I think it’s safe to say that I’m a sucker for superhero movies and comics. So it didn’t surprise me that I am totally digging the TV show Arrow. But unlike The Avengers or Iron Man or maybe others I haven’t seen yet, it is not just about super powers. Since it is a TV show and not a movie, the creators have much more time to tell a story with different arcs and develop the characters throughout. Going in I had no expectations whatsoever and now that I have finished Season 2, I am very pleasantly surprised about how much I have come to like it.
Just like Batman or Iron Man, the protagonist is basically a spoiled brat with tons of money at his disposal. This, of course, makes it easy to outfit him with a lot of nice gear and computers. Even though Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is, at least in the movies, physically in a good shape, he is totally dependent on his suits. Arrow on the other hand is well trained in physical hand-to-hand combat, which makes for some nice – and some ridiculous – fighting scenes. And then there’s archery, a skill developed to such a degree of perfection that missing targets is nearly impossible. Much unlike about 99% of all the gunmen in all the episodes. If someone carries a firearm, he/she (“she” representing exactly one female cop; I can’t recall any other armed women) is as good as dead. It is uncanny (read: ridiculously unbelievable, even for a show like this) how Arrow or other important heroes/heroines or villains evade any hail of bullets. No matter how many shooters there are, how fast their automatic weapons make lead fly, they just can’t seem to hit the target. This is very much comparable to the old A-Team TV show. A lot of shooting without any casualties. Action FTW! Which is not to say that everybody is an amateur. If necessary, for the sake of suspense or story, people do get shot. Just not when it is most likely.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. What I really didn’t expect of this show was how it was structured. It reminds me a lot of the rich society dramas of Gossip Girl (yes, you read that right, I have watched some of that, too, so take your time, mock me, laugh at me, kick me and let’s move on now) a little bit of any cop show with detectives and lawyers, family drama and a lot of intrigue and scheming behind the scenes. That is to say that it is quite the multi-dimensional setup and not just one strong guy running around in a suit shooting arrows at bad guys – which he does too, of course, or otherwise Arrow would be quite a stupid name for the show, right?
Arrow, or Oliver Queen in normal life, went on a boat trip with his father and they fell victim to a storm (and a sabotaged boat – have I mentioned intrigues already?) and only Oliver made it to an island. His father’s dying wish was to right his wrongs before he killed himself to help his son survive on the life boat that they were on, with only limited rations left. After five years (or so we are told) on an island he manages to get off, the first thing that is shown in the pilot. The how’s and what’s are revealed in short flashbacks but only to such a degree to make it seem mysterious and make you want for more. But, once returned to home, he immediately starts working on his father’s wish, crossing names off a list in a notebook, not knowing, how deep his father was involved and that his own mother continues the path set by her husband.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to recap all of the story, but some parts need to be told to make a point.
Season One is relatively one-dimensional when it comes to the main plot: The Arrow trying to clean the city of white-collar criminals or any sort of mercenary involved with them. It is not until the last few episodes of the season that it is revealed what Oliver’s father’s burden was (destroy a district to “save the city”). The interesting part of this is that Oliver didn’t know about his mother’s involvement and the person pulling the strings until the very end, someone he had actually fought before and lost against. It is his best friend’s father, Malcom Merlyn. In Season Two it is revealed (among other things) that Merlyn is a member of the League of Assassins and also, that he didn’t die after his last encounter with The Arrow in the Season One finale. Which, to be honest, was hardly plausible (like all the crazy shooting but no killing). Am I really to believe that the guy, who is standing behind the hero and holding him in a tight grip, is supposed to die from an arrow Oliver crushes through his own chest, after quite the fight and definitely being exhausted and with only one hand (imagine the strength), right through two sets of clothes, but not through his own heart, into the chest of Merlyn? Who is the more likely dead guy in this scenario?
Anyway. Oliver is not working alone for long. First he lets in his former body guard and war veteran, John Diggle (who he actually constantly annoyed by ditching him while he was still his bodyguard), and later the computer specialist of his father’s company, Felicity Smoak. Both initiations have one thing in common: every time someone was shot prior. First Diggle, who was poisoned in the process and then Oliver himself – as The Arrow (actually commonly referred to as the Hood Guy throughout Season One) – after trying to confront his mother about her involvement in the so-called Undertaking.
Interestingly enough, no one around them notices anything about anybody getting shot, stabbed or beaten to crap. Yes, they never go to the hospital – so there’s no record – and with Oliver being somehow trained from his time on the island and John having basic medical training from the army, but come on, nobody? At one point Oliver gets shot in the foot and in the same episode you see him prancing around without really noticing it. Or in Season 2, in one of the last episodes, Oliver sustains a pretty bad knee injury that has him hobbling around in that particular episode but not the one right after, which follows in a very short time span as far as the story is concerned. I have had my fair share of foot injuries during my minor league Basketball “career” and I had never been able to walk as if nothing had happened on the same day I had sprained my ankle. And I like to think that I can take some pain. Does that mean getting shot in the foot or kicked in the knee isn’t actually that bad?
