TV shows like Arrow or The Flash have always been superpowered soap operas – and there’s nothing wrong with that

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Arrow, from the beginning, was always about the personal lives of its characters. Yes, there’s the obvious angle of the love triangle between Oliver, Tommy and Laurel – but it’s not as though Oliver’s mission wasn’t deeply personally motivated, or inextricably tied to the affairs of his father. That’s demonstrably a soap opera plot, right from the beginning!

Superheroes keep secrets, living double lives, and hiding parts of themselves from those around them that they love. That can surely be considered a soap opera story, no? And surely no one would ever argue that these superhero TV programmes don’t rely on sensationalised and exaggerated plotting – lest you forget, the Flash fought a race of sentient gorillas just a few weeks ago. Besides, everyone loves a good scenery chewing villain, and that’s the epitome of melodrama.

I always thought it was pretty ridiculous when people complained that Arrow was like a soap opera – as if they’d only just noticed? So here’s a post explaning how Arrow has always been a soap opera, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Why Supergirl merging universes with Arrow & The Flash would be a mistake

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The DC comics that these television shows draw on as source material has a history of “Crisis” events, wherein different universes are split apart from one another or merged together; typically, it’s an attempt to streamline continuity, although it’s debatable as to whether or not it really does make things simpler. As such, then, there are a vocal group who are clamouring for a similar such event to occur now, moving Supergirl into the same reality as The Flash and Arrow, positing that the slated crossover special should be used to reset Supergirl, and essentially reboot it to better fit with the other superhero programmes currently airing on the CW.

To my mind, though, this would be quite the mistake – both in terms of the story, but also from a business point of view.

Despite now being in a position where it has to move networks, Supergirl’s viewership on CBS did in fact far outstrip the ratings that The Flash maintains on the CW; this is, of course, because CBS itself has a far wider reach than the CW, but it’s also a certainty that the CW is hoping that a large number of these viewers follow the show to the CW. It makes little sense, then, to try and change what is essentially the more popular show to ‘fit’ the more niche one – why would the CW consciously alienate the fans they’re trying to attract?

A new Yahoo article from me, all about why I think a Supergirl reboot to fit in with Arrow and The Flash is, essentially, a terrible idea.

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Legends of Tomorrow Season 1 Review

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Legends of Tomorrow made effective use of a near-anthology format, with episode crashing into a new time and place, and giving us a new spin on a different genre each time. We had a prison breakout episode, a horror story, a Western, and a futuristic dystopia – there was a real, almost giddying, sense of fun to the way Legends presented us with something new each week.

My latest article for Yahoo! This one is all about Legends of Tomorrow, a fun, albeit frustrating, program.

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Arrow Season 4 Review

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There’s not a lot to be said here, really.

In my previous season retrospective of The Flash, I commented on how much I enjoyed last year’s season. Arguably, that’s true of Arrow as well; I’ve written before about how Season 3, though much maligned, doesn’t quite deserve the reputation it got. There was a lot of good material there, and some great concepts, that were ultimately let down by the execution. In theory, then, so long as they managed to put their ideas into practice a little better, this season would be able to reach the same heights as the first and second years, with S3 remembered as little more than a slightly awkward but forgivable misstep.

That didn’t happen.

It’s not like there weren’t good ideas! On paper, this could well have been the best season of Arrow yet. Plenty of fantastic concepts to play around with. Oliver’s mayoral race should have been fantastic. Felicity dealing with paralysis should have been genuinely compelling drama. Diggle facing the return of his brother should have been cataclysmic. Oliver getting to know his son should have been brilliant. Felicity meeting her father for the first time should have been wonderful. Lance’s struggle with HIVE should have been tense and exciting.

None of them were, obviously.

You’ll notice, I imagine, that in the above I didn’t mention Laurel or Thea. Did they have anything resembling a plot arc this series? An emotional arc? Any sort of character development? You can perhaps make the argument that during the first 9 episodes they were given things to do – Laurel resurrecting Sara, Thea dealing with bloodlust – but it’s not like they actually went anywhere. Certainly, by the 15th episode or so, they had essentially finished their “arc”, as it were, and they ended up with little to do apart from stand around.

That, I think, was an ongoing problem – as it was increasingly emphasised that the characters would each go out into the field, so they all became increasingly indistinct from one another. As Thea’s only plot function became fighting, there was nothing to set her apart from Laurel, or from Diggle, or indeed particularly from Oliver, and so on and so forth. This season lost sight of the character’s other lives, and thus, in turn, lost sight of them as characters. One of Laurel’s best episodes this season was when she was allowed to be a lawyer again. In any given episode, where was this side of their characters? What gave them each different perspectives?

