If you’re all caught up on The CW’s Arrow, then you have seen quite the episode in “Beacon of Hope!” For a show that’s decidedly darker than its sister series The Flash–even though they’re both drawn from the pages of DC Comics–Arrow has lately fallen into a quagmire of repetitive plot beats and increasingly desperate and depressed states of mind for our heroes. The writers seemed to have taken those criticisms to heart for tonight’s episode, which traded in the “dark and gritty realism” for “campy, comic book craziness.” A worthy effort, though its execution left something to be desired.
First of all, we get a trio of villains in various levels of intensity in this episode. Damien Darhk gets a side plot that brings back a previously seen villain and reveals another one hidden in plain sight by episode’s end. But the main antagonist (Ant-Agonist?) in this episode is one that previously appeared on The Flash mini-crossover special, “All Star Team Up”: Brie Larvan, a.k.a. The Bug-Eyed Bandit, as played by Emily Kinney. It’s with this villain, and Kinney’s performance, that this hour’s many problems begin.
I’m a fan of Kinney’s work on The Walking Dead and, for my money, her rendition of “The Parting Glass” is the best I’ve heard. But when it comes to her portrayal of Larvan, I just can’t. Look, there’s a certain level of campiness to be(e) expected when the Villain of the Week is a bee-obsessed tech expert and hacker who uses swarms of robotic bees to do her bidding. Unfortunately, Larvan’s clunky, forced dialogue and Kinney’s physically awkward performance elicited some unintentional laughter during the episode. There’s a difficult line to be found between campy acting and bad acting, and this hour leaned way to the wrong side of that divide, and not just by Kinney.
Everyone on this show is turned up to 11 at different times; that’s to be expected. But when there isn’t anyone left here on Earth to react to the crazy things going on–Curtis finding out Team Arrow’s HQ and identities, the Smoaks and Thea running away from a swarm of robotic bees, or Oliver, Black Canary, and Spartan battling a humanoid super-suit composed entirely of said robotic bees–all sense of dramatic tension washes away. So we’re left to sit back and enjoy the insanity that is artificial insects replicating within Oliver Queen’s body after a bodysuit bee sting or Felicity defeating said robo-suit with a shorted out lamp after a high-tech anti-robo-bee arrow failed to do the trick.
And enjoy it I did! This show has been so dark and dour lately that I was hoping for a shakeup to the status quo, however bonkers that might look like. “Beacon of Hope” was definitely bonkers. (And I won’t use that title again since no less than three characters shoehorn it into their dialogue throughout the episode.) Bug-Eyed Bandit’s mode of attack is wacky enough, but when it turns out that her ultimate goal is to have Felicity agree to give up her surgically implanted spinal bio-chip implant (or at least the blueprints to the prototype) because a tumor is strangling her own spinal cord and the only possible surgery available would paralyze her, you start to ask yourself just what the hell is going on here. (The wackiness is tempered somewhat by the very real-world PSA the show shared on behalf of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.) But wait! That’s not enough, because Larvan also has to find out, in ways that are about as organic as her robo-bees themselves–that Felicity was responsible for getting her thrown into Iron Heights in the first place.
I’ll admit that the robo-bee suit was pretty cool, both in terms of its effects, its display of powers, and in the clever way the stunt team found to give Larvan a more imposing physical presence that the team could confront. However, the final climactic fight was a bit of a downer; honestly, the stick-fighting training session was the most entertaining fight scene of the night, physically, emotionally, and script-wise. It actually opened the door just a bit into Oliver and Laurel possibly rekindling a long-smoldering romance, something that was flirted with over the course of this episode. We’ll have to keep an eye on this one!
Elsewhere in this hour, Damien Darhk finally got a chance to speak and fight (but they really need to find a better stunt double for Darhk…). Though the season’s big bad is without his magical powers, he’s still got his manipulative abilities since he coerced Michael Amar, a.k.a. Murmur (Adrian Glynn McMorran), to side with him by threatening to kill his grandmother. While choosing a mute man to deliver a message isn’t the most sensible of decisions, I’m willing to overlook it as long as it helps to move the plot along. And that it does, since we see Malcolm Merlyn chatting with someone at episode’s end, someone he calls Darhk’s “ace in the hole” … none other than Andy Diggle. This will certainly play out rather poorly for his brother and Team Arrow on next week’s episode, but it was kind of a weak stinger for an episode full of … well, you get it.
Elsewhere, on Island Time, things got much more magical and murderous. Oliver and Taiana had Reiter cornered at gunpoint, but the idol’s powers protected the madman from harm. Apparently primordial energies are flowing through him and being controlled by Reiter, whose power would only magnify with the dozen prisoners he intended to kill. Luckily, his mojo ran out just before he could kill Oliver. (It didn’t escape my attention that Reiter’s abilities were quite similar to Darhk’s, clearly linking the two somehow.) What was curious was that Oliver and Taiana’s plan to prevent the murder of twelve innocent people was to … commit the murder of numerous guards. I guess it’s just a workplace hazard when you become a mercenary for a magical maniac. Welcome back to the darkness, Arrow!
While I appreciated the change in tactics for this episode (and I can’t help that I’m missing out on some Easter egg or something thanks to the repeated title), this was one of the weirdest hours of Arrow yet. Not bad, necessarily, but certainly not great. If you were in the mood for some wacky comic book hijinks and over-the-top campiness, you probably enjoyed this one quite a bit; if you weren’t, then this hour was likely a struggle.
Rating: ★★★ Good (Or, you could say it’s a B- … I’ll show myself out.)
Larvan: “Bees. I like bees.”
Oliver: “Laurel, she’s not Voldemort. And I’m fine. That’s a good idea. You should tell Alex to talk to Felicity.”
Merlyn: “Don’t be embarrassed, performance issues are common for men of your age.”
Larvan: “You’ll have to excuse my little friends. Their…bee-havior can be appalling sometimes.”
Quentin: “Robot bees. Terrific.”
Donna: “From now on, I’m wearing flats. These assaults are weekly, it’s ridiculous.”
I normally don’t mind Donna but there was really no reason for her to be in this episode. I’m assuming they just left her in the lair/panic room with the rest of the board members.
Curtis dropping a Neal Adams reference during his rambling on tonight’s episode. Nice.
Diggle: “Looks like we found ourselves a taller more dude-like version of Felicity.”
Reiter: “Imagine what I will become when dozens are sacrificed in my name.” Oliver; “You’ll become a monster.” Reiter: “No. A god.”
Felicity: “Look around you! We’re in a Die Hard movie with bees!”
There’s something hilarious about Quentin just going off to make a cup of coffee (probably tea, actually) while they’re trying to stop robotic bees from within the vigilante team’s secret lair. I’m glad they came back to this by having Quentin smash the rogue bee with a coffee pot!
Curtis: “That’s both comforting and horrifying at the same time.” Diggle: “Yeah, welcome to our world.”
Despite Curtis’ brush with the superhero team in this episode, he didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about taking up this not-so-fantastic lifestyle. Do we think he’ll be forced into action alongside Team Arrow at some point, despite his reservations?