On principle, if somebody tells me there’s going to be another DC superhero program on the CW network, I’m going to be a bit cautious. Smallville had an interesting premise and a few moments of greatness, but otherwise overstayed its welcome. Birds of Prey was a pretty irredeemable mess, save for the pilot’s first ten minutes, which actually had Batman and the Joker. So, when it was announced last year that Green Arrow (aka “The Emerald Archer”) would be getting the primetime treatment, I was, shall we say, hesitant to get excited. The bus ad/billboard of star Stephen Amell didn’t do much for me, nor did the facts that the show would simply be called Arrow and that it would be a realistic take on the character. I mostly just watched the pilot to see how disappointed I was going to be. Well, here it is, 9 months later, and season 1 of Arrow kept me riveted pretty much from beginning to end. I’ll eat my words gladly; they taste good.
What made the first season of Arrow particularly great was that it wasn’t afraid to change things up mid-stream. The first few weeks depicted Oliver Queen, the billionaire playboy who was shipwrecked on an island for five years, setting up his second life as “The Hood,” a vigilante who doggedly attempts to put an arrow that is green through the heart of all the people on his father’s mysterious list. With a declaration that the guilty party had “failed this city,” Oliver either killed or stopped various white collar criminals who preyed on the little guy. It worked well enough for awhile, but when things started to stagnate, the showrunners decided to broaden our hero’s focus a bit, moving beyond merely checking names off the list and getting to the everyday crime from which Starling City suffered. This allowed for much more variety in the way stories are told.
Unlike the comic, which had only a select few recurring characters, the Arrow world is packed to the rafters. Of course, we have Oliver’s ex, Laurel (Katie Cassidy), whom he cheated on with her now-dead sister on the boat which crashed (bad luck). Their relationship is not my favorite, but I understand that it’s an important aspect to a show – must have sexual tension. We also get Laurel’s father, Detective Lance (Paul Blackthorne), who hates both Oliver and The Hood but has no clue they’re the same person. Oliver’s little sister, Thea (Willa Holland), whom he calls “Speedy” (curious), had a rocky season, going from spoiled brat to drug-user to civil defender. I did feel like they didn’t really know what to do with her until she met Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), a petty criminal whose life changes when he’s saved by the vigilante. Now he wants to meet him and devote his life to him… because he’s gonna be Speedy/Arsenal/Red Arrow.
Oliver’s best friend, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) seems like a shallow playboy, like Ollie used to be, but he probably goes through the biggest arc in the first season, declaring his love for Laurel, running Oliver’s club, finding out who Oliver is, hating him, then finally going off to work for his evil businessman father, Malcolm (John Barrowman). Malcolm, we find out, is the big bad this season and he’s the reason Oliver’s boat crashed and his father subsequently died. They were part of an undertaking called “The Undertaking,” which was a group of Starling City’s wealthiest seeking to make the city safe and rid of crime… by destroying the poorest neighborhood. Swell guy. It’s because of this undertaking that Oliver’s mother, Moira Queen (Susanna Thomson), is implicated in a lot of bad stuff.
Oliver isn’t going at it alone, though. The best additions this season have been his two cohorts, the first being his bodyguard, John Diggle (David Ramsay), who is the first civilian to learn the secret. He acts as Oliver’s conscience through a lot of the tougher moments, and is also Ollie’s go-to for undercover work. The second is computer expert Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), who worked for Queen Consolidated and eventually, through numerous charmingly awkward exchanges, becomes Oliver’s tech person and his eyes and ears on most of the missions. The three of them represent a strangely effective team and Felicity and Diggle are usually able to talk the often pig-headed Oliver down from going too far.
Throughout the season, there has been a parallel narrative of back when Oliver was on the island. Now, this could very easily have a LOST vibe, but it actually is more like a war movie. Whiny Oliver is pretty well screwed until he meets Yao Fei, a mysterious Chinese assassin who, we later find out, is forced to work against Oliver (at the behest of the nasty Fyers, a mercenary leader). Eventually, Oliver meets Manu Bennett’s Slade Wilson (aka Deathstroke!), an assassin who is also on the outs with Fyers. Wilson helps Oliver become less useless and the two have a great buddy energy. They’re eventually joined by Yao Fei’s daughter, Shado (Celina Jade), who trains Oliver how to use the trusty bow and arrow. Good for her. In a lot of instances, the island narrative is the more compelling, the best being episode 14, “The Odyssey,” which is almost entirely an island story.
With all of these other characters, you might expect there isn’t much room for known DC personalities to show up. Not so. Aside from Deathstroke and the Boy Who Would Be Speedy, characters like The Huntress, Deadshot, The Royal Flush Gang, Brutale, Firefly, and Count Vertigo are all depicted in the world of Arrow, which makes longtime DC readers like myself very pleased. Will more pop up in the following season? You bet, especially with DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns writing multiple episodes.
You couldn’t have all of this great set dressing if you didn’t have a charismatic and believable lead. Stephen Amell is perfect as Oliver Queen, able to play tortured and vengeful one moment and dopey and useless another, depending on what he has to be for the scene. Oliver is an extremely complex character who is hiding multiple things from multiple people. He’s certainly more tortured than he is in the comics, but it completely works for the world of the show. Plus, dude is ripped, which never ceases to be impressive.
And did I mention there’s pretty amazing action? Every episode has fights and set pieces that look like they belong in a feature film and certainly not on a CW program. You feel the punches, you hear the ribs crack, and when someone gets shot with an arrow, it’s painful. I hate that things are always compared to Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but this is that, done for Green Arrow, but with a ton of family drama thrown in, because it’s still The CW.
This season wrapped up the way it ought to have: a lot of action, a lot of revelation, and a lot of tears. This is the world of Arrow. It’s melodrama of the highest order, with action thrown in. Kinda like a comic book. Truthfully, I can’t wait until next season.