Arrow Season 1, Episode 13 ‘Betrayal’
Directed by Guy Bee
Written by Lana Cho & Beth Schwartz
Narrative fluff is becoming a major problem on Arrow. ‘Betrayal’ is a perfect example of the many frustrating formulaic trends Arrow is making its trademark. Opening with another awfully characterized villain, ‘Betrayal’ postures around like a deep character study and family drama, never attempting to do more than merely scratch the surface of interesting themes and relationships. Many scenes in tonight’s episode feel written around a set of bullet points, interspersed with bursts of action sequences to distract from the thin characterizations and a responsibility to develop something in three dimensions.
Arrow’s problem isn’t recognizing easy opportunities at story or characterization – a self-destructive detective who is willing to put anything in danger (including his reputation) for the sake of his work is a genre archetype, an absolute well of story telling for building deeply flawed but relatable characters. But Arrow actively refuses to engage in any of this: his relationship with his daughter swings wildly from healthy to irreparably damaged in between episodes. As mad as Laurel is at him tonight, it’s only a matter of a couple episodes before they’re best friends again – let’s be honest, it’s already happened three or four times this season.
What makes Quentin such an annoying character is how poorly he’s characterized on-screen: we never see the man out of work, depsite the fact we’re supposed to invest in the many, many deep personal problems he’s dealing with. We’ve never seen his empty, wife-less apartment, never spent a moment alone with the man when he wasn’t chasing down “the hood guy” (a nickname that grows more and more embarrassingly empty with each episode). It makes him impossible to relate to: Laurel says he’s drinking too much, but we don’t see that happening, nor see it having any effects on his job or invisible personal life. Is he mourning his daughter? We don’t know… and the worst part about that is the only time we DO know something is when it’s being told to us, not conveyed on screen (a principle that applies to everybody).
It makes him an empty, sneering hole on screen, and in episodes like ‘Betrayal’ where he’s important to the plot, leaves him completely unqualified to be an emotional anchor for anything. For fucks sake, the guy spends 12 episodes chasing a guy, setting up his daughter to meet with a dangerous vigilante, and then ten minutes later, is asking for his help for the third or fourth time. Like his relationship with his daughter, his feelings about the Hood rock from side to side in each episode, making Quentin less of a character, and more of a talking chess piece that gets moved around the board at will.
This applies to a number of relationships on the show: we only see Tommy and Laurel together when they’re having a disagreement or an Important Conversation, making it utterly impossible to have investment in their relationship from week to week. Tommy’s inexplicable jealousy of her talking to Arrow comes out of nowhere, unfounded on every level except that he’s a wanted criminal, a fact that is part of Arrow‘s weekly checklist of things to have characters say.
It even carries over to the strongest material of the episode, where Oliver comes face to face with the reality he’s been avoiding since the pilot: that his mother was involved somehow in her father’s death at sea. Again, Oliver’s relationship with Moira has mostly been told to us (not shown), so his vehement denials of his mother’s involvement really had no effect on us. We’ve been meant to believe she’s evil from the beginning, the show only pausing occasionally to humanize her, usually when discussing the men occupying her bed. We don’t see Oliver struggle with his decision to don the hood and go after his mother – it just happens at the end of the episode, after spending numerous scenes earlier with Diggle dancing around, singing the songs of reason to Oliver’s deaf ears.
When Arrow‘s not off getting shoved up its own ass with its convoluted flashback narrative, it continues to show promise with its ability to introduce interesting story lines and themes for an episode. But Arrow hasn’t shown the consistent ability (or desire) to develop its characters or themes in a unique way – the events of the first season have largely shown a reluctance to dig its teeth into anything, settling for flash and overt simplicity, rather than embracing its supposed moral ambiguity to create compelling storytelling.
– I didn’t talk about the official introduction of Deathstroke – known to Oliver right know as Slade Wilson – into the narrative. Does anybody really care about the flashbacks at this point? We get it: he learned to trust nobody and kick a ton of ass while he was there.
– Thea only has one line this week… rejoice!
– the streak of terrible bad guys continues with this dope: once again, a wimpy shit talker who talks about how tough he is while Arrow takes out every incompetent person around him. Fights nobody, threatens a couple women, and we’re supposed to believe he’s a powerful, worthy adversary? Snooze.
– somehow the Triad finds itself leaderless, and Vanch is the only person stepping up to take over?
– Arrow seriously needs to stop dicking around the construction of those notebooks – its another ‘important’ fact that really doesn’t have much to do with anything.
– who’s the leak in the police department? Is it Lt. Black Frank?
– The writer’s room certainly liked the phrase “heavily fortified position”. – Randy Dankievitch