Friday, February 1, 2013

The Crippling Emotions of Women (Arrow)


A few months back I wrote my initial assessment of Arrow, The CW’s latest attempt to cash in on their deals with Warner Brothers and DC Comics. I said it was pretty good, but a little bland so far. I would like to revise that statement now.

Well, sort of.

It’s still pretty good, teetering on actually good, but it has gotten past the blandness. Oliver Queen’s mission of bloody vengeance against the people who “ruined” Starling City is compelling and pretty well written. The snags he runs into along the way effectively raise the tension, and the methods he uses are original enough to be engaging.

The one thing really killing the show for me are the constant flashbacks to his time on the island. Not only are they largely irrelevant to a story that unfolds in real time, they’re also lazy writing. And the wig he wears is terrible.

But the real problem I have with the show is not so much in the action or the storyline or even the occasionally ham-fisted acting from Mr. Amell. My real issue with this show is that every single female character (except one, and we’ll get to her later) is cripplingly emotional. And it’s starting to get not just weird, but pretty offensive.

Let’s start with Oliver’s family. His mother and sister, left behind when he and his father sailed off on their tragic yacht trip, have been in mourning these past five years. His mother managed to move on eventually (by marrying her dead husband’s best friend), but Thea seems to have been mired in a constant state of misery and bad choices, turning to everything from drugs to really obviously destructive relationships in a blatant cry for help.

On their surface, I have no real problem with these characters and their emotional problems. Moira, his mother, sank into a deep depression upon getting the news of his and his father’s death, and from what we can tell it was real and genuine. Of course, she also may have (SPOILERS) ordered said death, or at least been complicit in it, but the grief she felt was real.

So too, and arguably more so, is Thea’s sadness understandable. She lost her father and her brother on the same day, as well as being faced with her mother’s sink into near catatonia. It must have been really hard for a twelve year old. I can get that she’s had trouble dealing.

What I don’t get is why every storyline involving these two characters revolves wholly around how they are still emotionally damaged by those events. I understand that scars linger, but I also understand that it’s been five years, and presumably at this point they have something else to talk about. Anything. Seriously, I would sit through a scene where Thea talks about her drug habits if she didn’t mention how miserable without her brother she was fifteen times.

Blech.

You see, it’s not that I find their grief disingenuous, or even narratively irrelevant. It’s that I resent the way that’s all they are. Moira and Thea exist only to remind Oliver of the grief that he’s (indirectly) caused. They are just vessels for a further understanding of the main male hero, and have no other real purpose in the story. Which is dumb.

Along these lines, Helena, the awesomely wicked Huntress from the comics, really only appears in the show to give voice to Oliver’s growing alienation from the people around him. Her motivation, again, is pretty understandable. She wants revenge on her mobster father for his brutal murder of her fiancé. Helena hates her father and everything that he stands for, and so goes to the ultimate extreme of trying to destroy his organization and kill everything he loves before killing him.

Interesting character, right?

As she appears in the show, however, we only see Helena through Oliver’s eyes. When he’s infatuated with her, we see her as a lost soul looking for a path. 

When he becomes alarmed at her rapacious appetite for revenge, we see her as a cautionary tale. At no point do we get to see Helena the way Helena sees herself. We only have Oliver’s word for it.

Some of that can be put off with the idea that in a show with such a strong narrative arc and a clear lead character, everyone will be defined by their relationship to said character. And that is true, up to a point. The point where it becomes untrue, however, is where we become unable to see any character outside of those definitions. Then it’s bad character writing, and begins to work against eh show’s efforts to make us care about the characters. We can only care to the extent that they are developed.

The female characters of Arrow usually have reasons to be cripplingly emotional, but the show doesn’t give us enough of their perspective for it to matter. Instead, what we see are women wilting and whining, depressed and refusing to get out of bed, while our hero straps on a quiver and goes out to fix the city. Clearly Oliver has more reason to be emotionally distraught than all these women do, but we are shown that since he does not choose to cry or break down, that these are not the “strong” choices. Which is complete and utter crap.

Now, I did say there was one character on the show who didn’t fit this, and that’s Laurel. While decidedly female, she’s the only woman on the show who is not primarily ruled by her emotions. Even that tech girl is! I would argue that this isn’t because Laurel is somehow better or more meaningful than those other girls, though. I’m pretty sure that this is just because they haven’t given her any characterization at all.

Think about it. What we know of Laurel on a personal level could fit in a shoebox, and is, in fact, less than we know about Tech Girl. The writers are presumably trying to show how “right” she is for Oliver by showing her strength in the face of tragedy, but without any reaction at all, we don’t have a reason to connect with her or like her. Say what you will about Thea’s emotional problems, at least we always know where she’s coming from.

What it comes down to is this: Arrow is a fun, interesting show that is so obsessed with its white male protagonist that all other characters and motivations are boiled down to their interaction with and reaction to his existence. Until the show can let its characters stand on their own, it’s never going to gel.

I love you Tech Girl.

2 comments:

  1. Good review abut the female characters in this show.

    The actress for laurel is bad though, she just falls flat in her expressions making it more difficult to connect with the character.

    Yay love felicity, so cute but she needs to be less defined by the "white protaganist" too.

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