.  

Oliver Loves Sara So Much He’ll Push Her Out of His Life –

Suicide Squad
Sara: “Oh, you sonofabitch. You did not just give me the ‘I love you so much I’m going to push you away to save you because I’m so dangerous’ speech!”

After Slade Wilson’s house visit in “The Promise,” Oliver has gone into kind of a knee-jerk, bad-ass loner mode.  You know – pushing your girlfriend away, struggling to sleep through shame-induced nightmares, bullying the local Russian mafia into doing your bidding.  The usual.  However, Oliver’s solo sleuthing simply lands him at a location where Slade has left behind a gift: the leader of the Russian mob, with an arrow through his eye.

Suicide Squad
Goodbye, Russian mob boss whose name I never learned. To me, you’ll always be the, “Hey, wasn’t he an Observer on Fringe?” guy

Humbled, Oliver opens up to Sara, explaining that if he can’t defeat Slade then he can’t defend her from Slade.  They kiss and hug, with her essentially reminding him, “You do remember I was trained by the League of Assassins, right? I’m not Gwen Stacey, Mary Jane, or Lois Lane getting taken by the big, bad supervillain.  I’m the motherflippin’ Canary!”  She also re-inforces his need to let others help him in this fight. That’s just what he needed to hear.  He goes to Amanda Waller for help, who, as it turns out, has been tracking a curious fella who goes by “Deathstroke.”

THE REVIEW

A single moment from almost the very end of “Suicide Squad” best encapsulates the problem I had with this episode: Oliver is sitting at the Verdant bar, dutifully watching a TV upon which the latest expository Bethany Snow newscast delivers the following, “In international news, a United Nations inspections team was called in to investigate a chemical weapons facility hidden beneath the estate of humanitarian Gholem Qadir.”  Oliver’s reaction?  Almost non-existent.  Maybe, at best, a slight nonverbal, “Huh, well what do you know about that.”  Bethany is obviously describing the aftermath of Diggle and the Suicide Squad’s actions, and Oliver appears to have no clue.  I know that the Suicide Squad is top-secret, and Amanda Waller, she who can match wits with Batman in the comics, could keep that from Oliver.  However, shouldn’t Oliver have at least wondered where Diggle was the whole time?  Shouldn’t this have been confirmation for him that his friend was okay?

Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad – Coming to The CW This Fall – I’m kidding. It’s not, but this did have the feel of a kind of backdoor pilot

Multiple times throughout “Suicide Squad” I felt as if I was watching a somewhat poorly conceived backdoor pilot for a show all about Deadshot and that gang toiling under Amanda Waller’s increasingly heavy thumb.  By only incorporating Diggle into that storyline and leaving the rest of the regulars back doing their own thing in Starling City “Suicide Squad” ended up feeling like two different two shows co-existing together.  Oliver pushing Sara away was pretty much vintage Arrow relationship drama [see: Tommy and Laurel last season, Roy and Thea right now].  With the Suicide Squad involving a small ops team being dispatched by a shadowy government organization headed by a genuine bad-ass, cold-hearted leader who happens to be African-American it was hard not to get a bit of an Agents of SHIELD vibe.  Even by SHIELD‘s very low standards, characters like Shrapnel and Bronze Tiger are clearly not that interesting, though Tiger had a decent line or two this week.

Basically, the only thing connecting the two parts of this episode – Suicide Squad and Oliver & Sara – should not have been a stray, expository newscast one of the characters just happens to watch at just the right time as well as a last second surprise twist of “Oh, btw, Oliver totally knows Amanda Waller.”

Suicide Squad
So, I guess this means we can expect Waller to pop up in the flashbacks at some point

Of course, that isn’t actually the only thing connecting the two halves.  From a character perspective, you could see where the writers intended for Diggle and Oliver’s personal journeys involving their significant others to parallel each other.  The way they each overcame their stubbornness was, of course, very different, but the overall picture was of two taciturn, emotionally reserved men who each came close to sabotaging a deeply important romantic relationship.

Suicide Squad
Diggle and Lyla’s honeymoon is over

While it was glorious seeing Diggle receive such a showcase, it was challenging to fully engage with his drama since this was our first time getting to really know Lyla.  Here, their conflict was rife with obvious years of shared history and barely healed over wounds, but to us Lyla is just a girl he flirted with last season, said, “Oh, btw, she’s my ex-wife,” before running to save her in Russia this season.  On the plus side, now we’ve seen how the two met as well as how they are together when not having lots and lots of sex.  As for Oliver, his pushing Sara away in order to keep her safe is an obvious comic book relationship cliche.  Though well-trotted territory, Stephen Amell and Caity Lotz played the emotional beats well.  It was an interesting twist that in their final scene it was the girl who was steadfast and assured, lovingly consoling the emotional and weepy male.  More or less, this was a story of a girlfriend waiting for her boyfriend to open up to her, emotionally, so that she could be there for him, which is completely new for Oliver and Sara.  It was equal parts sweet, cliched, and featured Oliver being a tad bit condescending.

