Arrow: “Human Target” Review
By Mitchell Sigal
There’s a brief exchange during “Human Target” between Diggle and Wild Dog, just before The Arrow Team sets out to confront tough guy Tobias Church at an airstrip. Wild Dog isn’t planning on going, he reveals, because he’s afraid he’ll just screw up the proceedings. Diggle’s reponse:
“When it comes to guilt and recrimination, the line forms behind me. But I’m wearing this suit because I think it might be a path to redemption. It could be for you, too.”
Few things – First, Wild Dog – despite reckless past behavior – did not really screw up here. He was viciously tortured for the first portion of the episode, and regrettably divulged The Green Arrow’s true identity to Church. Its understandable, and everybody understands. Second, Diggle’s own self-imposed guilt is largely unfounded and more a narrative device than anything. Third, people don’t talk like that. And lastly, this is another instance of a character taking a firm stance only to reverse their stance after less than twenty seconds of convincing. These are all examples of what Arrow consistently bungles, if you measure the the show as more than just comic book cannon fodder.
There are a number of examples of Arrow’s shortcomings within this episode – from the stiff, melodramatic dialog mentioned above to the soapy “will they or won’t they and do we even care anymore” dynamic between Oliver and Felicity. Throughout this season, I’ve mostly given the show a pass because it does certain things very well, and it understandably is beholden to many problematic tropes. It needs to be a capable action show that also services a large number of characters in the past and present while maintaining some of the soap opera ethos that defines it’s network. To it’s credit, there is something for everyone on Arrow. But tonight, it became glaringly clear where the show stands to improve.
The episode begins with the rescue of Wild Dog, who after being tortured by Church, is being forced to dig his own grave. As is the show’s way, this is a cliffhanger from last week that is neatly resolved within the first twenty or so minutes. Arrow moves swiftly – something that becomes even more crystal clear after the explosive end to “Human Target.” After the rescue, Wild Dog remembers some information that propels the episode’s A-Plot; eventually, the team intercepts Church at the airstrip because of the revelation.
In the flashbacks, Oliver is brought before the heads of Bratva – and not all of them completely trust him. He is later attacked by goons, but protected by The Human Target himself, working for Anatoly at the time.
Back to the present – during a press conference on the steps of city hall, Oliver is shot to death. Well, not Oliver. It was actually an old acquaintance of Diggle’s – The Human Target, again – posing to fake Oliver’s death, presumably so Oliver could operate freely until Church has been taken out of the game.
I don’t have much to say about the flashbacks, and the fact that Oliver’s life seems to operate in neat little five year loops. Its ridiculously convenient and strains credulity in every way. The flashbacks themselves occasionally have merit, in a vacuum – they can be compelling, exciting, and fulfilling as secondary stories. But as pieces that are supposed to inform the show’s present, they are an impossibly lazy narrative device – and as such, sometimes feel like a detraction from whatever is happening in Star City at the moment.
In the Mayor’s office, Oliver is operating his way from under the critical view of local reporter Susan Williams, who has agreed to a temporary cease fire. After dragging Mayor Queen through the mud for most of the season, Susan gives Oliver her number, for one reason or another. In other news, Felicity’s new boyfriend has been promoted – to the ACU, where he will report directly to Oliver. Neither of these story lines feel particularly vital, which we will get to.
Now, we are basically back to that conversation between Diggle and Wild Dog, as the team readies itself for conflict. They meet Church on the tarmac, and pretty quickly overtake him with the help of The Human Target. Right before Oliver delivers his winning blow to Church, Church warns Oliver that Prometheus is out there. Church is apprehended, and Oliver has a press conference to tell the city he was never really dead. Living in Star City must really be something.
Back at headquarters, The Human Target and Oliver have a heart to heart, about how difficult bettering ones self can be under the darkness of a mask. Oh, and The Human Target tells Oliver that Felicity is dating Billy.
