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- Airdate: 4/16/2014
- Director: Guy Bee (Supernatural, Criminal Minds, recently directed Arrow‘s “Deathstroke”)
- Writer(s): Andrew Kreisberg (Arrow‘s co-creator) & Keto Shimizu (The Cape, Being Human, recently wrote Arrow‘s “Blast Radius” & “Suicide Squad”)
Last time out, Arrow impressed by turning its recent weaknesses into strengths which had simply been awaiting a strategic pay-off. Sure, it was over-stuffed and a tad clunky, but it was one of the more purely entertaining episodes of the season. Yeah, cherish that thought because “The Man Under the Hood” was a reversion back to the norm, though perhaps even worse than the norm.
THE RECAP –
Team Arrow Vs. Team Slade –
At Felicity’s suggestion, Team Arrow blows up the Queen Consolidated warehouse with the ginormous centrifuge introduced way back in Barry Allens’ first episode. Why? Because Slade needs it to mass produce the mirakuru from his blood. Slade’s reaction? He ambushes the team at the Arrow Cave, easily taking each one of them out
Slade was really just there to steal the Clock King’s master key so he can break into the STAR Labs facility to steal their centrifuge since Oliver blew his up. He gets some resistance from Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) before leaving with what he came for. Oliver decides the centrifuge will require so much of Slade’s blood it’ll weaken him meaning it’d be a great time to swoop in to kill him. Big twist: Roy is actually the one powering the machine! Oliver and Diggle take Roy and get the hotel out of there, though not before Diggle kills Isabel Rochev. No worries – Slade just revives her with mirakuru.
Thea Merlyn –
Thea’s still mad at the world, realizing things like just how creeptastic her relationship with Tommy Merlyn actually was (she had a crush on her half-brother!). Oliver’s awful sorry ’bout that, but he really needs her to cosign a legal document preserving whatever Queen assets they can before Isabel gets to them. Speaking of which, Oliver confronts Isabel at Queen Consolidated only to find out she and his father were lovers planning to run away together until one day Thea fell off her horse and Robert remembered just how much he loved his family. Also, he apparently always knew Thea wasn’t his daughter. Oliver thinks that’s awesome, but Thea accurately deduces it really means that the one person she thought hadn’t lied to her, Robert, was just as guilty as Moira. Epic fail, Oliver.
Laurel’s Choice –
Laurel has resorted to TV’s beloved big wall of crazy, pinning a collage of pictures and newspaper clippings about the Arrow to a wall as a way for the writers to quickly communicate that she has looked into Slade’s claim about Oliver being Arrow and stumbled across overwhelming evidence. So, what will she do with this evidence? First: find out who else knows. Not her dad. Second: figure out who the Canary is. Oh, duh, it’s her sister. Third: confront Oliver. Can’t. Right as she’s about to do so Sara calls to let her know their dad got beat up in prison. So, she runs to Quentin’s side, and right as she’s about to tell him Oliver is Arrow he cuts her off, claiming he doesn’t want to know because as soon as he does then Arrow becomes an actual person, not a symbol. He can’t imagine what the Arrow’s life must be like, living in the shadows, never thanked for his efforts. Laurel agrees. After she throws around her new take-charge lawyer mode to get Quentin out of prison, she heads to Verdant to give Oliver a hug because he’s important to her.
Meanwhile, Back on the Island… –
Basically, Ivo’s going to get tortured, then he says, “But, wait, I can help you stop Slade!” He has a cure which can reverse the mirakuru, but it’s back on the boat. In exchange for the key to the safe containing the cure, he wants a mercy killing since his severed hand has created a nasty infection leaving him in a very bad way. While Sara can’t bring herself to kill him as promised Oliver quickly puts 3 bullets into the guy. Goodbye, Dr. Ivo.
