My take on ‘Arrow’ seasons 1 & 2

So I finally wrapped up watching the first two seasons of CW’s other superhero series, Arrow, and by finally, I mean it actually took me a ridiculously short amount of time – which is totally a good sign, right?  I was actually going to discuss the seasons separately at first, but that’ll be hard to do now that I watched both of them.

What I have to say first is that I can completely understand why this is a more popular show than The Flash.  If The Flash is for a younger audience, like teens, that is more accepting of cheesy lines, half-assed storytelling, and some immature moments, Arrow is geared for an older audience, so it’s much better fleshed out and developed.  I got the feeling that the people working on the show, like the writers, were older and more experienced than those on The Flash.  I can’t say for sure, but that’s the feeling I got, which already shows how much better the quality of the storytelling was for Arrow.  They do a really good job of overlaying what happens on the island with what happens in the present, which proves that a lot of thought was put into both stories, and everything is well planned out and organized.  You can put your trust in the production and writing crew for seasons and seasons of Arrow.  I honestly was not a fan of the flashbacks in the first season because I’m not a fan of war stories or stories of people trapped on islands to fend for themselves in a dystopian way (e.g., Lord of the Flies), so I mostly forwarded those (just personal preference), but I did like the flashbacks in the second season, and they weren’t that long.  I have to give the writers props.

However, the first two seasons were not without some issues.  I did have problems with the 1-dimensional characters on the show.  Firstly, why is Diggle even on this show?  All he does is give advice to Oliver Queen (always very sage advice, mind you), which then gets ignored by Oliver Queen, who later goes to him saying, “You were right,” but then repeats this cycle like an idiot who never learns.  They need to do more with Diggle; they need to make this bromance better because I feel like everything in season one and two could essentially be the same with any stoic bodyguard there acting as backup – maybe even no one at all.  One good thing was his growing relationship with his brother’s killer, Deadshot (which is too close to Deathstroke so I kept getting confused, dammit).  How is it that this minor side-bromance is better than the main one? And what happened with H.I.V.E? They mentioned it twice.  I’m guessing it’ll be more prominent in the next season, but was there really a need to even tease us with that in this season if it was going to be so insignificant?  It helps his new relationship with Deadshot, but I still think they could have mentioned it a couple more times to remind us it even exists.

Another positive for Digs in the second season was his relationship with Lyla.  Thank goodness his sister-in-law went away.  I felt like he needed a stronger woman by his side. Also, that relationship was weird.  I kept thinking about how if they ever had children, they’d have to explain to her son that the newborn was his cousin-slash-sibling. How awkward is that? Also, it just came to mind now, what is with this show and siblings dating the same person? Digs and his brother with the waitress (can’t be bothered to check her name), and Sara and Laurel with Oliver?  There was even almost something goin’ on with Thea and Tommy, who turned out to be half-siblings.  Y’all can’t think of more characters so that the picks aren’t so limited here?  When does Felicity’s long-lost sister come into the picture?  There are plenty of soap opera-ish moments in this show, so this would not come as any surprise to me.

Anyway, moving on, Laurel’s father, Detective Lance, seems like a caricature of a detective from an old film noir who has a gruff, accented voice and goes around judging everybody. He just needs a cigar, a hat, and a trench coat.  As annoying as he was in the first season, I loved seeing his change in the second season – he’s much more open-minded, resigned to the reality that the law can’t always uphold good all on its own, and easier to feel attached to and empathize with.  One thing, though.  I did not get why he was so against Laurel’s claim that Blood was corrupt.  You’d think he would believe his daughter over a man he barely interacts with in the series.  That part seemed out of character for him.

If I couldn’t stand Iris in The Flash, I absolutely adored Laurel in Arrow – season one, anyway.  She’s a strong female lead backed by a talented actress, who does an incredible job of showing how strong Laurel is, so strong that she is not afraid to show a vulnerable side.  Often, she shows her vulnerability, but she never shows weakness.  She’s compassionate but she’s not a fool.  This all falls apart in the second season.  While her father redeems himself, she falls into the pits, shoved off to the side while her sister Sara takes over (One side note on Sara: Am I really supposed to believe she’s in the League of Assassins?  Because she gets her ass kicked pretty frequently, just sayin’).  It’s hard to understand why Laurel spirals down so hard and changes so much just because Tommy dies trying to save her. Her anger towards the Arrow is of course meant to be misguided, an attempt to relieve herself of guilt, but this sudden hatred makes little sense considering how much she knows the good the Arrow does for the city – and we know she knows, because she spends a good amount of time defending him.  I had a hard time buying this, not to mention her side story takes away from the main story of what’s going on, which CW seems to do often.  It distracts, even though it does help with character development.

