The longer a show runs, the less likely it is to well and truly surprise you. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, and it certainly doesn’t mean that such a show can’t be entertaining. One of the biggest issues with this season of Arrow has been how often it has returned to certain wells, sometimes in ways that don’t acknowledge the growth of its characters and relationships. That happens a little bit in “We Fall,” but who the hell cares, because there’s that other sequence, and it is surprising. It’s restrained. It’s built on the foundation of one of the show’s central relationships. It offers us a new perspective on a familiar scene. It’s well-written, well-acted, and well-directed. It, in short, is damn good.
I speak, of course, of Quentin bringing Thea some coffee to put some pep in her step. (Just kidding.)
Before we get to Felicity’s exceptional monologue, however, it’s worth talking about that scene, and that’s a sincere desire. “We Fall” is far from a perfect episode, and part of what holds it back is a smattering of moments or scenes that just don’t land. Is that quick scene, which is about three lines longer than I expected it to be (and it’s maybe six lines in total), meant to be a moment of levity? When you’re looking at just the dialogue, it reads like some sort of low-key Office Space moment, just a few steps from “workin’ hard, or hardly working?” or asking if someone has a case of the Mondays. That’s not how it’s played, however, and nothing else in the episode matches up.
For every two moments that work, or at least make some sense, there’s one that’s off, somehow. Councilman Grovner yelling at noone in particular about his TP’d car and how he deserves respect. Thea and the coffee. Curtis rambling about whether or not Oliver used the word ‘us’ as some kind of sick burn. Oliver calling out William’s Flash backpack — which is, admittedly, fun, but wouldn’t he just call it a backpack? And if he did point out that it’s The Flash and not some other hero, wouldn’t William banter back somehow? It plays like a joke that’s not quite natural, that doesn’t quite land, and that doesn’t really belong. That about sums up the issues with these scenes. How does the Curtis who communicates so openly with Team Not Arrow become this person who throws a fit about the word ‘us’ when lives are in danger?
Strangest of all is the abrupt, unnecessary way the show chose to kill off Frank Pike (Adrian Holmes), who has been around since season one. Pike hasn’t always been a particularly important figure, and the casual way in which he’s introduced makes it possible to miss the connection completely — I, for one, thought it was him, but assumed I must have been wrong when he was so promptly dispatched. Pike isn’t a major character, but he’s also not a redshirt. To axe him before at least giving the audience a chance to remember why he’s such a good guy is a disappointing move in an episode that spends much of its runtime on history and relationships.
Without those moments, and without the big one we’ve not yet addressed, this is a pretty solid outing. Team Not Arrow working through the kinks of their little team is pretty good (and I know that’s far from a universal opinion, but the characters are still evolving and some of this season’s best episodes have been made better by one or more of the three.) Michael Emerson’s Cayden James looms large over the episode, and while Emerson doesn’t have any particularly strong material, he’s still a compelling villain. It still doesn’t totally work, but Arrow’s inching closer to an interesting Vigilante/Vincent storyline, tying it securely to the themes of complexity and imperfection that have so dominated this season. And Dinah stopping a train with her canary cry is plain old cool (not quite blowing canary-cry kisses cool, but cool nonetheless.)
But when we arrive at the big action set-piece of the hour, something else entirely happens. It’s late, and it’s entirely possible that this feeling won’t be quite so strong tomorrow, but at the moment, Felicity’s monologue to William about Oliver — and heroism, and risk, and worry, and violence, and family, and hope, and love — at the moment, that monologue certainly seems like one of the most thoughtful and compelling sequences in Arrow’s six-season history. We’ve seen that fight so many times. What we haven’t seen is Felicity, watching, afraid, learning exactly what Oliver does after he jumps, how and when he’ll turn and what he’ll do next. We haven’t seen them all from inside the bunker, caught on security cameras. And we definitely haven’t seen her dig into Parenting 101. Not like this.
The ways that speech could have gone off the rails are many and varied. A swell of epic music would have tanked it. So would an abundance of slow motion, or sparks. Tears and a big desperate hug would have pushed it right over the edge, too. Arrow does many things well, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone would have put ‘restraint’ particularly high on the show’s list of special skills. (Before tonight, I’d have placed it roughly 20 places below ‘salmon ladder’ but at least 10 above ‘Billy Joel cameos.’) Here, though, that exact tool is what makes this scene sing. Well, that, and great writing, and thoughtful, deliberate, but not overly precious editing.
Oh, yes — and great acting. Arrow hasn’t always known what to do with Felicity. Her storyline in season five did a disservice to the character, and from time to time the importance of her relationship with Oliver has overwhelmed everything else, putting the romance way ahead of the person in terms of significance. Not so here. It’s an unabashedly romantic scene, but one that’s based in a long, fraught history. It’s a speech given by a woman whose experience, wisdom, and faith are hard fought, and it serves as a reminder of what Emily Bett Rickards can do when she’s given great material. Like director Wendey Stanzler, Rickards’s touch is exactly as light as it needs to be, and it’s unreservedly great.
Not everything works. But that does. Every once in awhile, a perfect hour of television comes along. But I’ll take this mess with its one perfect scene over any number of fine-but-forgettable hours every day.
- Nice little Lost easter egg in there. (It’s Cayden James’s fake name.)
- TAMVP: This week’s MVP is EBR, clearly. She’s so good in that scene it almost made me forget how much I miss the salmon ladder.
- Jack Moore has some nice moments as William this week, but it still feels like he’s a slightly different kid depending on who’s writing him.
- Cheers to Laura M. Browning, who gave me the appropriate spelling for TP’d at 11pm CST. The AV Club Copy Desk never sleeps.
- We know for a fact there’s at least a temporary FBI presence in Star City. How on earth is no one helping out with this citywide emergency? There’s no National Guard on this version of Earth?
- “You think this T on my face stands for gullible?”
- What do we think of Spartan’s new look?