Arrow, at this point, is pretty darn silly. Silliness is baked into the DNA of any show which asks us to believe in people dressing up in costumes to be crime-fighting vigilantes. However, season 2 seems to have proven that at heart the people behind Arrow have always actually wanted to make a fun comic book show, and last season’s more Nolan-esque approach was a Smallville palette cleanser dictated by a need to mimic the cinematic DNA of something like The Dark Knight Rises, which came out literally just a couple of months before the show premiered. Now, “Man Under the Hood” gives us a man strapped to a centrifuge distributing his super-powered blood to escaped convicts to form some kind of stupid ass super soldier army to do…who knows what. On top of that, Oliver yet again drops a bit of, “Oh, btw, this crucially important detail that has massive ramifications on our lives? I’ve know about that for at least 5 years. Just didn’t think you needed to know until now.” Plus, we close the episode with Isabel Rochev being revived like Bride to Slade’s Frankenstein. This isn’t a show or an episode you really analyze. This is one you either have to suffer through during a binge-watching marathon since you’re committed to seeing how this plays out, or you watch with a bowl of popcorn and just go for the ride (or liquor to play drinking games based on how many times Stephen Amell does his patented dramatic pause, or characters are interrupted during important conversations by far more pressing phone calls).
So, what keeps us coming back? The characters, and because sometimes Arrow pulls everything together to give us a powerhouse hour of television like “Deathstroke.” Picking up on that, “Man Under the Hood” attempts to keep pace with “Deathstroke,” almost literally opening on an explosion and having Slade Wilson attack and easily defeat Team Arrow in the Arrow Cave before the first commercial break has even arrived. Plus, “Deathstroke” left some threads immediately begging to be answered: Why is Isabel working with Slade, and so opposed to the Queen family? Will Thea forgive Oliver for lying to her? How will Laurel react to discovering Oliver is the Arrow? Will anyone really miss Roy?
So, “Man Under the Hood” is obligated to hit all those points. Isabel – she’s a jilted lover of Robert Queen’s; Thea – she’s going to need more time to ever forgive any of them; Laurel – aw, shucks, Oliver’s life must suck so hard. I’ll go hug him. Roy – his faith in anything has been destroyed meaning he doesn’t volunteer to be Slade’s guinea pig, but he doesn’t exactly fight it either.
Isabel‘s explanation can’t be a surprise for those familiar with her character from the comics, and even for those who aren’t I don’t know that “jilted lover” is really that compelling. In general, Arrow consistently struggles with its main villains by giving them motivations that are seriously not proportionate to their evil plans. Everything Isabel has done seems disproportionate to her kind of basic back story. The same goes for Malcolm blowing up an entire section of a city to avenge a dead wife. and Slade devoting everything he is or ever will be to destroying Oliver Queen as payback for the death of a girl who was real nice to him that one time.
As Arrow‘s consistently out-of-the-loop character, Thea can often feel like one of the the show’s least essential parts. The Malcolm Merlyn dad reveal, as monumentally stupid and ill-advised as it was, likely resulted from a writer’s room pitch, “How can we keep Thea involved without her finding out about Oliver’s secret? Oh, just give them another secret to keep from her” (To be fair, many argue they were planting the seeds for this story line as far back as last season). “Man Under the Hood” was finally her opportunity to take some ownership over the story, but with Roy gone it is a bit jarring how her primary connection to the rest of the cast is still just through Oliver and Moira (Sara technically works for her as a Verdant bartender, but how often have they ever been on-screen together?). The crucial legal document Thea needed to co-sign with Oliver and Moira was a perfectly economical way to draw her into the competing story line involving Isabel’s takeover of Queen Consolidated. However, since “Man Under the Hood” is a transitional episode the end result is that Thea ends it just as she began it: mad as hell at her family, especially since before this complication she pretty much had her life figured out.
How should Laurel react to discovering that Oliver has been lying to her for the past 2 years? Sure, she can be thankful for all the times Oliver saved her life as the Arrow, but how many of those times was she put into danger in the first place because of him? Plus, what of her sister? Suddenly, Oliver and Sara’s seemingly rushed recent reunion would make sense to her, but that is still her little sister that Oliver is if not putting directly into danger then at least enabling her dangerous behavior. Should she really be happy about that?
“The Man Under the Hood” lets Laurel go through all of those motions, though I wouldn’t say she ever seemed exactly angry about any of it. Her dad being in prison for concealing Arrow’s identity at the same time Laurel has discovered Oliver’s secret is a perfectly compelling scenario without an obvious easy solution: betray Oliver to save her dad, or let her dad rot in prison for 12-18 months to guard a secret she’s not even supposed to know. Of course, their solution would most likely be some kind of third option, but having Laurel threaten the DA (again)? There are better ways to chart Laurel’s growth than this. It’s just flat out lazy that Quentin would be arrested for obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting at the end of one episode, and then released by the end of the next episode because Laurel makes some threats. They created a perfect lose-lose scenario for Laurel, but instead of owning up to it they waved it away.