I also had a hard time adjusting to her changed appearance.  Katie Cassidy looks very different.  I’m not sure if it’s weight loss and/or some work done on her face.  It matches well with the suffering her character went through because she looks much thinner and older, but since I watched the seasons back to back, the difference was jolting for me. Anyway, I do like the character development in the second season.  Laurel turns a new leaf in the latter half of the season, not entirely recovering who she used to be but becoming a different version of herself.  She’s less angry, entirely accepting, even after she finds out Oliver and Sara’s secondary identities, and this was refreshing.

Going off on acting out complex characters well, I have to give it to Stephen Amell. Although he isn’t as adept at expressing subtle emotions through his eyes and gaze as Grant Gustin is in The Flash, I think this works for him.  His character is desensitized from a lot of things and shut off from the world, despite being very sensitive and caring at the same time, so the distance in his eyes is a constant reminder of his time away from normal society for the last five years (and you have no idea how many times they say “For five years…” and “While I was on that island” or some variation of both – it’s like stop it already, we get it). Stephen Amell does a really good job of playing different characters: the Oliver before becoming the Arrow, the Oliver slowly becoming the Arrow, the Oliver pretending he isn’t the Arrow, Oliver as the Arrow, etc.

 

Back to 1-dimensional characters, it was obvious what was going to happen to Tommy. Firstly, he’s supposed to be a “bad boy gone good” thanks to a woman, which made my cynical side go, “Uh-huh, yeah, okay, keep convincing young girls they can change a man.”  Still, that was endearing (sigh).  Anyway, it was obvious he was going to be a tragic character in some way or form, just not exactly which way.  I thought he might be like Lex Luthor or Harry Osborn – either way, I was sure he was going to become an angry person, distance himself from Oliver, and then die.  And yes… that’s what happened.  I guess I’m just relieved he’s not another mastermind trying to avenge his evil father or whatever. Is he even actually dead? I don’t believe anyone is dead in this show anymore, there are so many revivals – like a ridiculous amount.

Next is Thea, the damaged, bratty socialite who, let’s be real here, no one can believe is a 17-year-old girl when she first shows up.  She is sort of insufferable and obnoxious.  She develops depth in the second season, but again, there’s just no way you can believe she’s a 19-year-old fully managing a club all on her own.  Why isn’t she even in college?  It seems like they don’t know what to do with Thea except make her angry and brooding and have her lied to by everybody – which is the perfect making for a villain, really.  First, they have her act as the drugged up teenager who likes to partay.  Next, they have her act as someone who might become interested in social problems and maybe even follow in Laurel’s footsteps as an intern at CNRI, but then the writers are like, “Nahhh,” and have her get her own love line with someone from the Glades.  Then bam, she’s the owner of Oliver’s club.  Now, (since I didn’t watch the next season yet), is she going to be a badass vigilante like her brother or a villain like her father?  She’s just a hot mess. I feel for her and I root for her, but I’m not sure I really want her around?  Not if the writers refuse to do more with her, and I do suspect they will in the following seasons. I just have to get to them.

Speaking of her father, the biggest fail the show has delivered to me so far is that the mega-villain in each season that I’ve watched so far is basically the same person.  How can I compare a multi-billionaire businessman to a trained fighter with rugged appeal? Um, they’re both fighting these wars because of the tragic deaths of their beloved women, both of whom would be absolutely horrified if they knew what these men were doing.  The motive for both men are exactly the same, just that one is blaming the Glades and the other is blaming Oliver. Either way, Malcolm’s wife and Shado (who is awesome by the way) would absolutely despise both for what they were doing, and how do neither man see that?   This was a bit like deja-vu, just a different approach to the same goal.

Also, Shado’s death was ridiculously anti-climactic.  She’s a trained fighter who took on multiple men pointing guns at her the first time she was about to be executed on the island, but then she can’t do anything about one man holding a gun at her?  Of course the situation is a bit different because Oliver and Sara are tied up, Slade (awesome name by the way) presumed dead, and Ivo’s henchmen nearby, but she was very passive about the whole thing, which didn’t seem like her.  Couldn’t they put her in more of a fight? My feminist side was not a fan of the whole “these women are items, one more valuable than the other, so hey man, take your pick” scenario.  Both she and her awesome father died in very anti-climactic (might I even say lame) ways that did absolutely no justice to how cool they are.

