Second episodes are tough. Pilots, while no cakewalk, have a clear goal: Convince a network to buy, and then convince an audience to come back for Episode 2. Second episodes have to keep the audience that returned, but they also tend to work at bringing in anyone who didn’t see Episode 1, and that makes them sometimes function like a second pilot.
“Honor Thy Father” ended up very firmly in that "second pilot" camp. There was a lot of expository dialogue to explain things that were previously discussed or learned in the pilot, and lots of characters declared things as explicitly as possible. It made the episode seem clunky and more than a little overstuffed, especially in the first half, which was a whirl of “I was on an island!” “You told me to stay away from you!” “You were dead, I had no one, I turned to drugs and partying!” et cetera.
But with that said, it was the second episode, so we sort of need to move on and hope the show doesn’t do this every week. Some shows can pull it off with a surprising amount of ease (The Vampire Diaries is really good about organically working in internal recapping), and hopefully Arrow will transition into that next week.
Luckily, in between all the expository stuff, there were some genuinely good moments to be had. I think the best bit, apart from Laurel and Oliver eating ice cream (and I’ll get to that), was Diggle and Oliver in the car after Oliver shut down the notion of Diggle taking a position in Queen Consolidated. Speaking from apparent experience, Diggle said, "Back home, they're trying to 'get you'...," and there was this brief moment of bonding between the two, a degree of understanding that both have gone through unpleasant things (to say the least) and that the people who haven't gone through them just don’t, and can’t, comprehend the state those unpleasant things have left them in.
And that was sort of the crux of the episode, the notion that it’s hard to understand other people’s pain. Everyone’s having problems with moving on and working through their grief. Oliver and Thea can’t completely reconnect because Oliver’s just trying to prevent her from making his mistakes (while still putting on the public persona of making those mistakes); Oliver and Laurel have gone from anger to walking on eggshells; and even Quentin and Laurel are on different pages, especially Quentin, who is petrified of losing another daughter.
That’s why moments like Oliver with Diggle, or Oliver enjoying ice cream with Laurel, work for me. There’s a thematic consistency to them as Oliver attempts to come to grips with his life and works to reconnect with others. Yes, this idea was served up quite obviously at the end of the episode as Oliver addressed his father’s gravestone, but I was okay with them spelling it out since, unlike the voiceovers (which remain horrible), it felt motivated by the character and the episode’s plot.
But by now you may be tired of hearing me talk about things like feelings and characters. What about all the costume stuff? Well, it was pretty good from an action standpoint. Both big fights, Diggle with China White and then Oliver with China White, were generally well-shot and exciting. I preferred Diggle versus China White, if only because it showed that Diggle isn’t completely incompetent at the whole bodyguard thing.
I don’t have much to say yet about Kelly Hu as China White. She had like eight lines, so there’s no real sense of character at this point. To be fair, China White’s not the most developed character in the comics. She’s only appeared in Andy Diggle’s Green Arrow: Year One series, and there she was the head of a major crime organization, she specialized in drugs, and she was on the island Oliver washed up on. There, she was running an opium farm and a heroin factory (as you would expect, given her name), and Oliver, as part of his assumption of the hero mantle, shut it down and freed the slaves who work for her.
On Arrow, China White seems to be an enforcer for the Chinese Triad, but so far we don't have a lot of information. Hu’s slated for a few more episodes, so I suspect that we’ll learn more about China White beyond the fact that she’s a really good at hand-to-hand combat and likes little curved knives.
Flashback-wise, which is perhaps the most pressing issue for many folks based on the comments on last week's review, Arrow is still piecemealing out that narrative, so settle in. Oliver acquired the notebook from his father’s corpse, but it was blank except for some sort of symbol. And then someone shot him through the chest with an arrow. Maybe that person put the names in the notebook. And taught Oliver Russian. And those mad computer skills.
The symbol, of course, was seen with whomever Moira was meeting with and assuring that Oliver is still totally clueless about whatever’s going on in Starling City. I’m okay with Moira’s conspiracy being at the tail end of each episode for now, since the show’s still establishing itself (and it’s a very comic book-y thing to do). I’m sure it’ll become more prominent as we go forward.
All in all, "Honor Thy Father" was not a great second episode, but it had some good stuff sprinkled throughout. What did you all think?
– Oliver’s “You failed this city” spiel isn’t exactly working. I get the impulse behind the speech (it gives him an avenging tone, and it makes him an extension of the city, which is cool), but I don’t think it’s “there” yet.
– Arrow may have a tough time balancing Public Asshole Oliver and Working to Reconnect with His Sister and Ex-girlfriend Oliver. At some point it’s just going to seem a touch odd, and it won’t be Amell’s fault, since I think he’s hitting each version. There’s a dissonance the writers will need to work through; there needs to be some sort of consistency to connect them.
– Laurel was representing a woman named Emily Nocenti. Currently writing the Green Arrow comic book is Ann Nocenti (she’s also writing the Catwoman series). I suppose these little name references could get old, but I rather like them. I hope they save O’Neil (in honor of Dennis O’Neil) for someone really cool.
– Speaking of Laurel, the legal aid office is called CNRI? Like canary. Cute.
– This episode’s moment in pointless pedantry: The painted-on mask seemed haphazardly applied. I don’t care.
– What I do sort of care about is that I thought the show had taken care of Oliver rescinding the death certificate off-screen during the pilot, given all the easy access to resources he had, but nope. It wasn't a very well-organized chain of events, and apart from the desire to recap the pilot, doing the legalities could’ve been handled in a couple of lines during this week's episode as opposed to taking up the whole first chunk of it.