Arrow "Blast Radius" Review: With a Whimper

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Jan 16, 2014

Arrow S02E10: "Blast Radius"

After the mid-season finale, I think pretty much anything was going to feel like a bit of a letdown, but I wasn't expecting "Blast Radius" to be that much of a letdown. In a lot of ways, it felt like the leftover core of a Season 1 script—meaning the Shrapnel plot—but with some new elements tacked on to make it feel like part of Season 2. And while those more relevant Season 2 elements weren't bad, they also weren't enough to keep the episode afloat. 

The main burden on the episode was Shrapnel (Firefly alum Sean Maher, doing the best he could with very little). I suggested a connection to Season 1 because the storyline, as a whole, had an issue with villains of the week who lacked personality, who lacked a sense of character, not to mention a lack of time to develop those things. In short, the characters were just there to cause problems for Oliver, and the show didn't provide them with a perspective that pushed them beyond that. If they're just obstacles, then why should we care? What are the stakes other than "They're doing bad things?" What do their plans say about the narrative world? Are they complementing or providing a foil to one of our regular characters in some way? If they don't even have that, does a sense of spectacle "make up for" the other missing traits?

What do we know about Shrapnel? He runs a novelty shop, frequents an anti-government militia website, and seems to have advance training in bomb-making and electronics. He's blowing up buildings and targeting Blood because he's angry with corruption in the political system. That's pretty much it. I admit that Shrapnel is at a bit of a disadvantage, since making any mad bomber anti-government character interesting in this day in age is pretty difficult, but then Batman Beyond managed to at least do a dangerous send-up of that type with Mad Stan, so it's possible.

What would've kept Shrapnel from being such a waste? In "Blast Radius," there was no through-line between Shrapnel's outrage and, say, localized class disparity and corruption in Starling City, elements of the narrative that would have connected to Blood's campaign in interesting ways. So consider how the episode's narrative would've changed if Shrapnel saw himself as an extension of Blood's rhetoric, just in a more (overtly) violent way? If you put Blood's campaign platform into a conversation with an extreme version of itself, suddenly what Shrapnel was doing offers commentary on Arrow's larger issues, as opposed to being amorphously connected to them.

Thinking about other villains-of-the-week from this season, even the weakest of them—the Mayor—at least had a connection and motivation to the larger events in the show as he was assuming control of the gangs in the Glades and remaking himself following the community's devastation. It wasn't all that interesting, but at least it was a part of the world. The Dollmaker wasn't any different from most other TV serial killers, but he had a creepy way of killing victims, and that episode played up a lot of horror tropes in its mise-en-scène to differentiate itself from a typical hour of Arrow

Of course, the episode with the Mayor was buoyed by some good character stuff as Oliver and Sara were reconnecting and dealing with their pasts, so even though the Mayor wasn't exciting, there was still something engaging going on around him. "Blast Radius" didn't have that as strongly, but when I found myself thinking, "I sort of would like to spend more time with the Laurel investigation..." I knew things weren't going well.

Laurel's been a major weight on the show. Audiences, on the whole, don't seem to be responding to the character (or to Katie Cassidy), and the writers have struggled to make the character feel integrated into the show this season. We've had her hunt for the vigilante, followed up by taking on the guilt for Tommy's death, that in turn led to a burgeoning problem with alcohol and pills (the prescription bottle she had at the start of this episode belonged to Quentin), and that resulted in Laurel disappearing from the show for a little while.

I like to think that the disappearance was a deliberate move on the writers' parts in an effort to figure out what the hell to do with the character. The result, it appears, was Laurel deciding to dig into Blood's past. Between Laurel not being on the show too much and the winter break, I honestly can't remember if Laurel's ever come off as suspicious of Blood, or this is a brand new perspective for her, based largely on a building catching on fire and Cyrus Gold's connection to Blood, but I'm going to run with it regardless.

