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'Arrow' Review: 'Broken Dolls'

Christopher Monigle Christopher Monigle
October 24th, 2013 8:31am EDT

Arrow

Of all the actors working on Arrow, Katie Cassidy is the most polarizing. I’ve seen fans argue about whether she’s a capable actress, how she’s underwhelmed in the other shows she’s been in, how frustrating it is that The CW didn’t give up on her. Laurel’s one of those beautiful, tough types writers love to talk about writing for television. She’s a lawyer who stares bad guys in the face and didn’t once fear for her life in front of the scary Hood. In season 1, Katie Cassidy played Laurel effectively. She wasn’t the best or worst part of any Arrow scene. Her chemistry with Stephen Amell is non-existent when compared to Celina Jade’s scenes with him, but she didn’t negatively affect what Laurel meant to Oliver, their history, and what they mean to each other.

“Broken Dolls” focuses on Laurel and moves her past her feelings about The Hood and looks inward at what motivated her. Through the first two episodes of the seasons, Laurel’s been angry and shut down. The last act of tonight’s episode reveals what’s been going on inside of Laurel, what’s been eating away at her, and what made her turn on The Hood: she blames herself for Tommy’s death. Blaming onself for a character’s death is as old as the invention of the television. Laurel didn’t realize what she felt, so it makes sense Katie Cassidy acted without depth and nuance until her breakdown in “Broken Dolls.” I couldn’t figure out the character. Cassidy literally glows in each scene. I think the combination of the lighting, the lens, her make-up, and her highlighted air creates the glow. Cassidy’s look jumped off the screen way more than any acting she did. Perhaps, in a strange way, the dollmaker storyline was designed to reflect Laurel. She’s this beautiful girl who’s become as hard and impersonal as a doll.

The dollmaker storyline’s very weak. Barton Mathis, the serial dollmaker, who kidnaps girls and then turns the girls into actual dolls through a disturbing process, is the typical fictional serial killer. He wears his blond hair slicked back, glasses on his face, never changes his timbre when speaking, and works in a dank basement with lighting that’d make the Saw DPs nod in approval. Mathis wants to preserve a woman’s beauty. The former detective Lance, now on beat cop duty, put Mathis away the first time. Mathis remembers and engages him in his psychotic nonsense. Lance enlists Oliver to help him take down Mathis.

Oliver’s attentions are split between helping Lance and figuring out who the silver-haired woman in the leather is.  She is The Black Canary, and she saved Oliver from his situation in Laurel’s office. Why? Oliver doesn’t know. The Black Canary’s running from people she refers to as ‘them’ and will kill anyone who tries to let ‘them’ know where is, or, to bring her back to ‘them.’ Roy finds her and receives no answers, and he never appears in the episode after the Black Canary loses interest in him. Roy’s freed after she sees a message from Thea Queen, which may or may not be a sign. It probably is; in fact, I’m sure of it. I don’t know. The Black Canary’s thrall is her mystery. She’s different from The Huntress, but she kicks ass like her.

Lance already worked through his Arrow issues, so his second dance with Barton Mathis allows him to work through his role as father to his daughter. Sarah’s the daughter he couldn’t save and who inspired him to try to save the girls being killed by Mathis. He thought he’d try to save girls like Sarah, but he failed. It’s a really effective and moving use of Lance. Last season showed glimpses of what tragedy’s done to him, but his demotion has helped him. He trusts the vigilante now and he’s trying to help Laurel through what she’s experiencing without her falling into a rut like he did. Laurel won’t let her father in initially, because she doesn’t know what she’s feeling—she’s lost touch with herself. Nearly dying puts her back in touch with what’s going on, and she blames herself for Tommy’s death as Oliver watches from above, after defeating Barton. (The Black Canary killed Barton).

Quentin Lance’s arc from demoted detective to beat cop to eventual savior of the city is going to be satisfying and fulfilling. Lance’s arc is common in police dramas. The battered cop finds his way and redeems himself. The police chief is against him, arresting him for obstructing justice when Lance involves himself in the Mathis case. Lance’s Detective Gordon to Oliver’s Bruce Wayne has worked really well so far. For Lance, his pursuit of The Hood ruined his career—it was an extension of his destructive life. Inevitably, Oliver will help regain what Lance lost. Sarah can’t be saved, but the many Sarahs of the world can be, if they continue working together.

The island scenes are brief but explosive. Slade and Oliver head for high ground while Shado studies a skeleton. Slade repeats his advice about not forming attachments. Oliver continues to dismiss the advice. The boat off shore starts firing on the island. Oliver and Slade get hurt. Shado’s fate is unclear. Slade’s face seems burned by the flames. Oliver wakes in a cage on the boat, without Slade or Shado in sight. The island scenes only connect to Lance’s lines about what losing Sarah did to him, which he delivers after telling Oliver he must’ve lost people he cared about to do what he does.

Arrow’s in a terrific place right now. The characters, the writing, the plotting, the fight choreography, and the flashbacks, are excellent. The Barton Maths story is pretty bad but the way it’s told to deepen the Lances is what makes Arrow.

Other Thoughts:

-I got really into the scene when Felicity baits Mathis and her boys rush in to save her. I was lying on the couch, but that sequence jolted me up. So, yeah, I feel invested in the action.
-The District Attorney will pursue the death penalty against Moira. Moira’s willing to accept death because she doesn’t want the truth to come out about her involvement in Robert’s death. Thea and Oliver love her and will fight for her. A fight will bring out those dark secrets and tear the family apart.

-Marc Guggenheim co-wrote the episode with Keto Shimizu. Glen Winter directed it.

Photo Credits: © The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved