Thursday, August 28, 2014

Arrow Seasons 1 & 2!

For a long time a lot of people kept telling me to check Arrow out; the new show about DC’s the Green Arrow. I have to say, even though I love superheroes, the ads I saw on television weren’t filling me with hope. A big, muscled dude who was basically just doing a lot of chin-ups and push-ups.

I went to Perth Supanova in June and was struck by how many fans of the show were there to see the cast and went to a couple of panels that made the show seem at least interesting.

Then recently I was struck down with a virus and as I wallowed in self-pity needed something to half watch on the couch, under blanket and with a pile of tissues beside me. Arrow seemed like the perfect choice because it was a fairly formulaic series with not a huge amount of substance and enough of a story to keep me vaguely entertained while feeling sorry for myself. I was right, but what I didn’t anticipate was how invested in the characters and addicted to knowing what happens next I would become! Arrow is deceptively good and never claims to be anything other than what it is; a highly entertaining comic book series.

Follow me under the cut for a review of Arrow seasons one and two. Spoilers will be clearly labelled beforehand.

Oliver Queen is a billionaire’s son. He’s a playboy. He’s neither a genius nor a philanthropist. While on a boat trip with his father and his girlfriend’s sister, the boat goes down and Oliver is left as the sole survivor, forced to try to survive on a remote island for another five years.

What happens to him during this time we don’t initially know; all we know is that it wasn’t good.

Upon being found and rescued, Oliver returns to his home Starling City, and to his mother and sister. Unbeknownst to them, Oliver has come back a changed man carrying a secret and a mission. His father admitted to him before he died that the Queen family and others were involved in corruption and killing in order to secure their fortune. Oliver now had to make up for his fathers mistakes by seeing justice delivered to those named in a book his father gave to him. Thus, Oliver becomes a hooded vigilante.

Generally speaking, this show isn’t exactly a brain stretch. The episodes flow in a very simple structure allowing Oliver to cross a name off the list whilst a little bit of his time on the island is divulged. To be honest, I spent the first half of the first season explaining to my husband that there was one of two explanations for everything in the show; Billionaire or Island. Oliver’s base of operations has high tech equipment – Billionaire. Oliver can run nearly as fast as a motorbike – Island. You get the picture. It requires some suspension of disbelief.

What was unexpected however, and what kept me engaged, was the fast pace of the show and the intrigue of the island. Each episode seems to have four twists in it and questions are often answered quickly and satisfyingly. The plot thickens and the characters for the most part continue to develop, so it’s an entertaining journey. More so, the events unfolding on the island are mysterious enough to be compared to some of the early intrigue surrounding Lost. Fortunately, the island plotline is relevant to and certainly keeps pace with Oliver’s adventures in Starling City.

As the show continues, I am also impressed by how well the characters work together and how interested I am in their relationships and development. The characters themselves seem fairly simplistic, but their actions speak to my love of comics and to an organic formulation of a team, which I really love. 

There are also a lot of women of all different types in this show as well as people from different ethnicities. It’s definitely not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but it’s really nice to see something on television that is making an attempt to be more diverse in a non-tokenistic way. By this I mean, when characters arrive and are cast one way or another, this doesn’t seem like a tokenistic effort, it seems like they were cast because they were right for the job.

If you’re looking for a show you can watch back to back and find fun and not quite so depressing then give Arrow a shot. I’ll talk a little more about each season below, but beware; there are obviously spoilers in these sections!

