Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Returning Shows: Arrow (The Penitent Vigilante Returns)

Ugh, so on a personal note, I seem to have somehow grievously offended my back. That's not really relevant here, nor is it apt to affect my posting schedule in any way or you know really have any bearing whatsoever on your lives, but it hurts and I don't like it. Whine whine whine.

And on to more interesting fodder. Like, for example, Arrow, yet another show from the CW's Attractive and Slightly Generic Genre Hits factory. Coming into its second season, the show, which follow's DC superhero Green Arrow in an all-human, no superpowers re-imagining, the show is still as slick and tight and just plain fun as ever. Which is totally a good thing.

More than that, though, it seems that the first season jitters have finally worn off, and what we're left with is a show that is genuinely and honestly good. Like, whoops I accidentally started the next episode, shouldn't I go to bed, nah, I can wait good.

Why is it so good now? Well, let's talk about that.

The show picks up several months after the previous season left off, as makes a fair amount of sense. As you may recall, at the end of season one, tensions come to a head between Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) and Oliver Queen/The Hood (Stephen Amell), and the ensuing chaos, which involves an "earthquake machine" leaves Merlyn dead, the Glades (a lowerclass neighborhood) destroyed, and Oliver's best friend, Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) dying in the rubble. 

Oliver flees the scene and seems to have kept running until he landed right back on that mysterious island he'd already been rescued from. Also, his mother (Susanna Clarke) takes the downfall for her role in the destruction of the Glades, and Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), distraught over Tommy's death, decides to bring down The Hood.

So, you know, a totally uplifting and not terrible place to start the season back up again, right?

Actually, though, it starts pretty hilariously, with the two people Oliver can trust parachuting onto his psychotic island hideaway. John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Richards) are there to save Oliver from himself and bring him back home. Not necessarily to make him be the vigilante again, though they both think he should, but to at least bring him back to his family. Oliver's mother is in jail, his little sister Thea (Willa Holland) is adrift on her own, and the family company is about to be bought out in a hostile takeover. Oliver's not a complete jerk, so he agrees to come back.

Once he's home, though, it takes all he has not to start firing arrows at people again. For starters, the whole city blames his family for the destruction of the Glades. This is generally problematic on a personal level, as Oliver deals with being hated and protested, and also kind of a thing on a personal level, as several mercenaries take a note from "The Hood" and decide to start shooting up anyone they find responsible for the earthquake. Which includes Oliver, and Thea.

So there's that. Oliver has to figure out how to run for his life, while also protecting Thea, and then making sure that she doesn't know precisely what he's up to, all the time trying to go into negotiations to prevent Queen Consolidated from being bought out by Isabel Rochev (Summer Glau).

As a side note, this show really is becoming the pit stop for genre actors, isn't it? Between Alex Kingston, John Barrowman, and Paul Blackthorne last season, and Summer Glau and Colton Haynes this season, it's getting kind of ridiculous. In an awesome way, of course.

Because this is Arrow, eventually Oliver does take up the quiver again, but only after Thea is kidnapped by the violent criminals. We finally learn that his deep emotional conflict about the mask is that he blames himself for Tommy's death. And, to be fair, he kind of has a point. He did indirectly cause his best friend to die. There's a bit of sense in feeling bad about that.

But as Felicity reminds him, just because he's fallen doesn't mean he shouldn't get back up. And maybe this time he can do the whole vigilante thing without killing people. Maybe turn over a new leaf with a bit less murder on it. That sounds nice.

Those are the broad strokes of the episode, but what really does it for me is the little stuff. The more minor characterizations that really make the show sing. While the center of the franchise, that being Oliver Queen and his ridiculous eye makeup, is solid, it's the minor characters and the intricate world built around them that actually makes it work. That's what keeps the show from feeling paper-thin. It's got depth, gravitas, and a really awesome supporting cast.

Case in point? The development of Diggle as a character over the past season is really nice to see. Granted, he doesn't get nearly as much screentime as he should, but still. When you finally find out that his relationship with longtime crush Carly has failed, you feel genuinely bad. You're invested in Diggle and his personal life. When you realize that he and Felicity have become bros - well that's just stinking adorable.

Or when Felicity and Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) have a moment. It's funny, because you forget so easily that these characters know each other, but they do, and they even quite like each other. Or when Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) and Thea get into an argument about his vigilantism and the actions of the Hood all while Oliver is in earshot. It's just...good. It's just good. I like it.

And honestly, while I like to generally pretend that I have more in depth reasons for things than that, here it really does come down to the simple answer. Arrow is good. I like it. Done.

Sure, it helps that they've finally figured out how to make the show work week in and week out, and the decision to make Oliver Queen a reviled public figure this season actually works really well in their favor. There's something so emotionally satisfying about watching scenes where Oliver is being lambasted in the media for not caring about the city intercut with scenes of him brutally taking out drug dealers and lowlifes. It's the old adage about the virtuous man who is so good he doesn't even need to be seen as good. And it's some hella compelling television.

Would I like to see some more diversity in the cast? Yes, yes I would. I've been happily surprised by the involvement of female characters in the show, and I quite appreciate how integral Felicity and Thea and Laurel and Moira (his mom) are to the story. But I would dearly love to see more than one character of color regularly on our screens. I mean, Starling City is a major metropolis, right? The surely someone there must be a color other than white.

Just, logically. Someone. Please. Heck, make Walter (Colin Salmon) a more regular character. I think we'd all like that. Walter is great.

Really, though, that's about as deep as my criticism goes. I was a little annoyed in the second episode where Oliver, having taken over as CEO of Queen Consolidated, makes Felicity his assistant, rather than letting her return to running the IT Department. It feels demeaning, but then his logic actually makes perfect sense (he needs an assistant who knows his secret, and where better for her to coordinate with him?). 

Still, Diggle's aside that his secret identity is as "Mr. Queen's black driver" is a great hit on the nose to the pretentions of the show. It is an overwhelmingly white and male power structure up in here.

Still. It's a good show, really hitting its stride, and I can't wait to see where it goes from here. Kudos to the CW for continuing in a surprising trend of cultivating some of the most interesting shows on television. Seriously. Were we expecting that? Because I don't feel like we were. But between Arrow and Reign and Tomorrow People and Supernatural and Nikita and hell even Vampire Diaries, that network is pretty freaking impressive.

And whatever happens with Oliver and company in this upcoming season, at least we can rest assured that it'll be full of drama and secret identities and implausible plotlines coming through in just the knick of time. Exactly how we want it.

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