Also, Diggle’s helmet looks ridiculous, and I cannot abide it.

(Certainly, if you make a very forensic reading of the text, you can arguably find more in there regarding different plot arcs. I’m inclined towards a redemptive reading, certainly, because I want to be positive – but I think if you have to actively work to find something, to the point at which it’s not even really subtext, you have to step back and say “actually, this is coming more from me than from the text”. And, you know, fine – death of the author and all that – but don’t credit Guggenheim and co with your headcanon. That aspect of the writing was yours; be proud of it, and don’t attribute it to someone else.)

Something that does stand out at me is the nuclear weapons threat; I’d like to take a moment to talk about that here, because I’m not sure if I’ll mention it elsewhere. It was, of course, awful; one of the most tone deaf moments of the season. (Alongside it as similarly tone deaf, but awful for other reasons, is Felicity’s disability arc and Laurel’s fridging.) Primarily, it’s predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding of the scale of a threat compared to the impact of the threat; the writers seem to believe that a nuclear armageddon is impressive and scary because of how big it is, without actually considering that what matters is, always, the characters and how they react on a personal level. After all, when no one really gives a damn about the Havenrock disaster that kills ten thousand people, it’s hard to be particularly invested in the rest of it.

It became quite quickly apparent that the writers just didn’t really understand how nuclear weapons work. Like, at all. And while I wouldn’t claim to be an expert, I do know that a nuclear attack on an American city from a Russian missile would not be forgotten just a few days later. Havenrock wouldn’t be an “oh, that’s sad”, it’d be synonymous with “twin towers” and “Chernobyl” and “Hiroshima”. This is the sort of thing that would change the world Arrow is in forever – and, frankly, it’s far more of a stretch to believe people would just forget about a massive great big nuclear explosion than it is to believe in magic or superpowers.

I don’t want to get too bogged down in this, because I am just trying to give something of a general overview. More to the point, though, I’ve already written a lot about Arrow, and I’m in the middle of writing more. So far I’ve written one article about Felicity’s characterisation, another about Marc Guggenheim, a more conceptual piece about Laurel’s death, and a fourth about fridging; I’m currently in the middle of a further four articles comparing Arrow to Agents of SHIELD, and I’ve already done nearly 6000 words trying to ‘fix’ and rewrite S4. (I got a little carried away with that last one. It’s not even finished yet. It’ll probably end up being five different posts. No idea if anyone will even be interested in that.)

So, anyway. My feelings of general disappointment towards Arrow this year are astonishingly well documented – probably the most well documented of all the television shows I’ve been watching in 2016.

I’m not really sure what to think, or what to expect, about Season 5. My hopes are low. I’ll watch it, don’t get me wrong – even for all of this, I still care, because I used to enjoy it, and there’s a degree of loyalty there. On a more cynical level, I know it’ll give me inspiration to write these sorts of articles, and also I think help me to realise what not to do in my own work.

Normally I like to end these articles with a joke about how I want Arrow to become “something else”, in a ‘clever’ reference to the opening titles.

This time, I think I’ll simply say that it’s been a hellish season, and I can’t wait to return home, to proper Arrow, be it with season 5, or a rewatch of the first few years.

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Arrow, and the Disturbing Trend of Fridging Female Characters

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“Fridging” is a term which is used to describe the death of a female character to further the development of and advance the plot for a male character. It is typically the bastion of the lazy screenwriter, given that it is a tired and overused cliché. You need only take a quick perusal of this TV Tropes page, or indeed the Women in Refrigerators website where the concept was first defined, to appreciate quite how proliferated our media has become with this hackneyed trope.

More to the point, though, there is often an inherent misogyny and sexism to this trope. That’s very much self evident, really; when a writer kills off a female character to further develop a male one, then the implicit suggestion is that her story is one not worth telling. 

Arrow has engaged in this not once, not twice, but at least five times – this is in a show which hasn’t even begun its fifth season yet. For obvious reasons, that’s not really something to be proud of.

So, my most recent article for Yahoo is about Arrow, and their habit of fridging female characters. For obvious reasons, regularly fridging female characters isn’t a particularly good thing, so the article takes something of a critical tone.

I would really appreciate it if people were to share this article. I’m quite pleased with it, as it goes; I think I make a fairly important point, and that it’s reasonably well articulated. It’s something I’d like to reach a fairly wide audience, so please do share this article if you can.

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Defined by an Absence

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It is difficult for me to put into words quite how much it offended me – because it didn’t just offend me. It made me angry.

