Stephen Amell and Willa Holland in ARROW - Season 2 - "State v. Queen" | ©2013 The CW/Jack Rowand

Stephen Amell and Willa Holland in ARROW - Season 2 - "State v. Queen" | ©2013 The CW/Jack Rowand

Stars:  Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Paul Blackthorne, Susanna Thompson, Willa Holland, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Manu Bennett, Colton Haynes, Celina Jade, Summer Glau, Caity Lotz, Kevin Alejandro, John Barrowman
: Marc Guggenheim and Drew Z. Greenberg
:  Bethany Rooney
The CW, airs Wednesday Nights
Original Telecast
: November 20, 2013

If you are a fan of hard-hitting courtroom drama, you probably got very little satisfaction out of the latest ARROW episode, “State vs. Queen.”  If you’re a fan of all things DC Comics, however, this episode was probably a revelation.  After all, we’re now seeing ARROW take a turn towards a more soapy, supernaturally tinged universe, which is suddenly clogged with recurring super-villains.  Will this make the show more exciting than it’s been?  I suppose it’s possible, but if “State vs. Queen” is any indication, I think it’s more likely to make each episode muddled and filled with a sense of anti-climax.

“State vs. Queen” begins with a flashback to six months earlier.  While, on TV, Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) confesses her role in the plot to destroy the neighborhood called The Glades with an earthquake machine, and warns Glades residents to get out before it’s too late.  Soon it’s too late, and we learn how the earthquake specifically affected the Iron Heights prison, home to some of Starling City’s deadliest villains.  In all the chaos and confusion of the earthquake, the drug-dealing murderer known as The Count, (a.k.a. “Count Vertigo”), (Seth Gabel) manages to escape.  For good measure, he also sets free The Dollmaker, who murdered a bunch of women, but then met his death at the hands of The Black Canary in a previous episode.

Back in the present day, we’re getting ready for opening statements in the trial of Moira Queen, who’s being charged with 503 counts of murder for her role in building the earthquake machine.  The Prosecutor, Adam Donner (Dylan Bruce) seems pretty confident he can get a conviction.  Sitting second chair is a very uneasy Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) whose complicated relationship with the Queen family makes this process difficult for her.  She figures out that Donner’s confidence has to do with some secret evidence that he’s been holding onto and hasn’t shown anyone yet.

We then flash back to Lian Yu Island, many years earlier, where Younger Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) has been forced into taking his captors, lead by mad scientist Anthony Ivo (Dylan Neal), to the base camp of his friends Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) and Shado (Celina Jade).  Younger Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) had just tricked him into revealing the identity of his friends on the island, and Ivo wants to find them and determine if they have the “Hosen” (sic?) that he’s looking for.  Apparently the Hosen is an arrowhead that contains information on the whereabouts of a Japanese WWII-era submarine that contains super soldier serum, and Slade and Shado must have it with them, (which they actually do).   Because this episode is so crammed full of characters and storylines, the scene that follows must have been cut down for time, because that’s the only way to explain why it involves such stupidity on the part of its villains.  Ivo has his men shoot up Younger Oliver, Slade and Shado’s base camp in the fuselage of a crashed airplane, without going in to see if there’s actually anyone inside.  When there’s no movement or sounds after the barrage of bullets has been fired, they simply throw a bomb into the plane wreckage with 4 minutes and 30 seconds left on the timer.  This gives Shado, who’s been in the plane, hiding behind something made of metal with a wounded Slade all along, a chance to take the tiny bomb and (easily) switch it off.  Not only do none of Ivo’s men ever check the fuselage for any signs that anyone is there, but also they don’t seem especially concerned that their bomb never goes off.

Back in the current timeline, we see John Diggle (David Ramsey) struggling with what he thinks is the flu, as he accompanies Oliver up the courthouse steps.  Of course, it’s not the flu, since no one in a movie or television show (who isn’t Cameron in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF) has ever just had a cold or the flu.  It’s always something else.  In any event, Oliver sends him back to their hideout to rest up.  He does, but very quickly he passes out, and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) rushes into action to assist.  After some tests they learn that what’s ailing Diggle is the presence of “Vertigo,” the deadly designer drug, (which has properties that apparently vary from episode to episode), in his system.  Oliver gives him an antidote that he whipped up after the last time he confronted Vertigo’s creator, The Count, but it doesn’t work this time.  The Count has since changed his formula.

