Arrow is already a strong contender for the title of TV’s most ludicrously convoluted backstory. In his five years lost on that island, Oliver Queen mastered archery, which is fairly easy to believe, since otherwise there wouldn’t be a show. But he also became fluent in multiple languages, picked up enough technical skills to put together his Arrow lair and obtain his trick arrows, and somehow, due to a chain of events that must surely boggle the mind, became a captain in the Russian mafia. Even if Oliver’s apparent Bratva past is just some elaborate con, there’s still got to be one hell of a story behind his deception. We learn much more about Oliver’s missing five years and I’ll be tempted to say that Oliver’s Island Adventures would be the more compelling show than Arrow itself. Of course, if the show piles on much more insane backstory—and as the trailers have teased, an iconic DC Comics character is still waiting to be introduced—the whole story will be liable to fall apart completely. Although if “Lone Gunmen” is the template for Arrow going forward, I’d be more than happy to take a wrecking ball to it.
After a solid first couple of episodes, “Lone Gunmen” is the show’s first real misfire, entirely wasting a guest appearance by the master assassin Deadshot, who kills Oliver’s latest wealthy target in the middle of his stern Arrow lecture. Oliver uses his rather unexpected ties to the Russian mafia to track the man down, realizing Deadshot is eliminate potential bidders for a prized company. That list includes his stepfather Walter Steele, but that barely registers compared to his sister Thea’s latest misadventures or the abortive love triangle between Oliver, Laurel, and Tommy Merlyn. “Lone Gunmen” can’t quite match the snappy pacing or sense of fun of previous episodes, and so the perfunctory, melodramatic nature of the subplots shines through. Oliver’s antics with the Russian mafia offer a certain degree of bonkers fun, but everything else is a shapeless mess, and it certainly doesn’t help that the episode’s big comic book guest star is more or less a total bust.
Since the show’s soap opera elements are on display in a big way in “Lone Gunmen”, it’s worth examining before we get to the superhero stuff. Moira Queen takes a break from being an evil schemer so that she can turn her full attention to being a terrible parent. Thea’s story hasn’t really progressed in three episodes, with each hour simply restating that she’s a complete mess because of her father’s death, Oliver’s long-term disappearance, and her mother’s emotional detachment. This episode plays up the last of these, with her small reconciliation with her mother lost among the chaos of Deadshot’s assassination attempt. The family melodrama seems like a natural enough outgrowth of who the Queens are and how Oliver’s return would affect them, but so far Thea and Moira’s problems haven’t been nearly compelling enough to justify the time devoted to them. Still, it’s a neat bit of interconnected plotting to have a wasted Thea reveal Tommy and Laurel’s relationship to Oliver as an act of wanton destruction. That storyline also hasn’t done much yet to justify itself, and Tommy Merlyn’s final pledge of fidelity isn’t an especially gripping cliffhanger to leave things on. All this may start to make more sense from a narrative perspective once Oliver is forced to really get involved with these stories, as opposed to just gliding past them on his way to his next bit of vigilante derring-do. Until then, it’s all a bit tedious.
But the big disappointment with “Lone Gunmen” comes in the form of Floyd Lawton, alias Deadshot. The Deadshot we meet tonight bears little resemblance to the comics version of the character, and I’m almost certain that the curare-tipped bullets and tattoos of victims’ names are inventions purely for tonight’s episode. None of this is in itself a bad thing; after all, Arrow’s job is to tell entertaining stories on its own terms, not to provide a faithful, televised reconstruction of the DC universe. The problem is that the iconic version of Deadshot—the one seen in comics like Gail Simone’s much-missed Secret Six and the one that pops up in the all-time great Justice League Unlimited episode “Task Force X”—is a terrific character, a complex, eminently quotable badass with a tricky moral code that could well have been an interesting counterpoint to Oliver’s own willingness to kill under certain circumstances. The Deadshot of “Task Force X” might be a little too larger-than-life for live-action television, but the Deadshot of “Lone Gunmen” is nearly a non-entity, a killer with a couple weird gimmicks whose only hint of personality comes from the quick smirk before Oliver kills him.
It’s not that the episode’s depiction of Deadshot doesn’t work simply because Deadshot deserves better—although the comics fanboy in me is certainly ready to make that argument—but because this Deadshot is a boring character, and the use of the comics character’s name likely precludes someone closer to the “real” Deadshot showing up down the line. This character could have easily been any master assassin, and it’s hard to see who exactly will be thrilled by the use of the Deadshot names. After all, those who know Deadshot are bound to be disappointed—even if not by the characterization, then by his quick and underwhelming death—and those who aren’t familiar with DC Comics won’t care either way. Between this and the rather bland use of China White in last week’s “Honor Thy Father”, there’s reason to be concerned about the show’s utilization of DC Comics long-term, although I’m still hopeful that these issues fall under the heading of growing pains for the show.
Part of the reason I remain optimistic is that the show continues to move along the larger narrative at a decently quick pace, particularly in the evolving relationship between Oliver and John Diggle. While “Honor Thy Father” seemed to end with Diggle implicitly acknowledging that Oliver was up to something, “Lone Gunmen” concludes with Oliver being forced to take Diggle to his Arrow lair to administer the curare antidote. To the show’s credit, Oliver could have treated Diggle and then dumped him elsewhere, perhaps even administering an amnesia drug, all of which would be hardly any more unlikely than the fact that Oliver is apparently a captain in the Russian Mafia.
But “Lone Gunmen” ends with Diggle waking up and to greetings—admittedly a rather limp “Hey”—from Oliver, who is still wearing his Arrow costume. We won’t know for sure that Diggle has really learned the truth until the next episode confirms it, as there’s still the tiniest room for some wildly implausible cop-out (and I can’t entirely rule that out, considering Arrow co-creators Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim’s last superhero show was No Ordinary Family, which was a master of the wildly implausible cop-out). If Diggle really is going to become even a part of Oliver’s vigilantism—even just as a deeply reluctant bystander and observer—then that could help solve a number of the show’s problems, especially the reliably clunky, expository voiceover. Moreover, it’s a sign that the show isn’t overly attached to the status quo, and that it’s willing to evolve and change at a reasonably quick clip. That’s good news, because “Lone Gunmen” isn’t the episode Arrow should be looking to replicate going forward.
- Deadshot isn’t the only DC Comics character to debut in this episode, as Oliver gets technical support from Felicity Smoak, who started out as a supporting character for the eternally underutilized Firestorm. Emily Bett Rickards is fun in the role, even if I’m not sure which is more on the nose: just how much Oliver’s home life resembles Hamlet, or how explicitly Felicity points it out. Still, anything that gets Oliver talking about his work, however vaguely, can only be a good thing, so I look forward to seeing her again.
- Even in a lackluster episode, I remain delighted with how passive aggressive everyone is. Oliver’s rebuke to his mother about her parenting style is a particularly dickish highlight. Truly, this is the most WASP-y superhero show ever made, and I kind of love it for that.