When my students do formal critiques of a story, they hit four points:
Who’s the protagonist? What’s his goal?
Who’s the antagonist? What’s his goal?
What must be kept in this story [because it’s so good]?
What must be fixed [in order for the story to work]?
So here’s my critique of the Arrow episode “Time of Death” followed by miscellaneous notes at the end. Warning: I really hated most of this, so you may just want to go play in the comments and ignore the post.
Who’s the protagonist? What’s his goal?
Oliver Queen. His goal is . . . uh, to stop the theft of a code-breaking device and some money and . . . uh, to throw a party for Sara? To tell off Laurel? He doesn’t have much focus or direction so it’s hard to tell.
Who’s the antagonist? What’s his goal?
The Clock King. His goal is to get money to save his sister.
Although why he doesn’t just rob banks instead of stealing stuff he has to fence is beyond me. [As Dennis and several others pointed out, he steals the device so he can break into banks. Still not sure why he isn’t using his massive computer skills to just transfer money, especially since his sister is going to have to explain to the IRS where all this cash comes from if she deposits it anywhere, but still, I was wrong, he has a reason.) Still, great antagonist.
What Should Be Kept:
The Clock King: Great, smart antagonist set up as a doppelgänger for a member of the team. Huge possibilities there.
Diggle: Aside from the Scar Survey, still acting in character, smart, confident, strong, a much better leader than Oliver.
What Needs Work:
On-the-Nose Dialogue: “As you just said, Quentin, the guy who did this isn’t smart enough to have figured this out, so there must be somebody else behind it.” Or my favorite from the flashback: “Ivo killed Shado.” “Because I chose to save you.” Because they both didn’t already know that. Actually, just make that “Bad Dialogue” in general, especially that horrific scene in the bar where Laurel, in the grip of strong emotion, takes a metaphor and abuses it to the point of incoherence: “I was drowning because Oliver was my ‘ship and you sank it, and then I grabbed on to the anchor of alcohol and pills that dragged me down, but then a shark swam by, the shark of redemption, and I let that shark bring me here, water-logged and tooth-marked–I’d show you my scars but that would screw up the metaphor–and now here I am, covered in seaweed and shark spit, just a girl telling a sister that she loves her. Also I forgive you for being a skank.” Okay, that’s not what she said, but really, nobody in the grip of strong emotion uses an extended metaphor.
Cut This Scene: Too many scenes that don’t move the plot, any plot. I love Quentin, but we didn’t need a scene where his ex-wife tells him she’s not coming back; it’s there because his hope for a re-kindled marriage is what drives Laurel to throw the dinner party to which her sister, with an emotional tone-deafness that defies all logic (see Plot-Driven Character), brings Oliver, which causes the meltdown which sends Oliver to feel superior to Laurel and cut off their non-romance (see Unsympathetic Protagonist). Scenes like this take up real estate that could have been spent on the real story, which is the Arrow team vs the Clock King, and not all this emotional angst from people we just want to slap while we yell “Snap out of it!”
Contrived Problems: There is no reason for Oliver not to tell Thea the truth. There is no reason for Oliver not to tell Quentin he’s the Arrow. There is no reason for Oliver to go to the Lance family dinner.
There is no reason for Felicity or the Clock King to be at the bank. Contrived Problems are story-killers because they lead to
Plot-Driven Characters (aka, “My character would be smarter than this but the writers need this scene to happen so I’m going to be an idiot here.”) In the case of this episode, pretty much everything everybody does.
Unsympathetic Protagonist. You know, they had a good character going in Oliver and they have just mutilated him. “I have loved you for half my life” except when I was doing your sister and helping you torpedo your relationship with the man who really loved you, and because my love is not real and unconditional I can now berate you for being cold to your sister while I’m lying to mine, and I’m also lying to you because your sister is lying to you about who she is but that’s okay because what we do is justified but what you do is not because . . . uh, I’m Oliver Queen.” You know what makes for a lousy hero? Lying, hypocritical, judgmental takedowns of the people the hero has injured and continues to injure.
Sure, Sara’s an equal because Diggle and Oliver would absolutely apologize to each other if one of them got hit. And then we get the Scar Survey Trope, done better in Lethal Weapon 3 and Leverage’s “The 2 Live Crew Job.” It’s okay to use a standard trope, you just have to use it better than it was done before. In both of those examples (and in most examples of this trope) it’s people showing off their scars as foreplay, but since there’s no Arrow cave three-way, the trope has no impact on any of the people in the conversation. Worse, it’s completely out of character because I will bet any amount of money that Oliver and Diggle who have been training together for a season and a half have never had this conversation on their own. So why are two taciturn men and a secretive blonde showing off their scars and acting completely out of character? Because the plot needs Felicity to feel left out, aka it’s Plot-Driven Character. Another problem: it makes them look like they’re bragging, trying to top each other in some kind for fourteen-year-old “Oh, yeah? Well, I mostly get shot” kind of competition. Also, why doesn’t anybody ever hit these people in the face? All those scars and yet still perfect complexions. Stupid use of a foreplay trope that damages character in the process and doesn’t move story.
This scene (the one where Felicity feels left out while the others compare scars) does not make Felicity look vulnerable, it makes her look like an idiot, right up there with “I love spending the night with you.” Rickard is a good actress, she could have done all of that with a look. And then there’s Sara: “You’re so cute.” Bite me, Sara. Don’t patronize people; you’re not a in a position of superiority here.
Oliver re Laurel: “She’ll come around.” So he’s an idiot. At least Sara has a grip on reality. You know, if he’s this bad at reading people, he’s not a Leader, he’s a Hitter. Diggle reads people. Is it too late to call this show Diggle?
