Let’s talk about Captain America: Civil War.
But isn’t this a review of Arrow’s “Taken,” the last new episode before a month of reruns?
Yeah, I know. Stick with me. According to Empire Magazine, early test screening audiences loved Civil War, but they were evenly split between either agreeing with Steve Rogers or Tony Stark. In the comics, Civil War was when superheroes were forced to register by the government. Stark was all for it. Rogers, not so much. Fighting ensued. The film adaptation will be similar, but not the same. For starters, it won’t be nearly as cut and dry. In the comics, Stark was more or less presented as the villain. However, his viewpoint in the film version is apparently so understandable that those lucky few who’ve seen the movie couldn’t decide if they were #TeamStark or #TeamRogers.
That’s damn difficult to pull off. Give us two well-reasoned, but opposing viewpoints. Don’t turn anyone into the obvious villain. Don’t even make one of them a sympathetic villain whose viewpoint we understand but whose end goal we ultimately can’t support. Nope. Simply lay down the ethical battle lines, and ask us to choose which line to walk behind.
Is that what Arrow just tried to do with Oliver and Felicity? It’s an odd comparison, I admit. Oliver and Felicity aren’t literally fighting, and their separation wasn’t forced on them by a societal force larger than both of them. However, Felicity did just give back Oliver’s engagement ring, say that she needed space before walking away thanks to the most conveniently timed cure of paralysis in the history of TV. We are supposed to understand both Felicity and Oliver’s points of view and decide who we agree with.
Felicity says that Oliver still doesn’t know how to lean on his partner when things get complicated. She’s fully aware that William’s mother put Oliver into an impossible situation. However, honesty means everything to her, no doubt tied to her issues with her lying, conman of a father. As Emily Bett Rickards told TVLine, “I think we all know Felicity’s heart pretty well, and we know that she tries to be as honest as possible all of the time. I feel like that’s something she respect in her friends and in the people she surrounds herself with.” Regardless of the circumstances, Oliver broke that trust. Ouch. Then Felicity discovers him again making a huge life decision (i.e., cutting William out of his life to protect him) without even talking to her about it.
The specifics of this, of course, are completely insane. It’s hard for an audience to really relate to a couple fighting over the truly convoluted soap opera which played out here. However, it’s easy to relate to the underlying concept of a couple fighting over trust and honesty. Oliver has progressed so much as a character this season, but after all of this it’s like Felicity felt that she could only trust him maybe 90% of the time, which isn’t good enough for her.
Yet, at the same time, what the hell else was Oliver supposed to do? What more could Felicity have realistically expected from him? Samantha more or less forced him to choose between his girlfriend and his son, and he picked his son. Sure, he could have told Felicity and asked her to keep it a secret, but…well, then there’s no story line here, is there?
No one’s supposed to be the bad guy here. The Oliver Samantha knew was a garbage human being, and his mother coldly tried to buy her off. She’s naturally going to feel protective of her son and extra cautious of Oliver. However, that placed Oliver into a no-win scenario, and he made what he felt was the best choice available. He hated himself for it, but he thought that if he played by Samantha’s rules she’d eventually recognize how much he’d changed as a person and relent on her restrictive conditions.
Felicity understands all of that. This episode even went as far as having Samantha directly telling her not to blame Oliver. However, given the insane lives they lead together she needs to be able to trust Oliver completely. After this, she doesn’t know if she can.
“Oh, they’re being so unreasonable….although I do see their point of view,” is supposed to be our reaction to a lot of it. Whether or not it actually is, though, well, that’s up for debate.
There is still a sense of narrative whiplash that Oliver and Felicity have gone from being one of the healthiest, most open and supportive couples in superhero TV history this season to her calling off the engagement and walking away in the span of a single episode. Felicity’s emotional reactions have often been whiplash-inducing (e..g., immediately breaking up with Oliver in the erased timeline, instantly scolding and rejecting him after his return from Nanda Parbat last season), and such scenes are not always Rickards’ strong suit.
