Arrow: “Salvation”
C+

Arrow: “Salvation”

As the Hood, Oliver has set a very bad example, or perhaps more accurately he has provided a very convenient excuse to other would-be vigilantes. For the second straight week, he must confront someone who also seeks to punish those who would otherwise escape justice for their crimes. He is once again forced to justify, to himself as much as to anyone else, why what he does is righteous and why the actions of the Huntress and now the Savior are wrong. And while there are valid distinctions to make between Oliver and these other vigilantes, it’s a little worrisome just how often the show has to present rival vigilantes as the threat to Oliver. It’s a drawback to building an episodic superhero series in a self-consciously grounded universe; some of the classic comic book villain types are just too fantastical, and so Arrow has had to fill out its first season with the occasional newly created, one-off villain who is little more than some random dude with a gun.

The Savior fits into that rather dull category, but really he embodies a lot of bad modern-day villain clichés. He displays an almost magical control over the internet, someone whose hacking skills are so impressive that he’s able to erase all records of his existence, send his live executions to every IP address in the Glades, and even evade Felicity’s attempts to track him down (though that also had to do with the whole subway thing). The Savior conducts his vigilante reprisals through the media, as at least one newscast seemingly airs, without any additional commentary, the live judgment of Roy Harper, even though the kid might be murdered on live TV at any moment. In theory, the character’s murderous actions are meant to connect up with Oliver’s story, as the Savior presents Oliver with an especially bleak vision of what could happen to him if he decides to turn his back on humanity. But “Salvation” unwisely decides to keep its villain in the shadows until the last possible moment; the information he reveals about his wife’s murder should offer some insight into his own tragic motivations, but it comes across as little more than exposition, clues meant to aid Oliver and company in their investigations. The Savior’s character is fatally obscured behind a voice modulator and all too familiar ranting about Starling City’s “real” criminals.

That’s a shame, because handled better, there are some intriguing ideas lurking around the edges of this story. Oliver’s specific point to the Savior is that he should let Roy live so that the guy can have a second chance. More generally, Oliver’s argument seems to be that those who deign themselves worthy to sit in judgment of others should at least have some connection with the rest of humanity. The clearest delineation between the Hood and the show’s other vigilantes is that the Hood only kills and injures in pursuit of justice; yes, it’s very much a justice that Oliver defines for himself, but violence is only a means to an end. For the Savior, death is an end in and of itself. Oliver always offers those on his list a chance to redeem themselves, while the Savior uses the pretense of allowing his victims a chance to explain their actions purely as a way to make his vengeance all the sweeter. It’s not that Oliver should make all those points in a grand closing speech, because that would be horribly clunky, but when the Savior doesn’t really exist as a character until the final five minutes, these potential themes can only really be appreciated in hindsight. Although it’s nice that the episode at least has enough depth to support such retrospective analysis, it needs to find a way to make more of these points during the actual story.

While the main story doesn’t work, it does manage some nice character moments on the margins. While the big reveal about the Savior’s use of the subway system is completely ludicrous—seriously, how could someone put a disused subway system back into operation without anybody noticing, and wouldn’t the Savior need somebody to be at the controls of his dilapidated train?—it does at least set up a fun, stunt-heavy sequence in which Oliver jumps from building to building in an attempt to pinpoint the location of the broadcast. Felicity’s failure to provide an accurate location is a necessary moment for the character, as it forces her to confront the reality of what she’s doing; she has the potential to do tremendous good, but she also is essentially taking responsibility for other people’s survival. Oliver’s relationship to Felicity has become one of Arrow’s most effective pairings, as she brings out his compassionate side in a way that none of the other characters can. While he ends the episode by reaching out to his old flame Laurel, it’s Felicity—and Diggle, let’s not forget Diggle—who are really instrumental in forcing Oliver off his metaphorical island.

Roy Harper also proves an intriguing character, which is good considering his comic book pedigree means that he’s pretty much destined to become Oliver’s sidekick. I wasn’t sold on the character—who fits a little too neatly into the street-smart, hardscrabble archetype—until his big confrontation with the Savior. The character not only refuses to beg for his life, but he actually commands his captor to execute him on the grounds that he has led a worthless existence and nobody would miss him. This moment makes it clear that Roy isn’t simply making excuses when he tells Thea that he has to participate in the liquor store robbery, and his self-loathing isn’t a ruse, some cynical calculation to keep his would-be girlfriend away. Roy truly has hit rock bottom, and so the second chance that Oliver grants him actually means something. The episode effectively sets up a redemption arc for Roy, and the fact that he holds onto an arrow suggests his journey will intersect with the Hood sooner rather than later.

Once again, though, that necessary progression in the larger narrative is handled sloppily at best; there’s no real reason why the Savior specifically chooses Roy. Like the slumlord, he is meant to be emblematic of an entire class of Glades criminal, but the slumlord had just publicly avoided prosecution for his crimes, so that at least gave the Savior an obvious reason to go after him. The targeting of Roy, on the other hand, veers too close to narrative contrivance. That’s the general problem with “Salvation,” as the episode lays some important groundwork for the season’s endgame, but it isn’t able to turn that mythology-building into a compelling episode, and we don’t learn nearly enough about the larger narrative to justify the ineffective story. Really, the only reason the Savior uses the subway to commit his crimes is so that Oliver can work out a vital clue about the Undertaking. That may be vital information, but Arrow shouldn’t need 42 minutes of ineffective, implausible story to get a clue like that across.

Stray observations:

  • The Lance subplot comes to a temporary close, as Laurel identifies the woman in her mother’s photograph as someone other than Sarah. This whole story is melodramatic even by Arrow’s standards, and while Alex Kingston and Paul Blackthorne try to make Dinah’s tearful confession work, the whole thing just feels too over-the-top and hackneyed to be dramatically effective.
  • On reflection, I wish Alex Kingston had just kept her English accent; it’s not as though it would be impossible for Detective Lance to marry someone from Britain. I realize Paul Blackthorne is also putting on an accent, but River Song is such a recognizable character in current genre TV that it’s just distracting to hear Kingston pretending to be American.
  • “I’m off to catch the red eye to Central City. I’ll be back in a flash.” Since we’re almost certainly not going to see characters with superpowers on Arrow, I’ll welcome the occasional in-joke reference to Central City’s favorite son and resident speedster, the Flash.
  • This episode has some shaky CGI, not the least of which is the obviously fake subway train. The island shootout also has some dubious effects shots.
  • I’m sorry, but I refuse to discuss Moira’s sudden but inevitable betrayal of Frank Chen, because that scene literally ends with Moira having blood on her hands. I realize superhero fiction tends to involve the occasional bit of bluntly obvious storytelling, but my goodness.
Filed Under: TV, Arrow

More TV Club