There was plenty of skepticism to be found when the CW first announced plans for an Arrow TV Series. Superhero show’s haven’t had an incredible amount of success in recent years, and coming so soon after one that did succeed (Smallville completed its story), the pressure was always going to be on the new pretender. Concerning us most, of course, was Arrow‘s level of seriable intent — how serialized would it be? How much focus would the ongoing story receive in each episode? How successfully would the creators navigate this format, should they indeed be wise enough to embrace its power?
The good news is that Arrow hits the bulls-eye in its opening episode. A lot of ground is covered, as you expect in a pilot for an ambitious series, but it’s impressive how quickly the world of the show is established, and in a way that doesn’t feel overly rushed (sure there’s plenty of compression but it doesn’t take away too much from the story). Already I’m digging the flashbacks and how they inform both the backstory and current storylines; this will probably be my favorite aspect of the show, though you need the present day story to have purpose too, which looks like being the case with Oliver’s list of names and his whole vengeance drive.
There’s a worry that the list serves as an inherent ‘villain of the week’ device, and while there will be some of that for sure, there’s a substance projected through the character and his transformation that suggests Arrow will have plenty for those geared towards the serial elements. It’s very early days, of course, but there’s plenty of interesting plot and character set-up waiting for motion. The mostly unresolved manner in which the episode ends is a positive indicator in that regard. Now to follow it up.
Beginning the show with Oliver getting rescued from the Island works on several levels. It invites us into the transformation of the character and immediately made me curious as to what the island represents and how it changed him from selfish playboy to human weapon with purpose. The Island “purgatory” symbolism is somewhat shoe-horned to the audience but the unspooling flashbacks and the sense of change within Oliver bring that concept to life. Laurel also drops the “hell” reference, which is a level or two down from purgatory, but the heaven/hell paths open to Oliver are fairly apparent.
As I said, the Island backstory is my hook into the series, there are many intriguing questions to go with all the thematic quality.The primary question for me is how did the Island transform Oliver? What did he encounter on that rock and why did it produce the redemptive yet violent man we see today? The narrative places a lot on “the Island”, but how much of this “transformation” is down to Oliver himself? What part of his evolution did witnessing his father blow his brains out do to him, not to mention being unable to save Laurel’s sister? This is supposedly a ‘grounded’ series, after all, so while I do like the notion of the mystical Island’s transformative powers, I imagine there’ll be character-based underpinnings to support it all.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by how engaging the ‘coming home’ story was. Oliver’s reintroduction into society was treated with a few compressions but you can accept that in a pilot and, as mentioned, it didn’t spoil my interest in seeing him reunite with his family while acclimatising to all of the changes. His relationship with his sister — Aka “speedy” — was interesting to see, particularly their later spat when she tells him that he’s not able to judge her for turning out the way she has. A bit on the nose perhaps, but overall the scene worked and delivered an important question that I was already thinking about: who is Oliver to play judge and jury, especially when his methods are morally questionable in the extreme?
I like that the show is seemingly going to examine the moral ambiguity of the character, as it would be a lot easier to fluff him up. But for me to understand the character there has to be some kind of rule set or reasoning that I can tap into, especially since he is portrayed as a ‘hero’. That’s not to say it has to come into view immediately or that he needs to be pigeon-holed, but I’m interested to see how well the show executes (so to speak) his morality without making him contrived. I found it particularly interesting, perhaps the most interesting moment of the pilot, when he kills the final abductor and actually tells him (and us) that he has to kill him, not because the guy had earlier killed an innocent man, but because “no one can know my secret”. If there was a bigger moment in the pilot then I must have missed it because that sent alarms bells ringing. I’m both excited and scared to unravel Oliver’s moral code.
Oliver’s multiple identities obviously played a significant role in the episode, and interestingly he shows different sides of those persona’s to different people. As poor Laurel witnessed he can also switch between them on a dime. Oliver seems at his strongest, most impenetrable when he’s in his green and hood, though perhaps it’s actually easier for him to play the role when dressed up (though how much of a ‘role’ it is remains to be seen). Maybe the strongest side of Oliver has yet to surface? Likewise, perhaps his most dangerous face has yet to emerge? I guess this is all still a process for Mr. Queen — one where he’s still incredibly vulnerable, haunted by memories from the past, as dear mother almost found out to her expense.
The big ‘come back next week’ reveal that mother dearest is actually responsible for Oliver’s abduction, makes her all kinds of interesting and will have me coming back next week (not that I wouldn’t have anyway for what the episode did as a whole). Clearly the secrets run deep in this family.
All in all a promising pilot — I’m not sure about the narration yet, though I can see how it helps with story motion, and I hope the writer’s at least have internal reasoning for how Ollie is able to achieve some of his disappearing acts and stunts — but so far, Arrow hits the target.
8.5/10 Seriable Stars