At the courtroom, Prosecutor Donner also collapses, right after harshly questioning Thea Queen (Willa Holland) about her stormy relationship with her mother in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake.  As an ambulance takes Donner away from the courthouse, it’s revealed that the driver is actually The Count.  It’s not long before The Count is hijacking a news broadcast, revealing that he has Donner and that the sickness he and countless others have been experiencing is the result of the vertigo they’ve received.  The only way to make the pain and discomfort stop is to find their local drug pusher and purchase some more of his product.  He makes Donner beg him to end his suffering, and then gives him an injection of vertigo into his neck, which visibly stops the discomfort.

Back on the island, Younger Oliver has taken Ivo’s group to the site of the deformed Japanese soldier skeletons, where they first found the Hosen.  Ivo realizes the Hosen isn’t there and orders his men to take Oliver outside and torture him until he tells them where it is.  Shado and Slade show up and hold the men at gun/arrow point, and we leave them all mid-standoff.

Back in the present, Oliver, Felicity, and an ailing Diggle have to find out where The Count is hiding.  As is the custom recently, Felicity spends about a minute on her computer and identifies his hideout.  Oliver dons his hood and bows and arrows and goes to set things right.

With Donner out of commission, The District Attorney makes Laurel the lead prosecutor on Moira’s case.  Moira then discovers what it is that made Donner so confident he could get a conviction.  Laurel risks an ethics violation and visits Moira in prison (as a consideration based on their years of friendship) and tells her she’s got a bombshell she has to deliver in court.  Better for Moira to get out in front of this startling secret beforehand.

While Moira’s thinking this over, Oliver, now dressed as The Arrow, goes to fight The Count and his minions.  This wasn’t one of ARROW’s more interesting action sequences, and what stands out from it most for me, more so than the fighting, is how, once again, Seth Gabel’s performance as The Count is super over-the-top and distracting.  None of the other ARROW villains are required to do as much hammy mugging as this guy, which makes it seem like he just stepped out of a SUPERFRIENDS cartoon and onto the wrong soundstage.  I honestly wasn’t looking forward to this villain’s appearance when it was teased last week, and to this point it appears my concerns were justified.  Oliver gets through this fight okay, but doesn’t kill The Count when he has the opportunity because that’s not something he does anymore, and The Count escapes.

After this, Moira calls her son and daughter together and reveals the big secret that Laurel is about to unleash on them all in court.  Apparently, back when their father was having his own extra-marital affairs, Moira had a brief tryst with the late Malcolm Merlyn, before she knew he was a psychopath.  Her kids don’t seem that upset by this, given that they already know Malcolm exploited her, so things are good for now.   Of course, it’s obvious to us where this revelation is going next, so I question the decision to break the reveal into two parts, and have the first one (this one) steal thunder from the second one, as it does when the other shoe drops in the show’s final scene.  Still, it’s nice that immediately afterward this scene, Laurel eviscerates Moira in court, demonstrating that she not only had a previous romantic relationship with Malcolm, but also that she had some control over the situation during their criminal conspiracy, in that she was able to ask Malcolm not to kill her second husband, Walter Steele (Colin Salmon) after Malcolm had him abducted when he went snooping around into their affairs.  Seeing Moira’s defense flounder to this degree builds nice tension for the verdict that’s coming later in the episode.  In fact, Moira’s lawyer actually tells Oliver and Thea to “prepare for the worst,” which is generally not a sentence you want to hear leave your defense counsel’s lips.

But, to Thea’s chagrin, Oliver can’t stay to wait for the verdict with her, because he has to attend to a “situation at work.”  The situation, or course, is that The Count has kidnapped Felicity, who discovered people were being infected with vertigo via their flu shots, which were being administered in mobile vans.  Felicity went to check out one of those vans and discovered that was a bad idea, because she chose the one The Count was in.  Since then he’s put two and two together and realized that Oliver Queen is The Arrow’s secret identity, and he holds Felicity hostage at Queen Consolidated’s corporate offices.  When The Arrow arrives to fight The Count, The Count also reveals that the larger purpose of his plot wasn’t drug sales, but that he was the beneficiary of the generosity of another individual, who wants The Count to draw out The Arrow, as he’s just done, and kill him, which he’s subsequently unable to do.  The fight ends with Oliver making a choice to compromise his “no killing” policy, as he must make a split second decision to save Felicity, and he puts several arrows into The Count’s chest, which causes him to fall backwards out the window and onto the street, (presumably) dead.

When Oliver returns to the courthouse, he’s just in time to hear the verdict against his Mom.  Not guilty on all counts.  Oliver’s surprised at this, as is the audience, because all we saw in the courtroom was her defense being shredded.  Something’s wrong with the verdict, and ARROW doesn’t waste a ton of time before letting us know what it was.

