‘Arrow’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 2: ‘The Candidate’
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.
Things turn political in this season’s second episode, “The Candidate.” A sincere, driven woman and Queen family friend (guest star Jeri Ryan) steps up to the plate to run for mayor, an office fraught with peril. Guess what happens? You got it: peril. Also firings and debates about supervillain ethics. John Behring directed the episode, and it was written by Marc Guggenheim and Keto Shimizu.
Matt: Let’s start with the important stuff, Chris. Mr. Terrific and Anarky, or at least versions of them, are in this episode!
Chris: They totally were! Albeit very different versions of them.
Matt: Mr. Terrific (played with a lot of charm by Echo Kellum) was present in one of Arrow’s ever-present business plots. He’s a good guy who created some software that singles out employees for raises, and some nasty exec turned it around to use it to fire people including --- irony of ironies --- our old pal Curtis Holt (Mister Terrific) himself. Luckily, Felicity, who hates firing people despite ruthlessly closing down a paper plant two months ago, works with him to come up with a way to get out of the firings by basically stalling for time.
Chris, how’d you feel about your first-ever Arrow boardroom C-plot?
Chris: Oh, so these are a regular thing? These awful, awful scenes happen on the reg?
Matt: Oh yeah. The status of Queen Consolidated/Palmer Technologies has long been a major part of the show. I guess I’ll be saying this a lot, but: It’s better than it was. This plot actually had its share of light comedy, whereas other seasons (notably season 2, which had Tough Businesswoman Summer Glau toughing all over the place) played it very, very seriously.
Chris: Well, you’re absolutely right about the likability of Mr. Terrific, who is not Moss from The IT Crowd.
But Felicity just seems like she is from some (clearly) very different show. Everyone else is using serious voices and talking about serious things and she’s... not exactly making jokes, because I don’t think the things she says can qualify as jokes, but making light of things. I’m well aware that superheroes can be quippy during serious situations, but you have to be good at it for it to work, I think.
Matt: Felicity’s role has always been a sort of comic relief thing. I actually liked her line about her being the only one at Palmer Tech who can speak in sentence fragments. Sometimes the writing for her isn’t so good, though, and Emily Bett Rickards tries to pull it off, but she’s not a magician. She does well when the material is good, though.
Chris: Fair enough. Again, my only experience with her so far was last episode and that episode of The Flash she was on; she just seems a little tonally off from what’s happening in the world around her. Also, what is her position at the company now?
Matt: If anything, she kind of fits better on The Flash than here. Those characters know how to smile every once in a while.
She’s the CEO. Here’s how that happened: She was in the IT department (so I guess she’s Moss) at Queen Consolidated, and Ollie ended up going to her a lot for computer help in season one. As a result of that, he made her his personal assistant. Then Ray Palmer brought the company and made her one of his key advisers, eventually vice president. Finally, just before he “died” in that explosion, he signed over control of the company to her.
Chris: The kind of thing I’m sure the stockholders and board of directors of any large company would be fine with. (side-eye emoji) I ask, because I wasn’t exactly clear on what her position was even though I think they said it once or twice, but I’m pretty sure the CEO doesn’t fire people one on one. If you have a supervisor, that’s who fires you. You don’t go to the CEO of the company to get fired unless you work directly under the CEO, right? I mean, maybe she wanted to do it herself to try to sugar-coat it as much as possible, but as much as she hated doing it, you’d think she’d have avoided it at all costs. I know this is a fruitless mental endeavor, but I can’t help how my brain works.
Matt: She’s a hands-on boss, and also they needed a scene where a fired employee emotionlessly drones about how Felicity let everyone down.
Chris: Letting people down is like a running gag in this show, right? “So-and-so has failed this ______”? Anyway, I liked Mr. Terrific! I hope he actually becomes Mr. Terrific and this isn’t just a name they pulled out of the DC grab bag. Even though Curtis Holt is not Mr. Terrific's name exactly, so, again, why do they bother?
Matt: Yeah, I liked him, too, and I wouldn’t have had much confidence that the show would actually make him Mr. Terrific in the past, but now, I think it may just happen.