Laurel got the best line of the episode, though, when responding to Oliver’s observation of the awkwardness of the two discussing his relationship with Sara, “And why’s that?  Is it because of the whole cheating, shipwreck, drowning, not drowning, you’re back, she’s back thing?  Sorry, that’s the brutal AA honesty talking.”  Laurel advised Oliver in this episode much as he did last season when playing relationship coach for her and Tommy.  That’s actually a fairly common pathway for TV couples who eventually end up together to take – alternating turns as the matchmaker from the sidelines.  For as healthier a place as Laurel seems to be now there is still at least a slight sense that she has forever been robbed of what was her rather rightful claim to anger over Sara/Oliver, both their pairing in general and how fast it happened after her return to Starling City.  However, I prefer this to her recent extended run of self-destruction.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Diggle finally got another showcase episode, but the problem is that as he has receded into the background so have those characters connected to him, like Deadshot and Lyla.  So, we were made to care about his drama with a girlfriend we didn’t really know.  Plus, the apparent resolution of his conflict with Deadshot would have felt a bit more profound had the “doing it for my daughter” reveal not come one episode after Ivo’s “doing it for my dying wife” reveal and two episodes after the Clock King’s “doing it for my dying sister” reveal.  Those are standard comic book back stories, but we didn’t need to have 3 of them in a row.  The rest of the Suicide Squad was filled with paper-thin characters who were not in any way improved –  did anyone other than hardcore Firefly fans care when Sean Maher’s Shrapnel died?  On the other end, Oliver was given a very cliched “pushing my girl away to save her” plot, though its resolution did uphold Slade’s status as a bad-ass big bad.  As a concept, this was a fun introduction to the Suicide Squad, but it wasn’t as compelling nor as well integrated with the rest of the show as it should have been.

THE NOTES

1. Comic Book 101: Floyd “Deadshot” Lawton

Deadshot_Gareth_h3

  • First Appearance: 1950

Initially a Batman villain, Floyd Lawton grew up in a family with an abusive father.  When finally pushed too far, he took aim at his father with a gun but missed, instead killing his beloved brother.  So, he improved himself later in life to be a skilled marskman who absolutely never misses his target, using a cybernetic eye implant to further ensure his deadshot aim.  The “doing it all for his daughter” story element was first introduced in the comics in 2005 when Deadshot discovered he had a daughter living in Star City.  This has survived into the New 52, which also sees Deadshot as Suicide Squad team leader as well as engaged in a twisted romance with the never-not-awesome Harley Quinn.

2. Comic Book 101: The Suicide Squad

Suicide_Squad_0023
Suicide Squad from the New 52
  • First Appearance: 1987 (as we know them)

Modeled after The Dirty Dozen and Mission Impossible, the Suicide Squad is just what the current episode depicted: a team of incarcerated villains who perform dangerous missions with low chances of survival for the U.S. Government in exchange for reduced prison sentences.  As a result of this set-up, the team’s roster is in constant flux, though Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, and Captain Boomerang are usually involved.  The current lineup in the New 52 includes Deadshot and Boomerang along with Cheetah, King Shark, Count Vertigo, and Harley Quinn.  Amanda Waller is historically their government handler, and is pretty much just as cold-hearted a bad-ass as the version we’ve seen on Arrow.  WB is rumored to be developing a mid-budget action film adaptation, with Dan Lin producing, and Justin Marks writing the script

3. Comic Book Easter Egg: Harley Quinn!

333

During Diggle and Lyla’s first fight near the Suicide Squad chambers (they couldn’t go out into a hallway?) a bubbly voice piped in from behind one of the cells offering to provide counseling.  That was Harley Quinn, the Joker’s psychiatrist-turned-girlfriend, originally voiced by Arleen Sorkin in Batman: The Animated Series.  Here, she was voiced by Tara Strong, who has been playing the role in recent video games Batman: Arkham City and Injustice: Gods Among Us.  This was the definition of a fan service moment, but as a fan of Harley Quinn’s delightfully crazy turn in the New 52 Suicide Squad I was cool with it.

4. Comic Book Easter Egg: Amanda Waller’s code name during the mission was “Mockingbird.”  Why is that significant?  In the comics, Mockingbird is the code name taken by the leader of a different though similar team-up group called the Secret Six.  Most recently, Mockingbird was Lex Luthor, and once he gave up on it Amanda Waller took over in a Suicide Squad/Secret Six cross-over event.