As for Roy, he’s basically a cameo in this episode with a promised big role next week.
These are all distractions for Oliver which have been created by Slade, who is a villain I now only find even the slightest bit interesting when Head-Shado is around dictating his actions. Why would I dare claim the great beloved Deathstroke is boring? He’s too unstoppable. Buffy the Vampire Slayer once had that problem with Glory in season 5, but they made it entertaining through fun juxtaposition: a Clueless-like valley girl in the body of an invulnerable god. Arrow instead gives us Manu Bennet’s low, scary voice, a slasher villain-like (slow and steady) approach to potential victims, and the continued passed opportunities to kill his enemies and just be done with all this.
Deathstroke showing up at the Arrow Cave to take everyone down is an awesome idea. Him doing so because he needs a master key to break into a lab? Not so much. Part of the pitfall of so thoroughly building Slade up as an unstoppable machine is that it’s hard to believe this machine would actually need a key to break into anywhere. Couldn’t he just punch a door in? Plus, if you really want to beat home his dominating nature then actually have his actions at the Arrow Cave mean something, and not in a “Well, that’s how Laurel finds out Sara is Canary” kind of way.
Don’t put a freakin’ brace on Sara’s hand, and have her discharged from the hospital in less than half a day. Put someone on the sidelines for longer than that to heighten the stakes. That would be far more effective than having to raise the stakes by Oliver’s moronic, “I could have cured him 5 years ago; didn’t; my bad; so guilty, y’all.” He already feels guilty about Slade. You’ve shown us that. You didn’t need to add anything on top of that. Having it turn out that Oliver has been lying this whole time has been their answer to far too many story line challenges this season. Don’t you think the cure would have come up by now? Roy would have loved to have heard about it, I’m sure.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If “Deathstroke” was Arrow following all of its best impulses then “Man Under the Hood” was it indulging all of its worst ones. However, it did actually give some of its weaker links, Thea (historically) and Laurel (recently), interesting character work, even if their resolution in the latter was asinine. This adds up to a transitional episode which lost most of the electric momentum of “Deathstroke,” and featured a rather poorly shoe-horned in introduction for two Flash characters. Speaking of which…
1. There were a lot of Flash references this week, and since I run this website I full well knew about Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) and understood the references to Iris West and Harrison Wells. However, if you didn’t know anything about any of that is there any you could watch Caitlin and Cisco’s expository dump of a scene at STAR warehouse and not think, “Who the hell are these people, and why should I care about them?” It is always a challenge to work in characters meant for a spin-off, but your best option is to introduce them alongside characters we already know who can deem them important by extension. Plus, that musical theme which accompanied their scene feels exactly like what it was – something from a completely different show. The same went for the jaunty character theme which went along with Barry Allen earlier this season.
2. This week, Both Arrow and Agents of SHIELD had to honor the magnitude of the most recent episode’s game-changing twists by taking a moment to kind of breath and let the characters process everything. However, this might be the first time I’ve ever said this, but SHIELD did it better. A lot better.
3. Was the editing making it perfectly clear that Laurel remembers Oliver’s scars, realizes Sara’s looks just like those, and bada-bing, bada-boom, Sara’s Canary totally necessary?
4. What did Slade Wilson think would happen when he told Laurel about Oliver? We can’t really believe he thought she’d literally just go hug him. Oh, big distraction, Slade. Way to go.
5. Stephen Amell non-verbal acting moment #1 – Oliver’s face when he learns Isabel Rochev was one of Robert’s mistresses? Instant ick. Yep, that’s right buddy – you had sex with a woman who also had sex with your dad. Getting closer and closer to living in some kind of Greek play.
6. Stephen Amell non-verbal acting moment #2 – Oliver’s face when he clearly thinks he has said something so profound as to win his sister back only to have her essentially throw back, “You know that means Robert was lying to me my entire life, too, right?” The look on his face was the perfect representation of, “Damn, I seriously did not see that coming. I’ve got to start thinking these things through a little more.”
Well, I’ve said enough. What did you think of this episode? 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.
- Arrow Review: The Man Under the Hood (screencrush.com)
- Arrow: “The Man Under the Hood” Grade: B- (avclub.com)
- Arrow “The Man Under the Hood” Review: Those Who Matter Most (tv.com)
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