Season 1

Some of the most interesting key points and revelations for the first season:
  • Oliver was not alone on the island and did not spend all of his time there.
  • Oliver’s mother Moira knew of how his fathers boat was sabotaged and seemed to be in on the whole conspiracy.
  • There was a special ops force on the island that was trying to wage war by blowing up civilian aircraft using missile launchers.
  • Oliver spends a lot of time shutting people out but recruits Diggle, his personal security guard, and Felicity, an IT whiz, to help him save the city.
  • Oliver was tortured many times on the island.
  • Oliver’s ex-girlfriend Laurel Lance, whose sister died on the boat, has begun dating Oliver’s best friend Tommy.
  • Tommy’s father is Malcolm Merlyn, played by John Barrowman, and seen to be an architect of the conspiracy around Oliver’s father’s death.
  • A Dark Archer shows up in Starling City and seems to be out to destroy the Hood (the name used for Oliver’s vigilante) and some of those people on his list. 
  • A mob boss’ daughter is taken in by Oliver to be trained by him, only to become the Huntress, bent on killing her father and not operating under Oliver’s perceived ethical code.
  • An assassin named Dead Shot whom both Diggle and Oliver try to kill or capture on a number of occasions killed Diggle’s brother.
  • The Dark Archer is revealed to be Malcolm Merlyn.
  • Malcolm Merlyn was the architect behind an undertaking designed to enact revenge for his deceased wife who died in the Glaydes in Starling City.
  • The Glayde’s is the lower socio-economic part of the city and rife with crime.
  • Oliver’s parents were opposed to Malcolm’s plan and this got Oliver’s father killed on the boat.
  • Tommy discovers that Oliver is the vigilante and despises what Oliver does on the streets with his spare time. He calls Oliver a murderer and resigns his job as the manager of Oliver’s club Verdant.
  • Tommy and Laurel break up because Tommy believes that Oliver is still in love with Laurel, even though he has tried to move on with other women since returning from the island.
  • On the island, Oliver discovered a man by the name of Slade Wilson who became his ally. He has also learned bravery, some combat skills and to become a different person by going back for a different captive friend and his daughter Shado.
  • Laurel and Oliver sleep with each other and Tommy sees them through an open curtain.
  • On the island, Shado begins teaching Oliver how to shoot and how to fight, hoping that he will never have to kill and that they will get off the island with Slade.
  • Tommy confronts Oliver over sleeping with Laurel and Oliver tells Tommy that he needs to fight for what he wants rather than blaming everyone but himself.
  • Diggle and Oliver stage a kidnapping to find out what Moira knows about the undertaking. They discover that Malcolm Merlyn plans to use a device that simulates an earthquake to destroy the Glayde’s and everyone in it.
  • Moira comes clean on television telling people what she has been part of and what is going to happen. She is arrested for conspiring with Malcolm.
  • Oliver and Diggle fight Malcolm together while Felicity and Laurel’s father Quentin (who is a police detective) track down the earthquake device.
  • As Quentin shuts down the device, Malcolm reveals that there is another one before dying. The device levels most of the Glayde’s
  • Oliver arrives to save Laurel from a collapsed building only to find a dying Tommy inside. He had saved Laurel himself, declaring his love for her and dies in Oliver’s arms.
So much of this season builds tension and weaves together perfectly around the ‘freak of the week’ type stories of Oliver trying to bring those on his father’s list to justice. It soon becomes clear that there is more going on and a lot about his family that Oliver never knew. Oliver also discovers a lot more about himself and how the island changed him for the worse as well as in some ways for the better.

Tommy’s death is an interesting finale moment as it sets up a lot of the emotion for the following season with a number of characters. He had also had enough time to evolve throughout the season to make his death seem significant.

The island seems brutal and a place where some seriously bad things are going down. Although Slade, Shado and Oliver manage to kill the men who are going to start an international conflict, there is very little evidence that those were the only people interested in the island.

John Barrowman’s Dark Archer is actually pretty great and I felt like there needed to be more of that in the show. It’s interesting, part of Malcolm Merlyn’s point as a character is to be the unknown enemy, but when you see him and Tommy, trying to evade Malcolm’s assassination, you really want to know more about his life, where he trained after his wife was murdered, what goes on in his every day existence, how he got his money.

Meanwhile, the will they or won’t they love story between Laurel and Oliver doesn’t seem quite so straightforward or over done. Sure, it’s a classic story of them hooking up with other people while the single one pines over what they have lost, but it seems to progress logically through phases and when it’s done or the tension has dissipated, it doesn’t continue.