I knew it was coming, of course, because I watch the show in the UK, so that means I’m always a couple of weeks behind. It’s difficult to avoid spoilers at the best of times in that position, but this caused enough outrage across the pond that UK newspapers were reporting on it, just under a month before the episode was set to air here.

Even then, though. The death had been… not telegraphed, obviously. That implies a degree of foreshadowing had gone into it. That it had been planned out, considered, evaluated. That any degree of thought had gone into it.

It hadn’t. This death was not planned. The grave was empty when it was first shown to us – little more than a promise of angst, and darkness. Not an inspiring promise at the best of times, really. But the Powers That Be had decided it was a good way to get ratings. To inspire a buzz. Make headlines.

Shortly afterwards, they realised they would need to actually follow up on that promise. It was, it seems, a relatively easy decision for them to make, albeit one made very late in the day. The actress in question was informed, at most, just a few short weeks before the episode was to be filmed that she was to depart the series.

Organic storytelling at it’s finest, evidently.

Like I said, though. While it hadn’t been telegraphed, it had been eminently predictable. The character who was dispatched hadn’t exactly been getting much of a focus in recent episodes. Season four had seen her increasingly sidelined, with more and more focus diverted to another.

There was something cruel, then, in the way the episode was structured. After denying this character any real plotlines of her own for so long, the prospect of her receiving a greater focus was a welcome one. The suggestion of an ongoing character arc was dangled before us tantalisingly, with the implication of a greater role to come.

In some ways, then, it feels a mockery. Someone, somewhere, no doubt thinks they are very clever. They are wrong.

“Look,” they say, “we fooled them completely. What an intelligent twist! There was no way this death would be predicted, after we teased their future plotlines.”

It was a hollow plot twist. A hollow victory for a programme long since past its prime, with writers who have done better work, and actors who have long been denied material that befits their talents.

The death is self was far more egregious still. In some ways, it’s an achievement; the programme could well go down in history as having provided the most emphatic instance of callously stuffing a woman in a refrigerator ever.

Perhaps that was the aim. After all, it was at least the fourth time the show had engaged in such an offensive trope.

And yet, something felt different this time.

Certainly, it was compounded by the allure of change, the allusion to future character development, the promise of greater focus; all brutally cut down and dispatched. But the nature of the death itself. It was almost symbolic, really, in terms of how it was structured.

This character had come so far. Been there since the start. Developed, changed, progressed. (Up until the point she did not, of course; but then, no one did, bar one.) She had dealt with alcoholism. Built relationships with her father, her friends, her lovers.

She had become a hero.

And then she was stabbed to death. A simple act, which really has no reason to kill at this stage; it’s a program which has, after all, brought its entire cast back from the dead at least once.

Prior to that, though, she was restricted. The villain used his ill defined yet cheap magical powers to freeze the character in place.

To strip her of all agency. To strip her of all autonomy. To take away any control she had, to take away the development she was promised, and brutally cut her aside.

It was a death framed explicitly in terms of the male characters. The male villain wanted to get revenge on the character’s father, and this of course has the added benefit of providing that cheap, boring, generic angst that we were promised so many episodes ago.

Lovely.

Further still, the character was not allowed to have any real final words. Not for herself, of course; she was reduced to a soapbox, for the writers to speak through. An organ for their agenda. Denying this character a moment in character.

I was not sad. I was not surprised. I was angry.

For obvious reasons.

The sadness came later, though, because there was sadness. Not of the type that the writers had intended to elicit, naturally, but sadness all the same.

It was as early as the next episode. Not a bad one, as they go, but not a good one. A particular scene stood out. Two talented actors, working through their tragedy. Impressive. A tour de force in terms of their performance, undoubtedly.

But not a scene worth what we lost. Not a patch on all the impressive scenes we could, and should, have been allowed.

The sadness hit in the morgue, as is perhaps appropriate following a death. The programme felt the need to show us the lifeless, pallid corpse of the recently deceased. A questionable decision, certainly, but they felt the need to drive home the point.

It made me sad because that was when I realised, really realised, what we’d lost. Of course that was when I realised – that was when we saw her, quite literally, stuffed into a fridge. (Well, a freezer, which is perhaps worse, but at least serves to emphasise the point further.)

That was when I realised that the show – like this post – will now always be defined by an absence. By her absence. Not because she was the best character, nor because she was my favourite – because she was neither.

The show will be defined by her absence because of the shitty and offensive way in which it wrote her out. The way in which casually, brutally, tossed this character aside without a second thought, without any care or consideration, because the show did not care.

It did not care about how it treated a key female character.

It was cruel. It was poor writing. It was pathetic.

And it can never be forgiven.

