‘Arrow’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 5: ‘Haunted’
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, 'Haunted', the team unites with another DC Universe character to restore something we all thought lost to the grave --- actor Matt Ryan’s portrayal of John Constantine. Plus, a lot of setup for another TV show, rampant mispronunciations and a couple of weird, computery plots. John Badham directed this episode, with a script by Oscar Balderrama and Brian Ford Sullivan.
Matt: I’ve got to say, Chris, this episode surprised me. I thought the thing that people mispronounced the most would be John Constantine’s name (it uses the short-lived NBC series pronunciation of “Kon-stan-teen” instead of the proper “Kon-stan-tyne”), but I got swerved when literally no one said “Nanda Parbat” the same way twice.
Chris: Maybe it's the fever talking, I didn't even notice! People mispronounce things all the time though, so maybe they're going for realism.
Matt: Could be. I got really upset about people’s rampant, inconsistent pronunciation of “Ra’s al Ghul” last season, so I just notice that stuff now. Anyway, I thought this was a pretty steep drop-off from last week’s really promising episode. There’s a lot of heavy lifting going on here to set up Legends of Tomorrow, to the point where the ongoing plot of Arrow seems to get lost in the swirl.
Chris: Again, maybe I'm in a weakened critical state (meaning my critical analysis powers are weakened), but I enjoyed this episode. I won’t say there weren't parts that bugged me, but I think I liked it more than some of our previous episodes. I did take a lot of notes though, and I've got a lot of questions.
Matt: Okay, hit me with a big one.
Chris: What is the scandal with Sara from eight years ago the PR guy mentioned? That seemed like important background stuff.
Matt: I’ll answer that in a second, but this gives me an opportunity to get something off my chest. I actually like that Ollie hired a political strategist and there was a pretty decent explanation of why he’d be there even though he has no opponent (he needs public support after he’s in office). But when the guy starts talking about scandals and has to explain the Chappaquiddick incident like he’s the first three paragraphs of a Wikipedia article, I got mad. I think the episode lost me there. This show doesn’t respect its audience to know what that is or quickly be able to look it up on their phones. The West Wing this ain’t.
But here’s the deal: Sara was with Ollie and his dad back in the boat crash that left Ollie on the island initially. Ollie originally thought she drowned, but turned out she survived and found him later. The idea, I guess, is that some tabloidish elements could make hay out of that, Ollie being complicit in her “death.”
Chris: That seems a little flimsy. I don't know what I expected, but I guess that wasn't it. I liked that political advisor/explanation too, for what it's worth.
Question 2: Was Sara Black Canary before Laurel?
Matt: Yes. After she left the island, she joined the League of Assassins. Then she broke away from them, came back to Star(ling) City and started fighting crime as (Black) Canary. Laurel only took it up after she died (the second time). I will say that I’m super happy she’s back, though again, her resurrection, just like all the stuff with Ray Palmer in this episode, is 100 percent setup for a different show.
Chris: One of my greatest joys in doing these is watching your happiness levels rise whenever Sara shows up. So, what’s the deal with them both having “Canary powers”?
Matt: It’s just a voice modulating machine thing. No real “powers” to speak of, though maybe the Lazarus Pit changed that for Sara.
So I guess we should talk about the elephant in the room, the big comics crossover of the episode: Matt Ryan’s Constantine rose from the ashes of his old NBC show and appears here, both in the flashbacks and the present-day storyline. What’d you think of him?
Chris: I’ve never seen an actual British person who sounds less like a British person in my life. Matt Ryan is actually British, right? That’s what someone told me. Did you watch Constantine?
Matt: He is, in fact British --- Welsh, to be exact --- but he's putting on a different British accent.
Everything about his Constantine feels a little too fake to me. Like a wax figure came to life. I didn’t watch the show, so I don’t know if that’s how he was there, but here, him showing up on the island pretty much just grinds that entire plotline to a halt. In the present day, he’s a deus ex machina. The character of John Constantine is... not well represented here.
Chris: That’s a brilliant way of describing him. Keanu sounded more realistically English than Matt Ryan does. (If you haven’t seen the movie Constantine, Keanu was not trying to sound English at all, and now you know why that’s a great joke.)
I watched the pilot of Constantine when it premiered, because why not, and if my memory serves the fact that he was basically exactly like he is here was more than enough reason to not keep watching, but I will say that his show had the benefit of looking more like a real network TV show and not something that’s on the CW. Everything with him comes across even less convincing here, even if Arrow’s cast of beautiful young people try their best to look earnest and amazed/spooked.
Matt: And I thought what happened in the present was fine. Team Arrow called in Constantine to restore Sara’s lost soul, and Ollie and Laurel --- I should note that Thea killed Sara last season under the control of her evil dad, and as a result no-soul Sara is trying to kill her back --- go to some sort of Purgatory that looks like the Lazarus Pit chamber, and they save Sara’s soul from a death hot tub. Not exactly poetic symbolism, but it got the point across.
What was even happening on the island, though? Ollie, Reiter and Conklin are in the middle of a big fight about Ollie’s allegiances and Constantine comes walking in like he’s Roy from The Simpsons. (Yeah, not even Poochie. Roy.) So they drop everything so Ollie can accompany him to a cave so he can dig up an artifact and chat some magic jazz. Like, could that whole thing have been any more shoehorned in?