Okay, on to Anarky, a.k.a. Lonnie Machin, played by Alexander Calvert, the villain of this episode. No longer a Batman prodigy, here he’s sort of a free agent desperate to join Damien Darhk’s army of ghosts. That leads to my absolute favorite thing about the episode: He kidnaps Madison Danforth, daughter of mayoral candidate Jessica Danforth, and that makes Darhk absolutely furious. Running a murderous, terrorist-adjace organization is one thing, but kidnapping? Some things you just don’t do!
Chris: Sometimes I feel like the writers on this show:
- Aren't trying very hard
- Don't care
- Don't care about trying very hard
- All of the above
This is the same guy who was ready to blow up an entire train station full of innocent civilians last week, right?
Matt: Yeah, and that’s not even the half of it, but I’ll get to that in a sec. In a weird way, I actually like the notion that Darhk has a weird, off-center moral code that says killing an entire train station is fine, but kidnapping a daughter is over the line. It at least gives him something beyond “guy who will do anything bad because he’s bad.”
That said, his code doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least not right now. Last season, he was described as having ties to the League of Assassins, and boy, they sure have no problem kidnapping anybody. Ollie kidnapped Dig’s wife, Harbinger, and that was just peachy with Ra’s. Maybe they’ll explain it?
Chris: His wife's name is Harbinger?
Matt: Dig’s wife is Lyla Michaels, Harbinger to Teen Titans fans. The resemblance basically ends there.
Chris: Good grief, this show. Anyway, I think you can have a bad guy with a code about lines you don't cross, but that really felt like they just didn't know what to do and wanted to give Neal McD some more lines while they had him on set that day. Or like they don't care if things make sense. Take your pick.
Matt: It seems like a way to set up Darhk as a “principled” villain for some purpose later on in the season. To me, the bigger sin is how much this episode served as a greatest hits version of previous Arrow plotlines. They repeated so many things. Thea even acknowledges it when she reminds everyone that Slade Wilson kidnapped her when her mom was running for mayor. There’s also:
- Mayor/candidate assassination attempt (this has happened so many times)
- Loose cannon sidekick goes too far (Roy in seasons two and three)
- Mysterious paramilitary group appears on the island (Fyers’ group in season two)
Chris: There were also a few moments in this episode that were "copy/paste"-ed straight out of the final two seasons of Smallville, with all the talk of people needing a symbol of hope in the light and not just someone who tries to help from the shadows.
Matt: Also The Dark Knight, which has been the blueprint for Arrow since episode one, but I’ll say this: I am appreciating a notably lighter tone. Aside from Thea literally burning Anarky alive at the end because the Lazarus Pit has stolen her humanity or whatever, this episode had a much breezier feel than episodes past. There was banter. It felt a little brighter.
Chris: See, this is what these CW shows do, they make my brain only able to think about them in the context of other CW shows, so I thought of Smallville instead of The Dark Knight. I don't want to sound too sour, because, once again, I enjoyed this episode well enough. It was.. I dunno, is "fun" the right word? I didn't hate it or dislike it, and it even had moments I liked.. but I also feel a little weird when I try to say I "liked" it. Is this normal? Is the problem that there's too much really good stuff to compare it to? Did you ever watch Lois & Clark or that '90s Flash series?
Matt: I did, and I liked them both a lot, but I was also right at the age to just like them and not get frustrated by mega-annoying details. I think, ultimately, that’s been the thing about Arrow since season two or so. I’ve generally thought it was a pretty okay show, but each episode just has these details that are maddeningly dumb. And since we’re writing recaps that are supposed to dig into the show, I have to point out those details and make jokes about why they don’t make sense. I think it makes me come off as way more down on the show than I actually am now, and I can see you starting to also feel that pain.
Weirdly this two-person format is sort of positioning me as the defender of the show, and that’s bananas.
Chris: Haha! How fun for you! To me, it's more like you're just the person that understands the rules of the insane asylum we've been locked in. You're the guy who's able to tell me why we only get bananas on Tuesday and how the new head nurse is much nicer than the old one.