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On Canon

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Just something I’ve been thinking about recently, what with the whole Arrow fiasco; for those of who aren’t in the know, the show has recently departed fairly significantly from comics canon, and then earlier today Marc Guggenheim tweeted an article about how we should all just forget about canon. As with most things Arrow related these days, people are angry, as ever.

So anyway, it’s kinda got me thinking about canon.

Part of me loves canon, and always will. I genuinely find it fun – the mental arithmetic of trying to keep everything in track, squaring away any inconsistencies, resolving plot holes – all of that is the sort of thing my nebbish fan side gets a great deal of enjoyment from.

(Incidentally, one of my favourite attempts to make everything canon is the idea that the Peter Cushing Doctor, who’s a human inventor literally named Dr. Who, came from Pete’s World, which was the parallel universe where the New Who Cybermen came from.)

But I’ll freely acknowledge that is as restrictive as hell; to adhere to canon is to impose an extreme number of limitations upon a story. It’d be awful if Doctor Who threw out a great idea for a story, because it would contradict one line from the 80s. That’s just not worth it.

So, really I tend to just dismiss it entirely. They’re all stories, in the end – just make it a good one! Yes, it’s fun to try and match it up, but that doesn’t make it anywhere near a priority. Typically, my approach to canon is well articulated here, in this particular article; it sums up quite well how we all need to just relax and focus on more important things, and certainly shouldn’t be focused on limits and constraints and suchlike.

But! That’s Doctor Who canon, which is one thing. The issue with Arrow is that of comics canon, and that’s… something else entirely.

Arrow is functioning as an adaptation of another story, the same way the Harry Potter movies were adaptations of books and suchlike. There’s a source material here, and people are angry at the manner in which it’s been diverted from.

And I dismiss those concerns! I dismiss them entirely. Arrow doesn’t need to be a slavish adaptation of the comics; it never has been. The Flash isn’t a slavish adaptation of the comics; it never has been. Very, very few of the mainstream superhero movies adapt single comic storylines – the upcoming Civil War movie, which I’m really looking forward to, is very clearly taking the Civil War comic as an inspiration and a starting point, rather than the be all and end all of the movie.

I’ve written before about the benefits of adapting source material, rather than translating it straight to the screen; the comics act as an inspiration, and something to build from, rather than being the purest form of the story than we have to adhere to. (Though it is worth noting that the question of the spirit of the source material is something entirely different, and presents some unique concerns of its own.)

To make the complaint that something isn’t respecting the canon is… often missing the point, I feel. It obscures the real issues, and makes it very easy to dismiss complaints.

There isn’t a problem, in theory, with killing the Black Canary. There is a problem with Arrow fridging a female character, again, and that needs to be the focus of our ire.

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Arrow: The Rise and Fall of Felicity Smoak

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In the third episode of Arrow’s first season, we were introduced to one Felicity Smoak; an IT support girl at Queen Industries, she was initially intended as a one episode character who would provide a little bit of tech-related exposition before never really being seen again.

Despite these initial intentions, however, the character was revisited; the primary reason was that the Arrow cast and crew quite liked Emily Bett Rickards, who played Felicity. They weren’t alone in this, of course, as the character became something of a fan favourite.

Felicity was soon bumped up to a season regular, and had become a key member of the Arrow cast. She remained a fan favourite, of course; the third season saw a Felicity-centric episode, The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak, which contained flashbacks to Felicity’s college days, and introduced her mother, Donna.

For quite some time, Felicity was everyone’s favourite character. She could do no wrong. The audiences loved her.

Now, she’s near universally hated.

So what changed?

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It’s easy, of course, to blame it on “Olicity” – that’s the name used to refer to the relationship between Oliver and Felicity, which developed across the third season, and… was complicated, we’ll say, during the fourth.

Easy, but not entirely accurate, that is.

In theory, there’s little wrong with developing a relationship between Oliver and Felicity; certainly, in the early seasons, the pair had chemistry together, and that’s part of why the character of Felicity was so popular. Certainly, had it been written well, you likely could have convincingly depicted a relationship between Oliver and nearly anyone on his team – how different things would have been had we got “Oliggle”!

But the operative term of the sentence – “had it been written well” – is essentially the embodiment of the issue. Olicity is not well written. Felicity, of late, has not been very well written. Frankly, Arrow of late has not been very well written.

The problems here are twofold: one is a matter of emphasis, the other of contrivance.

The first problem, and arguably the greater of the pair, is the manner in which Felicity is treated by the narrative. Felicity is valorised by the narrative; constantly, we are told that she is great and strong and powerful, with nearly every other character having some dialogue about how wonderful she is. (Diggle in particular has fallen foul to this of late.) Obviously, on a surface level, this is just particularly unsubtle writing; the old maxim of “show don’t tell” is one which springs to mind in this instance.