But first, back on the island, a gunfight between Ivo’s men and Younger Oliver’s friends has led to yet another escape and chase through the woods, although Oliver brought Younger Sara with him this time, even though it’s not been demonstrated that he can fully trust her yet.  Shado reveals that she has the Hosen, and that there are GPS coordinates on the back that give the location of the hidden submarine.  Ivo, for his part, shoots the freighter’s Captain (Jimmy Jean-Louis) in the head for his failure to secure the prisoners, and promotes his second in command to a leadership role, proving that he’s just a vengeful lunatic.  And now the chase is on to recover the super-soldier serum, (which, by the looks of things, will be ingested by Slade, who’s burned over half his face and is in great pain, and probably would rather be a super-soldier than the way he is now).

In the penultimate scene, back in the present, we also get an appearance from Alderman Blood (Kevin Alejandro) in his secret lair.  He laments that The Count has been killed, because he was the one who set The Count up to kill The Arrow.  He puts on his scary mask and heads down to his basement, where his “army of the strong” all sits in chairs looking groggy and bleeding from their eyes.  He seems especially interested in a big guy, who he refers to as “Cyrus.”  It’s not clear what he’s doing with these guys yet, however.

In the last scene, Moira leaves the courthouse and is taken to a remote area by her driver.  Confused, she asks the driver to explain himself, but before he can an arrow strikes him in the chest.  She turns around to see his killer, and it’s none other than a living, breathing Malcolm Merlyn, (John Barrowman).  He explains his resurrection by saying “There are parts of the world where death is an illusion.  I’ve been to one.”  (These parts of the world tend to be located in comic books, I’ve noticed).  In any event, Malcolm is the reason for the verdict going in Moira’s favor, as he’s “persuaded” the jury to acquit her, and he’s also here to provide the second half of that big revelation that everyone’s seen coming for a while.  He did some genetic testing and was delighted to confirm that Thea is actually his biological daughter.

Now I suppose we will return to the status quo from Season One, with a frightened Moira struggling to free herself from the grip of a sadistic madman, and trying desperately to hide the details of Malcolm’s influence from her kids.  For that reason, I don’t find this all a particularly welcome development, since we’ve seen it before.  But hopefully ARROW will find a new way for it to play out.

So if you’re keeping track, ARROW now has three major recurring villains with evil, long-term plots building, (Blood, Merlyn, and Ivo), and a bunch of ancillary guys like Deadshot and The Count, who keep popping up for an episode here and there.  And there’s the League of Assassins now looming as a long-term threat.  Also, the cast in Season Two has expanded to include sidekicks like Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) and allies like The Black Canary.  And in the next episode they’re teasing the appearance of another familiar face from the DC Comics universe.  I’m at a certain disadvantage here, as I haven’t been a comic book aficionado in several decades, and I was always more of a Marvel guy anyway.  But I think “State vs. Queen’s” major developments help illustrate both the strengths and weakness of ARROW’s current season.  There’s a pretty concerted effort afoot to make the ARROW TV universe resemble the DC comic book universe.  The plus side of this is that comic book fans get to see all their favorite characters brought to life, (then brought back to life over and over again, because death isn’t a particularly long-term commitment in the comic book realm).  The down side of this is that the major surprises ARROW seems to want to deliver are all to pay off the interest of the comic book fan, (“Look – they’re bringing on The Flash next week!”), and not the casual fan who just wants a good, uncluttered story, centered around an interesting theme, (which Season 1 pulled off pretty well).

And the two segments of the audience, (comic book fans and non-comic book fans), are arguably experiencing ARROW in a vastly different way, as well.  Possibly there are thousands of viewers who know how Slade Wilson’s saga is going to end, for instance, because they’re familiar with the comic book version and are interested on how the TV Green Arrow will capture it.   As a casual viewer, I don’t know how Slade’s story ends, (though I can guess), but as I watch it play out I’m having the sense of something happening that’s pre-ordained and perfunctory, and will pay off in a way that only rewards the comic book-savvy portion of the audience, but not necessarily mine.  If ARROW intends to follow its comic book blueprint so closely that it seems like the possibility of more clever original storytelling is being crowded out by the need to deliver all the major plot points in the comics, I think it’s fair to ask whether we shouldn’t just be cutting out the middleman and reading the comics instead?


Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2 – “Keep Your Enemies Closer”

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2 – “League of Assassins”

Related: Exclusive interview with ARROW star Paul Blackthorne on Season 2

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2  – “Crucible”

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2  – “Broken Dolls”

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2  – “Identity”

Related: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2  – “City of Heroes”

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Article: TV Review: ARROW – Season 2 – “State V. Queen”

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