This week’s installment of Arrow goes all in on the series’ romantic couplings and complications and it’s readily apparent from the word go that this is not particularly fruitful ground for the show. Many of the things that have made Arrow so intriguing have emerged from the tension that results between its more hard-edged exploration of the psyche of a man trying to claw back from the edge of oblivion and the soapier story engines of most shows on The CW. For every introspective look into Oliver’s traumatic five years on the island and his return to Starling there’s been relationship drama with Thea and Roy to balance it out. While the scale mostly weighs in the favor of the more complex material Arrow’s never completely given up on making its more traditional CW parts work.
“Draw Back Your Bow” makes a strong argument for finally jettisoning that side of the show for good. Not everything in the episode is horrible, but there’s very little good here and the lows also happen to be just about as low as the series has ever fallen. Thea’s plot in particular is shockingly bad and out of place as it manages to wedge scene after useless scene of Thea falling for a brash and cocky DJ into the otherwise action oriented show. One entire scene manages to revolve around another DJ failing to properly read the room at Verdant and playing awful music; Thea then fires him and the aforementioned cocky DJ shows up to save the day. That’s it. There’s no substance and what little exists in the scene is only there to showcase Austin Butler in his role as Chase.
Chase is a new addition to the cast, at least for the moment, and the entire episode fails to position him as anything resembling an interesting or useful new character. He’s smarmy, lacks any appreciable charm or use, and yet by episode’s end Thea seems to have become smitten with him, indulging in a quick make out session after Chase saves Verdant’s reopening party. Really, what’s most notable about Chase is that Butler was a regular on another CW show, the recently cancelled The Carrie Diaries. Butler seemingly brings that show’s soapy, more CW friendly atmosphere with him into this installment of Arrow, as all things point back to love in every last plot.
It’s not exactly a shock that this is the case considering the fact that the episode builds itself around the villain Cupid, an unstable ex-cop named Carrie Cutter who became obsessed with Oliver’s alter ego after he saved her during the chaos of last season’s finale. Love’s kind of baked into her character’s makeup so of course an episode featuring her would find ways to reflect this in the other plot lines, the problem lies in the fact that the episode readily demonstrates that its romantic dalliances just don’t have the oomph of its other storytelling modes.
The episode’s writers, Wendy Mericle and Beth Schwartz, try to turn Cupid’s obsession with Oliver into some sort of commentary on Oliver’s relationship, or lack thereof, with Felicity, or at least to use it as a motivating factor to reignite Oliver’s dormant passion, but the plot has lain fallow too long for it to properly register when it resurfaces here. Rather than dig in to Cupid’s obsessive nature and play it off of Oliver’s need to fight crime, a thread that Cupid’s ex-therapist suggests when Oliver visits her looking for info, the episode contents itself with highlighting only the soapy side of things.
While this is mostly an unsuccessful gambit throughout the episode, Felicity’s scenes with Ray Palmer manage to work, largely because Brandon Routh and Emily Bett Rickards have a way with a snappy bit of banter. Routh’s relishing the chance to pour on the charm in his role as Palmer and he’s entirely adept at it, proving more than up to the task to keeping up with Rickards’ motor-mouthed Felicity. Their scenes aren’t necessarily better written than most of the other portions of the episode, Felicity’s impassioned speech about Palmer’s virtues late in the episode is mostly unmotivated by anything we’ve seen up to this point in the pair’s relationship, but they still crackle thanks to the energy the two actors invest in the proceedings.
“Draw Back Your Bow” is about as strong an example of a “CW” heavy episode of Arrow as could be made. It’s light on action, heavy on romance, and little concerned with some of the heavier themes that Arrow likes to play with at times. What really comes through this week is that The CW has started to become a network that’s interested in featuring more types of series than just teen romances. Arrow was instrumental in bringing about this shift, which naturally means that it still has some of the old CW structures and dynamics wired into its makeup. While it usually manages to balance those influences with its other, darker side, this week’s episode can’t sort out how to utilize the soapier, more romantic aspects of its nature effectively and that causes the episode to quickly fall apart.