Chris: Do you think having some way to establish a past connection between Ollie and Constantine was the whole point of these flashbacks, or do you think they’re going to continue for the entire season?
Matt: Oh, they’ll keep going. There have been flashbacks since episode one, and it seemed like they’d always be on the island until last season they decided to jet off to Hong Kong. I assume by next episode, they’ll dive right back into the “Reiter and Conklin don’t trust Ollie” plot, but here they had to establish the Constantine link, and they came up with the least artful way to do it. I’d have preferred that Ollie just called up one of his other friends and asked, “Hey, who can bring someone back to life?”
Chris: Yeah, the more we talk about this the more I’m remembering our old Arrow friend, “lazy writing.” Maybe I didn’t enjoy this episode…
Now would be a good time to discuss something positive about the episode. I enjoyed that we got a little more background on Curtis, learning that he was a medal winning decathlete in the 2008 Olympics, which is close enough to his comic origins to suggest maybe he will end up out in the field being Mr. Terrific.
Matt: Yeah, I thought that was dealt with pretty nicely, with him just going for a workout when Felicity interrupted him.
You know, I’ve been down on all the setup for Legends of Tomorrow here, but really I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, it detracts from the focus of Arrow. On the other, it gives the show a shared-universe feel that really makes it like a comic. As much as the Ray Palmer stuff seemed like it didn’t connect to anything else, it certainly established some basis for what else might be going on in the DC TV Universe. That’s neat.
Chris: Are you looking forward to watching Legends of Tomorrow?
Matt: I’m hopeful for it. I feel like this team of producers is getting more and more of a handle on how to do a superhero show as a superhero show. What I’ve seen of Legends of Tomorrow really seems to be embracing that concept, with tiny Atom and full-on Firestorm.
I guess we should give some lip service to the other plotline of the episode, which involves Darhk sending Captain Lance on an errand at a big government server farm, and Dig going with him. Turns out it involves information about Dig’s brother, Andrew, and it’s a roundabout way for Dig to discover his brother was killed because he was involved in some illicit, illegal activity in Afghanistan. I’m of two minds about this, too. It’s kind of a nothing C-plot, but at least it adds something of a twist to the “Dig searches for his brother’s killer” plotline. Any thoughts on where they went with it?
Chris: Yeah, I mean, I guess it kept that plot sort of moving forward/treading water, but I will say I enjoyed Dig and Captain Lance partnering up. I didn’t think the two of them would be a combo that I’d like so much, but they played off each other really well. It also gave a good excuse for Lance to have to quickly summarize how he got involved with Darhk in case you weren’t paying attention last time.
Also, speaking of Darhk, is Neal McDonough contractually obligated to be standing in front of that little altar thing at least once an episode? And if the point is to not be seen/caught, wouldn’t it have been smarter for Darhk to send one of his “ghosts” to do that mission since they (or someone in his organization) are surely better trained for stealth missions than some local cop? Sometimes I think this show is… is dumb the right word?
Matt: It wants to be taken seriously, but then it’s just so dang goofy sometimes. Honestly, I tend to like the goofiness more than the self-seriousness. Like I think it’s hilarious that Darhk is basically turning out to be Dr. Claw. He’s behind every devious plot on the show this season! Killing Dig’s brother. All the stuff with the ghosts. He even appears to have kidnapped Ray Palmer (despite his “no kidnapping” code from episode two)! He’s there just so the writers can say, “Oh, Darhk did that.” It’s dumb as hell, but in kind of an endearing way.
And the way McDonough plays it kind of makes it. His incredulous response when Lance starts asking him about Andrew Diggle is wonderful. “Who is this guy to you?” That got me laughing for the right reasons.
Chris: Yeah, that absolutely made me laugh because it seemed like something a real person would say, and that seems so out of place on this show it’s hilarious.
Matt: Yeah, Damien Darhk is the most TV-show cartoon construct of a villain, with 1,000 plans he doesn’t seem to have really thought out, but McDonough plays him like a real guy with real reactions. Somehow that kinda works.
Chris: I like the way he plays everything on this show. I think you’re absolutely right about this show knowing what it wants to do, but not knowing exactly how to do it.
Matt: They certainly know where they want to be by the end of the season or even at the end of each episode, but the connective storytelling of how they get there can get majorly clunky at times. I think that’s what ultimately happened here. Several plotlines that don’t really connect and a guest star who gets dropped in without any real work to see where he fits.
Before we wrap up, I have to mention: This episode also felt weirdly like an homage to the first season. There’s a hospital scene, a club scene (!), Thea revists the club she and Ollie used to own, and Sara murders a robber in an alley (in a shoutout to Ollie, I suspect). I was having flashbacks (other than the ones in the show itself).
Also, the big mystery of the episode: Where the heck did Sara get that button-up shirt? Did I just miss that? Did she decide in the middle of her blood-rage that she was a tad chilly and had better put on a pullover?
Chris: Yeah, she’s been back for a while and she was in Laurel’s basement for at least a few days, so could she seriously not put her sister in some normal, around the house, comfortable clothes? I can’t believe her dad’s second question after he saw her wasn’t, “What the hell is she wearing? You bring your sister back from the dead and you only give her a bustier corset to wear?! What is wrong with you people?” She also just looked super-uncomfortable in it before she put that oversized shirt on.
Matt: Maybe in season six we’ll get its origin story.
And that’s it for this week! We’ll be back next week with more incisive questions about clothing, and probably a lot more!