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Arrow goes to some lengths to establish its own universe independent of the continuity and complexities of the DC Universe. But if the pilot episode of the new CW drama that blends Gossip Girl socialite glitz with The Crow-style revenge grit is any indication, there will be plenty of winks, nods and outright gifts to the most diehard fans of Green Arrow.
Star Stephen Amell’s abs pretty much have their own supporting role on Arrow, but when we first encounter his incarnation of DC Comics’ Emerald Archer, he’s dirty and sporting an old-school Green Arrow beard. Looking like a cross between Jax Teller on Sons of Anarchy and Tom Hanks in Castaway, Oliver Queen is getting rescued after being stranded for five years on a secluded island. If you’re thinking there’s a Lost joke in there somewhere, you’re right (but the show makes it later).
Right away, Oliver’s collection of arrows and the ingenuity he uses to create a bonfire to attract the attention of a fishing boat clue us in that the island wasn’t all fun, games and fishing (or smoke monsters). The pilot even offers a glimpse of what looks like the mask of Deathstroke on a stick in the first big nod to fans (unless we’re counting that beard).
Arrow establishes itself more of a grownup show than Season 1 of Smallville, although both superhero dramas share a pilot episode director in David Nutter. Everyone is young and super-attractive, but they’re very much playing young adults (as opposed to the fun shows on which adults are playing teens). In voiceover, Oliver reveals he hasn’t returned to Starling City as the boy who was shipwrecked, but as the man “who will bring justice to those who’ve poisoned my city.”
Following his rescue, a green-hued news report explains that Oliver used to be something of a TMZ-baiting socialite, beating up paparazzi, getting wasted in clubs and bedding models. Through flashbacks, we learn he was hooking up with his girlfriend’s sister when the yacht sank. The girl drowned (or at the very least, disappeared from sight), and Oliver still blames himself for the tragedy.
Returning to the mansion where he grew up, Oliver discovers his mother married his father’s business partner, Walter Steel. The audience learns Oliver speaks Russian and knows some crazy martial-arts moves. (Wait, so, what happened on that island? Did Ra’s al Ghul show up and recruit him to the League of Shadows?)
The Queen house is also our introduction to Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell), Oliver’s wisecracking best friend. We never see him with a bow and arrow of his own, but hey, it’s the pilot, right? His first line – “What did I tell you? Yachts suck!” – is topped only by his dig at Twilight (Oliver he’s better off not having seen it) and his explanation of Lost (“They were all dead … I think”).
The next comic-book shoutout: Oliver’s nickname for his kid sister Thea (Willa Holland) is Speedy. Whether she’ll end up his sidekick at some point remains to be seen; hopefully she’ll stop partying with cocaine (!) first.
As Oliver is trying to adjust to life back in Star(ling) City, he’s continually haunted by flashbacks to the accident. People expect him to be the shallow playboy but he’s much more stoic than they remember. He even dropps some Buddhist knowledge at one point. The dude clearly got deep out there near the coast of China.
Tommy wants to get Oliver back on his party-going feet, but our boy just wants to see the girl he was cheating on when it all went bad: Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy). “Everyone is happy you’re alive,” Tommy says in disbelief. “You want to see the one person who isn’t?”
Laurel is a legal aid attorney working on behalf clients being bullied by a tycoon named Adam Hunt. She doesn;t give Ollie a warm welcome.
After an “I told you so” from Tommy, the guys are ambushed by masked thugs. Oliver wakes up zip-tied to a chair with Tommy barely conscious on the ground. The thugs demand to know what Oliver’s father told him before he died, but he breaks free and starts kicking butt. In a character-defining moment as Oliver reminds one of the goons an innocent bystander was killed during the kidnapping, implying he’s about to balance the scales.
“You don’t have to do this,” the thug pleads. “Yes, I do. Nobody can know my secret,” Oliver replies before snapping the guy’s neck.
Back at the mansion, the boys are questioned about the incident, and Ollie tells the police they were rescued by a mysterious guy wearing a green hood. The lead detective doesn’t seem to like Ollie much; it turns out he’s the father of the Lance girls.
Oliver’s mother and stepfather decide to hire him a bodyguard, who spends the rest of the episode befuddled by the young man’s ability to give him the slip. Oliver is busy studying a list of names in a little book that appears to have been compiled in the fleeting lifeboat conversations he had with his father, who confessed that he helped to destroy Starling City, not build it.
In an awesome montage, Oliver sets up shop in one of his father’s old warehouses, lining up computer screens, doing some insane pull-ups and taking out a bunch of green tennis balls with green-tipped arrows. The pilot does off a few trick arrows, but those standard bad boys handled most of the dirty work.
For example, the scene right after the secret headquarters-building montage: Oliver, in costume, takes out a couple of Adam Hunt’s men in a parking garage. He tells Adam Hunt to wire him $40 million by 10 the next night or face the consequences.
As Hunt battens down the hatches with his goons and the cops, Oliver is playing guest of honor at the welcome home party thrown by Tommy. Oliver hasn’t heard of Twilight thanks to the whole shipwrecked-for-five-years thing, but he proves pretty handy with a smartphone as he keeps checking his balance for that $40 million. The money doesn’t come through, so after an encounter with Laurel in which he pretends to still be a player, he takes off.
Back in costume, Oliver breaches Hunt’s nearby high-rise building and makes his way through several bad guys in an action sequence that’s weirdly reminiscent of the climax of Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher (in a good way). He eludes the police and makes it back to his own party, where he hides in plain sight.
“$2 million to anybody who can find the nutbar in a green hood!” Oliver declares to his guests. Papa Lance seems suspicious, and so does Tommy. Gotta hand it to those two for already suspecting the hero’s secret identity in Season 1, Episode 1!
Thanks to a tech-enhanced arrow lodged in the wall at Hunt’s office, Oliver is able to steal that $40 million after all, and he swiftly deposits it across several accounts of the people Hunt had originally stolen it from. We see Oliver cross Hunt’s name off his list before we’re treated to another crucial flashback: Oliver’s father shoot the other survivor on their lifeboat and then himself, ensuring Oliver has a chance at survival with the remaining supplies. Papa Queen had spilled his guts about all of the evildoers in Starling City, hence that little black (brown) book of villains he’ll presumably work his way through.
Pause that DVR, because the book is full of nuggets for DC-philes: Danny Brickwell, Hannibal Bates, Albert Davis.
But Arrow saves its biggest nod to the comics for the end of the episode. Even as we learn that Tommy and Laurel have a thing going (ruh-roh), we also discover that her full name is Dinah Laurel Lance. Black Canary, anyone?
Tommy and Dinah aren’t the only loved ones keeping secrets from Oliver, either. In the final scene, the mastermind behind Oliver’s kidnapping is revealed to be his own mother. She’s desperate to know how much her late husband told their son, and she’s going to keep trying until she finds out.