[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 17. There will be SPOILERS.]
Messy episodes of Arrow are nothing new. They’re bound to happen on a show with 22 or more episodes per season. And considering season 3 has been somewhat inconsistent in terms of maintaining a steady rhythm, it’s not too surprising the late-in-the-season digression that is ‘Suicidal Tendencies’ would find it difficult to tell four stories at the same time – not that it doesn’t deserve credit for trying.
The main problem with the episode is that it puts the breaks on Ra’s al Ghul’s arrival in Starling City, as Matt Nable doesn’t even make a cameo appearance. Instead, a series of imposters of an imposter pose a tepid threat to Oliver, as he and Maseo go back and forth over Ra’s offer – and the dangers of saying no to the Demon’s Head. There was a propulsive menace at the end of last week’s ‘The Offer‘, which saw Ra’s making the somewhat bland decision to coerce Oliver into taking his place (by turning Starling City against him). But instead of following through with the reveal of Ra’s plan (and establishing what kind of damage the League of Assassins may have already done), the episode begins with Diggle and Lyla’s second wedding.
That is an odd choice; it stalls out one storyline, while beginning another that the hour doesn’t even intend to give a fair shake. Throw in an unconvincing Deadshot flashback and a lukewarm Arrow vs. Atom showdown – and as a result, things tend to get muddled pretty quickly.
What it boils down to is: ‘Suicidal Tendencies’ has too much going on, and not enough of it is going in any particular direction. As a result, the whole episode feels scattered and disjointed. Each segment would have been better served without the burden of the other storylines. It’s as though the episode was comprised of all the story pitches from the writer’s room that the season simply didn’t have time to tell on their own. Instead, they all wound up being crammed into the same hour.
Diggle and Lyla’s nuptials were actually quite fun, as it’s so rare that all of the characters are able to be in a social setting where being a superhero isn’t the main topic of conversation. There’s a great moment when Felicity shows up with Ray as her plus one, and Diggle does the brotherly thing of threatening Ray’s life should he wind up breaking Felicity’s heart. Moments that convey one character’s affection for another in such direct fashion help make the connection between members of Team Arrow feel more lived-in and real. It’s a natural extension of putting them in a social setting – where the as-yet unattained domesticity of Diggle and Lyla’s private life is put in the spotlight.
The only thing is, it’s also meant to underline Oliver’s inability to maintain a life as both Oliver Queen and the Arrow. At a purely surface level it works; it translates Oliver’s problem to another character and succeeds in demonstrating their differences – to the audience. But whisking Diggle and Lyla away to another country to save a crazy senator (with dreams of using a fabricated hostage situation as his ticket to the White House) does little to educate Oliver on the many ways he can eek out some sort of work-life balance. What’s more, by making the Suicide Squad storyline such a small portion of the episode, it ostensibly robs Diggle of a deserved opportunity to headline his own storyline.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record: while it’s fun to see characters like Deadshot and Cupid return under the umbrella of A.R.G.U.S., there just isn’t enough story time for either of them to be anything more than a prop. And if Cupid is going to be a one-note “crazy girlfriend” joke, then maybe it’s best she stay home next time. It makes sense that a character obsessed with love would accompany the newlyweds on their bullet-riddled honeymoon, as she is intended to balance out Deadshot’s “love is like a bullet in the brain” theory. But Diggle and Lyla’s romance was never in question, the benefit of seeing a couple make their professions and their romance work is moot – as the one guy who needs to see it is 10,000 miles away in Starling City.
We see the same problem with the Deadshot flashbacks. Seeing Floyd Lawton’s home life dissolve because of PTSD is a significant storyline. Considering the gravity of the situation being addressed, it seems as though the episode does the matter little justice – by shoving it into a somewhat ham-fisted flashback intended to serve Lawton’s ultimate sacrifice at the end. But that cursory glance at the kind of struggle many soldiers are saddled with (when they return home from combat) doesn’t serve the issue or the Suicide Squad storyline as well as either deserved.
But Deadshot’s sudden reversal on the idea of love on the battlefield is nothing compared to the short-lived Arrow/Atom rivalry. While it’s great to finally see Ray Palmer putting his super suit to use (and we get that great line from Roy about how cool it is that some guy made a super suit), having the Oliver-Ray rivalry boil down to a love triangle is reductive at best – and at worst it puts Felicity in the undesirable position of being an object to be obtained.
All of the characters are much stronger than how they were portrayed in this unenthusiastic outing. What’s worse, the potentially epic throw down between Oliver and Ray ended with the Atom suit being disabled by a dart to the hip, which just added another layer to the underwhelming nature of it all.
Still, as far as messy episodes go, at least ‘Suicidal Tendencies’ set the table for next week, as Maseo assassinates Mayor Castle (Christina Cox), and the hour ends with Felicity in his sights. With any luck, this will be the last digression Arrow takes before season 3 comes to a conclusion.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with ‘Public Enemy’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: