‘Arrow’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 14: ‘Code of Silence’
It’s time for another installment of Pointed Commentary, the feature where grizzled Arrow watcher Matt D. Wilson and newcomer Chris Haley dig into the details of Team Arrow cleaning up the filthy, crime-ridden streets of Star City.
In this week’s episode, “Code of Silence,” Ollie’s campaign for mayor is going just great, and three bad people are really good at making buildings fall down one room at a time. There’s almost no debate! Someone throws a party! Can your heart handle the excitement? The episode was directed by James Bamford and written by Wendy Mericle and Oscar Balderrama.
Chris: I know I’m usually the one who gets more emotionally riled up about this show’s general awfulness, but I think I have some good compliments in store for this week’s episode, and I’ll even go so far as to say I don’t think it was half bad! That said, my first note was “two minutes in and this episode is already laughably terrible.” What’d you think of this week’s episode, Matt? Follow up question, would you be more excited if we were reviewing episodes of the ‘90s Spider-Man cartoon every week instead?
Matt: Compared to the debacles of the previous two weeks, this episode was a revelation. A little focus and some character work involving characters who have basically been invisible for what seems like months --- namely Captain Lance --- made this feel like a whole different show. Were there dumb parts? Sure. Was Ollie a complete jerk? Of course. But if every episode was up to the level of this one, I’d gladly watch this show instead of Spider-Man ‘94.
Otherwise, give me “Sins of the Father Part XXXXVII” or whatever.
Chris: Did you notice there were a couple of times this week where they tried to do “one take” shots? Most notably in the first building collapse and the walk and talk scene with Oliver just before the debate.
Matt: Yeah. I actually thought this week’s episode looked pretty good from a technical standpoint. That first building collapse somehow didn’t look fake as hell (though the second one absolutely did). There was some totally weird but also kind of neat moody lighting in the police station. I even thought the decorations for the engagement party looked pretty neat. At the very least, they added some color to that apartment that is like, 55 percent fireplace.
Chris: I was going to say that visually it looked like the show was trying a lot harder than normal this week. Those one take shots (even though they had what looked to be pretty obvious hidden cuts in them) and some of the interesting/odd camera angles (especially during the first Team Arrow vs Team Home Depot fight) really made it look like whoever was behind the camera this week was really trying. I looked director James Bamford up on IMDb and he's normally a stuntman/stunt coordinator, and this is only his second directing gig (the first was another episode of Arrow), so I think he was trying to impress us.
Matt: Stunt people also directed John Wick. Turns out they end up being pretty good directors. Another visual thing I liked so much I wrote it down: The set design in HIVE’s Bond-villain evil headquarters. It had honeycomb-shaped light fixtures!
Chris: Yes! What a great visual signifier to let us know who we’re dealing with! Way to show and not tell! Any other week, Darhk would have walked in and said, “Ah, my colleagues from HIVE. It is good to see you again here in our HIVE lair. Let us talk about HIVE business now.”
Matt: I actually thought Darhk --- one huge problem which we’ll get to aside --- was the best written he’s been since maybe the second or third episode of the season. Right after he busts out the word “legerdemain” when talking about his wife Ruve Adams’ debating skills, he then says he’s “giddy to report” that HIVE will soon have the city in its grasp. It’s the old fun-loving, quirky Darhk we had before, and Neal McDonough seems to be having fun in this one. That’s kind of all I’m asking the show to give me.
Chris: It’s really hard to believe that last week’s episode was only last week, because these last two episodes feel like they were months away from each other tonally.
Matt: The main thing that tied them together, and this was the huge problem I was talking about, was the continuing plot about using Ollie’s son, William, to get at him. Again, we’ve got Damien Darhk, who basically banished Anarky from his presence for kidnapping someone’s daughter, going after Ollie’s secret son and basically adopting him. That’s not just kidnapping, that’s son theft.
Chris: For some reason that makes it sound a lot funnier to me. It’s probably best that the police don’t call it that. You’re absolutely right though, and we complained about this idea last week as soon as they brought it up. Again, I don’t get what Malcolm is so mad about. He seems to still have a job in a secret criminal organization, and Ollie didn’t kill him when he had the chance. I want to enjoy both of these characters because I like the actors, but this show makes it next to impossible.
Matt: It also makes it super difficult to like the title character. You know, our superhero. Because a huge portion of this episode is taken up with an intersection of plots: Captain Lance has to lie to Felicity’s mom, Donna, who he is currently dating, to protect her. See, HIVE is trying to kill him via attacks from the Demolition Team, and he doesn’t want to get into his whole backstory of working with HIVE with her. She thinks he’s not being honest with her for other reasons, so they (temporarily) break up.
Meanwhile, Felicity and Ollie are prepping their engagement party, and he’s still hiding that he has a son. During all this, multiple people, including Donna, praise Ollie for how he never lies to Felicity, and he says nothing at all. Also, Donna clearly doesn’t know anything about Ollie, who lies all the time. Constantly. He probably lies more than he speaks truthfully.
Chris: It also felt like this episode didn’t know what point it was trying to make. Ollie wants to tell Felicity, but Thea (who has discovered the secret son) tells him he’s right not to tell her because he’s keeping his promise. Donna is hurt Captain Lance is lying to her, but Felicity says sometimes you have to lie to protect people. But then Captain Lance tells her all about it anyway. What do you want me to think about the story you’re telling here, Arrow?!
Matt: It’s basically, “Lying is bad, except when it’s not, and even if it is bad, you’ll be forgiven. So just lie.”
Chris: I’ll start working on the motivational posters now. Speaking of Donna and Captain Lance, it’s amazing what great actors they can be when there aren’t any of the CW “young people” in the scene with them.