5. Okay, Felicity’s scene with Diggle was adorable, and I get that she wants some sense of normalcy in her life.  However, was she crazy to send Diggle away?  Yes, Slade can get to her no matter what, but that guy was her only protection.

6. What does Oliver have against swimming?  With campaign promises like afterschool swim programs that is clearly Moira’s election to lose, right?  Suck it, Sebastian Blood, speaking of which, where the heck have you been lately?

What did you think?  Like “Suicide Squad”?  Hate it?  Love it? Let us know in the comments section.

All of the pictures used in the above review, unless otherwise noted, came from CWTV.com © 2014 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

NEXT TIME ON ARROW

15 comments

  1. This episode was really boring for me. I think they could and should have used Diggle better. I am glad that they are ‘repairing’ Laurel. Actress really deserves it, she is great. But i think they took it too far with her being ok with her sister and her ex-boyfriend again but we will see where are they going with all of this. Only thing i can’t agree with is: “Laurel advised Oliver in this episode much as he did last season when playing relationship coach for her and Tommy. That’s actually a fairly common pathway for TV couples who eventually end up together to take – alternating turns as the matchmaker from the sidelines”.
    Male viewers, especially male comic fan viewers don’t see anything tragic in Laurel and Oliver pairing up but trust me every female i talked to is disgusted with that sister triangle. Imho Oliver and Sara are similar and they ‘belong’ togeher in a way, but Laurel is just too good for Oliver. And if it Tommy situation bothered her that much, i can’t see her with Oliver when he’s with Sara now again. But the producers are gonna do what they want anyway so there’s no need to stress over it. I hope Laurel gets better and better for season 3, because in this season she was for me by far the worst written character.

    1. I wasn’t trying to argue in favor of a Oliver/Laurel pairing. I was just observing that a common tactic TV shows employ in delaying romantic unions between male and female characters is to have them alternate turns as some kind of cordial relationship coach from the sidelines. Friends sure did it with Ross and Rachel, though the angle was that she didn’t know he liked her, and then later he didn’t know she liked him. So, not an exact comparison.

      I actually agree with you: I like that they are repairing Laurel, but they might have slightly overcorrected. I know she’s in AA now, but it did seem a bit much to have Laurel be that okay with helping Sara and Oliver work out their relationship drama.

  2. I loved this episode, though, Oliver’s hypocritical, ridiculous flip-flopping on his relationships with women is getting old. He pushed Laurel and Sara away to “protect them” and he’s standoffish with Felicity and the simple fact is, whether they are with him or not, they are in danger. It’s just stupid and needless and so repetitive.

    So mad they seemingly blew up Shrapnel. His rambling and Tiger’s reaction had me giggling.

    Laurel, as ever, is too damn good for all the rotten people in her life. No one wants any more Lance sisters/Oliver drama so I’m happy with where they are all at with each other right now. If Lauriver can’t be a love thing, I’m perfectly happy with it being a friend thing. Loved Laurel’s brutal AA honesty and Oliver’s reaction to it. Stephen’s face!

    As you said, I also liked how Laurel’s helping him with Sara reflected him trying to help her with Tommy. No matter what, they still are trying to be good to each other.

    Diggle/Deadshot are my new BrOTP!

    Slade’s mind-game with Oliver gave me the chills, especially the dead Bratva guy with the arrow in his eye while home movies of Shado played on the wall. Slade scares me way more than Malcolm Merlyn ever did.

    1. I’m sorry if my question is too stupid 🙂 but how did he get that Shado home movie? I guess sometime after the island he went to her hometown… ?

      1. It’s not a stupid question. I wondered the same thing as well. I’m with you-Slade must have somehow obtained the video after the island. We know Shado’s dad is dead. Slade must have found her mother or whoever else was left in that family and talked his way into getting the video.

    2. I did not care at all about Shrapnel individually, but you’re not wrong: he and Bronze Tiger did have the makings of a fun pair. However, I think having Shrapnel sacrificed like that was a rather efficient way of emphasizing the Suicide in Suicide Squad while fully establishing the moral parameters in which Amanda Waller operates.

      Slade’s mind games in this episode were certainly ahead of the game. I have to admit, though, that I was kind of distracted there at the end with the video of Shado because I was trying to figure out where that video even came from.

  3. “Did Anyone Else Get a Backdoor Pilot Vibe?” – I kept thinking it’s like backdoor pilot the whole time I was watching the episode. The Suicide Squad story is entertaining but I agree it could have been integrated and executed (ahem) better. I’m disappointed with how little Shrapnel was developed, and yes I’m a Firefly fan. Maybe it is wishful thinking, but I wonder if he’s alive somehow, since he’s an explosive expert who could have taken out the bomb and we never saw his body explode.

    The Harley Quinn voice/cameo was pretty funny, especially with Waller rapping on the bars was a nice touch. Had I not known about the Quinn spoilers before the episode, I may have liked it even more.