I'm doing that because, finally, Laurel is involved in the bigger plot of the show. One of the big problems with the character is that she's always been separated from the seasonal arcs by a few degrees, but those degrees have been enough that she's essentially been reduced to damsel in distress or the point of a love triangle. By taking on some agency, and by looking into Blood, suddenly Laurel has information that other people don't, which is a reversal of her normal status on this show. It's a nice move forward for the character, so hopefully the show doesn't bungle it.

I'll wrap this up with some brief thoughts on Oliver and Felicity, especially since if there was anything that was really interesting in the episode—provided you didn't appreciate the Laurel stuff as much as I did—it was the fallout of Barry and Felicity's geeky romantic sparks, Felicity rushing to Barry's side in Central City, and Oliver being super-grumpy about all of it. The whole situation is cute, yes, because the actors are digging in in exactly the right way for their characters. Rickards is playing up the unrequited love angle with geeky awkwardness, and Amell is hitting the right notes as the tortured soul who doesn't think he deserves love (but still wants it) yet is trying to be a good guy. In simpler terms: It's not you, it's him, Felicity.

And, really, that's about where it should be. While Oliver is open to romance on some level—remember McKenna?—Felicity's a different game since she's a member of the team and a partner in the mission. As a romantic partner, she'd be a distraction from things that Oliver can't truly afford. Pile on the fact that I don't see the show changing this relationship too much until maybe the end of the season, and I'm not too concerned about this particular aspect of the show. Then again, running-in-place romantic tensions are among my least favorite TV stories, so there you go.


– That the island story is shifting parallels from Oliver-then to Oliver-now to Slade-then to Roy-now is a nifty little trick. While I don't think Roy is going to go violently crazy like Slade is attempting to cope with—I think Blood's version of the serum has managed to suppress that aspect, when the serum doesn't kill people outright—I do think that both Roy and Slade having to figure out how to cope with the effects of the serum should make for some decent story opportunities.

– I like that when Arrow takes a long-ish hiatus, it acknowledges that hiatus in the show itself. It did that last season, too, after the mid-season break.

– "You've taken Oliver's... hobby, and turned it into a successful business!"

– "What's with the mask?" "A gift from a friend." "You've got friends?!"

– Blood's mother (or aunt. if you don't think the lady in the asylum is telling the truth), is named Maya Resik. Resik is a nod to Anna Resik from the comics, a woman who's linked to Blood there as well. The Movement, the militia group that Shrapnel borrowed his bomb models from, is probably a reference to the comic book of the same name that deals with young superheroes fighting corruption.

What did you think of "Blast Radius"?

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  • Super_Dooper Jan 23, 2014

    Dear Noel, I very much appreciate your reviews and your in-depth look at not only the episode itself but also the analysis of the themes in the show and how the themes are present in each episode. It is really great! Also I am glad my 3 years at uni have come in use today, as I know what you are talking about when you mention mise-en-scene. Hooray! I do agree on that point you made about it and all of the points before it that Shrapnel could have been used much better in this episode. I too, did not mind Laurel in this episode, at least she was doing something helpful.

    Side note: I had the pleasure of seeing Sean Maher in November at a con and he mentioned his work on the show. So it was exciting to see him here after hearing him talk about working on the show. I am also glad they did not kill him off as it means he may return!

  • marcusj1973 Jan 21, 2014

    I pretty much ignored bomber dude since he was pretty much only there to provide a reason for the other more interesting interactions on the show.

    1. Showing Sebastian Blood is a bit of a crazy pants. So, you've got a guy blowing up buildings as a means of protest? Why not gather a bunch of people into one place and provide him a target. I have trouble believing that this didn't set off more alarm bells to Oli.

    2. I've never really had a problem with Laurel, but I can see the flaws in her character. If they could only now do away with this whole addiction thing and just let her expose Blood for what he is and maybe start establishing her some "street cred"...that would be swell.

