Arrow (2012) – Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2 – “Pilot” and “Honor Thy Father” – Written by Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim (both episodes); Directed by David Nutter and David Barrett – Starring Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Susanna Thompson, Colin Salmon, Paul Blackthorne, Kelly Hu, and Jamey Sheridan.
ARROW is the latest example of the collective stupidity of fundamentalist fanboys who desperately wait for the smallest piece of information to go running to the internet to decry anything and everything as stupid. For months, seemingly every piece of information released about ARROW was met with scorn and derision.
You’re not using the dude from Smallville who played Green Arrow? This show is going to suck!
You’re calling it ARROW and not GREEN ARROW? This show is going to suck!
You keep showing that guy without his shirt on in all the ads! This show is going to suck!
You’re setting it in Starling City instead of Star City? This show is going to suck!
You’re going to keep jumping back and forth between the present and the island? This show is going to suck!
It doesn’t. Two episodes in, ARROW is a surprisingly good television program, a engaging mix of violence and justice, and private and public perception. I will say that there was not a lot of pre-launch materials released concerning ARROW that had me overly hopeful, but as we have learned (and then apparently forget) time and again, you never know how good a story is going to be until you actually see it.
The key line issued by Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) that unlocks what this series is about comes at the end of the second episode, HONOR THY FATHER, where he talks to his dad’s gravestone. “Sometimes,” he tells his dad after faking public intoxication, “to honor your wishes I have to dishonor your memory.”
Five years before the start of the PILOT, Oliver and his dad, Robert (Jamey Sheridan) were on a fancy yacht out in the deep Pacific. Something went wrong and the ship sank, claiming the life of the woman Oliver was sleeping with, who was also the sister of his girlfriend. She died, he ended up in a boat with his dad and another survivor, and then his dad ended up killing the other guy and blowing his own brains out in the hopes that Oliver would survive. He’d already come clean to his son that he wasn’t the great, upstanding man that everyone thought he was, and it’s clear that he sees Oliver as the key to his redemption. ARROW begins with Oliver being rescued and returning to Starling City five years after being declared dead.
That bit about Ollie sleeping with his girlfriend’s sister on a yacht cruise? Well, it turns out that in the five years he’s been gone, that girlfriend he was cheating on has had a semi-occasional sexual affair with Ollie’s best friend, Tommy (Colin Donnell). And the father of that girlfriend and her sister? He’s a prominent detective in the city. And his beloved little sister is every bit the party person that her brother was before he “died.” Also, his mother hired thugs to kidnap him in the first episode and revealed to a man in the shadows (of a limousine, not some dark alley) that she was complicit in having her husband’s yacht destroyed, meaning Ollie’s mom was willing to see her son die and now wants him kidnapped so they can find out whether his father told him anything about his illegal activities.
Which his father, in fact, did do. Oliver has a journal full of names and information, and this is “redemption journal” contains the people who his father ratted on while they were on the lifeboat.
All of that soap opera stuff is muted in the show. ARROW is not One Tree Hill with costumes, but rather a vigilante show with some soap sprinkled in, and it’s a genuinely good show.
The key to ARROW’s success is that it knows what it wants to be and never strays from that path. This is a dark show that’s plays for keeps, not simply to titillate you with its soap opera wickedness. Oliver has no problems running around and sinking arrows into people. His strategy, so far, is to drop in on a rich bad guy, shoot his flunkies full of arrows, and then threaten the boss to do what he wants, whether that’s to give people he’s ripped off some massive amounts of money or force a baddie to testify against himself at trial.
ARROW does play loose with reality when it comes to all of this, of course. In the second episode he gives Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) a recording of a bad guy incriminating himself. There’s no way it’s a legal confession (the baddie gave under the duress of having a vigilante in a green hood shooting arrows at him) but it works well enough inside the narrative.
Stephen Amell is really good at playing the haunted vigilante who’s pretending to still be a semi-empty party boy. He’s willing to let the world think he hasn’t changed in five years, while in private he demonstrates that he’s a very different guy. This public vs. private battle for who Oliver Queen is cannot last, of course. Already, his mom-hired bodyguard, John Diggle (David Ramsey), knows he’s not the public version of himself, and his best friend Tommy asks the obvious question of how it’s odd that Oliver’s return and Arrow’s arrival (not that anyone calls him Arrow; they just call him the green-hooded vigilante) happen at the same time. The biggest breakdown between public and private comes with the two most important women in his life, his ex-girlfriend Dinah “Laurel” Lance (Katie Cassidy) and his sister, Thea (Willa Holland). Oliver waffles between being a projection of who he used to be and who he is with Laurel. One night he tells her to stay away from him, the next day he’s showing up at her door so they can make nice and eat ice cream, and the day after that he’s invited her to a dedication so she can see him make a fool of himself.
Even though Oliver – just so we’re clear – took Laurel’s sister with him on a yacht cruise so he could have sex with her, a cruise that ended up with said sister dying, Laurel just can’t stay mad at him. It’s clear that part of Oliver’s personal redemption will be consistently given or not given through Laurel, which is a bit of a shame since she’s the weakest link in the show, so far. It’s not that she’s a horrible character, as much as the show has conceived and cast this character by stretching everything a bit thin. She’s a lawyer, taking on the biggest criminals in the city in civil court, but she looks like she’s a junior at Stanford. Willa Holland is a solid actress when she keeps things under control, but when the show requires her to let off emotional fireworks, she struggles. She’s clearly her own woman given her job, but she’s also still part little girl, the way her dad steps in to protect her and the way she clearly still loves Oliver. The show even makes a big deal about the paparazzi constantly shoving cameras in Oliver’s face, but never sticks one in Laurel’s face, even though she was the cheated-on sister of the girl who died on the Queen yacht.
Most importantly to the show, however, when Laurel is with Oliver and Tommy, however, Holland delivers.
I hope all those ridiculous malcontents who’ve been shredding this show for months based on clips and advertisements can watch ARROW with open eyes and give it a chance. It’s a good show, even if it’s not a literal interpretation of, say, Mike Grell’s fabled Green Arrow run. It’s clearly a show aimed at the teen-to-early-twentysomething demographic (it is on the CW, after all), but it’s mix of violence and soap works for me. This really isn’t a superhero show, given that Oliver has no qualms about killing, but it does work as a contemporary western, with the masked man seeking revenge and redemption by righting not only his wrongs, but those of his father.
I like ARROW, and I’ll be tuning in each week until I don’t.