ARROW [Season 2 Review]: A Tale of Two Seasons.
Hello, fellow ClergyPersons. Danny Witt here, and I’m here to make a confession. I love Arrow. I have been on the Starling Express ever since the first episode. I have gotten several friends to hop aboard and it’s been one helluva fun ride… until the second half of the most recent season.
Season 1 had us meeting all the players and getting used to Arrow essentially being the small screen’s version of The Dark Knight, and it worked. We found a fair balance between the past and present, and Oliver’s time on the island was interesting for it helped build the character as a whole. How in the heck did this spoiled, pampered douchbag-and-a-half manage to become the absolute brick shithouse badass that “the Vigilante” (as he was known as in S1) of Starling City ended up being?
The Island, in short, was the answer.
The scars, the torture, every cut, scrape, bruise that Stephen Amell‘s Oliver Queen sustained, we the audience felt too. Rounded out by a capable cast of characters all played by the typical CW-esque rogues gallery of people who look like they just stepped off a modeling shoot, the fledgling show was the best show in the genre. A sleeper show about a hero not many people knew about, on a relatively small network, the writers and directors worked hard to make the show different. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this was not–thankfully.
Arrow seemed to stand alone on the top throughout season 1. Oliver was on a mission: Save Starling City from itself, make amends for what his family had done behind the scenes, and to save his own soul for his past indiscretions. In a surprising twist, our hero actually failed to save the day in the penultimate episode, leaving the audience a little surprised and simultaneously making the show feel human. It made the viewer have a reason to pull for Oliver and recognize his struggle.
The second season, appropriately, dealt with the repercussions of Oliver’s failure from the first season, and in large part, his failures as a human being both on the island and in his previous life pre-island. Oliver’s supporting cast grew akin to the “Bat-family” in DC’s comic universe; Oliver gained some friends and was not alone in his fight to save Starling City. The flashbacks dealt with Oliver dealing with the fact that he was responsible for the-girl-he-loved-and-didn’t-love-but-still-loved’s (more on that later) death, his friend Slade Wilson’s (Spartacus‘ Manu Bennett) downward spiral into madness, and the return of another girl he loved but didn’t love but still loves return. Slade Wilson’s Deathstroke was easily the best part of this show. His outright hatred for Oliver, and the fact he was besting him at every single turn, again made viewers feel for Ollie but at the same time wonder how in the hell can he get out of this? In the end, through some maneuvering and a little help from his friends, Oliver succeeds in defeating his former friend and mentor, saves the city, and becomes recognized by the city and the police department for his heroism. Happy Day!!
And now…Season Three. The buzz began early with the casting of Ra’s Al Ghul (Matt Nable, from The Chronicles of Riddick). Excitement was at a fever pitch — despite the obvious parallel’s with Batman stories from the comic — as Oliver and his geeky tech person Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) were now exploring their “will they/won’t they” relationship, and it thankfully met an abrupt end; Moody Oliver decided that it was too dangerous for others for him to try and have a normal life. Series regular and supreme hottie Caity Lotz (Canary) was unceremoniously killed off at the end of the season premiere, and led to the major plot points of the first season, ultimately a plot that contributed to this season’s downfall. The “Whodunit” mystery to find and bring justice to Sarah Lance was fine, but it gave rise to the absolutely deplorable Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) taking her deceased sister’s mantle in an over-the-top and completely unbelievable struggle between herself and her father (more on that later).
While I have no problem with Ms. Cassidy or her portrayal of Laurel Lance, I simply could not for the life of me buy her as The Black Canary. It didn’t work. And while they did their best to showcase her struggles and routinely getting mollywhopped by common thugs — after just a few week’s self defense training (and an episode where she finally subconsciously defeats her deceased sister’s aspect) — all of the sudden she’s holding her own? Nope. Sorry. Despite all that, the build towards Ra’s and Oliver’s inevitable clash at the end of the first half of the season made the show engaging enough, and Nable created a very good take on the character. He exuded wisdom and power, and was a supremely threatening presence, so when he absolutely destroyed Oliver in one on one combat — seemingly killing him and kicking his carcass off a cliff — the audience was left with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger that made us extremely anxious for the season to resume after hiatus. Then things just went south.
The second half of season three was an absolute and total mess. Where the flashbacks in the previous two seasons fleshed out the story and gave relevant insight to events and characters, here they were just a nagging sub-plot and more often than not actually killed the momentum of events in the present. In one of the dumbest moves ever, present-day Oliver takes a trip to Lian Yu with his now supreme badass sister Thea Queen/Merlyn/Queen played by Willa Holland (with only a few month’s training with her father! Whhhaaatttt?!), to be able to find his more vicious self in order to defeat Ra’s in what is built up as the rematch of the century surpassing any of the hype Pacquiao/Mayweather II could have generated. On Lian Yu, they encounter the formerly imprisoned Slade Wilson who, in a stroke of ‘genius’, Thea easily defeats with little help from Oliver, thus effectively neutering what was arguably the show’s greatest villain to date. And for WHAT? To have her beat Ra’s…eventually? Nope. Just for shits and giggles.