More than that, though, is the fact that this narrative lacks any form of balance – given how insistent Arrow has become in beating the audience over the head with constant references to how great she is, there is rarely any acknowledgement of her character flaws. A good example of this is 4×16 Broken Hearts, in which Felicity is constantly sniping and making cruel digs at Oliver – but rather than her being criticised for this, Oliver is told simply to give her time.

Through not allowing Felicity to have character flaws (or, at least, ignoring the ones she does have) Arrow has fallen into the pitfall of a giving us a very superficial and shallow “strong female character” – as opposed to “strong” meaning well rounded, three dimensional and nuanced, a more literal interpretation of “strong” has been pursued, hence Felicity being shown as infallible and literally described as “strong”.

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The other problem (albeit one linked to the former) is that much of the drama surrounding Olicity is extremely contrived and very poorly written. A recent example of this was Felicity regaining the ability to walk, so that she could then walk out on Oliver, due to the fact he’d been lying about her – entirely ignoring the fact that, of course, she’d spent the episode prior trying to convince her mother that people in relationships can lie to each other if they love one another enough. It’s astonishing, really, how much Arrow is reliant on the use of lies and deception to further their plot; it’s as if the writers know of no other form of communication.

(Incidentally, on the matter of Felicity’s paralysis; it would take an entire post to properly break down the failings within this arc, as opposed to a single aside within a larger post, so I likely shall return to this subject in the future. For now, though, I think it’s important to note that this six episode paralysis arc was not only poorly written, but was so poorly handled as to be bad representation and quite disrespectful as well.)

You end up getting the indication that those involved with the show perhaps just aren’t very good at writing romantic arcs – except, then, how does that explain Diggle and Lyla, or Roy and Thea? Both of those stories were reasonably successful, and have added a lot to the respective characters.

The answer, then, is that the writers aren’t very good at writing a romance when they feel it needs to be the focus of the story; Diggle & Lyla and Roy & Thea were always subplots, forming part of something larger. Here, with ‘Olicity’, it takes centre stage – largely at the expense of other characters, who recieve limited screentime as a result of this.

Laughably, though, this brings up back around to the beginning – not just of this article, but of Arrow. We established earlier that Felicity became a fan favourite character – part of that was because fans were responding so poorly to the character of Laurel, and her romantic plotline with Oliver. That, in part, is why Felicity was written as the main love interest, with Laurel being simply a close friend of Oliver’s – and when “reduced” to this role, the character began to thrive.

At a remove from the program, it’s actually quite interesting to watch this all unfold; I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a character plummet from such heights to such depths before. Certainly, I can’t think of any fan favourite character who became quite so reviled so quickly – can anyone?

But, ultimately, within the program itself, it’s very disappointing. Arrow is far from its glory days, and it’s questionable as to whether it’ll ever really emerge from the shadow of its former self. The blame can’t be placed on Felicity, not really, nor Emily Bett Rickards; she’s a competent actress, and a very nice person as well. She deserves better material to work with than what she’s getting.

No, the real problem lies with the writers, who are struggling to bring any sort of coherent emotional or thematic arc to Arrow, or to their lead characters.

The writers of Arrow… have failed Felicity Smoak.

This article was previously published on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

Was Arrow Season 3 really that bad?

Vixen Series Review – Arrow’s Animated Adventure

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Vixen Review: Arrow’s animated adventure

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In case you’re unaware (which you may well be), Vixen is an animated spinoff of Arrow and The Flash, which has been airing online on the CW Seed. It’s a series of six 5 minute episodes, which form one half hour program when taken together.

With the recent appearance of Megalyn Echikunwoke on Arrow, and the news that she may appear again on Legends of Tomorrow, or even receive her own show, I thought now would be a good time to look back on the first series of her animated program.

Episode One

So, I’ve just watched the first episode of Vixen, on the CW Seed. ‘Tis an animated spinoff of Arrow and The Flash. It’s also only about five minutes long. I’d sort of missed the memo on that – I was expecting about 20 minutes, because I figured it’d be in the same vein as other DC cartoons. But, no, 5 minutes. And it’s hampered by that, I think, because it has to include a certain number of things – exposition, character moments, a cliffhanger, etc – without really being able to give any of them room to breathe. There’s a good use of in media res, and it is interestingly a little more ‘adult’ than it’s parent shows, but I am a little reticent about how this might work.

