Friday, June 22, 2018

Arrow, Season 2

The binge continues with the DVD set of Season 2 of the CW's Arrowverse anchor. Worth noting in this review, although it isn't specifically relevant to Arrow: I am starting to amass some evidence, from personal experience, that binge-watching a TV series does different things to you than my usual drug of choice, which is spending hours and hours of my free time reading books. How shall I contrast them? When I read, I tend to take a break now and then to do something else, like playing a piece or two on the piano, washing dishes or taking out the trash. Also, at a relatively reasonable hour for bedtime, my eyes start to get heavy or my ability to concentrate on what I'm reading slips, so that I'm either snoozing with the book or re-reading the same paragraph over and over. Sometimes this starts happening earlier than I would like, and I fight against it by having a snack or something to drink, a short-term pick-me-up. Eventually, the small but real amount of effort required to read a book becomes unsustainable, and I just have to go to bed. It's a good mechanism for keeping my life in balance.

Binge-viewing, on the other hand, requires only enough effort to keep my eyeballs aimed in the direction of the TV screen, which does most of the work beaming its images into my brain. Even with the "English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing" turned on, which they always are when I'm watching a DVD, the final crisis of not being able to focus my eyes on the words or make sense of what I'm seeing tends to happen hours later than it would with a book. So I get to the end of the night's binge-watching and find that it's past midnight, maybe even 1 or 2 in the morning. I also don't tend to sleep as well after I've been watching TV for hours. And though I loathe commercial breaks so much that I don't care if I ever see a TV show again, other than via a video box set, I kind of miss those natural breaks to get up and do something else - other than to pause the program when I feel hungry or thirsty or need a trip to the bathroom. I realized yesterday, for example, that it had been several days since I touched my piano - a dry spell almost unheard of in the 18 years I have owned it. A creeping horror came over me that wouldn't go away until I had played two of Bach's three-part Sinfonias. I'm equally ashamed to acknowledge that when I'm on a video binge, I tend to let dirty dishes collect in the sink and trash receptacles come close to overflowing. Putting the clues together - losing sleep, falling out of touch with my music, letting my housework routine deteriorate into an indoor eco-disaster, etc. - I'm forced to conclude that, at least in my case, the TV series binge-watching behavior seems to trigger signs of something like depression, or perhaps an addiction. It definitely isn't healthy. It wouldn't have to get much worse to interfere with my ability to carry out daily living activities, which (along with being a danger to oneself or others) is one of the definitive criteria for mental illness.

At least it's nice to recognize that reading doesn't do this to me. It is, compared to this TV binge thing, apparently a much healthier way to blow a quiet evening at home. Every evening. World without end. I guess I should go back to that soon. You know, like, right after I watch Arrow, Season 3.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The topic of today's review is Season 2 of Arrow, which picks up sometime after the climactic carnage at the end of Season 1. Another thing I've observed, as I do the binge-of-several-seasons-at-once thing with regard to both this series and The Flash (whose first season I have now watched twice), is that Season 1s tend to work through the entire story arc in which the hero is most perfectly himself, and whatever happens is most essentially his story. So, Season 1 of The Flash is the epitome of all things Barry Allen/Flash, when he is most adorably who he is, when he is discovering what he can do, and when he is dealing with the conflict that his life is all about. Seasons 2 and 3 are more or less effective, but they're a bit of a come-down after that; on a certain level, they succeed best when they're recapturing (or, more cynically put, copying) Season 1. Likewise, I think Season 1 of Arrow is the epitome of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow, although the name "Green Arrow" only appears in the DHH subtitles except for one audible mention in Season 1. Season 2 introduces a somewhat different Arrow, who has softened regarding his tendency to kill the bad guy on first provocation, due in part to the effects of the climax of Season 1 on him. It sustains a high level of entertainment, and carries this altered Arrow forward through a compelling new serialized story-line, but some of what really made the series work has gone out of it.