Quick interjection here – I enjoy Arrow, for the most part, but every week characters behave in ways that are mind boggling. Not in an intriguing or compelling way – in the way that makes you ask “Why would this happen? This makes no sense. No one would do this.” As in, after four weeks of never showing contrition after insolence and stubbornness, why would Wild Dog be racked with guilt after basically not screwing up? Or – why would this person that doesn’t really know Oliver feel comfortable talking about his love life? The show moves along at a brisk and exciting pace – the characters are mostly interesting, and some are very compelling. The show has a built in narrative engine – its about a superhero knocking off bad guys. Moments like these just don’t need to happen; the story has to find another way to be told.
After the Bill Bombshell, two truly cringe worthy moments occur between Oliver and Felicity. The first takes place on Felicity’s balcony, where Oliver breaks out his sad-dog eyes and tells Felicity that he isn’t disappointed that she’s dating, but he’s hurt that she didn’t tell him. The second is back at the Mayor’s office, when the two reconcile and Oliver tells Felicity that he cares for her and wants her to be happy, which means that she should take the time to see if her new relationship is “real.”
I’m not sure where the Arrow audience lands on the Olicity stuff. I’m sure that some fans make a hobby out of shipping the two, and others could care less. The latter camp is probably more in the right – these are two characters who are clearly fit for one another, clearly have mutual attraction, and yet aren’t together simply because the show needs a dramatic hook in place. Tinkling piano keys on a balcony and sad pauses an all of that. The problem is, “will-they-or-won’t-they” isn’t interesting on it’s own; especially when the answer is “they-should-and-they-did-we-can’t-really-explain-why-they-aren’t-but-they-aren’t-they-probably-will-though.” It’s exhausting, and its grounded more in cheap melodrama than it is in any sense of reality.
The episode ends when Church’s caravan to jail is ambushed by Prometheus. This is a smart piece of story telling – the camera stays inside Church’s holding van, but what you hear is the horrified screaming taking place on the outside. When we are finally shown what happened, the result is grotesque – a street covered in bodies that were light work for Prometheus. After a confrontation with Church earlier in the episode (Church didn’t leave the Green Arrow alone, like Prometheus ordered), the two have a final showdown. Church begs for his life, offering the identity of The Green Arrow as trade. Before an agreement is made, Church blurts that Oliver is the vigilante (another “WHY” moment). Prometheus thanks him before killing him.
Its unfortunate that we’ve seen the last of church, who was played capably and was an interesting character in his own right. But the show is clearly moving into it’s second gear this season, building more dire stakes and a more unstoppable foe for Oliver to take on. So long, Tobias Church – we hardly knew ye.
Its worth saying that I’ve enjoyed this season, for the most part, and tonight was another fine episode. It’s not my intention to use this space as a sounding board against Arrow because it doesn’t rate against HBO’s Sunday Night programming, or FX’s program slate. The show is what it is. But it occurred to me tonight (somewhere between the Diggle/Wild Dog conversation and the Olicity Summits) that what Arrow does poorly sometimes gets in the way of what it does well.
The show quickly sets up dramatic stakes on a week to week basis, and knocks them down the following week, without feeling too mechanic or repetitive. It’s main characters are, for the most part, well drawn and it’s supporting players each bring value in their own niche. This should be a purely enjoyable hour of television each week – every TV Show doesn’t need to be Mad Men, and it’s unfair to even suggest that. But when Arrow’scharacters begin robotic monologues that serve only to advance plot without any logical basis, or reverse course for little reason, or express inconsistent emotions – the fabric of the show frays at the seams.
Wild Dog ended up changing his mind and helping out tonight – but he didn’t need to, and I’d argue that he shouldn’t have. Every conflict doesn’t need immediate resolution. Right now, I could be wondering whether Wild Dog’s guilt will permanently derail his vigilantism – or how the Arrow Team can massage his conscience. But, since that moment – like so many others – was quelled with one bit of dialog, I’m left only wondering when Felicity and Oliver will finally just get it over with, and if fifteen episodes from now Prometheus will be more interesting than he is now. It’s not a great place to be.