This week’s episode of Arrow was fun. I know, you thought Central City was the fun one, and it’s interesting to evoke that line of Felicity’s from the last season of The Flash when both that episode, and this one, featured the same villain, Brie Larvan, AKA: The Bug Eyed Bandit. Either as a direct response to last week’s overwrought melodrama, or an unintentional response to the dour and dark reception of Batman V. Superman, Arrow delivered a “Die Hard with bees” that put the emphasis on the gang cracking wise, while dealing with this week’s threat with a zaniness that would make the S.T.A.R. Labs gang on Tuesday night say “Take it down a notch.”
Did it work? Not totally, but Arrow tries so often to distinguish itself by being the subdued and brooding half of superhero living it’s rather jarring to see Emily Kinney stroll into the Palmer Tech board room and start rattling off bee puns like the techo nerd daughter of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mister Freeze. That combined with Bug-Eyed Bandit’s new and improved robot bees that can come together and former an Iron Bee Man was enough to strain credulity, and in the wrong hands, this would have been the point that Arrow jumped the shark. But this wasn’t about Brie, or her man made up of many bees, it was really an excuse to let Team Arrow have some fun.
Part of that fun was bringing Curtis fully into Team Arrow. He escapes Brie’s bee lockdown of Palmer Tech by being home sick, but he had the presence of mind enough to use his cellphone to track down the lair and breach the Arrow Cave. Echo Kellum was a ball of energy, and it really shook up the dynamic of the team. Curtis hasn’t been through the drama that everyone else has, so he gets to look at the superhero stuff from the point of view of everything is awesome without any of the baggage. That doesn’t last obviously, but bringing in a new player, with a new point of view, and a new energy, seemed to force the others to match his tempo, and it was great to watch.
That does make me wonder though if the intention of the writers is to still turn Curtis into Mr. Terrific. That’s his comic book root as the superhero, and they made a big deal of putting that Mr. Terrific ‘T’ on those orbs that *aren’t* supposed to explode, but the show hasn’t seemed to be as concerned with making Curtis a superhero as it has making him Felicity’s work sidekick. That’s fine actually, it’s debatable if Arrow needs another costumed hero, but its hard to argue that having Curtis on Team Arrow didn’t give this week’s adventure a certain spark. At the end, he doesn’t necessarily get the full orientation package to Team Arrow, but the door isn’t slammed behind him either.
Seeing Curtis ham it up with Oliver, Laurel, Diggle and Captain Lance was only part of the fun, granted a big part, but still a part. Having Felicity, Thea and Donna be the John McClane triad in Palmer Tech trying evade Gruber bees had its moments too, even if it sometimes relied on tried and true hostage movie tropes like seeing three adult women somehow manage to work their way though the unusually spacious air ducts. Shrewdly, the writers (Ben Sokolowski and Brian Ford Sullivan get the credit for this one) paint the ladies into a corner by leaving Speedy weaponless and in her civilian identity, and cutting off Felicity from her computers. But they still save the board with pluck and ingenuity as Team Arrow tried to handle the technical issues.
Speaking of issues, let’s just admit that the episode had them. First of all the Iron Bee Man. I get it, it probably saved the visual effects team a lot of time and money by having the swarm somehow transform into some kind of robot man, but when the villain is a computer whiz that created a swarm of robotic bees that she controls with her mind, aren’t we already pushing the limits of what’s believable? On top of that, how does a judge allow a known computer criminal to have access to a computer in prison? And on top of that, if she is allowed computer access, why is she not limited to kitten videos and solitaire? The logical trapeze act one must perform is exhausting, but like season 2’s “Birds of Prey,” which also saw a number of logical contortions done to set up a Lance Sisters adventure, you just kind of go with it in the moment.
The real demerit of “Beacon of Hope” was the show’s instance on twisting the Olicity knife. I think we get that the Oliver/Felicity relationship, no matter what its status is, is a pretty big deal without the direction drawing big, yellow highlighter lines around it to get our attention. The whole point of their breaking up still seems strained, so why bother drawing attention to it for one episode? This would have been the perfect week to let that simmer, and let the characters focus on the lunacy of the Bug-Eyed Bandit and her killer bees, and when Oliver blows up at Curtis it kind of brings the fun to a screeching halt. Why? So that we can have Laurel comment on how Oliver’s a seething mass of anger that his romantic life blew up? Please.
As for the episode title, “Beacon of Hope,” it seemed a little crammed in there. A lot of characters kept saying the term like we’re supposed to see the deeper meaning of it in this episode. Brie wants Felicity’s magical spinal cure chip because she herself has a tumor that will render her paralyzed if operated on, which supposedly inspired Felicity to turn Palmer Tech into a “beacon of hope” Laurel keeps telling Oliver that he’s “beacon of hope” even though much of the season’s been about Team Arrow getting its ass kicked at every turn, finally beating Darhk by what seems like sheer luck. The title seemed kind of strained, but the simple way to fix it would have been to buy into the real theme of the episode and call it “Bee-con of Hope.”
At least Damien Darhk was having a good time in prison. Neal McDonough and John Barrowman got to have smarm-off this week by answering the question of why H.I.V.E. would let Darhk rot away in prison, it turns out they like neither his magical abilities, nor his predilection for murdering colleagues. McDonough gets another great moment later when he’s confronted by Murmur (season three’s “The Offer”) and a pair of prison goons and says, “You guys wanna pose for a selfie?” Delightful. It’s funny how in prison Darhk can find more humor than Oliver who was merely dumped by his girlfriend and not betrayed by his people and tossed in the clink on specious charges.
But while the week was almost a struggle against the instinct to indulge the season’s main antagonist and his plan, we were delivered a new major piece of the story at the end of the episode when Malcolm meets Darhk’s “Ace in the Hole,” Andy Diggle. While the episode seemed to have a consistency and clarity of tone, throwing the Andy wrench into the machine opened the door to a lot of vexing questions we didn;t need to ask tonight. Has Andy been undercover for Darhk on Team Arrow? Has he spilled Team Arrow secrets to Darhk? If he was Darhk’s “Ace in the Hole” then why was he posing as a typical Ghost drone? The reveal seemed tacked on for seer dramatic shock value, especially since Andy had nothing to do with the episode.
In spite of that, this week’s Arrow made me bee-lieve that this show can still bee fun, and can sell a ludicrous plot with both skill and humor. Presumably though, this is the joke before the storm because “Beacon of Hope” marks the beginning of the final third of the season, which means the countdown is on to the season finale, and you know what that means…