    3. While it's nice that they're not hiding Super Roy for very long, "Hey Speedy, your boyfriend just had a 500lb light stand crash on him and he chalked it up to adrenaline...smarten up!". Additionally, shouldn't Oli be a little more concerned over both Roy and his proximity to his sister given how worried he is about the effects of the drug?

    Most importantly...

    4. Oli and Felicity. I don't like it when anybody takes liberties with Felicity...even Oli. But it's clear he was just acting out because he was upset. Not cool, but understandable given what an emotional mess he is. "I depend on you", "You're not my employee, you're my partner"...c'mon, would it be so hard to just admit that you missed her?

    Personally, I'm a HUGE fan of the "running-in-place romantic tensions", when done properly that is...and so far, it's proper. I want nothing else for the forseeable future than have these two (semi privately) acknowledge that there's something between them but never indulge in anything other that playful banter...mostly of Felicity stumbling into a double entendre. Bond and Moneypenny...that's it...that's all.

    The door got cracked open a little when Felicity acknowledged her feelings after Oli and Isabel had this one night. It'd be nice if Oli did the same with Felicity and Barry, since his new found powers will clearly keep them apart.

    A great episode? No. But it had enough of the good parts of the series to keep it from being a flop.

  • ElRob Jan 19, 2014

    Not the best of episodes, felt like re-heating last nights pizza.

    Thought that was buddy off of Firefly. Boy, he could use some steadier work.

    Lastly, lasers! 60 some odd years on, still awesome.

  • alcalde Feb 18, 2014

    Dang, I watched this episode some time after eating... last night's pizza!

  • nickmoose Jan 18, 2014

    OK, who wants to buy the action figures? I totally want to buy the action figures!!!!! So happy they exist! But, I gotta say, though I love that there is an Oliver and a Slade , I want want WANT a Felicity!!!! -A Diggle would be cool too-but Felicity is a must.

  • Tigerbob Jan 18, 2014

    Felicity is awesome, how can Oli not want her over dumb Laurel.

  • JT_Kirk Jan 18, 2014

    Very strong review. I couldn't believe how much of a misfire this episode was, I got bored so quickly into it and so disinterested with every plotline and how it played out that I actually remember "coming too" about 20 minutes in after realizing I had been watching but was barely absorbing what was going. It didn't even anger me, it just felt like something that was background noise... while in the foreground.

    Thanks for pointing out the actor on the evil bomber what bombs at midnight, that was driving me newts.

    Sorry I don't have more to add to the conversation, this was just such a dull outing that I can't find the passion to get mad and rant, or even respond to the review's points; this episode was a plate of cold, overcooked noodles without sauce.

  • JT_Kirk Jan 18, 2014

    I'm reading through the comments below, and it dawned on me what this episode felt like, it felt like in elementary school when you've finished the test early and the teacher, having nothing to offer you but still having to supervise you, just tells you to put your head down on the desk. This episode was listening to pencils filling in bubbles, and the occasional chirp of a bird outside and perhaps a lawnmower, so that when the office sends someone in for the teacher's paperwork, it lightly captures your attention (Laurel's storylines).

  • nickmoose Jan 17, 2014

    Have you not read comic books before? Do you know how many countless villains of the week (or villains of the month in the case of comics) existed to do nothing more than give Spiderman someone to punch while he was thinking about what he should get Mary Jayne for her birthday? Hell, I can't even remember what the motivation of the character "Shocker" was, and i have like 40 comic books with him in it. Not every villain on Arrow has to be super important to the main narrative. I'm just pleased they are trying to fit in as many DC characters as possible.

  • noelrk Jan 18, 2014

    I've totally read superhero comics before. Which is, by the way, why I can tell you that Shocker is primarily just interested in heists, similar to, say, Flash's Rogues (Captain Cold, Mirror Master, etc).

    That aside, it's not (completely) an issue of Shrapnel being important to the main narrative. It's important for him, or other villains, to be interesting or compelling. Yes, his ideology being put in dialog with Blood's would have elevated things significantly, but as I pointed out, even if there was a little bit of spectacle or personality to Shrapnel, it would've helped things out. As it stood in the episode, he's as dull as unbuttered toast. Shocker, at least, has a silly woven foam costume and those neat gauntlets.

  • nickmoose Jan 18, 2014

    They should have done Shrapnel like how he appeared in Batman: the Brave and the Bold, as an enormous communist monster thing.

    -now I don't know if you watch S.H.I.E.L.D , but if you want to appreciate Arrow more you should check it out because it makes even the worst Arrow episode seem like high art by comparison, but I was disappointed with the recent episode where that one bad guy industrialist got linked to the main "Clairvoyant" plot. i would have liked to have some stand alone villains on that show.
    I didn't really like the fact that Slade got linked to Blood, but it was kind of a cool reveal anyway because it brought Slade into the non-island plot. I really hope though that they don't tie in the H.I.V.E or Suicide Squad plot lines with this one. Speaking of, remember that one time when Diggle Binged H.I.V.E and then they never talked about it again?

  • MissMunchkin Jan 18, 2014

    What's great about Arrow is that they may have characters mention something and "never talk about it again"... But then they will. Just like with the Hozen that he gave to Thea all the way back in the freaking Pilot. Who knew that thing had any real significance? Not I. And yet they brought it all the way back around. Arrow is always leaving these dangling plot threads all over the place, and the exciting thing is that I have, at this point, learned to trust the writers that they will pick them back up again. They haven't forgotten. They're just biding their time until the pull it out to shock us all with another reveal.

  • vcivi Jan 17, 2014

    I iked Laurel with the Blood Mother..that was nice scene..
    the scene with Oliver and Felicity was greatly done..
    Schrapnel i hoped to see more he would tell that he is also fighting for the city, but in his own way and that Oliver would be like, no your not and so on an so was a bit boring....
    I wonder how things will go with Roy...i mean he got a shot too..

  • MissMunchkin Jan 17, 2014

    I completely agree about Shrapnel. Kinda a wasted opportunity there, especially with having both Simon Tam and River Tam on the same show. Seriously, writers, why didn't ya'll at least have them pass each other on the street for us Firefly fans? That alone would have sent our geekdom into overdrive!

    But seriously, it felt like there was an entire scene missing in which Shrapnel reveals his real motivations or something. Remember the guy who would put the bomb collars on people and have them steal for him? I expected something like that with Shrapnel saying, "I'm just like you! Trying to fight the corruption in this city! I'm a hero!" And then Ollie turning around and saying, "You're no hero." Which would have been a nice nod to what Felicity had said in the midseason finale with him no longer denying what he is.

    Beyond that, I thought it was a pretty good episode. It came out of the hiatus at a bit of a crawl, I'll admit, but I'm not exactly surprised either. Personally, I think they should have kept Oliver stuck in that store for longer. Having him surrounded by all of those lasers was the most intense part of the show - and it was over in seconds. I wonder how long Diggle's wound is going to last. The show usually is either really good at remembering injuries of god awful, so that's always a toss up.

    Overall, I enjoyed it. The Olicity stuff was awesome. And Felicity cussed at Oliver, telling him to take his head out of his ass, which made me crack up. Has she ever cussed on the show before? I don't think so, and I thought that was a nice moment to have her do it. Next week looks like the energy will be more up, so I'm excited for it, even if I am not looking forward to Damsel Laurel all over again. Talk about snorefest. BUT DEATHSTROKE! Exciting.

  • Copioli Jan 17, 2014

    I am ready for Laurel disappearing of the show, to be honest. She is worse than Lois Lane. But I am worried for some declarations I've read (in this same site, I will hide them for spoilers. If I understood correctly, Laurel is going to end as Black Canary.

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