    “Oliver was given a very cliched “pushing my girl away to save her” plot” – Its a very overused device which I felt a bit tiresome. But I get the feeling they needed to give their lead character something to do and I guess it does come full circle with Oliver and Amanda Waller. I also liked the part where the Russian guy has an arrow through his eye, in Slade’s chair.

    1. Mark Guggenheim recently explained how their using the Suicide Squad came about, and also what to make of Shrapnel’s “death” (http://www.comicbookresources.com):

      How long has the Suicide Squad been planned for “Arrow”?

      Marc Guggenheim: The truth it, is happened so organically, I don’t have a memory as to when it crystallized for us. The year started, as year one did, with DC providing us a list of characters who were available, and who they would like to see on the show. One of the characters that spoke to us was Bronze Tiger. ‘That’s a character we could very organically “Arrow”-ify. It seemed to make sense to us.

      We started talking: “We’ve got Amanda Waller happening in episode 6, we had Deadshot last year. That gives us two members of the Suicide Squad, three if you count Amanda.” We just started whispering the words to each other — “Wouldn’t that be fun to get to?” It really started out, quite frankly, with wanting to do a Lyla/Diggle story. Someone pitched in the writers’ room: “If Lyla was involved with the Suicide Squad and Diggle was not approving of it, that would be a nice source of conflict for the two of them” It really started from a character perspective, and us recognizing we had a lot of pieces in place.

      One of the reasons we decided to call the bomber in episode 10 “Shrapnel” is, Shrapnel is a member of the Suicide Squad. We thought, “If we do Suicide Squad, we could use Shrapnel, also.” But it just came together incredibly organically. I wish I could say we were like Marvel — “we know we’re doing an Avengers movie.” But we just slowly put the pieces on the board, and slowly realized it was possible.

      On the decision to kill Shrapnel (Sean Maher):

      Guggenheim: If we’re going to do the Suicide Squad, and we’re really going to sell the idea that any of these guys are expendable, we should do the thing you’re least expecting: We should kill one of them off, and do it pretty soon. We do it at the end of Act Two. “They literally are the Suicide Squad, no one could get out of this team alive.” Shrapnel felt like the right character, because he has all these ideals, and sees himself as this crusading patriot. If anyone was going to bolt and therefore be killed for it, he would be the most likely candidate. We wanted to do it and not just be shocking, but do it in a way that felt organic, and felt true to all of our characters.

      Does the fact that his death occurred off-camera leave the door open for a return?

      Guggenheim: He’s dead. He’s very dead. We only shot it that way because we wanted the moment to play on Diggle. That’s why you see it from his perspective.

      —-

      So, I guess that’s that. Based upon what they did with Shrapnel, I couldn’t have cared less to see that character killed off. Based upon my affection for Maher’s work on Firefly, I was a little bummed to see him have been so underutilized by Arrow. Speaking of Firefly, what the deuce is Isabel Rochev up to these days?

      I’m with you on the Harley Quinn thing. Actually, Guggenheim had thoughts on that as well:

      On the episode’s touted, mostly off-screen Harley Quinn cameo:

      Guggenheim: We didn’t expect it to end up in the promo. We were caught off a little off-guard on that score. I want to manage expectations with respect to Harley Quinn. She was always intended to be an Easter egg. But I will say there is an element to the Easter egg that was not spoiled by the promo, that I think a lot of people will find a lot of fun.

      The episode would have been better served just going full-on backdoor pilot with it and focusing on the Suicide Squad side of things but involving Oliver somehow. However, after Slade’s house visit last episode we probably would have felt short changed by not getting to see enough of Oliver processing this new bombshell in his life. What they did was cliched, but I can’t be totally down on it because I thought the acting was great. Plus, you’re right-that moment with the Russian guy being left behind for Oliver was fairly effective.

      1. Interesting to get the producer’s insight on why they make certain decisions. Yeah, whatever happened to Isabel Rochev? I don’t really miss her, but since they cast Summer Glau you’d think she’ll play a bigger role down the line.

      2. They’ve also gotten away from committing to upholding the new norm of Oliver being the CEO of Queen Consolidated. So, I joked in an earlier review that with how little we’ve seen of Rochev lately along with how infrequently we see any indication of Oliver’s dayjob I get the impression that Isabel is probably running Queen Consolidated at this point, especially with Moira being distracted by her campaign.

      3. I thought setting up Oliver as CEO would give him story lines where he had to overcome things using his wit instead of an arrow. It could still happen. Anyways, the writers and fans are more interested in Oliver’s night job.

      4. I’m pretty much the same. I’m not necessarily down on the recent lack of “Oliver as CEO” content, but I definitely thought it would be a more significant element of the season.

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