Episode Two

Vixen episode two, then. Again I’m rather aware of the fact that this format is hampering the story a considerable amount. The length is still, as you’d expect, a bit of a problem, but I think they did better with the pacing in this episode, comparative to the last one.

The animation, though, is a little bit of a problem. Animation is a lot more difficult and a lot more expensive than people necessarily realise – presumably hence the length of these episodes – which often means you end up with fairly stylised character designs, which are easier to animate. They are not, however, particularly expressive – where an actor might be breathing heavily, looking around the room, etc to convey shock, all they can do on Vixen is a still image of the main character with her mouth open.

A lot of the emotional beats fall flat, in the end – like, for example, the flashback to Mari as a child, crying about her “junkie” mother. The series can barely manage the emotional themes of Arrow or The Flash, and it’s very odd that they’re trying to go more adult and ‘darker’ in a format so ill-suited to the transition.

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Episode Three

I think, when you string these all together into a single half hour episode, it could actually be pretty good. I was rather getting into it, just as it then… ended. Yeah. Length is still a problem, to be honest. I mean, if you remove the credits, and the opening idents, each episode is closer to four minutes than the five they’re suggesting. (Ten seconds of opening idents, thirty seconds of credits.) It’s a shame, and I’d say it’s a mistake, too. Vixen, by nature of its position on CW Seed, is always going to be slightly weird and apocryphal, and only appeal to the more hardcore fans. Had they done something to put together a single episode that’s a little more full… well, they might have been able to get a larger number of people to care about it.

But, still, that’s unfair. I actually quite enjoyed this episode, truncated and rushed though it was. There were a lot of nice moments to it; Moira exploring her powers worked quite well, her adoptive father is consistently quite funny, and it was lovely to see to Cisco and Barry turning up.

Episode Four

This has probably been the best “episode” of the “series” so far. It goes a long way towards making the length of it work too, admittedly, which is quite nice. It’s a pretty good demonstration of how Mari’s powers work; by contrasting her against the two characters we already know, Arrow and Flash, we’re really able to see what Moira is capable of. They skirt around the potential for a Worf effect, admittedly, but I think they did a pretty good job of managing to keep away from entering that territory completely.

Best moment of this “episode” – and I’d go as far as to say the best of them all so far – was when Moira began to fly. That was a genuinely very triumphant moment; I’d been expecting, and the show had lead us to expect, that Barry would catch her, and that was how they’d gain her trust. But that wasn’t the case – Moira saved herself. She doesn’t need the established heroes – she’s just as good as them, and she can cope entirely well on her own.

Minor complaint: not so impressed by the animation on Oliver. When he opens his mouth to gawk at things, it looks absolutely ridiculous. Still, it’s nice to have had him on the show. (Also, something I didn’t mention last week: Cisco was rather unfortunately whitewashed, which is a bit uncomfortable.)

Very good episode on the whole though. Quite impressed by it. Two more left?

Episode Five

This is the one that best used the animation, I think – the plains of Africa looked genuinely very impressive, and I think they’re probably far and away beyond the usual budget of the CW, so it was nice to see a little more scope and grandeur to the proceedings.

The same niggles apply: I’m not entirely certain about the more ‘adult’ stuff, yet, but I think that’s forever going to remain a matter of my personal taste, rather than an issue specific to this. I do also wonder if the vague “local warlord” aspect is in some way dodgy – it felt a little off to me, but I’m hardly an expert in these things.

I’m not entirely certain if the stakes of this episode worked dramatically. I get the impression that the villain (who’s name I don’t even know, again showing I’m rather bad with names) could be quite a layered, complex one – love of her sister vs the weight of her responsibilities – but there’s been no time for her development, meaning she’s lacking, somewhat.

Which is a shame, really. Ah well.

vixen cw arrow dc africa zebra megalyn echikunwoke legends of tomorrow

Episode Six

This one was a clear letdown, I’m afraid. More than any of the rest of them, it was rushed, and it contributed to a conclusion that felt rather sub-par. It was basically just a quick fight scene, then a not-so-well-written conversation with Barry and Oliver.

It had, at one point, looked like we were going to see a montage of her working as a superhero, set to her own “My name is Mari McCabe” monologue (now she has a monologue, she’s a real hero!) which I think would have been a really effective end to the series, but alas, ‘twas not the case.

In Conclusion

Vixen is a lot of fun! Certainly, I think that’s fair to say; if you’re looking for something entertaining to watch that’s connected to the CW-DCverse, you could certainly do far worse than this competently made cartoon. Sure, it’s not brilliant, but there are plenty of nice moments throughout.

