Friday, 1 April 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E17 - 'Beacon of Hope'

Over the past couple of season, Arrow and The Flash have settled into a comfortable relationship. Arrow aims for darker and more serious stories (though, still toned down, somewhat, for network television, of course), while The Flash is, quite often, bright and fun. Even with the initial promise that this season of Arrow would find room for more lightness and humour, that lightness and humour has still played out in a restrained sort of way – and, as the season has progressed, the overall tone seems to have gradually shifted back toward 'grim and serious', anyway. With this episode, though, we have a story that fully embraces the 'comic-book' style absurdity that The Flash has, quite often, managed so well.

Brie Larvan (Emily Kinney), and her army of robotic bees, had managed to come across as a particularly outlandish villain even by the standards of The Flash during her last appearance on that series – so, having her suddenly transition over to Arrow for an episode was bound to result in a significant change in tone. Arriving in Star City (with her army of robot bees), Brie doesn't waste any time in laying siege to the Palmer Tech building and taking the Palmer Tech Board of Directors hostage – all in an effort to force Felicity to hand over one of the neural implants designed by Curtis Holt. The only issue, of course, is that there is only one prototype of Curtis's chip – the one that is currently implanted in the base of Felicity's spine.

So, now, Felicity, along with her mother, Donna (Charlotte Ross), and Thea, are trapped inside the Palmer Tech building, forced to avoid Brie's robot bees as they try to find some way to rescue the Board of Directors and escape. Outside the building, meanwhile, the rest of 'Team Arrow' receive unexpected help from Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum) – who, after quite easily finding his way to Oliver's supposedly secret lair, seems quite eager to settle in as the team's new 'tech support'.

Right from the start, it seems as though just about everything about this episode was designed to be as light and as fun as possible. Everything from the banter exchanged between this occasionally overly serious cast of characters (complete with a variety of hilariously awful 'bee'-related puns), to the campy 'b-grade horror movie' scenes of various characters running through corridors while being chased by robotic bees, was clearly intended to evoke this light-hearted tone. By the end, the fact that the final confrontation with Brie's robotic horde involved her bees coming together to form a robot man (made of robot bees) felt like the perfect conclusion to this episode's wilful absurdity.

I'm fairly certain that the appeal of seeing this particular cast of characters suddenly caught up in such an outlandish adventure had a significant role to play in the success of this episode, for me. There was, after all, a great deal of joy to be found simply in the character's reactions – with Quentin Lance's sheer bemusement at what his life as become standing out as especially amusing. Also, the screen-time devoted to Curtis Holt, and the enthusiastic glee with which he temporarily takes over Felicity's usual role on the team, was another clear high-light – with Echo Kellum continuing his trend of being a very likable presence on the show. I can only hope that this is the beginning of a larger role for him throughout the rest of the season. Meanwhile, while Brie Larvan, herself, never struck me as a terribly compelling figure, she was played with enough campy enthusiasm, at least, to make her time on-screen memorable.

In this episode's 'flash-back' story-line, meanwhile, Baron Reiter (Jimmy Akingbola) momentarily inherits supernatural powers from the idol uncovered in the previous episode, and provides an unexpected challenge for Oliver and Taiana (Elysia Rotaru). There have been times, over the past four seasons, where the insistence on working in a 'flash-back' story-line alongside the 'present day' story just seems to have weakened the episode, overall – and, unfortunately, that's probably never been more true with than with this episode.

I say 'unfortunately' because the 'flash-back' material in this episode was actually genuinely compelling. Baron Reiter is an even more compelling figure than usual, now that we have seen him so close to achieving his goals – and, there is a genuine feeling of tension and uncertainty regarding how Oliver and Taiana are going to survive (or, at least in Taiana's case, if she is going to survive). The issue is that, tonally, this sequence just doesn't fit, at all, with the light-hearted and goofy 'present day' story-line. Also, the fact that the entire sequence is really just a single scene, broken up and spread out over the entire episode, really doesn't help.

Those brief glimpses we get of Damian Darhk's experience in prison are, by contrast, a much more successful sub-plot. Not only is it fascinating to see him stripped of his powers and, seemingly, abandoned by HIVE (since, it seems, they didn't actually appreciate the way that he kept killing the people who displeased him) – but, Darhk's sub-plot, here, also manages to have the same sense of 'fun' as the episode's primary plot-line. Finding himself confronted by another returning villain, Murmur (Adrian Glynn McMorran), and his thugs, and lacking the array of supernatural abilities he seems to have become so reliant on, Darhk is forced to rely on his talent for manipulation to get the upper hand.

I don't know whose idea it would have been to take an episode of Arrow in such a bizarre direction – but, they should definitely be very glad that it worked out as well as it did. While The Flash has had plenty of opportunities to become more serious in its time on-screen, I can't think of any point in the past were an episode of Arrow was as much fun as this one turned out to be. While I don't necessarily want Arrow to be like this all the time, this episode still provided a very entertaining change of pace for the series.

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