Axel-In-Charge: Facing the 'Divided' Marvel NOW! Future
With the season finale of Arrow only four days away, we have the perfect opportunity to look back at the previous 22 episodes and assess how well DC Comics’ Emerald Archer has translated to television. Not necessarily how true the show’s creators have stayed to the goateed vigilante — he’s remains a wealthy playboy with a bow — but rather what about the CW drama has worked, and what hasn’t. With that in mind, here are five hits and five misses from Arrow‘s first season.
The season finale airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.
Say what you want about the other aspects of the series — cardboard-cutout Villains of the Week, frequently glacial pacing, illogical plot developments — but Arrow does action really, really well. From Oliver’s impromptu motorcycle pursuit of his mother’s would-be assassin to the Hood’s infiltration of a moving subway car to The Raid: Redemption-style rescue of Walter Steele, the sequences are near-flawlessly choreographed, beautifully shot, and made even more impressive when you take into account the limited television production budget.
The writers reward longtime comics fans with throwaway references to characters and locations in the DC Universe, the sliest to date being Brion Markov (aka Geo-Force) as the scientist behind Malcolm Merlyn’s earthquake device. We’ve also glimpsed Bludhaven (twice), and heard mention of Ferris Air, Ted Kord, “Ray and Jean” (likely Ray Palmer and Jean Loring), Coast City, and Harbinger as the codename of A.R.G.U.S. Agent Lyla Michaels — and those are only the ones I recall off the top of my head. They’re fun nods to DC devotees that don’t leave casual viewers feeling as if they’ve missed something.
Wealthy businessman Malcolm Merlyn and his playboy son Tommy were depicted for much of the first part of the season as a mustache-twirling villain and a sulking man-child, but with the Feb. 27 episode “Dead to Rights,” the curtain was pulled back on their motivations, and their relationship, revealing them to be the most complex characters on Arrow. That’s due in no small part to John Barrowman and Colin Donnell, who repeatedly prove themselves among the show’s better actors, even when they’re not given the greatest material. (How many times can Donnell look sullen and then storm out of a room?) Sure, Barrowman delights in chewing scenery, and clearly loves delivering sinister monologues, but he’s at his best when he exposes Malcolm as a guilt-ridden man left without a moral compass by the murder of his wife.
Probably the breakout character of Season 1, Felicity Smoak plays two key roles, providing Team Arrow with an informational shortcut — why waste 10 minutes showing Oliver tracking down a crucial clue when tech-wizard Felicity can do it in 10 seconds with
product placement her magical computer? — while injecting humor into an otherwise-dark series. But Felicity has demonstrated she’s more than a pretty face with a quirky personality and a Windows Surface Tablet; she’s gone into the field on at least three occasions, most memorably in the wonderful caper in this week’s episode. But more than that, she’s become a physical reminder of the gulf between Oliver’s dual lives: While Felicity is as vital to the Hood’s mission as John Diggle is, Laurel and Ollie’s family are bewildered by her presence; she’s not part of that world.
Although he’s faded into the background in recent episodes as the island flashbacks slowed to a snail’s pace and the sexual tension between Ollie and Shado was nudged forward in the Lian Yu storyline, Slade Wilson is a pleasant surprise. That’s in part because of fan expectations — Deathstroke is a villain in the DC Universe — but also due to the performance of Manu Bennett. An Australian Intelligence Service agent, Slade plays the roguish mentor to Ollie’s pampered playboy, providing both a study in contrasts and a reminder of what the Queen heir will become during his five years on the island (regretfully, Oliver only acquires Slade’s combat skills and not his wry sense of humor). We can only hope that with the second season, Slade will get more time in the spotlight.
The love triangle
Smallville was guided (or perhaps bound) by a basic concept, that it was about Clark Kent before he became Superman. As such, there were certain milestones the drama “had” to reach, including his youthful romance with Lana Lang and his adult relationship with Lois Lane. The creators of Arrow, however, aren’t saddled with such constraints, as they stripped DC’s Green Arrow down to his foundation — he’s a Batman with a bow, a wealthy businessman turned vigilante archer — and went from there. As such, there’s nothing dictating that, because Green Arrow and Black Canary were a longtime couple in the comic books, Oliver Queen and Laurel Lance are the One True Pairing on The CW series. Not only do actors Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy lack anything resembling chemistry, but their characters haven’t displayed any traits that would make them destined to be together. What does Laurel see in Oliver, even post-island Oliver, that would make her forgive his unbelievable betrayal of her (he cheated on her with her sister, whom he sneaked away on his family yacht, leading to her death)? And then there’s the brooding Tommy, who removes himself as an obstacle to Laurel’s romantic happiness, despite knowing that Oliver, at least in his thinking, is a “murderer” whose dual identity could endanger the woman he supposedly loves.
The show’s split personality
As I noted with some frustration in the recap of this week’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” the writers have toiled to ground Arrow in some semblance of reality, eschewing the more fantastic aspects of the character’s roots in favor of (if you’ll excuse the term) “grittiness.” So, don’t expect a costumed Clock King or a boxing-glove arrow in Season 2. It’s an understandable approach, certainly, but in stripping away those “comic book-y” elements, the writers expose glaring incongruities: Malcolm Merlyn’s plan to destroy the Glades with a vague “earthquake device” rivals the silliest schemes of a classic Bond villain, and Eddie Fyers’ plot to destroy China’s economy by shooting down commercial planes makes absolutely no sense. Even Starling City’s long-forgotten subway system, so key to the Undertaking, strains credulity. Wrapped in a cloak of “comic-book logic,” these issues would barely rate notice, but without it they stand out like sore thumbs.
The writers can’t seem to figure out what to do with this family, as the Lances often dance around the edges of the main storyline but rarely become part of it. As a police detective purportedly tasked with bringing the Hood to justice, Detective Quentin Lance would seem integral to the overarching plot, always nipping at the vigilante’s heels. However, he’s been a largely ineffectual pursuer, despite demonstrating a willingness to use his daughter as bait to try to apprehend the Hood (curiously, though, he’s moved at lightning speed to draw a connection between the Dark Archer and Merlyn Global). Mostly, however, he just scowls as Laurel bounces back and forth between the two “bad boys” in her life. Although the introduction of Laurel’s estranged mother seemed like a turning point for the Lance clan — it wasn’t; the “your sister Sara may be a live!” subplot went nowhere — they’ve only ever “worked” in April 25’s “Home Invasion.” After that, unfortunately, it was back to scowling and romantic pinball.
While she provides the technological know-how and lightheartedness the show requires, she’s so far been a largely one-dimensional character, the socially awkward computer nerd whose skills rival the greatest minds of the National Security Agency. She’s Arrow‘s deus ex machina, able to infiltrate most any security system while blurting out accidental double entendres. (Latin and French, in one sentence?) The writers need to drop Felicity’s tongue-tied schoolgirl routine (it’s already getting old), and flesh out her character next season.
The island flashbacks
The glimpses of Oliver’s time Lian Yu often illuminate Oliver’s motivations in the present, but since Feb. 13’s “The Odyssey,” which flipped the script, making the events on the island the primary storyline, the flashbacks have unfolded at such a glacial pace that it’s difficult to remain interested. It’s notable that since that episode, the only time the flashbacks have been effective was in “The Undertaking,” which showed us not only the birth of Malcolm’s scheme but a pre-island Ollie. Season 2 may be better served by more island-centric episodes that move the story more quickly, and additional looks at the show’s central players before the shipwreck. And did I mention Stephen Amell’s horrible wig(s)?