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Arrow S02E08: "The Scientist"

The CW's The Flash spin-off has been an anticipated aspect of Arrow since it was first announced this summer. It's a logical business move for The CW, creating a new series out of the network's surprise hit from last season, and it's a logical business move for DC Entertainment, a company that is looking to better exploit its non-Batman/Superman properties however it can. Yes, Marvel and ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has under-performed, but the superhero narrative—at least as far as real-world business is concerned—is still pretty focused on how much better Marvel is at using its properties. DC would very much like to change that narrative with a new series next season.

But launching a Flash spin-off from Arrow posed a couple of challenges, namely the fact that The Flash has superpowers. He has super speed, and in the comics, that super speed provided for a number of other powers, like the ability to control his molecules or the luxury of sped-up mental processes—and Arrow eschewed superpowers in its first season. Certainly that decision made sense for Arrow, as it it's a darker comic book series with a comic book sense of realism; more fantastical elements would've felt decidedly out of place in the style and tone it established.

So this put the onus on Arrow to make room for the possibility of superpowers in its world before Barry showed up, and before Barry got his abilities, without making it seem like the show was abandoning its style and tone, especially since I'm sure The CW and DC would like to keep open the possibility of Oliver and Barry teaming up in the future. Luckily for the Arrow, dividing itself between Oliver's time in Starling City and his five-year absence from Starling City has afforded the opportunity for the show to work in that possibility in a way that doesn't feel like it's "cheating."

So we get the supersolider serum that Ivo is searching for on Lian Yu and that Blood has apparently replicated and is testing on denizens of the Glades. The serum is a decent-enough way to introduce powers to the universe; it's not as if there are aliens or mutants running about with innate abilities. There's a comic book sense of scientific reasoning for why the serum works the way it does, and that reasoning fits within Arrow's particular brand of realism. Likewise, the decision to stick with generic powers—super-strength and endurance, with near-invulnerable skin—wasn't the show diving into the deep end of the superpowered pool. Cyrus, Blood's masked minion (how is he able to see out of that mask, by the way?), isn't shooting lasers out of his eyes or bursts of ice and snow from his hands; he's just a super-tough guy. Thus, it doesn't feel like a complete departure for the series.

Understandably, mileage on the effectiveness of these developments will vary. When The CW announced that it'd be spinning off The Flash from Arrow, I was skeptical and a little annoyed at the thought of dropping of "no powers" mentality. I worried—and still do, to a degree—that if powers become too prevalent in the series, it'll become fairly difficult to buy into Oliver surviving his encounters with the weekly bad guy. Such an approach would force him to be more clever than straightforward, a character development I would welcome, but that I'd also rather see happen regardless of whether his rogues have superpowers.

But there are two things that've helped me feel largely okay, if not a little bit interested in, the introduction of superpowers to Arrow's world. One is just the gradual and soft way the show has done it. Blood doesn't have himself an army of Cyruses (yet), and I'm thankful for that. He's still figuring out the process, so it's not as if this is a sudden change.

And the second is that the serum is a connective point between Starling City and Lian Yu, which helps the Lian Yu storyline. If there's been a macro-level drag this season, it's been the stuff on Lian Yu, so the decision to root the serum in the past gives the flashbacks some urgency and relevancy beyond "Oh, this is what happened on the island! Isn't it nifty?" and I'm all for that. While Sara's presence helped to give Lian Yu a little jolt, it ended up falling back into the "Bad guys are looking for us! We gotta survive!" situation that we saw last season. 

Now, however, the stuff on Lian Yu matters. How did Blood get the serum? How many people ended up getting injected with it? How did Oliver and company stop them? What did it do to Slade, since his injection lacked the sedative component? The flashbacks have always been the show's main "mystery" element, but that mystery was largely self-contained to "What happened to Oliver?". Hopefully we'll get to see how the flashbacks tie into the present day storyline, which is especially important now that Arrow has somewhat abandoned the complementary thematic approach between the two plots.

Anyway, all of that—both the narrative gears of the show and my discussion of them—was just a lead-up to Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) arriving on the scene. I'm not very familiar with Flash. I've been reading the New 52 line off and on, I know the Wally West version from the Justice League animated shows, and I've got a sense of the Barry Allen version from the early 1990s CBS TV incarnation. Arrow's Barry Allen feels more like a Kid Flash than Flash, given his age and job position as an assistant crime scene tech, as opposed to a full-fledged forensic expert. From a broad comics perspective, I appreciated some of the small nods, like Barry saying he's not good on his feet, and the longer riff on Barry sorting chemicals during a thunderstorm—a reference to how Barry Allen got his powers in the comics when he was struck by lightning while standing next to a shelf full of chemicals.