I’m really glad, too, that we’re not only being introduced to new heroes, but diverse heroes too; it’s great that we’ve got a woman of colour in this role. Yes, it’s a limited one, but we’re already seeing how this can evolve into more; a second animated series of Vixen has been confirmed (albeit hopefully a longer one), we’ve seen her transition to live action, and there’s the potential for further appearances to come.

That is, I think, an interesting possibility for the future of the CW-DCverse – if these half-hour animated programs can be used to trial different heroes before bringing them into the main, live-action program, there’s some great potential to really develop and expand the shared universe.

This article was previously published on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

Was Arrow Season 3 really that bad?

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Was Arrow Season 3 really that bad?

arrow season 3 review banner hd retrospective was it really so bad oliver queen marc guggenheim olicity

I’ve recently been able to catch up on the third season of Arrow, which has something of a reputation for being less than stellar. Much like when I was rewatching the Star Wars prequels recently, the question of the quality of the series was something that weighed up my mind.

So, then. Was Arrow season three really that bad?

The short answer is no.

As for the long answer? Well, as ever, things are much more nuanced and complicated than they’d initially appear. Arrow Season 3 was, in many ways, the weakest season of everything we’ve seen thus far in the CW DC universe – and yet, despite that, it did do a lot of things right, and introduced some interesting concepts.

Certainly, the strongest aspect of this season was the overarching theme introduced; the question of who, exactly, Oliver Queen is, and what he’s able to achieve as the Arrow. As a through line for the series, it’s actually something that the execs made an impressive job of examining; it’s set up right from the beginning, framed in terms of Oliver’s potential relationship with Felicity (more on that later) and further examined through his interactions with the other characters. It’s in this season that we see a lot of other heroes established, and they’re all there to act as foils to Oliver; Barry crosses over from The Flash, questioning Oliver’s methods, and we see Ted Grant as Wildcat, a vigilante who gave it all up because he went too far.

Of course, it’s examined in more depth through the regular cast, particularly Colton Haynes as Roy and Katie Cassidy as Laurel. When we’re watching them develop as heroes, it’s framed alongside and contrasted against Oliver as the Arrow – it’s something that’s thrown into sharp focus during the Danny Brickwell mini-arc, wherein Oliver isn’t in Starling, and our supporting cast have to pick up the slack. True, it’s a little Dark Knight Rises, but through this juxtaposition the show was able to make some interesting commentary on what it is to be a hero, and at the same time developing our main cast of characters.

The parallels are most overt between Ray and Oliver though – the billionaire who lost something, driven to protect his city. They get some nice humour out of it (there’s a great scene with the salmon ladder) but there’s some genuine depth to it as well, I think. Oliver always took the approach that he can be the Arrow, or he can be Oliver – he can’t be both. And, as the Arrow, he can’t maintain any relationships, or get too attached to people. Yet Ray Palmer comes along, and he manages to succeed where Oliver has failed, over and over again; with his company, with Felicity, and as the ATOM. It’s an important part of the ultimately identity crisis arc that carries across the series, and Oliver’s struggle between who he wants to be, and who he had to become to save his city.

arrow season 3 arrowverse flash legends of tomorrow heroes roy harper oliver queen atom ray palmer laurel lance black canary katie cassidy brandon routh superhero fight club

The arc is well done for the most part, and they even manage to pull it into the flashbacks; in Hong Kong, we see Oliver begin to lose himself, and become much closer to the vicious killer he was in season one, whilst at the same time slowly learning what happened to Masseo and Tatsu in a rather clever non linear narrative.

But it does begin to fall apart towards the end of the season, as does nearly everything else. Now, personally speaking, I’d say the first run of 9 episodes is a decent stretch, as is the Danny Brickwell arc; it’s after episode 15, however, that things start to stop working. Your mileage may vary on this one; I’ve seen people suggest it’s earlier, placing the cut off point at episode 12, but for me, the problems began with The Offer. Episode 15 was where we saw Ra’s Al Ghul name Oliver as his successor, and the League of Assassins (I’m not one to get picky about comic adaptation changes, but “League of Shadows” really is a better name) become the main antagonists for the rest of the season.

Honestly, it is difficult to say that this works. There are a couple of different reasons for this, of course; notably, in comparison to previous years, there aren’t really any personal stakes in play for Oliver. With both Slade and Merlyn (and, as a bonus, Harrison Wells over on The Flash) the final confrontation had been deeply personal, even bordering on intimate. It was, I think, part of that intensity that raised the stakes for those prior confrontations; in lacking that, something else needed to fill the gap with Ra’s Al Ghul.

