Arrow: 6.10 Divided
Arrow returned to UK TV screens this week, picking up from the mid-season finale Irreconcilable Differences that split team Arrow and saw the emergence of Cayden James' new league of evil. Divided was a solid episode and mid-season opener, reflective of season six's good and bad points.
Let's start with the good; Arrow went back to basics in its fifth season and was all the stronger for it. Rather than trying to compete with its more fantastical sister shows, it returned to its darker, grittier roots; it worked for season five and generally continues to work with season six. Cayden James is a more grounded villain and there are more personal stakes in the likes of Black Siren and now Vigilante / Vincent Sobel with his conflicted relationship with Dinah Drake.
Michael Emerson delivers a strong but understated performance as James; always two steps ahead of Oliver Queen without being a physical threat like Prometheus / Adrian Chase was last season. This makes for a refreshing dynamic to the big bads of the past (and stops him being a carbon copy of Chase) as he is backed up a team of physical opponents to Green Arrow and his allies. But this is where Divided really showed its weakness.
Katie Cassidy is a blast as psychopathic Black Siren but the rest of the evil team fail to match her heights. Vigilante is trying to get there; Johann Urb convinces as the conflicted Sobel but I can never pick where his loyalties lie. He came into season five as a man trying to do good but with more deadly methods - now he's on the side of evil?
More interesting is his dynamic with Drake; Sobel and Juliana Harkavy convince as two former lovers trying to reconnect from different sides of the battle line. But as a worthy villain? Sorry, I don't buy in.
And sure, it is always great to have David Nykl back as Bratva leader Anatoly Knyazev; Oliver's former ally has knowledge of the hero that could be his undoing, but we've already visited this conflict and I don't understand his loyalty to James. I've always liked the actor Kirk Acevedo since he was on Fringe, but his character of Ricardo Diaz has little depth. The less said about Tobias Jelinek's utterly forgettable Boots the better. The truth is, there seems to be little in the way of motivation in this new team and they don't carry the same weight as characters as their good counterparts.
But perhaps that's how Arrow rolls. It took me a good two thirds of a season to really engage with Rick Gonzalez's Rene Ramirez but now I like his presence on the show. He has a great bromance going on with Echo Kellum's Curtis Holt and I actually think their team up with Black Canary could provide a fresh perspective to the established team Arrow. Afterall, why would they willingly go back to working for Oliver after what he did to them? Plus that new lair is quite badass too.
Saying that, I have doubts as to how this will work; it seems inevitable that a) the two team are going to get in the way of eachother, causing conflict and b) they'll eventually rejoin team Arrow by the season's end. After all, it is Oliver Queen's hero that bears the show's name and the focus will always be on him.
There were some decent plot developments this week, John Diggle finally got his mojo back and there was another cool 'one-shot' battle as Green Arrow took on Cayden James' forces. But it also wasn't riveting television either. Arrow seems to have found its new comfort zone after the success of season five, but so far season six doesn't seem to be showing any signs of stepping out of last year's shadow. I'm still waiting for things to really get interesting.