From a TV perspective, however, I can see why The CW opted to scrap the backdoor pilot and go with standalone pilot. Gustin was very good in his debut, hitting comedy and drama notes well. He's good-looking, likeable, and young, three things The CW loves, and he seems like a he can handle headlining his own show, should The CW pick it up for next fall. That Gustin is essentially auditioning for a pilot on someone else's show does make it seem like he's trying a little too hard sometimes, but it kind of works since Barry is also trying a little too hard in the narrative.

Beyond the issue of superpowers, another concern I had about spinning Flash out of Arrow was the tonal difference between Flash being generally more lighthearted than other characters, and especially more lighthearted than Oliver and the series around him. It looks like Barry won't break the show in that regard. It helped that he was paired with Felicity, an equally lighthearted character, and that Barry, too, has a tragic backstory. It was clunky in its placement as a big exposition speech that we'll absolutely hear again when the pilot rolls around, but it at least gives the character a degree of pathos, so that he fits Arrow's more somber tone.

While I liked "The Scientist" overall, I also had some annoyance with it. For instance, I have no idea what Felicity expects Barry to do to save Oliver, so why she would reveal Oliver's identity—or why Diggle would even allow that to happen, good grief—is beyond my comprehension. (In my notes, I had: "Dammit, Smoak, he's an assistant crime scene tech, not a doctor!") I get that she's distraught, but I really don't understand why they'd tranq Barry and haul him to the Arrow Cave. Why not call Lyla instead? She does work at A.R.G.U.S. and it was an A.R.G.U.S. disaster bunker, after all, plus the head of A.R.G.U.S. knows who Oliver is.

Next there was Moira. First: It very much appears that Malcolm and Moira think Thea is their offspring, so apologies to everyone who heard "Thea isn't my daughter" or were holding out hope that it was all just a dream, like the ninth season of Dallas. Second: It appears that the League of Assassins has a 1-800 number, because Moira didn't have any issues contacting them and letting them know that Malcolm was still alive. I understand the need for narrative expediency when it comes to expensive guest stars like John Barrowman, but instead of throwing a party that resulted in some awkward banter and awkward staging at the bar, the show might've instead spent that time with Moira working on contacting the League instead of almost all of it happening off-screen.

Finally, there was Roy, Thea, and Sin. I don't mind this little gang going out and poking around the bigger plot, as I'm actually happy to see Roy and Thea being used in ways that don't involve them getting tied to a chair and threatened with guns. However, Sin is all okay from her hospital stay and didn't even ask where Sara had got off to, which seemed bizarre to me. I did like that Mark has drawings of Blood's mask all over his apartment, though.

It's little things like these that Arrow should be actively working not to do. It's doubly frustrating that it has, actually, managed to avoid these issues for a nice chunk of the season, until the past few episodes had characters acting just to move the narrative along regardless of whether it made sense, and relied too heavily on contorted plotting like Moira's trial. It's not as if these issues always drag down an episode, and they aren't huge ones (okay, the kidnapping Barry thing is kind of huge), but they're symptoms of a condition that I thought the show had more or less treated, and I don't want to see it fall back into bad habits.


– I missed the mention of this mention in the previous episode—what with the whole "Thea is my daughter" business—but the super-powered bruiser is named Cyrus, and the press release for next week's episode has him named as Cyrus Gold. I wonder if he was born on a Monday...

– Barry, I imagine that Director Singh—who's the head of the Central City crime lab in the comics as well—will fire you for tracking in dirt around the crime scene area. Don't you have special shoes or something that you should've worn?

– Oliver shooting an arrow into Roy's leg was oddly violent. Yes, Oliver was in a rush and concerned about the serum from the island potentially being mass-produced, but to put an arrow through Roy's leg seemed like a massive overreaction. A knockout-gas arrow would've done the trick, and without the trip to the emergency room. Maybe the move was a sign of frustration with the "no kill" mentality? Or maybe Oliver's immediate instinct is violence?

– "Maybe he thinks he penetrates just fine."

– "I could do with a better-looking crutch."

– "FYI: They will card him at the bar." How young is Barry?!

– No Laurel this week.

– The particle accelerator will activate in a week for the characters, making me wonder if we'll see it in next week's episode.

What did you think of of "The Scientist"?

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Season 2 : Episode 20

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