I hate to start off ranty and you'll have to excuse me, but Ra's al Ghul? Really? Really?!? I mean, I figured some aspects of the League of Assassins would be entering the show after Malcolm mentioned Nanda Parbat last season, and while Ra's being a figure in this world adds another potential twist to my pet theory about Season 2, it also sort of confirms my idea of how this season is going to play out. But Ra's frigging al Ghul?
Ra's is a BIG villain, and not really one I think Arrow has a reason to use, outside of just really wanting to use him. Sensei would've been fine as a potential mastermind; he's attached to the League of Assassins and would provide a perfectly shadowy presence. I know Sensei's supposed to be really old, and that The CW doesn't do really old-looking characters, but there's considerably less baggage with Sensei then there is with Ra's. I'm fine with the League of Assassins being part of the show, I think it nicely extends the show's world; I just question whether or not Ra's presence in this world, at least as of this very early mention, makes any sense.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Okay. We can now discuss the episode sans my fan griping about Arrow having the audacity to bring in Ra's, because really I'm just being an annoying fanboy in all the worst ways possible. It's not a healthy to respond to the show that way without knowing how it intends to use and showcase Ra's.
"Broken Dolls" felt very much like a Season 1 episode of Arrow, thanks to its juggling of several different plots. There was the Dollmaker procedural aspect, Quentin and Laurel's grief issues brought out by the case, Moira's impending trial, Roy looking for Black Canary (a.k.a. the blonde lady in leather), island flashbacks—but overall I think it ran more smoothly than a Season 1 episode with so much going on would have. Perhaps the writers have hit on a formula that helps them balance all these elements without any of them feeling truncated. Then again, it does help when there's an actual conclusion in the form of character development; it makes the narrative feel like something worthwhile instead of just another episodic notch, a problem I think Season 1 grappled with from time to time.
I've already acknowledged my burnout on grim dark murder plots, so a serial killer who turns pretty, young woman into dolls by strapping them onto a rack, shoving a seemingly huge feeding tube into their mouths, and pumping them full of a "flexible polymer" wasn't exactly something I was eager to see in an Arrow A-plot. Dollmaker certainly wasn't my favorite villain of the week—I don't even like the comic book version of the character, which didn't help—but at least the story served some nice, character-driven purposes, namely giving us an episode that was about as Quentin-centric as I think the show is prepared to ever offer.
I have never disliked Quentin as a character, and I really like Paul Blackthorne, but the character was very broad, underused, and one-note in Season 1, even as the show tried to expand his circle beyond Laurel with Dinah's arrival and the search for Sara. "Broken Dolls" helped to add a little more shading to Quentin, and much like how the first two episodes of the season showed us how Oliver is attempting to redefine himself in light of the Glades quake, this one showed us that Quentin is attempting to do the same. He's looking to find that new way of helping Starling City, probably in no small part because of his role in working to defuse the Markov devices.
There's been a considerable amount of Laurel loathing in the comments the past two weeks, so I'll be curious to see how those of you who were unhappy with her actions and attitude feel about her after this episode. I've never had a problem with Laurel's decision be the D.A.'s point person on the Hood task force, even if the motivation seemed flimsy. If anything, a Laurel who seemed prime to burn down a city to capture one guy in a green leather outfit gives Katie Cassidy something more interesting to play than the normal Laurel beats.
What's nice, however, is that "Broken Dolls" acknowledged the fact that her motivation was, in fact, flimsy. Quentin gave Laurel a similar spiel to the one that Laurel routinely gave him last season, and Laurel dodged it just like Quentin would have. It's a very nice cycle of grief displacement that the Lances engage in. I'm not sure how Laurel's going to function now that she's taking the responsibility for Tommy's death onto herself, but I'm glad that even these episodic plots aren't going to be ignored, that they will have an impact on various characters.
"Broken Dolls" also gave us a lot of Black Canary goodness, from her saving Oliver from Laurel and the police with the mechanical equivalent of the canary cry to her lethal method of disposing of the Dollmaker. I'm intrigued by the way Arrow seems to be positioning her as a defender of women ("She's targeting criminals." "Misogynist criminals"), and the potential gender politics that will open up for the show as a result. I'm hoping against hope that her lack of a no-kill rule will allow for Arrow to finally engage in a decent discussion about the nature of justice. Mostly, however, I'm just excited about Bex Taylor-Klaus as Sin. Taylor-Klaus was one of the highest high points of The Killing's third season, with a breakout performance as a homeless teen. Sure, she had next to nothing to in this episode but look punky and call Roy "Abercrombie" (heheheheheh), but I will never say no to seeing her on my TV screen.
Speaking of justice, and tying back into the Lances' feelings of grief, there's Moira. I was curious as to how Arrow was going to keep Moira active, what with her being in jail and all, and so her trial should prove to be an interesting subplot. I do like how Moira is at peace with both her role in the devastation of the Glades and her acceptance that she deserves to be punished for it, regardless of how heavy Malcolm's influence is weighing down upon her. It's not only in keeping with her character, but it's just a very mature position, a rarity on a show where most of the characters are struggling to attain the sense of self that Moira now has.
– "Wonderful. Now we have a dead Japanese soldier in our home." The island stuff offered some nice movement. I'm very interested to see how this freighter stuff is going to play out, though I'm also worried about the state of Slade's handsome face, since it seemed like it was on fire (or it could just be his handsome hands).
– There've been a few different Dollmakers in the comic books, and Arrow's Dollmaker was based on the most recent iteration that appeared in 2011, a Batman baddie with a grudge against Commissioner Gordon. As a young cop, Gordon killed Mathis's father, and now Mathis wears a mask that's partially made out of his father's face and turns people into living dolls. Additional fun fact: The new version of Dollmaker was created by Tony S. Daniel. The name of Dollmaker's attorney in this episode? Tony Daniel.
– Sin is also from the comics, but I'm not going to talk too much about her comic book persona for the time being. Doing so might spoil what I think Arrow might very likely be setting up for this season, and I don't want non-comic readers to be annoyed with me. If you've read the comics, and you're familiar with Sin, then you're probably starting to turn the gears.
– Couple of other little DC Comic tie-ins this week, including Quentin's police ID as DC-52 and the Metamorpho Chemical Company.
– I know a lot of you sort of needled the show about Oliver's identity last season, but that Quentin didn't get one solid look at Oliver this entire episode is just all sorts of dumb.
– I've never been a huge fan of the music on Arrow—I write while listening to the Season 1 soundtrack—but I very much appreciated the music box-esque motif that was composed for the Dollmaker. Indeed, that entire scene in the Bisque Museum was, while very "serial killer standard," still pretty neat. Then again, porcelain dolls are super creepy.
– "A guy with a bow and arrow can’t save a guy who's had a building fall on top of him."
– "Not my face!"
– This tweet from Andy:
Starling City: More scaffolding and plastic draping per square block than most cities have Starbucks. #Arrow— Andy Daglastlevania (@AndyDaglas) October 24, 2013
– In case you missed the casting news, Arrow has snagged itself another Firefly alum: Sean Maher will appear in Episode 10 as the show's take on the villain Shrapnel.
– I'd love to hear what you all thought about the Ra's al Ghul namedrop. If you're excited about it, I want to hear why! If you're not excited, I want to hear why! Let's do try to avoid drawing too many connections to the comic books, but if someone wants to start up a discussion in the Arrow community that's a little more comic book-centric, and thus possibly spoiler-laden, I think that would be a safe space for that discussion, so long as it's clearly marked as such.
What did you think of "Broken Dolls"?