Apart from fighting criminals, Oliver has to deal with family matters too. His mother has a lot of secrets of her own, for example that the aforementioned Merlyn is actually the biological father of Oliver’s sister Thea, and of course the difficult sister that never holds behind on her thoughts and is a party girl with a bad habit, namely drugs and alcohol. But, as erratic as she may seem, she’s the only truthful person in the whole family. And interestingly enough, she makes a serious turnaround in Season 2 when she takes over the responsibility for Oliver’s nightclub. She even befriends a criminal and persuades him to be more than just a petty thief. I really didn’t see that coming. I certainly expected her to fall deeper into a pool of booze, booze, booza.
And the reason for that: all the lies from the persons close to her. Throughout the episodes we learn of the lies and secrets her mother has and how they slowly find their way to the surface. Oliver has his secrets too, only Thea still thinks he’s the sole person not lying to her. Which is kind of funny because he is, and not only to her but basically everybody. He even accuses his own mother, with a straight face, of constantly twisting the truth however she needs it to be. Quite the hypocrite!
What turns things around for him and his sister is when Slade Wilson (more on him in a few paragraphs down) captures her and offers to tell Oliver’s secret. This was so nicely played by the writers because I really thought, and I’m pretty sure everybody else did as well, that he’d tell Thea about Oliver’s secret identity. But no! He reveals who her real father is, something much worse for the whole family relationship. Instead, it’s Laurel who he tells about The Arrow’s real identity. Thanks to Laurel’s father though, who has come around to accept the vigilante business, she comes to understand it instead of alienating Oliver. Very good writing.
But Oliver himself makes a big change too, from Season 1 to 2: no more killing. He started as a ruthless vigilante, but the turn of events, especially the death of his best friend, made him rethink his actions. This even goes as far as until the very end, where his past on the island finally catches up with him in “normal” life. No matter how strong the insult or how grave the injury, he stubbornly sticks to his rule not to kill anybody. Even after probably the most heart breaking scene in all of the two seasons where Slade kills Oliver’s mother. This was so very intense. At that time, I was working out in front of the TV and I really had to put down the weights and watch. It was so well shot and played. As dark as it may sound, but this was definitely the highlight of all the episodes.
Slade was a friend of Oliver’s from the time on the island. He’s a trained soldier and had a mission to carry out, only to get stuck there too. In their common goal to get off, they bonded and worked together and Slade’s the one who taught Oliver the fighting. What turned him into a crazy maniac was the death of a woman and some magical drug that also made him basically invincible (it’s a comic adaptation after all). Oliver was somehow responsible, but only because he was put into an unthinkable position to choose who lives and who dies. He was captured together with two other girls (Shado, the woman Slade was into and Sara, who was on the boat with Oliver when it sank) and the captor made him decide. And Slade forces this situation on Oliver again, only this time to choose between his sister and his mother. Oliver is devastated. He tries to turn things around and make Slade decide instead. Only, his mother shows her strength, pride and love for her children, not even knowing what this is all about, and sacrifices herself. I really thought they’d let someone appear out of thin air and end this torture, a last-minute hero. But the writers didn’t and that was a good choice – as terrible as it sounds. It would have been too cheesy.
Another smart move, I think, is to re-introduce Merlyn into the play. He had a few parts at the start of the season but then vanished. As the city was terrorized and torn to pieces by Slade’s crazy army, he shows up, dressed in his League of Assassins outfit, and rescues Thea as she tried to leave the city. It was only one or two episodes earlier where I thought that he could make an appearance and maybe help. Well, help he does, but not Oliver nor anybody else that is not Thea. And to be honest, why would he? He had tried his own version of genocide before.
As the season finishes, not all the five years Oliver was missing have been told. There are still a few connections unexplained and Netflix better makes the other seasons available soon, or… or… Dammit, I have nothing to blackmail ‘em. Guess I’ll have to wait then.
To the last point of my list: the actors. What I noticed as a funny coincidence was that a few of the cast had already teamed up on other shows. For example, Summer Glau and Sean Maher were part of Firefly (R.I.P.), Katie Cassidy and Ty Olsson were part of Supernatural (although never in the same episode as far as I can remember) and of course other known actors are John Barrowman from Torchwood or Manu Bennett from Spartacus – known to me at least.
The more interesting role, of course, falls to Stephen Amell as Oliver. I had a really difficult time accepting him at first. He just didn’t seem like a good actor to me. It’s something about his facial expressions. (Do you know the jokes about Steven Seagal?) It took a few episodes – luckily they were entertaining nonetheless – to warm up to him and his style. Over time though, I think he fits the role pretty well and he certainly improved. Big plus point: unlike many other heroes (super or regular) I have a much easier time believing that he is actually capable of doing the things he seems to be doing on screen. I remember a movie with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (boy, one must love his determination on body building) where his character was just released from prison and the first thing he did was to go running. That definitely looked odd. Not so with Stephen Amell. Not only is he amazingly well trained, it also really looks like he knows how to move his body outside of weight lifting. Almost every time he was doing some crazy exercise I felt guilty for watching instead of working out myself (talk about a motivator). It’s also interesting how often they showed him topless – probably a concession to cater to a female audience as well – and I can’t imagine how much time it must have taken for makeup to add all those scars every time.
Long story short: I really liked the show so far and I’m curious for more, especially with the tie-ins to The Flash.