Good TV shows know how to play with viewers’ expectations. A savvy writing staff learns what their audience is familiar with – dialogue patterns, plot points, clichés, common story arcs – and manipulates it, subverting or reinforcing those expectations for greater dramatic or comic effect. For instance, here we have a show whose protagonist is named Oliver, with an episode titled “Dodger” and featuring a villain of the same name. Now, any reasonable person, nay, any right-thinking person, would expect such an episode to contain multiple Charles Dickens jokes. Yet there were none to be had. Expectations: subverted. Also not to be had? Much excitement.
This “Dodger,” so named for his unwillingness to do his own stealing, is sadly not the most charismatic or dangerous villain in the world. He’s a slick character, certainly, using bomb collars and a Taser-ended baton to pull off his heists using innocent bystanders as proxies, but a clever M.O. and a British accent do not a supervillain make. Still, Oliver makes it his newest mission to track the guy down, particularly when new team member Felicity starts getting squirrely over her boss’s laser-like focus on intimidating rich assholes.
Moira’s also in a rebellious mood, as she makes plans with pal/co-conspirator Frank Chen to free herself from Merlyn’s conspiracy and its ominous “Undertaking,” which apparently started as a plan to clean up the Glades neighborhood that spun wildly out of control. The Undertaking is clearly the long game of the season, and it’s going to be interesting to see how the writers manage to make it suitably menacing. Normally, when rich people set their sights on taking out a slum, they just buy up land and bulldoze some tenements, easy peasy. Unsavory, maybe, but not exactly a criminal masterstroke. It’s going to be tricky to come up with a plan that’s suitably catastrophic, but still feasible in a real-ish world. Stay tuned.
On the island, Oliver comes across a guy who’s been beaten and tied up, and has to decide whether to trust the guy’s claim of being shipwrecked or just leave him, since he might be part of a trap. Tough call. He opts to leave the guy, which is the kind of difficult moral dilemma that might have been interesting if it had any bearing on anything else in this episode. Which it didn’t.
Oh, wait, was I talking about supervillains and mysterious master plans? Silly me, because tonight’s show was all about romance. Awkward, highly uncomfortable romance! It starts with Oliver and Felicity cajoling Diggle into asking out his widowed sister-in-law Carly, which was highly unsettling. Here’s an etiquette tip: if your friend tells you he doesn’t want to date his dead brother’s wife, unless his name is Onan, you agree and change the goddamn subject. Yet Oliver and Felicity insist, and Diggle acquiesces, to Carly’s surprising delight. Thank goodness, now they can consolidate the family lands and maintain the line of succession for the Danish crown. But Polonius says that Hamlet kid is starting to act a little… never mind, this Shakespeare joke is getting out of hand. Movin’ on.
Oliver gets uncomfortable romance number two, as he asks out his cop pal McKenna Hall, while surreptitiously bugging her phone to get tips on the Dodger. Wasn’t that exactly what got Detective Lance all chewed out a couple episodes ago? In any event, neither date goes terribly well, as Oliver freezes up when McKenna asks him about his time on the island and Diggle blathers on about his brother like an idiot. To complete the trifecta, Thea gets her purse snatched by a suspiciously handsome, heavily eyebrowed Glades kid named Roy Harper. Will this rebellious rich girl fall for the sexy bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks? And will they win the big breakdancing contest to save the community center, all while learning some valuable life lessons along the way? All signs point to electric boogaloo. What was I saying earlier, something about expectations?
Back in the realm of interesting things happening, Oliver’s first attempt to catch the Dodger is a bust, so he lays some bait in the form of a pricey jewel of just the right time period that the Dodger likes to steal. I guess thieves in this world specialize to an absurd degree. Naturally, the bad guy gives up his characteristic M.O. entirely and just saunters on in to pocket the gem. Felicity gets in his way and winds up with a bomb collar for her troubles. It’s up to Oliver to catch the Dodger without inadvertently blowing his new sidekick’s head off.
What follows is perhaps the lowest-speed chase I’ve ever seen on television, non-three-legged division. The Dodger drives off in a nondescript sedan, pursued by Oliver on a borrowed motorcycle, at a top speed of maybe thirty miles per hour. The director did his best to make the chase look perilous, frantically cutting between shots like Michael Bay on a caffeine binge, but nothing could disguise just how slow and wobbly it was. At least it gave everyone an opportunity to name streets after famous DC Comics writers and artists, and that’s always fun. Oliver mercifully ends the chase with an arrow to the Dodger’s tires, then handily disarms him. Threat, and interest, over.
The action portion of the evening having ended with a whimper, it falls to the romances to wrap up the episode. Which they do, in two utterly identical scenes: Oliver/Diggle apologizes to McKenna/Carly for his mistake on the earlier date and the attendant emotional baggage, McKenna/Carly forgives him, and they kiss. Look, I fully admit that I’m biased against romantic storylines in shows like this. I’m just generally not interested, and they’ve got to be really unusual and outstanding to change that. But these aren’t, and handwaving away all the real obstacles in both relationships to make way for identical reconciliation scenes does no one any favors.
Then again, maybe being in romantic relationships with the leads will allow McKenna and Carly the opportunity to display some more personality than they’ve been able to in the two minutes or so of screen time they’ve gotten up to this point. That would be refreshing. And whatever else I had against it, the scene between Oliver and McKenna at least had the advantage of leading up to Oliver’s hilarious, split-second frustration when Detective Lance puts her on the Hood case on the spot. All it needed was a patented Nelson Muntz “Haw haw!” to be perfect.
The one thing a superhero show should never, ever be is dull. This episode was, though, and that’s a disappointment after the action-packed last couple of weeks. A lackluster villain and wheel-spinning subplots made sure of that. Fortunately, “Dodger” did take time to set up a couple of promising plots: First, however much I may joke about Roy Harper’s introduction, I am interested to see what the show does with the presumed sidekick-to-be, beyond romancing Thea. And in the last scene, Moira makes a fantastic bad decision when she calls on China White to set up a hit on Malcolm Merlyn. Intrigue! Murderous rogues! Why, that sounds like the kind of story one might enjoy watching on a superhero-related television show! Hopefully this show’s creators come to agree at some point.
Next week: The scourge of villain-on-villain violence comes to Starling City as China White takes on Malcolm Merlyn. Also: Deadshot lives!