Matt: Yeah, Paul Blackthorne has been one of the show’s strongest actors from the beginning, which has made me wonder why he’s been so under-used this season. For a minute there, I thought they’d just written him off the show. And Charlotte Ross, who plays Donna, took what could have been a complete one-note character and made her pretty layered and complex. They’re easily two of my favorite characters, and I think it’s largely because of the actors.
Like, wasn’t it great when Lance lies about having gambling debts and Donna jumps right up to say she’ll defend him? She’ll take on murderous organized criminals because she’s a “Vegas girl.” It’s endearing as heck.
Chris: Absolutely. She’s used as irritating comic relief when she’s being Felicity’s mom, but as soon as she snaps into serious mode in that scene, it makes you say, “Oh, she’s a real actress, they just don’t give her anything worthwhile to do because they usually write the scripts in 15 minutes.” The range and versatility the two of them can show in a scene together makes me think they’re also being forced to dial their acting chops back in all their other scenes so they don’t make the main cast look bad.
Matt: Or it could be that it’s hard to make sense of some of the material. For instance, the mayoral debate stuff. But before I get into that, I want to mention this, because I feel like we buried the lede: We saw the return of Starling City’s One News Channel!
To explain, Chris, I have long had a running gag about the whole city only having one news channel because it’s the only one we ever see for expository explanation. Hilariously, it is the only channel present at this debate. It’s the return of the season in my book.
Chris: The thing I noticed about it was that it’s Channel 52. Because DC Comics.
Matt: They actually changed it in the second season from 7 to 52 for just that reason. But the same reporters and anchors worked for it! Look, I could go deep into the fictional news channel of Arrow, but let’s cut it there.
So it was weird that after all that, there was no actual footage of the debate, right? It just cut away and people said Ollie won. Is Stephen Amell that unconvincing of a debater?
Chris: Are you kidding? Can you imagine these people trying to write a political debate for this show with the trouble they have just trying to have two people talking?
Matt: That is fair. I didn’t really understand the HIVE plot to destroy the debate venue either. OK, so they’ve got the Demolition Team --- who are so much less colorful than their comics counterparts and aren’t even wearing hard hats--setting up bombs to blow up the place. The plan, I suppose, is to take out Lance and Ollie all in one go, even though Lance has been in hiding. Or maybe they want to kill all the attendees to scare people into voting for Ruve? I’m not sure, and it’s not really made clear.
When Thea hits a fire alarm to evacuate everyone, Ruve’s plan changes to just killing Ollie. Here’s my question: If the big plan is just to kill Ollie, why bother kidnapping his son? Why bother running a mayoral campaign against him? You can just kill him and that’s that. HIVE takes over the city, the end.
Chris: Ah, my dear friend, you’ve fallen right into their trap. They want you to think they put any thought into this whatsoever. I have a theory about this show. Would you like to hear it?
Matt: Oh, do tell.
Chris: So, it is my sincere belief that there are three possible explanations for this show and the way it is written.
- All of the people behind the scenes of this show have suffered some kind of traumatic head injury. Possibly having been hit in the head by a shovel.
- The people behind the scenes of this show think that everyone who watches this show has suffered some kind of traumatic head injury. Also possibly involving one or many shovels.
- Some combination of the previous two.
Matt: That seems pretty airtight. This is a show, after all, where bombs that are booby trapped so you can’t disarm them by traditional means must instead be disarmed by jamming arrows into them.
Chris: It’s adorable how this show tries to find uses for a medieval weapon.
Matt: I feel like we’ve gotten really negative after opening up with how much better this episode was than others. I’ll say this: Despite all these gripes, at least it had distinct stories that felt like stories. It wasn’t a rush to jam in everything. Even the flashbacks had an arc to them, and had a pretty pivotal moment. (Conklin’s apparent death.)
Chris: As much as I didn’t like him, I think I’m going to miss him now that he’s gone. The flashback was definitely telling a story, even if that story was unbelievably ridiculous. The guards are all just going to leave Reiter’s prize guy alone with people that want to kill him? The other captives, who saw Vlad attack Ollie first, are going to care that Ollie killed him? As best as I recall it seemed like people were getting shot there all the time, but they’re going to take this one really personal when the guy’s sister isn’t mad at Ollie? I point you back to my shovel theory.
Matt: This stuff I can kinda buy, though. Vlad was a big part of the indentured worker community, and the guards leave because they answer to Conklin more than they do to Reiter, who is always off doing as-yet-unexplained magic stuff. I get why they’d hate Ollie. I don’t even like Ollie.
Chris: I know we always do it because of the comics, but does anyone on this show actually ever call him Ollie?
Matt: Thea does. Because the first season was supposed to be so serious and grounded, he insisted that he go by Oliver to show that he had given up his playboy ways.
Chris: I was just curious. I think this was the first episode the thought occurred to me though.
Matt: Before we wrap up, we have to note that Curtis invented a cure for paralysis. Ollie’s reaction: “You’re terrific.” Kind of an understatement, but I see what he’s doing there.
Chris: You know, I give this show a hard time because it deserves it, but that whole interaction was great. The “terrific” thing was, of course, too on the nose, but for a brief, shining moment I had warm feelings in my heart for these characters.
Matt: I just hope he makes more than one. It kinda felt like this was just for Felicity; they should try to sell that. I think people might want it.
Chris: Might help their struggling tech company if he cured paralysis.
And that’s it for this week! Come back next week as we get introduced to DC TV Universe Vixen! She’s got a ghost wolf thing! Let’s hope for the best.