When it comes to TV romance, I’m a fan of brevity. If two characters are going to fall in love, I prefer that they be quick about it and not spend episode after episode making goo-goo eyes and not addressing the issue. If a romance is going to run long, it’d better be pretty damn fascinating. At least, that’s my usual opinion. Tonight’s Arrow has genuinely challenged my preconceptions by offering a potent counterexample: a romance that began and ended so quickly, I had to wonder what the point was.
Arrow’s superhero side and its CW side are frequently in conflict, and never more so than during romantic storylines. “Huntress Returns” presented no less than five once and future couples in conflict, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking one for another. Let’s try to break them down: First, as the title suggests, Helena Bertinelli is back in town, looking for Oliver’s help tracking down her Witness Protection-bound father. To murder him. We know this via surveillance footage of Huntress killing her dad’s lawyer while disguised as a stripper (which, yes, is an absurd contrivance to get an attractive actress in a sexy outfit, but considering how much loving attention this show gives to Stephen Amell’s abs, at least it can’t be accused of sexism). That raises an important question: Do most strip clubs put surveillance cameras in their VIP rooms? Seems to me most of their customers would balk at that.
Oliver’s other romance, with McKenna Hall, is going much better, except for not being interesting at all. Detective Hall remains a frustratingly thin character, to the point that it’s not clear why Oliver is so hung up on her in the first place. Is it because she’s the only person he knows who’s not sitting on an ocean of secrets? I guess that would be refreshing. It’s that very undefined quality that makes the ending of this episode so frustrating. We’ll get to that in due time, though.
Couple number three is the Lance family, as Laurel’s mother (Alex Kingston, struggling a bit with the American accent) is convinced that Sarah is still alive, and has an envelope full of blurry pictures to prove it. Laurel’s dad, on the other hand, is less than thrilled to see his estranged wife show up out of the blue to rip his heart open twice over. Paul Blackthorne easily wins the episode with his portrayal of an already nervous person being totally blindsided. When he stumbles away from the conversation in a near-panic, it’s hard not to sympathize.
Number four is Tommy and Laurel, who are frustratingly back to their old status quo of Laurel constantly shaming Tommy for some mistake or other. In this case, it’s Tommy’s attempts to deal with the fact that his best friend runs around at night shooting people with arrows. I almost cheered during his first conversation with Oliver about it, when he interrupted Oliver’s rote “I lied to protect you” speech by pointing out that he understands about the lying, it’s the shooting people with arrows that concerns him. Finally, someone on a superhero show has their priorities in order! Sure, he contradicts himself in their second conversation, but it’s nice to have that moment of clarity. Trouble is, Tommy shares his buddy’s inability to lie convincingly, and Laurel immediately figures out that he’s hiding whatever’s on his mind. If we know anything about Laurel, it’s that she does not let things go. Also, she still can’t move the upper part of her face, and it’s becoming more and more of a liability in the acting department. But mostly the first thing.
Couple number five: Thea and Roy, who continue their passive-aggressive courtship, which consists mainly of Thea trying to use her wealth and connections to do nice things for Roy, followed by him yelling at her for doing so. I’d be inclined to wonder what she sees in the jerk, but that’s obvious: he’s so damn pretty. Again, CW. That, and he saves her from a bunch of muggers, gets stabbed in the process, and displays an amusingly incongruous fear of needles. As far as humanizing weaknesses go, it’s no Indiana Jones and snakes, but it’s enough to earn him a kiss at least.
Somewhere in all these soap suds is a superhero plot. Oh, right, Huntress. After sneaking into the opening of Oliver and Tommy’s nightclub (one word of advice, Ollie: bouncers), she takes Tommy hostage and insists Oliver help her, unless he wants his buddy to lose some blood. Good thing he revealed his secret identity last episode, or that would have been an awkward conversation. He acquiesces, the big softy, and they set about chasing Daddy down. Turns out he’s being transferred via the old Two Identical Vans trick, so the Hood and Huntress set out on their respective motorcycles to catch them. Alas, in a gag that would make Monty Hall roll over in his grave, Van Number One is empty, while Van Number Two is full of a SWAT team, who quickly apprehend Helena. Why both vans weren’t full of cops, only the God of Plot Holes knows. Budget cuts, perhaps. In any event, that leaves Oliver free to bust his erstwhile partner out of custody before she blows his cover. Which she doesn’t, choosing instead to say mean things about Oliver Queen to his current girlfriend in classic catty ex fashion, but it’s a nice gesture in any event. He offers her a plane ticket, a passport, and a blunt order to leave town. Good luck with that.
Sure enough, she turns right around and goes after Felicity, forcing her to locate Daddy’s safehouse with her magic computers. What follows is an astonishing litany of cop-killing, as Helena and her super-crossbow plow through the guard force before Oliver can catch up and stop her. That took me aback. The Huntress is and always has been a fairly brutal vigilante, in whatever incarnation, but having her up and murder police officers is going pretty far. So kudos to the show for surprising me, and for driving home just how batshit nuts this particular character is. She’s not done, however. McKenna Hall shows up right in time to interrupt the stalemate and get shot, inadvertently allowing Helena to escape and laying one more guilt trip on Oliver.
All of this leads up to one of the more baffling endings this show has offered up. The good news: McKenna’s not dead! The bad news: her leg’s broken pretty badly. Good: she has a great physical therapist lined up! Bad: in Coast City (Green Lantern shout-out!). So goodbye, Oliver. I genuinely don’t understand this decision from a storytelling standpoint. Why introduce a love interest for three episodes and take her away just like that? It’s not like this particular romance was especially compelling, either: she showed up, hooked up with Oliver, displayed no character traits of note, and left. I’d be inclined to suspect some backstage shenanigans, like the actress leaving for another job or some such thing, but without any evidence to support such a theory the whole thing just seems utterly pointless.
The only reason I can come up with for the McKenna storyline is that it’s meant as an object lesson for Oliver, to teach him not to try to date anyone because bad things are guaranteed to happen. That’s the conclusion he draws, at least, having been confronted with the failures of his in-costume and civilian romances in a single day. At least he and Tommy are bros again, and can bond about how hard it is to have to lie to the people they love. More importantly, Oliver muses that it might be impossible to be a costumed vigilante and be happy at the same time, but that his own happiness isn’t important. We’ve seen this self-loathing streak come out before, and it’s an element of Oliver’s character that could stand some exploration. In an episode as stuffed with soap as this one, it’s nice to have some substance as well.
Oh, and on the island, Oliver and Slade steal a key part of Fyers’ missile system and offer to trade it back in exchange for passage off the island. Also, the mercenaries continue to be hilariously incompetent. That is all.
Next week: Someone’s ripping off Oliver’s tortured-vigilante shtick! Which he didn’t exactly invent, but still. If this is anyone but Steve Allen, you’re stealing his bit!