Also, some of the new things that start to work for this season, on its own terms, don't entirely pay off in my opinion. Maybe it was trying to squeeze too much stuff into it (though some of the plot threads seemed to move forward with agonizing slowness). But somewhere between Oliver being menaced by a fellow survivor of that "purgatory" island off the coast of China, and being romanced by another who complicates his already tangled relationships with Laurel Lance and her father, and seeing his mother tried for 503 counts of murder, and then seeing his mother running for mayor, and finding out who his sister's real father is, and all the stuff about A.R.G.U.S. and the Suicide Squad and the League of Assassins and the Mirakuru serum and his unlikely friendship with a shady alderman and Queen Consolidated being targeted for a hostile takeover and Detective Lance losing his detective badge and Laurel Lance struggling with addiction and Dig suddenly having an ex-wife for whom he still has feelings (which almost covers the sudden disappearance of his ex-sister-in-law off the show), it would be preposterous to expect nothing to get short shrift. One of the things that does, however, was unfortunately something I was really looking forward to - the development of Thea Queen's boyfriend Roy as a junior hero, hero-worshiping and eventually apprenticing himself to the Arrow. The connection between Roy and Oliver never clicked, nor did the chemistry between Roy and Thea really work. Before the "Roy as a Junior Arrow" subplot could really be firmly established, it blew apart along with practically all of Starling City in the climactic season-ending arc.

Fear not, there is a Season 3. And at least another three seasons after that. As for Season 2, however, the Three Scenes That Made It For Me were:

(1) What were apparently Grant Gustin's first scenes as Barry Allen, in a Flash crossover that actually seems to have anticipated that series' debut by several months. There are later some pre-Flash crossover appearances by Caitlin and Cisco, and if you pay attention to the TVs playing in the background of numerous scenes, you hear some bulletins relating to S.T.A.R. Labs. A couple of the episodes even feature capers set in a S.T.A.R. Labs facility in Starling City. Felicity Smoak develops a bit of a romantic attachment to Barry on their first meeting, and is depicted caring about him during his months-long coma following the technobabble thingummy that was actually first depicted on this series, before being re-played in the Flash pilot episode. Almost making this list is a quip that Felicity makes, after finding out that Barry has a "something" named Iris who is also visiting his bedside: "He's in a coma and he's already moving on."

(2) Thea's priceless reaction when she realizes that, when she tried to kiss Tommy Merlyn during Season 1, she was actually making a move on her half-brother. (Oops. Spoiler!) Receiving an honorable mention is how evidently pleased her biological father is when Thea shoots him.

(3) When a man volunteers to get inside a 60-year-old Japanese torpedo and manually steer it, a task that means certain death, demonstrating a courage that will later inspire young Oliver Queen to grow a backbone and become a true hero.

Casting of guest and recurring roles this season was a bonanza for fans of sci-fi shows. Of course, you see John Barrowman (Dr. Who, Torchwood) again as the nefarious Malcolm Merlyn; fellow Dr. Who alum Alex Kingston plays Laurel Lance's mom. Two cast members from Firefly show up as villains - Summer Glau as the ruthless businesswoman who eventually becomes CEO of Queen Consolidated, and Sean Maher as a mad bomber who comes to a poetically appropriate end. Detective Lance's partner, who gets killed this season, is played by Roger Cross of the Canadian sci-fi series Continuum. One of the bad guys in the island flashback scenes is played by Jimmy Jean-Louis of Heroes. Nicolas Lea of The X-Files plays Moira Queen's campaign manager. Teryl Rothery, playing Moira's defense attorney, had a long-running role as a doctor on Stargate SG-1. Ben Browder, who led the cast of Farscape and the last couple of seasons of Stargate, plays a villainous security contractor. Audrey Marie Anderson, who plays Dig's love interest this season, also played a recurring character on The Walking Dead. Michael Jai White of Spawn has a recurring role as the Bronze Tiger, who eventually becomes part of the Suicide Squad. Dylan Bruce of Midnight, Texas plays a recurring assistant district attorney during the early part of this season. Dylan Neal of Blood Ties and Sabrina the Teenage Witch fires the shot that turns Oliver Queen and Slade Wilson from brothers in arms to deadly enemies. I could go on and on, but I believe my point is made. If you love sci-fi shows, this season of Arrow is a nifty showcase for familiar faces.

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