Arrow: Public Enemy review

The cops are after Team Arrow and Ra's al Ghul is getting ready to make his move. So why wasn't "Public Enemy" a more exciting piece of TV?

This Arrow review contains spoilers.

“It’s funny how things come full circle, right?”

Funny? Not necessarily. Tragic, perhaps, but I’m not sure “funny” is the word we should be looking for.

Arrow is slipping. “Public Enemy” is miles better than last week’s exercise in wheel-spinning, “Suicidal Tendencies,” but that’s faint praise. It checks off the boxes for just about every major shortcoming I’ve found in season three so far: it all feels familiar (and too much like season one), the flashback sequences are completely inconsequential, characters behave in such manic fashion that they seem to turn on a dime, and entire sequences in the episode feel disconnected from the grand plan.

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I’ll work backwards with those.

What is the grand plan for season three, anyway? Shouldn’t we know it by now? We’ve got one of the most notorious supervillains in DC Comics history prowling around Starling City, and both of his objectives (make Oliver his successor, discredit him if necessary to get it done) seem not only beneath him, but things that they could have plugged in any number of other heads of evil organizations to do. I’ve had the uncomfortable sense that they’ve just been making this up as they went along, counting on the fact that the Ra’s al Ghul name will keep everyone coming back for more. It’s not Matt Nable’s fault, though. He seems to get better in the role with each episode.

Why was Mama Smoak here this week? No, seriously. Why was she here? We’re supposed to be steamrolling towards some kind of epic season finale, and the entire “Ray in the hospital” thing felt like it belonged on a completely different show. Was all of this in service of getting Felicity to realize that she isn’t actually in love with Ray and that she still loves Oliver? We needed fifteen minutes of precious story time for this?

Just as Ray seemed faintly deranged last week in his sudden anti-Arrow crusade, so does Captain Lance’s suddenly single-minded pursuit of Oliver seem poorly thought out. Incidentally, Oliver had no trouble eluding an army of cops, only to knock on the front door of his best friend’s apartment. The Starling City Police Force was in fine form tonight.

And really, in general with superheroes, but in particular on Arrow, I think it’s time to put the “cops hunting the good guys while the real bad guys wait to reveal their plan” thing to bed. We’ve been here before. Oliver has beaten the vigilante charge before (again, because the justice system in Starling City is second only to Gotham in sheer incompetence), Captain Lance has hated him before, the cops have chased our heroes around before. Enough.

My love for Arrow has been all about the remarkable chances this show has been willing to take with its stories over the last two seasons, but so much of season three has just felt like pining for the plot devices of its first (and far inferior) year on the air. The constant need to bring back old characters either in flashback or via faintly ridiculous plot devices (see below) doesn’t help. 

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There might be two things at work. Perhaps too much good creative energy is being spent over on The Flash, which is surpassing expectations week after week lately. That’s tough to prove. But there’s another issue, and one that I do think will be addressed here before the season is out…

The Arrow supporting cast is now far too big.

I like these characters. I love this cast. But perhaps making Ray Palmer such a lynchpin for this year was a mistake. It’s no fault of Brandon Routh (he’s been great) and there’s no shortage of chemistry with the rest of the cast. But Arrow is now a show featuring no fewer than four superheroes every single week, a host of villains, the obligatory (and increasingly contrived) flashback sequences, as well as the relationships that other characters have built up organically. That’s a lot for any show. In the case of Arrow, it might be too much. Ray will be off on his own show soon enough, and I suspect Captain Lance is finally toast before this year is out. Maybe this will help, but things feel imbalanced at the moment.

Still, I’m at least buying Oliver’s desparation. It fits, especially given the head games Ra’s has been playing with him. Lance’s declaration that Oliver isn’t a hero, but rather a villain, cut pretty deep, and we can see it. And it’s not even just because of his actions (or not his actions) in green. The show has done a tremendous job of showing us how Oliver’s little choices have made his personal relationships decay. Team Arrow certainly hasn’t felt like the strongest of bonds this season, and when it’s thrown in his face with such venom, you can see why this might sting.

That being said, I just don’t know if I buy what’s going on with Roy. I know this all goes back to his mirakuru issues, but it’s been a long time now. Although he did reveal more of himself than he’s been allowed to all season. There’s a real character in there, but again, with a cast this big, some are going to get the short end of the stick (see also: when Roy vanished during the Arrow/Atom fight last week). It’s not even that I want to know how they’re going to get out of this one, but it does feel like an awful lot of reset buttons that will need to be hit. And this is a season that hasn’t been shy about those.

Plenty of costumed action this week, though. That rooftop escape was stunning, and it’s been quite some time since we’ve had an action sequence of that size and scope. But I can’t help but feel that Arrow has done its best work this year without the costumes, and that the comparatively low key episodes we had a few weeks back, despite their lack of action and fan service, were a better example of what this show is really capable of. After a brief run of truly excellent installments, we’ve now had two episodes that really could have gotten all their important work done in the first half hour of one really exceptional one.

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Meanwhile…On an Island…

I really don’t know any other way to say this, because I’m becoming a broken record. These flashbacks have become an absolute drag on this show, and all momentum grinds to a halt during them. I’m as tired of saying it as you are of reading it, believe me.

The “Shado has a twin” thing was a thorough cop-out, and every viewer has a right to be annoyed. This show really should be better than crap like that.

DC Universe Watchtower

– Well, Ray finally got to shrink something this week! Maybe this is a sign that there’s more shrinking tech and nanobots in his future. Or perhaps now that he’s got these nanobots in his system, there will be some unexpected super-powered side-effects.

– Well, we sure got to see Katana wield a katana this week. 

– Captain Lance’s speech about how “it all started with him” does make me wonder about the place of a few other upcoming shows in this world. It’s been hinted that the Supergirl TV series could possibly take place in the same world as Arrow and The Flash. That show has a Superman who is public knowledge somewhere in its history. If that’s the case, then I’m not sure how it can fit in with what we heard here. It’s a minor thing, but I kinda feel like these shows don’t make mistakes like that.

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2.5 out of 5