To Russia For Love
Now this is not a quality comparison. It is a comparison of technique. It just so happens these two shows have lined up rather well. Agents of SHIELD and Arrow went on the road this week. The road being a novelty for the latter show. On a fundamental level SHIELD has to be a weekly roadshow. This entails world building via exterior shots and faux location shooting. Which can be done very well, just look at how Justified has turned Southern California into Kentucky. SHIELD’s location shooting isn’t nearly as effective or evocative they just don’t have the time. Arrow manages to make a believable Arrow version of Russia with some aerial ‘B’ roll and excellent set design. “Keep Your Enemies Closer” entails Ollie and the gang going into the Russian underworld mainly a club and gulag. These interiors are opaque and have a fondness for being shot in red tinted light. Imbuing everything with seedy and grimy aesthetic, like a dark Batman Forever Gotham. These locations looked like the places gangsters and other neerdowells would hang out. It just so happens that our gangsters are speaking Russian ergo we must be in Russia. Arrow tapped in to the cultural subconscious imagination of the crime genre to build a sense of place. Which is why the few exterior scenes in “Russia” worked so well. The fake snow helped to.
Arrow has now done two episodes in a row where Ollie is pushed to the background. He’s attracted quite the band of misfits in his quest for justice, first among them Mr. John Diggle. Throughout season 1, they sufficiently sketched out Diggles sense of justice and why he is still with Olliver. The two even have a bromance going. So having an episode where the roles are reversed with Ollie watching Diggles back is a given. It makes Diggle more interesting as a singular character with more of a world outside of Olliver. He’s got to go avenge his brothers death and all that. Felicity for now...not so much in the life outside Ollie.
Diggle in the Gulag was undone by plotting. It was 5 skips and out. It would’ve been nicer to see more of prison life. Or after Diggle and Deadshot make an unlikely partnership there had been more complication. They needed more scenes than the two of them taking out a pair of guards without so much as a race for the gun. A man working with his hated enemy is fertile ground for some comedy and tension. “Keep Your Enemies Closer” didn’t pay off in this sense. It was nice to see Diggle go for a straight knee bar using Sambo techniques, this being in Russia and all.
Other things that didn’t pay off very well: the ‘C’ Plot for “Keep Your Enemies Closer”. Drama is about tension. Which makes manufactured drama over forced breakups hard to pull off already. Harder still when things wouldn’t be so bad if the two people actually spoke to one another. The writers need to set up episode 8 “The State vs Queen” somehow, using the Thea-Roy relationship wasn’t the right call.
Felicity Smoak, played by Emily Bett Rickards, was a breakout character last season. She just kinda showed up and slowly grew on you with her adorkable forced awkwardness. The kinda awkwardness that most other shows and actors would get wrong. Which made Rickards placement as a regular and joining team Vigilantism a welcome one. It also had some side effects, mainly that Smoak is clearly the only woman for Oliver. Especially when Laurel Lance has been both written to be very poor and Katie Cassidy lacks all the lovable qualities of Rickards. Episode scribes Ben Sokolowski & Beth Schwartz clearly end that potential by playing up Olivers other job. But it also puts them in the strongest ship of all the friendship which is really awesome.
Rapid expansion, to borrow another reference from a comic related property, is what Arrow season 2 has been all about. In the present you have the impending arrival of The Flash. In the past Dr. Ivo searches for a long lost crate of Japanese super soldier serum. If the showrunners hadn’t already come out and said powers were on the horizon it’d be hard not to see them coming. For now Arrow is keeping in the realm of science fiction with serums and man made outfits. Which likely means Brother Blood won’t be all occult but after you give a guy super speed and have Leagues of Assassins what’s a lil blood magic?
I’ve been thinking about Rome & Juliet lately as part of some greater thought on the work of the Bard. In Act II Scene I, Juliet wonders if “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In the end the fated lover concludes that it doesn't matter what you call something. It matters what it is at heart. Names still have plenty of power, especially in comics where you have crazy long running(often remediated) mythology that give simple things greater importance. It’s why everyone perked up at the Assassin in “Broken Dolls” said Ra’s Al Ghul wishes her (Sara) return. Having the League of Assassins in Arrow is made more important by the drop of that name. Ra’s Al Ghul is running the show. It’s a small nugget of world building the portends a far greater world. So when Floyd Lawton talks about being hired by H.I.V.E. to kill Diggle’s brother it has a similar effect. H.I.V.E. will obviously be paid off at a later date or it may not but either way it makes Arrow seem like a bigger place than just Star(ling) City.
The Bits At The End
No real good place to put this but I love the amount of temporal looseness that the flashbacks have. We see Sara get to the ship but than suddenly a year has passed adn all that. It’s great.
If the call sign is an indication looks like the Suicide Squad will be called Task Force X once Deadshot and Tiger are on the team. Which is fine, Task Force X sounds like a bad edgy 90s comic anyway which is exactly what Arrow is going for.
Amanda Waller being a pretty person makes waaaay more sense in Arrow than in the comics. Long Live CCH Pounder as Amanda Waller. It is nice seeing Cynthia Addai-Robinson again and one really hopes she shares the screen with Manu Bennett eventually.
Isabel Rochev most definitely not the kind to cuddle. That hotel sequnce was handled rather well with the simple pan.
If for some reason you made it down here know that Michael Mazzacane can be found many places on the internet but mainly onTwitter@MaZZM and on Tumblrweekntv.com where he links to TV stuff and maybe posts a GiF