By: Jake Coburn & Lana Cho (story)
The Story: Everyone duck and cover—Ollie’s crazy ex is back in town!
The Review: Because I’m nothing if not an optimist, I like to think that every time a piece of fiction reintroduces a character, it has the opportunity to strip away the problematic parts in favor of someone more nuanced, complex, and accessible to the audience. What Arrow has frequently done instead is reduce major DC figures to the simplest incarnation possible. In the show’s attempt to make these characters more grounded or edgy, it’s also made them rather monotonous.
It doesn’t help if other characters tend to view each other in taglines and bywords. When both Diggle and Felicity refer repeatedly to Helena Bertinelli as Ollie’s “psycho ex-girlfriend,” they’re reinforcing the one-dimensional nature of Helena’s personality. Vengefulness is already a somewhat inert character trait, and vengefulness towards one’s own father—to the point where one doesn’t even want to risk letting him have a “second chance”—is even less impressive.
It’s that extremeness of Helena’s thirst for revenge that not only prevents her from gaining any sympathy, but turns her into an outright villain in this episode. I don’t know if Coburn-Cho think having her kill as often as possible makes her more interesting in some way, but besides the merciless murder of her father’s former attorney (who, by all accounts, is a lech but no worse than that), sends bolts flying through a handful of other individuals in her mission to put down her dad—her own dad, folks—once and for all.
She goes even beyond that, however, paying back Ollie for refusing to help her in her quest by threatening his loved ones and revealing his secret identity, the two things that can damage him the most. Ollie already has to go through some fairly strenuous moral calisthenics to give her a benefit of doubt up to the episode’s third act, but after that, it seems fairly impossible for anyone, least of all the audience, to forgive Helena’s actions—though the show will undoubtedly try.
Only two minor pluses come from Helena’s psychotic rampage. The first is she serves as a direct contrast to the McKenna, who seems more than ever the ideal romantic interest for Ollie. She’s got Helena’s drive without the erratic behavior, and she is easily the equal of Dinah in terms of being intelligent, evenhanded, compassionate, and affectionate. Even better, she has a parallel life of danger and justice to Ollie, meaning she has the most potential to understand both sides of his character. It’s truly unfortunate that the show cuts her time short on the show just as she and Ollie begin to really resonate with each other, though it gives Ollie a chance to be genuinely vulnerable and stricken by her injury and departure.
The second plus is Helena allows Tommy to take the first step toward forgiveness. Not entirely, because as Tommy says himself, it’s not just the secret-keeping that bugs him, but the fact that his best friend has murdered. Still, seeing Ollie beg Helena to spare Tommy’s life, and how miserable Ollie is after McKenna leaves, does drive home that Ollie’s suffering from his own mission. Diggle and Felicity are loyal allies, but Tommy can provide moral and emotional support neither of them can.
With all this activity on the Ollie side of things, the B, C, and D-plots get mostly sidelined. There’s the specter of Sara looming over the show (and if Ms. Lance’s theory proves true, that’ll throw another uncomfortable romantic obstacle into Ollie’s life), though it does little more in this episode than allow Paul Blackthorne to turn in a moving performance as a distraught husband and father. You also have Thea and Roy’s class tensions, which quickly convert into sexual tensions as they make out in a doctor’s office—it’s a long story. Against all that, the island flashbacks can only manage to take one step forward in the precious few minutes they have, but it’s a fairly big step for all that. Make no mistake, there’s always a lot going on in Arrow.
Conclusion: The show has definitely turned Helena into a problem character, even more problematic because it doesn’t seem to know what to do with her now.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: - I just laughed at how visibly shaken Roy gets at the sight of a needle. One, for how broad Colton Haynes went with it, and two, because it’s kind of an interesting parallel to the famous cover of Green Lantern #85 with Roy depravedly injecting himself with coke.