The aforementioned Laurel Lance and her now estranged father (played by the very capable Paul Blackthorne), also, are embroiled in a childish fight because Laurel kept the death of Sarah a secret from him. Now ever so suddenly, Captain Lance makes it his life mission to bring Oliver and Co. down. Wait, what? This is your ONLY living child– ONLY ONE. For a character who had spent so much time loving his girls, lamenting the passing of one only to rejoice in her coming back and then losing her again, he effectively cuts her off because she lied to protect him. First of MANY out-of-character moments this season showcased.
This brings us to what was supposed to be the most enthralling and biggest episodes of the season. The last couple dealt with the ‘swerve’ of Oliver accepting Ra’s Al Ghul’s proposal to be his successor. Oliver basically no-sold the move and bought it hook-line-and-sinker, accepted the duty, and then set off on his path to become the new Demon’s Head. I could have accepted it; I could have bought it; but there was no real struggle. From day one it was clear that Oliver was playing him. And yet, the aghast reactions of his Arrow Family to his actions, and how they immediately hated him for it, just wasn’t believable. On down the line, from Felicity to John Diggle (David Paul Ramsey; more on him later) couldn’t see what Oliver was up to and lost their faith almost immediately. The final episode was chalk full of Deus Ex Machina and convenient plot twists for the sake of convenience. I won’t go into specifics in case anyone in our clergy hasn’t watched the episode, but suffice to say, I rolled my eyes several times, and to have Ra’s essentially go out with a whimper, I was not amused…
Now, I’m not willing to write off Oliver Queen and Arrow just yet, and despite the incoherent mess that was the last half of season three, there were quite a few high points that need to be addressed. First and foremost, Ramsey, who plays Oliver’s best friend and bodyguard John Diggle, got a LOT more screen time this season, and the show truly benefitted from this. The guy has some serious acting chops, and the character they’ve created for him absolutely shines whenever he is showcased. On top of Ramsey’s stellar performance, we were treated with Matt Nable’s chilling Ra’s Al Ghul, who — as the character is intended — came off very much as a shade of grey, a balance between good and evil, and can almost convince you that, “well maybe Ra’s is right…” Finally, the combat this season took a definite step up. The action scenes were varied and complex; as a martial arts fan and practitioner, it was nice to see different styles and forms on the show. Each style fit the characters using them, which actually helped sell the characters themselves.
In closing, Arrow is not a bad show, however it needs to alter their approach in a few areas to make it the powerhouse it was before. Here’s what should change:
1.) No More Convoluted Love – Oliver has loved how many women on the show now? Let’s see: Laurel Lance, Sarah Lance, Shadow, Felicity, The Cop, The Huntress, and the Girl-He-Had-the-Baby-With. Just stop. Stop the fan service. Stop making Oliver fall for these people and then fall out, then back with someone else and then back to the original. It is a detriment to the character, and he can’t have his cake and eat it too. Eventually, when one of them may or may not die, the gravity of it won’t be felt. Did we care like we should have when Shadow died? When Sarah died? When inevitably Laurel or Felicity will be on the chopping block? This doesn’t just go for Oliver either; Felicity bounces around like a pinball almost as much as Oliver!
2.) Ease up on the Shared Universe – Marvel has this nailed. DC is trying to get it jump-started in the cinematic universe, but they seem to have a good thing going on their CW TV shows; but too much can take away from the main course. We saw that this season with Brandon Routh‘s Atom. Solid performance, and it would have been fine if they did the same thing as last season with The Flash: Have him show up for a mini-arc, have their story, and then bounce. This season saw Ray Palmer (Atom) involved in a long, drawn-out arc that ultimately lead nowhere. Why? What point or purpose did he serve that was intricate to the story? None. Hopefully, in Season 4 the show steers away from having too much of the DCTV shared universe involved. Get back to basics: Oliver, his bow, bad guys, go!
3.) Keep it Simple – Daredevil was a smash hit for many reasons, chief among them being that it was straightforward and simple. It was what it was: a man without fear, using his fists to get the job done. We, as the audience, don’t need too much else. Arrow started off that way. Oliver struggling and using his original bow from the island made it more palpable to the audience.
4.) Adhere to Continuity – If there’s anything comic book fans can all agree with, it’s that breaches in continuity SUCK. The continuity in this case refers to the characters. Please don’t have characters act inconsistent, or otherwise feel bi-polar. Keep the past in mind, and if there needs to be a change for whatever the reason, have it actually build the character. Have a reason for it.
5.) More John Diggle – Said it before and I’ll say it again. John Diggle, and David Paul Ramsey’s performance, is perhaps the best part of the show. He is the conscience, the Jiminy Cricket if you will, to Oliver Queen–except he uses guns and is a complete badass.