Arrow Ep 1.14 ‘The Odyssey’ goes big when it should’ve stayed home

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Arrow Season 1, Episode 14 ‘The Odyssey’

Directed by John Behring

Story by: Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg

Teleplay by: Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim

I’ve asked a few times how important Arrow‘s flashback sequences were to the show’s narrative – once the journey from weak playboy to strong, brooding vigilante started, things have quickly devolved into double-crosses, fight scenes, and unspoken betrayal. As an audience, we inherently understand what it meant when Oliver was trapped on the island for four years and had to learn how to fight. Which begs the question: do we need to be spending all this time on the island?

When Arrow spends a few minutes away from the island, it continues to show promise. Bringing Felicity into the fold (does anyone really think its temporary?) is a great move – her awkward charm is laid on a little thick in places, but she brings a light-heartedness to the super serious, stern faces of Oliver and Diggle that I enjoy in ‘The Odyssey’. And once the show gets past the lame medical dramas with Oliver’s life “in the balance” (“life and death” situation has no conflict when the titular character is involved), it finishes in quite a strong place. Oliver’s not coming to terms very well with the idea that his mother might be evil, his inability to implicate his mother projecting as his tragic Greek flaw in the episodes to follow (well, that and his general weak-willed ways when it comes to any woman in his life, really).

But that material consists of about five minutes at the end of the episode – the rest of is spent in Purgatory, centered around Slade’s plan to escape the island, which inevitably fails, no thanks in part to the blind idiocy of Oliver. It makes for amusing material, but it’s fairly shallow stuff: Oliver is too fearful to willingly take a life (the one man he killed was on accident), and while the show is taking its time with his transformation into the dark, short-haired hero, they aren’t really doing much with the material they’re showing us than rehashing the same points.

It’s interesting to get an insight into pre-Hood Oliver and see his long lost sense of humor, but when he’s acting like an absolute dumb ass, it becomes a bit of a stretch that he’d still be alive. He’s been in a life-threatening situation no less than a half dozen times already, and although he continues to implicate himself in these mindless situations – “I have to save the guy who sold me out because he saved my life” is probably the dumbest thing anybody on this show has ever said (and I’m including Tommy) – he remains unscathed, ‘roughed up’ around every turn, but alive to see another day.

If everything wasn’t so external in these flashbacks, it might be more interesting to watch. But these flashbacks are simultaneously concerned with telling an over-complicated conspiracy story and showing the transformation of the man – except the actual transformation part, scenes that start to show the seedlings of this transformation. Oliver talks about The Odyssey – a clear attempt to parallel his journey “home” with that of Odysseus, although any educated person will note that the two are only related in the abstract.

Part of Oliver’s journey on the island is what it changes him into – and I’m not talking about becoming a Russian mobster or whatever tattoo he shares with Yao Fei’s daughter (seriously… who gives a shit?). I’m talking about the internal transformation from a weak-willed, loose-lipped womanizer into the man who returns from the island, on a mission to redeem his father. And anyone who knows The Odyssey or Greek literature knows one simple truth: these are heroes steadfast in their beliefs, not men who adapt and change to the world around them. For Odysseus, that flaw was pride – and it nearly got him killed a few times, including when he incurs the wrath of Poseidon by revealing his identity to the world. In Oliver’s case, his only flaws are his hesitation and lack of intelligent thought – which are most certainly not the same flaws of the Oliver Queen shown in modern day Starling City. 

‘The Odyssey’ continues the trend of Arrow episodes: starting off strong, but distracting itself through the heart of its story with over-reliance on empty spectacle (how many times do we have to watch Oliver get his ass beat training in some field?) and reluctance to draw in anything beyond the broadest of strokes. A highly-anticipated episode that doesn’t do much but continue a journey to the past that’s become way too convoluted for its own good (which in itself, is largely a poor imitation of Batman Begins), a wholly disappointing hour that remains way too focused on where it’s going, not what’s on the screen in front of us.

Other thoughts/observations:

– as if we needed ANOTHER character on the island: Yao Fei’s daughter will be known to comic book fans as Shado, another bow and arrow shooter who (BIG COMIC SPOILER) has a child with Oliver.

– the special effects during the “execution” scene were absolutely awful, especially the CGI gunfire, which is laughably fake-looking.

– Since we all know Slade is obviously going to turn on Oliver (at least once; Yao’s up to three or four times by this point), it makes the lessons of the episode even less effective. Oliver’s supposed to be transformed, but he still can’t realize the fact that the people he trusts, are the people that can hurt him the most (Slade can beat his ass, he’s afraid to hurt his mother and gets shot in the process).

– Oliver calling Laurel from a random ass island in the middle of nowhere, and getting her on her cell might be the worst scene in the series, especially when combined with the Odyssey trivia answer that proves to Slade that Oliver is tough enough not to get killed.

– Diggle explains why he’s ok with Oliver killing: a bunch of bad and good people got killed in Afghanistan, so he’s cool with it.

– I wish the headline on television had said: The Queen of Queen Consolidated Attacked By Vigilante

– “Everybody’s in this life for themselves.” How profound!

– Randy Dankievitch

 

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