Laurel’s “a little mad at Sara”? Oliver cannot possibly be that dumb. How can Sara leave her own party? She and Oliver just duck out and nobody notices? Why is this party even here? It doesn’t move plot in any way. Oliver and his mother are still at odds. The Lances are still happy Sara’s back. Why was this scene here? Cut This Scene.
“Wolziak (?) was just the muscle. We need to find the brain.” Y’know, I think Quentin already knew that since he just said, “Wolziak is small time on a good day. I doubt he’d even know how to use thing, let along break in and steal it on his own.” On-The-Nose Dialogue.
“Smaller people like us.” Finally, Sara shows some sensitivity, but Felicity’s tired of being patronized.
And we’re back on the island? Why? Edited to add: Oh, to set up Sin. Because that couldn’t have been done in a line of dialogue. Cut this Scene.
How much do I love Quentin? And Laurel, really happy because he thinks her mom might come back, so she offers dinner. Finally a Lance scene that isn’t toxic. Also, finally a scene that moves plot and doesn’t violate character.
The Clock King is a great antagonist. What a shame he’s been in this for about five seconds.
Love “He doesn’t know there’s two of us.” Great action stuff. Scenes move plot, don’t violate character. Go, Arrow.
Oliver patronizes Thea by not telling her the truth. She’s an adult. Kiss on the forehead. Oliver, I will buy you as the Hitter/Muscle in this show, but you couldn’t lead any of these people out of a paper bag. Where’s Diggle?
Sara knows blood analysis, computers, has perfect hair, can kick ass. That must have been some five years. Edited to add: And BARTEND. She makes a perfect drink. I’m thinking of a very old sexist joke that ends “And a flat head to put my pizza on.”
Clock King/sister; Oliver/sister; Sara/sister. Those parallels can’t be an accident, but they just left it there because they were squandering story real estate on scenes that went nowhere.
The Clock King is a great antagonist.
If Oliver liquidates 800,000 shares, doesn’t Isabel buy them? Wouldn’t Walter point that out? Wouldn’t the Clock King see the sudden appearance of all that money as suspicious? Why am I expecting this show to to make sense?
Are you kidding me? Sara wants Oliver to go with her because she doesn’t want to face Laurel alone? Because bringing Oliver will make things so much better? Now Sara’s an idiot, but she can’t help it, her character’s been taken hostage by the plot. Plot-driven character. And now, the show’s convinced me that Oliver and Felicity are a bad idea. I want Diggle and Felicity to run the Arrow cave. Sara can go live with her mother and tend bar for the Flash in Central City. And Oliver can shoot people with arrows when Diggle and Felicity tell him to.
I like it that Felicity is feeling threatened as a team member, not because of her crush on Oliver. That gives her a little of her self-respect back. But they’re still defining her in terms of Oliver and the Arrow cave. Speaking of the Arrow cave, where’s Roy? Did the writers get bored with his plot line? Because you know he’d be there.
I am so Team Laurel at this point, except she deserves better than Oliver.
And Laurel speaks for the entire viewing audience. Or at least me.
So Laurel tells Oliver the truth, and he deflects it by pointing out that she drinks. Oliver “You have no idea what’s going on with my family right now.” Because the fact that I just screwed up your family again is not as important as the fact that I’m lying to my sister. Self-involved, sanctimonious jerk.
“I have loved you for half my life but I’m done running after you.” WTF? When has he ever run after her on this show? He’s screwing her sister and NOW he’s telling her he’s done with her? She got that memo, Oliver, when her idiot sister dragged you to the dinner that was supposed to reunite their broken family and then exchanged long looks with you. I really don’t like Oliver, and not just in this moment. I haven’t liked him since the last episode and now it’s coalescing around this moment. He’s turning into the guy I want the hero to beat up. Diggle? Could you come in here and smack the shit out of Oliver? Thank you.
So is it smart that Felicity is in the bank or dumb? I really want her to be smart and not just going into danger to be a wannabe. The jacket is not a good touch, especially with Sara pointing it out. Tacky, Sara.
“Diggle get her out of here.” Because Diggle is just his driver now?
FINALLY, Diggle gets a real job. And he gets to defeat technology with brawn, which means his skill set is perfectly balanced by Felicity’s. In fact, Felicity and Diggle defeat the Clock King. And I am suddenly struck by how great a Felicity/Diggle team could be. Send Sara and Oliver back to the island, get Laurel a nice guy who appreciates her instead of screwing her over, and give this show to Diggle and Felicity.
Of course Felicity is better at computers than Sara. She had to have known that because she’s not stupid but hey, the plot needed her to feel threatened, so . . . Plot-Driven Character.
Very happy the Lance Catfight is over but this dialogue is just deadly. Nobody in the grip of sincere emotion talks in extended metaphors.
If Felicity saves everybody, why is she cowering while Sara stands triumphant? Do the writers think keeping their feet on her neck is characterization?
How did this show get so bad so fast? What happened?
Edited to Add: I left off the disclaimer I put the beginning of the Arrow posts because things were going so well. Then I got this comment from Dennis:
This is why no one respects women, they watch shows because “there’s hot topless men in it and they do stuff coz abs”. If you’re going to critique something, at least watch it properly, moron.
Yes, Dennis has issues. He also had a valid point in the first part of his comment which I can’t post without editing the insults out of his comment, and I don’t edit comments, so here’s the disclaimer again:
Community Rules: Treat everyone with courtesy and respect. Do not say somebody is wrong, say “I respectfully disagree.” Any comment that refers to anyone in a derogatory way is going to get trashed. Any comment in a sarcastic, snide, or demeaning tone will be trashed even faster. Any comment that says”this is why no one respects women” will be ignored because really? Really, Dennis?