I was excited when it was announced that Michael Jai White had been cast in a villainous role for Arrow’s second season. He’s a magnetic performer who hasn’t really had anywhere near the opportunities to shine that he seemingly deserved. In light of that, Arrow seemed like the perfect fit for him. White’s no huge name but he’s the kind of actor you bring in to a smaller TV series and give a nice, meaty part. And then White showed up in an early season two episode and had roughly nothing to do as he was utilized only as a bit player, overshadowed by the other villain of the episode he appeared in. It was disappointing and felt like a criminal misuse of an actor with charisma to spare. Luckily, one of the things that Arrow has done beautifully is turn into the skid of its goofy, comic book nature. I shouldn’t have been surprised that White would get another chance to play Bronze Tiger; it’s the nature of super heroics that any character who doesn’t die with a clearly visible body will return, but seeing Arrow really commit to its comic book origins this year has been exceedingly enjoyable, and if we get more Michael Jai White out of the deal, I’m all for it.
As the show has thrown more and more over-the-top, “comicy” elements into its mix, one of the great pleasures has been the way it has returned to characters, plot developments, and concepts to create a big, weird world that’s outgrown the series’ initial, Christopher Nolan inspired, approach to the genre. Dense, story-heavy worlds are a hallmark of superhero comics, and one of the side effects of that is how characters and stories circle back over the years. Of late, Arrow is brilliantly utilizing this feeling, and this episode, “Tremors”, is a highlight of this approach to storytelling, bringing back old plot devices like the earthquake machine from last season’s finale, detailing how certain plot elements – such as Slade’s vendetta against Oliver – came to be, and playing off what comic fans know of these characters to foreshadow future developments. It’s a jam-packed episode that’s a whole lot of fun, hitting some key revelations, powering through some plotlines that were starting to get tiresome, and effortlessly building to future developments.
The primary plot of the week centers around Bronze Tiger as he’s broken out of jail and then been tasked with stealing the earthquake machine, all while Oliver attempts to help Roy deal with his new powers. Roy’s still all mad and punchy, but now that the show has gotten Oliver and Roy together – the place where it was very obvious the last few episodes were headed – things click nicely. Roy’s anger and Oliver’s training clash, as is to be expected, even as the viewer recognizes the value of the training since it’s the exact same set of teachings that Oliver underwent on the island to become the Arrow. None of the plot elements are particularly unexpected, and indeed Roy’s delight in pummeling bad guys’ faces gets a bit redundant by the time he’s nearly caving in Bronze Tiger’s skull, but Oliver’s determination to help Roy is buoyed by a strong pair of performances from both Stephen Amell and Colton Haynes. Haynes strikes just the right amount of angry desperation in his scenes so as not to feel aggravating to the viewer, while Amell’s stern teacher routine is nicely tempered outside of those scenes by his more tortured interactions with Felicity and Diggle, and ultimately, in the climactic revealing of his true identity to Roy near the end of the episode. Amell beautifully moves between his multiple identities with a shifting performance that fits exactly with what each moment requires. It’s big, melodramatic, comic book plotting, but Amell and Haynes hold everything together, letting Arrow go to outlandish places while still holding its center just enough to keep it all together.
Not everything’s working quite right; Laurel’s continued adventures into alcoholism and pill abuse are continually uninteresting, even as the show plows straight through pretty much all the stages of her spiral into depression and isolation in this episode alone. Luckily, even this plot seems to be pulling out of its low-quality rut as we see Sara Lance appear before a barely-conscious Laurel just before the episode ends. Now, since Laurel’s out of it, this might not be the real Sara, but either way we know that Sara’s coming back to Starling before long, and in her wake it’s likely that the League of Assassins will follow. In other words, before long Arrow’s going to be juggling Deathstroke, Brother Blood, the Mirakuru drug, Roy’s transition into Oliver’s super-powered sidekick, a horde of killer assassins who count among their ranks both Talia and Ra’s Al Ghul, Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad, and Moira Queen running for Mayor, because Arrow is just the kind of show where a woman who only escaped the death penalty due to jury tampering could also have a shot at being elected mayor against a seemingly hugely popular candidate like Blood.
It’s crazy, overpacked television in the best possible way. Arrow’s writers have found just how to tap into their comic book source material and mine it for all it’s worth, so even when it seems like Michael Jai White’s return to the show didn’t quite give him enough to do – and, sadly, the episode doesn’t lean on him as much as it could have – we’re still promised the beautiful concept of him leading a group of villains in a new version of the Suicide Squad. It’s a lot to get across in an hour of TV, but Arrow’s managing the task for the moment, painting across a huge canvas and making the most of just about every aspect of its source material. Since that source material happens to be comic books, that means there’s a lot to get to, and at the rate Arrow’s currently going, it seems like the show’s creative team is intent on fitting it all in.