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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Arrow: “Honor Thy Father”

Illustration for article titled Arrow: “Honor Thy Father”
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Like a lot of second episodes, “Honor Thy Father” is often content to restate the basic beats of Arrow’s series premiere. Oliver Queen once again seeks to bring a man on his father’s list to justice, as he also tries to forge an alter ego that can properly disguise his vigilante persona. His sister Thea is still a mess, and she won’t let Oliver forget how much anguish his apparent death caused her. His mother is still scheming and inching the show’s big conspiracy forward one 30-second epilogue at a time. There are occasional flashbacks to the island, although all but the final cliffhanger flashback—which I don’t really think is a thing, narratively speaking, but let’s roll with it—restate things we already know. And Detective Lance is still convinced this vigilante is a dangerous anarchist who must be stopped. “Honor Thy Father” manages to reassert some of those elements confidently, while others are still works in progress. But it also finds ways to move a couple key relationships forward and begin the show’s integration with the larger universe of DC Comics.

“Honor Thy Father” finds both Oliver and Laurel taking on Martin Somers, a Starling City businessman connected to the Chinese Triad. While Arrow is able to make short work of Somers himself, the crook is able to enlist the aid of deadly assassin China White, who tries to kill Laurel to stop her attempt to bring Somers to justice. While his vigilante duties are relatively straightforward, Oliver has a trickier time navigating his “normal” life as the scion of a business empire. He wants no part of his father’s company, but his mother won’t take no for an answer. Oliver’s only way out of his public obligations to his father is to pretend that he’s still the same drunken, irresponsible disgrace he always was, even if that means dishonoring the memory of the man who set him on his avenging vigilante path.

Oliver’s attempts to forge a new life—even if it’s mostly just a fiction to allow him to keep doing his Arrow thing—lead to some moments of understanding with Laurel and his bodyguard John Diggle. To some extent, Oliver’s betrayal of Laurel five years ago, which, of course, led directly to her sister’s death, is such a monumental transgression that it’s hard to see how they could ever have any relationship again, friendly or otherwise. “Honor Thy Father” doesn’t really make a convincing case for why Oliver deserves forgiveness, beyond the fact that Stephen Amell is quite handsome, so how can you stay mad at him? But then, I’m not really expecting Arrow to come up with a convincing reason why Laurel would ever forgive him—the only way to move their relationship forward is just to let time accumulate, and I’m willing to overlook some narrative shortcuts if it gets them beyond their initial frostiness. Their pleasant, forthright conversation over ice cream is a pretty big leap from all the tension up to that point. It’s not masterful storytelling by any stretch, but rather that than three more episodes of one-note disdain.

Similarly, the episode makes quick work of one of Arrow’s potential structural problems, which is the supposedly constant presence of bodyguard John Diggle in Oliver’s daily life. For there to be a show at all, Oliver obviously has to lose Diggle on a near-constant basis. Diggle runs the risk of being not just a useless character, but one whose continued presence can only be justified by making him look like a complete idiot. As it turns out, Diggle is nobody’s fool, and he immediately recognizes that Oliver saved his life with an impossibly perfect knife throw during the fight with China White. The episode is content to leave Oliver and Diggle with an unspoken understanding about the former’s extracurricular activities—Diggle probably hasn’t guessed the whole truth, but he clearly knows enough that he isn’t going to ask awkward questions. It’s a more stable place to leave things than Oliver having to feed Diggle a series of increasingly preposterous excuses. While I hope Arrow has more in mind for Diggle than as a source of supporting badassery and occasional pearls of wisdom, the show can now leave these two in this basic holding pattern for a few episodes without doing any harm to the characters.

“Honor Thy Father” continues the show’s winning sense of humor, which is the quickest way to delineate Arrow from its Dark Knight roots. Any scene involving Oliver and his family is positively bathed in WASP-style passive aggression, and it’s frequently hilarious. This show ably demonstrates why most dark, brooding vigilantes live alone—because they can’t spend more than 30 seconds in the presence of their loved ones without being complete judgmental dicks. (Seriously, if Batman were to magically get his parents back, how long before he started acting like a bit of an asshole toward them? I’d guess around three hours.) Admittedly, some of the more overt stabs at humor don’t land, like Oliver’s Kardashian reference or the intentionally long build-up to him revealing to Laurel that he’s dreamed about eating ice cream with her. Those clunkers might be more of a problem if the show was primarily gritty and deadly serious, and it expressly only went for those comic relief moments every 15 minutes or so to momentarily lighten the mood. But Arrow weaves a sense of fun throughout the episode, turning Oliver’s latest escape from Diggle into a something of a quick visual gag and letting Paul Blackthorne humorously play up his entirely unconcealed contempt during his questioning of Martin Somers.

The episode introduces the first major guest star with a DC Comics past in the form of Kelly Hu’s China White. The character is relatively normal by the standards of DC Comics—even if we go ahead and eliminate all the superpowered characters, she’s still vaguely realistic—but the striking white hair is a dead giveaway that her character has its roots in the hyper-visual, stylized medium of comic books, and I’m actually somewhat surprised they didn’t give the TV version of White the comics character’s matching white catsuit. She plays a fairly minimal role in the episode, really, as she gets into a couple quick fights with Oliver, both in and out of the Arrow costume, before disappearing again. Martin Somers remains the primary antagonist, insofar as he’s the one who takes up the bulk of the episode’s running time and who is brought to justice by the episode’s end, but he’s a decidedly unthreatening adversary on his own merits. It’s early days yet, but Arrow has so far had Oliver face off against three Starling City businessmen (counting the pension scammer dispatched in this episode’s opening sequence), and not one of them has been able to put up a fight by themselves. While calling in more formidable adversaries like China White is one good way around that, I’m not sure how often Arrow can take on corrupt businessmen and their henchmen before it gets a little repetitive. But as long as these fights remain this thrillingly brutal, and as long as the storytelling doesn’t take itself too seriously, I remain optimistic that Arrow knows how to translate these first two episodes into a successful long-term formula.


Stray observations:

  • On the one hand, Oliver throwing a dart with an audio recording of Somers’ confession was pretty damn cool. On the other hand, wouldn’t such a recording be just crazy inadmissible?
  • This didn’t happen as often tonight as it did in the pilot, but Tommy Merlyn clearly spends half his time eavesdropping on conversations, waiting for the perfect moment to enter with a smarmy one-liner. This is clearly a man who does not believe “Hello” is an acceptable way to start a conversation.