Since I’m talking about men avenging their beloveds, I can now slide into the topic of romance.  Why does CW suck at love lines?  I liked Tommy and Laurel together, but then Laurel suddenly hooks up with Oliver – and that was so random.  There were a few hints, but they both seemed certain it wouldn’t happen… and then they jump right into it.  Then after just that one fling, they’re over each other.  But was that hookup even necessary? After that, she tries to convince herself she loves Tommy after he saves her from a fiery building, and I’m just like, “Yeah, okay.”

Even the chemistry between Felicity and Oliver is weird.  At first, I thought she was so endearing that they’d be perfect together, but nope.  The chemistry is off and it’s forced. He seems to have zero romantic interest in her, maybe even viewing her as another younger sister, despite some attempts at lines and scenes hinting otherwise.  I think the writers are just trying to feed the shippers.  They try to make her seem like the one he needs, according to what Sara says when she breaks up with him, because Felicity keeps him humane, but (feminist Annie is out again), she becomes a sort of “sentimental woman” who holds him back.  It gets really sappy with her insisting how she trusts him and the two having their little moments of her being his little cheerleader.  There are even lots of moments of him holding her very superhero-and-damsel-in-distress style while leaping off buildings… Please stop.  Their ship name is very cute though: Olicity.

The writers seemed to have gotten confused with her character, too, because she was very awkward and quirky in the first season, but now she’s very outspoken and fiery. Considering all that’s happened to her since, of course she would get stronger, but she almost seems like a completely different person.  When he said, “I love you,” at the end, I was about to flip a table, but thank goodness it was just a clever ruse in the end.  Now that was an awesome plot twist.  Everyone wins: the writers, the non-shippers, and the shippers.

To Arrow‘s defense, there are lots of awesome, kick-ass women in the show.  I’m on the fence with Sara since she often gets knocked unconscious in fights, but that Chinese triad lady is hot and Nyssa of the League of Assassins is hot, too.  Both are super girl-crush-worthy.  And I like how Laurel showed her ability to defend herself in short fights, too (although this disappears in the second season, sadly enough).

There were a few other points I wanted to make, like… if they can discover the killer archer through his arrows, why can’t Oliver be discovered the same way?  Where does he even get his arrows, and did he ever take into consideration what Barry said about more effective arrows?  I love how they act like the rooftops are the most secretive and safest places to meet for conspiring – do they not think anyone can see them from, oh I don’t know, all the other, taller buildings surrounding the rooftop?  Their meeting place is not on a very high rooftop, nor is it very dark.  I’m just imagining looking out the window of my office building one late night at work and seeing a man with a quiver of arrows and a policeman just chatting there like there’s no one else in the world.

Some other minor quibbles that are common in the action genre are how terrible the bad guys are at hitting anything with their guns and how heroes get stabbed through and through and they’re perfectly fine but anyone else, like poor Tommy, gets a rod through him and he dies in a matter of minutes.  Malcolm Merlyn and Oliver, for pete’s sake, both get stabbed through the chest in their final fight and they survive!  Slade and even Deadshot get stabbed in the eye (and probably through the brain), but nope, they’re all dandy – the perfect picture of health. Slade has the mirakuru (pronounced horribly wrong) in him, so okay, I guess, but Deadshot?!  I grew to like Deadshot, but no, that guy should be way dead.

Overall, the first season was great.  The set-up was great, the development was great, the pacing was great.  The second season was a total mess.  I scoffed multiple times.  The set-up was fine, the development wasn’t well fleshed out, and the pacing was super rushed. I heard that the series got better as it went on, but the second paled in comparison to the first for me. It was full of hot air.  Some people may have found it to be exciting and action-filled, and I agree with that, but it was all done in such a sloppy way. I have to give the Slade arc credit for the final fight scene, though, because the integration of the past fight on the Amazo and the present fight in Starling City was absolutely beautiful.  It was artistically and cinematically filmed and edited well, in tune with how the flashbacks usually integrate themselves into the episode.  It could have been a movie I was watching. For the finale, the TV series went beyond for which I give a standing ovation.

I’m sorry I was all over the place; I had so much content to go through and I still didn’t get to talk about everything (I don’t even mention Roy or the creepy CEO lady).   It’s probably more of a mess than the second season, so let me just conclude: I definitely recommend this series.  I think it’s way better than The Flash (I’m still making my way through the second season because the CW site uploads each episode one week at a time) and I am so excited for the third season!  I’ll definitely review that on its own.  It’s hard to stop myself from binging all the seasons, but I’ll try to write that review right after I finish season three and before I start season four, so I’m not all over the place again.

By the way, I’m definitely leaning more towards DC these days, mostly thanks to the CW shows, so good going.  Marvel has been too in love with itself for a while now and DC is stepping up.  I’m so excited for Wonder Woman! What do you think?  Might you be boarding the DC train?

-Annie

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