The reason I brought those '90s shows up is that I'm realizing these superhero shows some twenty years later still feel like basically the same show... only those shows didn't wait four seasons (or, in Smallville's case, ten seasons) to call their character by name. Some aspects have improved like the willingness (or ability) to bring in or at least acknowledge more of the universe's characters, but it's mostly the same format and suddenly I think I'm getting depressed.
Matt: In that case, let’s get away from the big-superhero-TV picture and get back to the episode. So, Darhk forces Anarky to return Madison (who is rarely referred to by name; she’s often just called Jessica Danforth’s daughter, which seems a little weird), he gets burned up by Thea, and then he escapes from an ambulance leaving behind an anarchy symbol. What got me about this is that a paramedic didn’t recognize the symbol. Did she grow up in a cave where Nirvana didn’t exist?
Chris: Hahaha! Exactly! I had that same thought of, "Who doesn't know what that is?" If their world is one where people don't just recognize really common symbols, does this mean there was never a big punk scene, and if so, does that mean Captain Lance is secretly really into the underground music scene? I'm going to start creating my own backstory for moments like this to enrich my enjoyment.
Matt: He is a guy with a shaved head hiding an English accent. He’s worn a few pairs of Doc Martens in his life.
Meanwhile, since Thea is kind of losing it and going super-violent, Laurel, on the pretense of going to a “spa,” plans to go with her to Nanda Parbat to ask Malcolm Merlyn and the League what’s going on. Also, she wants to investigate her sister Sara’s death, thinking that she may not really be dead. So on the way, she and Thea dig Sara up and... well, she’s in that grave.
Chris: My notes for that moment were "EWWWWW!" How in the hell are they planning on traveling with a dead body, Matt?
I'm glad they had a reason behind Speedy's anger management issues that actually makes sense and not just that she's become addicted to beating people up or an adrenaline junkie or something.
Matt: Thea was on drugs (specifically, vertigo) in the first season, but she got better.
You know, you saying that made it just occur to me that their plan is to put Sara in a Lazarus Pit. That makes sense. I thought they figured they’d find that grave empty, because they’ve seen the trailers for Legends of Tomorrow like everyone else. We all know Sara’s alive and not some desiccated, gross wax figure that looks kinda like Caity Lotz.
But to answer your question about travel, Nanda Parbat is apparently just a short bus ride away from Star City, at least according to last season. (The real answer is they have access to a private jet.)
Chris: Oh, like how Smallville and Metropolis were within driving distance of each other... I'm doing it again.
Matt: It’s a lot like that. They were going back and forth to Nanda Parbat last season like it was the mall.
So how about that new mayoral candidate? I think Jeri Ryan actually did a really good job, maybe because she used to be married to a politician. There’s one scene where she’s talking to Ollie in protective custody after the assassination attempt and it feels like she’s still “on,” she’s talking about fighting for the city like it’s a campaign speech. I figure politicians are often like that.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. At first I thought it was maybe just a weird acting choice, but now that you say that I think you're right, because it immediately went out the window when her daughter was kidnapped.
Matt: There were a couple times when it felt like she was doing an impression of Susanna Thompson playing Moira Queen, but I think the character just has a similar air of always considering the optics of situations. Jessica Danforth is definitely a step up from, say, Sebastian Blood (one of season two’s mayoral candidates), I think.
Chris: I'm going to use my context clues to assume you're talking about characters from earlier seasons. At first I felt like there was something sinister about her character, and she was going to be in league with Darhk or have some similar hidden agenda, but then I realized, "Oh, she just seems kind of evil because she seems like a real politician."
Matt: I hope they don’t do that turn. They’ve gone to that well a few times (and I’ve already complained about the show repeating itself) and jeez, Star City really needs a mayor.
And that’s it for this week! Join us next week as a man who throws cards at people but isn’t Gambit (he seems to be Double Down, even though that’s a Flash character) terrorizes the city and probably threatens Jessica Danforth. Until then, everybody!