Why The Russos Are The Best Thing to Happen to the MCU Since Joss Whedon
How viewers judge this week’s episode of Arrow likely depends a lot on how convincing they find the love triangle wedged into the show’s center, as “Home Invasion” isn’t really about Diggle’s thirst for revenge against Deadshot, the vague crimes of the Evil Businessman of the Week, or even the introduction of the assassin Mr. Blank. It’s about the tug of war Oliver and Tommy play for the heart of Laurel.
The producers seem certain that Ollie and Laurel are the One True Pairing because … they were a longtime couple in the DC Universe, or because that will-they-or-won’t-they question provides an easy source of tension? Just because. However, they’ve not done anything to make that case to the audience; longing gazes and the occasional comforting embrace just aren’t enough. Heck, Laurel is only slightly better developed as a character than the average criminal who rolls into Starling City just long enough to serve as a target for the Hood. As a public defender and a moral crusader of sorts, it’s relatively easy to imagine what she sees in Tommy: someone who needs saving. But what keeps her drifting back toward Ollie, the guy who cheated on her with her own sister (y’know, the one who died when his yacht sank)?
For that matter, what is it about Laurel that makes her so irresistible to these one-time best friends? That she’s a good person? That she’s perfected anguished looks and disappointed scowls? Twenty episodes into the series, she remains perhaps the most one-dimensional central character.
Hinging an episode on how much the audience cares about a fairly contrived romantic entanglement is awfully risky, yet “Home Invasion” mostly works. That’s in large part because the bulk of the emotional burden is placed on actor Colin Donnell, whose Tommy Merlyn has evolved into the most complex character on the series (hand over the crown, Moira Queen). Concerned for Laurel’s safety, Tommy maneuvers her closer to the only person who can protect her, Oliver Queen, and when he recognizes himself as an obstacle to her happiness, he tearfully walks out of her life. Those are heart-wrenching sacrifices that come across as more genuine than any Ollie has made.
Yes, I’m on Team Tommy.
The episode’s premise is fairly standard for Arrow, as techno-wizard Felicity Smoak hacks into the A.R.G.U.S. computer to discover that Diggle’s old Army buddy Lyla Michaels has used the information he supplied on Deadshot to lure the assassin into a trap (in Starling City, naturally). Easy peasy, right? Of course, Diggle doesn’t want his brother’s character in prison; he wants him dead. To that end, he and Ollie craft their own nebulous plan that involves them beating A.R.G.U.S. to the punch, and filling Floyd Lawton with arrows. Or bullets. Or something.
It doesn’t matter, however, because another storyline gets in the way when Ollie is introduced to Laurel’s new clients, a picture-perfect family swindled by Edward Rasmus, a businessman with no concept of proportional response. They seek to be made whole by the courts, so he hires the psychopath Mr. Blank (played by Angel alum J. August Richards) to kill them. That seems about right. He coolly murders the parents, but their adorable son escapes, setting the primary storyline into motion.
Laurel takes the kid into her care until his grandparents can arrive, providing Tommy with another moment to shine, as he comforts the boy about the loss of his mother and father (he, too, experienced the murder of a parent when he was young). Laurel, too, finally gets her time in the spotlight when, despite police protection, Mr. Blank tracks the child to her apartment. The daughter of a police detective, Laurel isn’t caught flat-footed: When the assassin identifies himself as a police lieutenant and holds his shield up the peephole, she instantly realizes the badge number doesn’t match his stated rank, allowing her time to flee to another room as Tommy and the boy take cover from the assassin’s bullets. And when Laurel returns, she’s armed with a shotgun. It’s one of those “Fuck yeah!” moments that might’ve had even more impact had she been established in, oh, the previous 19 episodes as a force to be reckoned with. Still, she’s no match for a hired killer, so it’s up to the Hood, who comes crashing through the window, to fend off Mr. Blank.
It’s only afterward that Tommy insists to Detective Lance that the safest place for Laurel and the kid isn’t in police custody but at the Queen mansion, where there’s plenty of hired security (and the vigilante). Although he presumed Ollie would remain close, Tommy quickly learns they’ll have to depend on hand-picked guards while his childhood friend attends to other matters – namely, the plot to take down Deadshot.
If Diggle and Ollie’s plan seems flimsy, the one concocted by A.R.G.U.S. is even worse: Posing as a potential client, Lyla is to meet Lawton at what appears to be food court – hey, contract killings are often negotiated over a jalapeno dog from Wetzel’s Pretzels! – allowing agents disguised as custodians and fellow diners to arrest him. There are a couple of major flaws in that scheme, though. One is that it’s an easily detectable trap; the other is that A.R.G.U.S. is apparently inept, as its operatives fail to secure the building’s perimeter, not only allowing Diggle to enter freely (and lurk in the shadows, within convenient leaping distance of Lyla) but also Deadshot to find a position from which he can kill four agents. The two tussle in a stairwell, with Diggle’s life spared only by Lawton’s wonderfully capitalist code: No one is paying him to kill Diggle.
Oliver is supposed to be there, too, you see – clearly he wouldn’t have had any problem strolling into the food court, grabbing a Philadelphia roll from Sarku Japan as he goes – but just as he’s about to leave the lair, Felicity learns Rasmus is about to flee for Shanghai, where he’ll be untouchable by U.S. law. Will Ollie back up Diggle in his quest for vengeance, as he promised, or pursue the man who (indirectly) threatens the life of Laurel? Oh, who are we kidding? Of course he goes after Rasmus! If only there were some kind of communication device he could’ve used to contact Diggle to let him know. Curse you, primitive technology!
The Hood stops Rasmus, who’s so terrified that he confesses all of his crimes to the police before calling Mr. Blank. (Pro tip: If you’ve hired a psychopathic killer who’s intent on remaining free and anonymous, he’s probably not the first person you should contact when you’ve been taken into custody.) Posing as Rasmus’ attorney, Mr. Blank waves off his client’s order to leave the boy alone – he can’t, you see, as the kid can identity him – and then performs some mumbo-jumbo, applying pressure to the businessman’s wrist to trigger an embolism. With that loose end tied up, the assassin heads to the Queen mansion, where he takes out a couple of security guards before being confronted by Ollie.
Although Arrow can be criticized for many things, fight choreography isn’t one of them. The brawl is beautifully conceived, as Oliver prowls the darkened hall of the mansion with confidence – with Laurel, Tommy and the kid locked away in a bedroom, he’s free of inhibitions – using the familiar environment to its full advantage. While Mr. Blank must feel his away around unfamiliar surroundings, Ollie employs railings, stairs and, ultimately, a fireplace poker to defeat his opponent. “What happened to you on that island?” Mr. Blank asks. “You’re about to find out,” Ollie replies, just before he sinks the iron rod through the killer’s chest.
All’s well that ends well, yeah? Not quite. There are relationships to dissolve, if perhaps only temporarily. Acknowledging that Oliver still loves Laurel, and recognizing the apparent inevitability of their romance (hey, he reads the comics!), Tommy falls back on his old carefree-playboy persona and insists all this drama made him realize he’s not ready for a relationship. Choking back tears, he packs his bags and walks out of Laurel’s apartment.
That’s not the only break-up, though (I even wrote in my notes last night, “Diggle breaks up with Ollie”): Feeling betrayed by Ollie’s decision to pursue Rasmus instead of help him – seriously, pick up a phone next time – and declaring that his friend will always choose Laurel over everyone else, Diggle makes his own exit: “The only thing you have to stop me from going out that door is an arrow.” Yeah, he can be just a little melodramatic.
Odd and ends