Looking back at my review of the episode which first introduced this William arc, I was instantly cynical of the whole thing, jokingly suggesting Oliver might literally say aloud at one point, “I sure hope that Samantha doesn’t tell me that the only way I can be a part of my son’s life is if I keep it a total secret from everyone I know, almost as if she sensed I was in a committed, loving relationship which needed a somewhat artificial obstacle thrown at it because some force larger than us worried we were becoming boring.”
That’s still where I ultimately come down on all of this. William was but a plot device, one which was introduced rather poorly thus forcing this episode and last week’s to bend over backwards to better explain everything. Stephen Amell can try his best Grant Gustin with a heart-breaking speech at the end, but while the sacrifice is easy to understand it doesn’t mean as much as it could have since we only ever saw Oliver with his son that one time.
I admire the Civil War-esque nature of the romantic strife which has befallen the show’s central couple. Have at it with deciding who’s wrong, or maybe more wrong. I just wish that this hadn’t been triggered by something which felt so transparently concocted to add conflict to a TV couple which had become too happy. A third-act complication was inevitable; it didn’t have to be “I was forced to lie to you, but if I didn’t I would haven’t seen my son.”
THE OTHER STUFF THAT HAPPENED
Serious wrap-up mode tonight. Darhk is defeated and neutralized. Oliver and Felicity are off-again. So are Malcolm and Thea. Oliver’s mayoral campaign is over. William and Samantha are gone, moving away to a town far, far away, and William won’t find out about his father until he’s 18. At this point, I don’t know what the rest of the season will bring other than Malcolm taking over whatever Damien’s plan was, Oliver and Felicity possibly reconciling and someone dying.
On top of that, Vixen made her live action debut. Hope you’ve watched her animated series on CW Seed because this episode accepted all of that as canon thus the reason Vixen already knew Oliver, Barry, Laurel and Felicity.
As Diggle pointed out, the increasingly elastic reality of the show is such that they partnered with an aspiring fashion designer from Detroit who has a magical pendant giving her the powers of various animals. Eh. It is what it is. The special effects perfectly recalled and updated the way Vixen’s powers were realized in both Justice League Unlimited and her own SEED series, and the performance seamlessly fit into the show’s style, with Megalyn Echikunwoke easily at her most interesting as she gave Oliver advice about his son.
Really, my comparison to Civil War also applies to “Taken”‘s treatment of Oliver’s decision about William. Diggle offers the point of view of a loving father, and Vixen counters with the point of view that while being cut out of her parents’ complicated lives hurts it also allowed her to have an actual childhood. “Taken” goes to great lengths to articulate both of the options available to Oliver. We decide who’s right.
Lastly, it was admirable that “Taken” paused for just a minute to let Laurel acknowledge how much it hurts to find out Oliver not only cheated on her but had a child with another woman while they were together. That’s not a scene I imagine making it into season 3 Arrow, but season 4 remembers that Laurel needs to have a response, however brief, in that situation. It’s a nice character moment for Laurel, but it also further beats home the notion that trust is a consistent issue for Oliver and the women in his life.
1. Weekly Update from Pointless Island: John Constantine’s magic helped Oliver gain access past a spirit which threatened to kill them all. Now they’ve found a deep underground cavern. Good for them.
2. Favorite Line: Damien: [After Vixen jumped over his head and flew threw the roof his house] “So that just happened.” Runner-up would go to the interaction which ended with Oliver explaining that Constantine was literally in hell.
3. Nitpicks: Damien Darhk still hasn’t put it together that Green Arrow and Oliver Queen are the same person? Seriously? Also, once Thea and Malcolm both found out about William and the whole “keeping my son a secret” ship had clearly sailed, shouldn’t Oliver have told Felicity?
4. Update from the Mayor’s Office: The dream is dead.
At least Star City won’t be subjected to a series of increasingly implausible excuses for why its mayor never seems to be there for important meetings, what with being a little busy moonlighting as the Green Arrow and everything.