Last week's episode of Arrow started a discussion about revenge and justice, and the differences between those things. They floated around as both Oliver and Helena each killed some guys, and Oliver tried to explain why it was different but then got distracted by Helena’s bedroom eyes and the mood lighting. I can understand that. While I’d certainly be happy to continue a philosophical discussion about those issues while getting undressed, I get that not everyone is turned on by that sort of thing.
So with “Vendetta,” I was prepared for a deeper interrogation of the differences between revenge and justice, an exploration of when it’s okay to murder someone and not murder someone. It’s a tension we’ve been been grappling with here at TV.com, in the comments on these reviews: Is Oliver killing mooks kosher while he lets the people on the list keep their lives but go to prison? Was Oliver’s attempt to stop Helena from killing Nick last week okay, even though he'd just snapped another guy’s neck?
Arrow still has only some vague ideas on the matter.
I think the series wants to say that the difference between the two is ultimately grounded in intent and the possible effects. Helena’s crusade (to borrow Oliver’s phrase) is deeply personal, a way to free herself from her pain and suffering caused by Michael’s death. It is, like Oliver says of the guns Helena favors, emotional and unpredictable. It can put innocent lives in danger, like it did with Moira. Likewise, the way Helena has gone about things—by provoking the Triad—could start a gang war that I assume would result in Starling City experiencing something like the crime spree that gripped Sao Paulo, Brazil last month.
Oliver offered an alternative example to this as the two teamed up to take down an associate of Frank’s, and a name on the list. He and Helena smashed the oxy warehouse, the police arrived, people got arrested, and a blow was dealt to Frank’s criminal operations. No innocents, as Oliver noted, were hurt. And that, Oliver argued, was justice. It employed the system that was already in place, it wasn't just killing folks, and it didn’t provoke other criminal organizations into starting a war (though I have to imagine that they’d just move into the vacuums, but whatever). And it was all for a greater good, something beyond personal feelings. In theory anyway.
The problem is that “Vendetta” never really crystallized these differences in a meaningful way. It’s one thing to allow the audience to interpret a situation—it’s a sign of deeper narrative and thematic gears at work—but it’s another thing entirely for the audience to essentially have to make the argument for the show. As a result, Arrow isn’t giving us the opportunity to dissect it for meaning, a meaning we can debate in the comments using evidence to support our position; instead we’re given poorly devised little scraps of ideas that we can’t hang much of a discussion on.
I wouldn’t have spent 300 words on that issue if it wasn’t something I thought the show didn’t want to engage with. Helena’s behavior forced Oliver to not only explain his approach, but to justify it and clarify it. It forced him to draw a line that has remained largely undrawn, one that even now feels a touch fuzzy. But it’s also one that doesn’t seem super important to anyone.
Diggle is rightfully concerned about Helena’s behavior, but this week's narrative didn’t afford him the opportunity to actually do anything about it except give small lectures to Oliver (to David Ramsey’s credit, his delivery of those lectures is fantastic, just the right blend of caring jerk). And by the end, when Oliver was comforting himself with chili cheese fries with jalapenos (and had he been drinking? Amell played that scene like Oliver was pretty buzzed), Diggle was suddenly okay with Oliver’s attempt to reform Helena, despite saying five scenes earlier that it was a waste of time.
I think it’s safe to say that Diggle is probably most people's favorite character. I don’t think I’ve seen many fans speak ill of the character, just of how the show has been using him. While I preach patience on such issues, this is one of those times were a little involvement would’ve been much more powerful than what we ended up with.
Since the costume aspect of the episode was a bust, that leaves the romance B-plot and “Walter and Felicity Investigations,” which may be Arrow’s best bet on a spin-off thus far.
I know folks have been down on the Laurel and Tommy thing, and I know I’ve been gently defending it, so allow me to continue to do so here as it was the least bothersome aspect of the episode. Sure, the whole impromptu double-date blow-up played out waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too quickly, but given the intensified situations of three of the four of those involved, it was sort of understandable that it would happen. If anything, it gave me a parallel-scene giggle when, immediately after the scene in which Tommy and Laurel made up, we got Oliver attempting to make up with Diggle instead of Helena. Those two are so cute together.
Walter remains, thankfully, wary of Moira. He was a bit distant toward her, and I liked that. But then he went and threatened to fire Felicity after she did exactly what he asked her to do before he ran off to Australia, and that was look into Tempest LLC. He’s stressed and unsure of what’s going on, but his actions were really abrupt and a little out of character. And then he didn’t even really apologize when he handed over the notebook for Felicity to do her tech magic on it.
So it was a pretty frustrating episode for me. What’d you all think?
Notes & Quotes
– Island flashbacks remain MIA. I am missing them.
– I have absolutely no idea if China White is dead or not. If she is, that entire role was a massive waste of Kelly Hu. If she’s not... well... then she’s not, I guess. So weird.
– “I don’t know where the next Olympics are at, but you should think about signing up.”
– The first Arrow Cave scene, when Diggle and Oliver were talking about Helena, was sort of awkward in its blocking. Oliver was all over the place, attempting to work out but never really doing it. As a result, it became mostly a reason to see Amell do the salmon ladder again.
– “I’m trying to teach you something.” “What, the least effective way to shoot someone?”
– “She knows my name. That’s lovely.” I adore Diggle.
– I’m glad the writers are continuing with the club-building story. I imagine they were holding off completing it until after the show got the full-season pick-up, for budgetary reasons. Which is sensible.
– “Will I be getting dental? This smile wasn’t cheap.” “I’ll look into that.” “Thank you.”