And… well, they tried to tie Ra’s into the identity crisis arc, but they do a poor job of it. I think, in part, it’s because much of the circumstances and consequences involved just aren’t entirely clear: we get this threat from Ra’s, instructing Oliver to take his place in the league “or else”, but we’re then left with some variation of “I just don’t really want to”, which isn’t exactly a great, compelling thematic point. Certainly, there’s a genuine question as to why Oliver doesn’t just accept the role, have his new minions kill Ra’s, and then abdicate; it’s the sort of thing that’d appear to solve all his problems.

You then end up with a fairly muddled set of motivations, ranging from secret prophecy to pretending to be brainwashed, and the surprise stipulation that the new Ra’s has to destroy his previous home town – that being why we care about Starling at the minute. It’s just difficult, ultimately, to be invested in this finale, because we haven’t really seen why we should; for all the talk about the League of Assassins being genuinely threatening, we never really see any evidence for this fact.

It leads to an ultimately underwhelming finale, which is a shame; given that the high points of both the previous seasons have been their finales, the fact that this one has been lacking is a significant contributing factor to the overall condemnation of this season.

arrow olicity felicity smoak oliver queen sunset series 3 cw dc stephen amell emily bett rickards marc guggenheim

There was, of course, another aspect of the season finale, and indeed the season as a whole, which was quite controversial. I speak, as I’m sure you’ve surmised from the picture, of “Olicity”. (For those of you who unfamiliar with the portmanteau, I refer to the relationship between Oliver and Felicity.)

This is… difficult to comment on, as it goes. Going into the series, I’d heard a lot of bad things about this relationship, but particularly framed in terms of Felicity. So, you know, I was sort of expecting to see the arc handled quite poorly; there was an instance in the series four crossover, Legends of Yesterday, wherein Felicity was written as particularly unreasonable, which I was expecting to be the template for her character across the series.

As with most of the flaws of season 3, however, I think for the most part it was blown out of proportion. Generally, I quite liked the overarching plot given to Felicity – the fact that she wasn’t going to wait for Oliver at the beginning of the season, her relationship with Ray, and the eventual reunion with Oliver. Typically speaking, I think the unwavering conviction given to Felicity was a nice touch, and in many ways was an interesting piece of character development and growth after the past two seasons.

It’s just that there were a lot of individual instances wherein the writing let the character down – something that can be considered a trend across the series. The unwavering conviction was often allowed to devolve into outright selfishness, which was then left uncritiqued by the narrative. I think that’s the crucial reason for why Felicity would have began to grate on certain sections of the audience; there was very little balance in terms of how the character was approached. I’d argue that’s where the core of the problems originated.

Personally speaking though, in terms of the female characters, there was a much larger and more heinous mistake that stood out to me moreso than how Felicity was written: the fridging of Sara Lance. Fridging, if you’re not familiar with the term, refers to when a female supporting character is killed off to provide angst for the male main character, thus furthering his plot at the expense of her own. This was a fairly textbook example of that really – I think Sara does actually end up in a freezer after a while – and it’s a particularly undignified end for the character.

It’s particularly poor, actually, when you consider that Sara was not only the first female hero in the CW DC Universe, but also their most prominent (only?) LGBT character. Arrow doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it’s important to consider matters in this light. Whilst you can argue that her death provided an important catalyst to further events, it’s also worth remembering that everything that occurred on screen was fictional – there’s no reason why a different catalyst couldn’t have been written instead. I’m glad that they’ve brought Sara back for Legends of Tomorrow, in any case; it allows them to rectify the damage done with this mistake.

So…

Arrow season three is undeniably flawed. It’s also undeniably the weakest of any of the the CW’s superhero offerings. There’s simply no way around that. Despite clever thematic work, much of their overarching aim can be let down as a result of sloppy and inconsistent writing. In many ways, I think the flaws would have been exacerbated when watching it as it was broadcast, one episode per week; there’d be longer to wait between the high points of the series. Similarly, spread out as they were, it’d be more difficult to appreciate the thematic arcs going on – they’re more clear at a distance, I think, when you can consider each episode together, and the season as a whole.

Judging from what I’ve seen from season 4 so far, though, the execs in charge of Arrow are building on and learning from their mistakes (largely speaking; there’s still some notable flaws) throughout last year’s season, hopefully giving us a much stronger offering this go round.

I think that there are merits to Arrow’s third season; that doesn’t mean there aren’t mistakes either. Neither should be forgotten – the merits are to be carried forward, and the mistakes learned from.

Maybe one day we’ll look back on Arrow season three as an essential stepping stone; a season the show had to go through so that it could become something else. Something better.

This article was previously published on the Yahoo TV website.

Related:

Arrow, and the disturbing trend of fridging female characters

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