Season 2

  • At the beginning of Season 2, following Tommy’s death, Oliver has gone back to the island and Diggle and Felicity have to go and bring him back.
  • In his absence, his sister Thea has taken over his club and is doing her best despite the fact that her mother is accused of mass murder and her brother has fled into solitude.
  • There are over 500 casualties of Malcolm Merlyn’s earthquake device and the city is falling into more pronounced chaos and inequality.
  • Laurel is wracked with guilt over her one night with Oliver and Tommy’s death. She is determined to bring ‘the Hood’ to justice, believing it is his fault that Tommy is dead. She also tells Oliver that they cannot be together.
  • Oliver decides that if he continues to be the vigilante then he cannot kill people anymore and has to find another way because he believes Tommy died believing that he was a murderer.
  • Felicity and Diggle have upgraded the base of operations and Oliver has started referring to himself as the Arrow.
  • Oliver investigates a number of injustices throughout the Glaydes and the city and meeting Sebastian Blood, a vocal protester who believes that the city deserves more from those who have money.
  • He decides to run for City Mayor and Oliver backs him over time.
  • Unbeknownst to anyone, Sebastian spends his nights in his own mask, injecting the criminals of the city with a drug that he believes will make them into a super solider. Most subjects die bleeding from the eyes.
  • A woman named Isabella Roche threatens Queen Consolidated with take-over. Oliver manages, with the help of his stepfather Walter, to maintain his half of the company and become CEO.
  • Among the many crimes that the Arrow stops, the plot thickens as to who the masked man is and what he is injecting the people of Starling City with. It’s clear that Oliver knows more than he is letting on to his friends.
  • Thea is dating and working with Roy, a guy she met in the Glaydes. Roy wants to track the Arrow down and help him clean up the city. He goes out and tries to stop criminals on the streets and there encounters a masked blonde woman much like the Arrow.
  • The Arrow tells Roy he can help by being the Arrow’s eyes and ears on the streets, he tells him to find the masked woman after Laurel is kidnapped and the masked woman helps the Arrow rescue her.
  • While looking for the masked woman, Roy comes upon her friend Cindy. They soon become friends and both spend time with Thea when Cin ends up in hospital and Roy is attacked by the Arrow for trying to interfere with a case.
  • The masked woman is revealed to be Sarah Lance, who Oliver thought had died on the island – although he said she died on the boat with the rest of the people who Oliver had set out with, it’s clear that this was not the case.
  • Sarah survived and was picked up by a ship full of prisoners. Their captor was a man named Ivo who taught her many new skills but also was seeking a drug that could give its user incredible strength and power. 
  • When Oliver is captured by those from the boat on the island, he is reunited with Sarah, although she tells him not to allow Ivo to know how they know each other.
  • Throughout that time, Sarah plays both sides, trying only to survive. When Ivo reveals that the island is the right one for a wrecked submarine containing the miracle drug, Sarah sides with Oliver, Shado and Slade and flees with them. Slade is very badly wounded and needs whatever this drug is to survive. The group try to find the submarine before Ivo and his men do.
  • On the submarine is the drug Ivo refers to as Mirakuru, developed by the Japanese in World War 2. They inject Slade with the drug but he seems to die rather than being healed.
  • Ivo captures Sarah, Oliver and Shado and takes the rest of the Mirakura. In a fit of rage he tells Oliver to choose between Sarah and Shado as one must die. After refusing Oliver rushes to save Sarah, only to have Shado shot dead in front of him.
  • As Sarah and Oliver reel from Shado’s murder, Slade appears and Ivo gets away. He reveals that he was always in love with Shado and vows to take vengeance on the man who caused Shado’s murder.
  • In the present day, Sarah and Oliver team up to fight crime and protect the Lance family. Sarah spends some time fighting the urge to return to where she has to go until her employers, The League of Assassin’s, send their leaders daughter Nissa to retrieve her. 
  • Sarah is revealed as being alive to her whole family and Nissa releases Sarah from her contract with the League. Sarah rejoins her family and begins a relationship with Oliver, although her reunion with Laurel is much rockier than she anticipated.
  • Oliver tells Laurel that he isn’t going to chase her anymore and encourages her to mend her relationship with Sarah. She takes this to heart after recently slipping into alcoholism and drug taking and losing her right to practice law.
  • It is revealed that Cin’s father died on the island and that Sarah has been a surrogate big sister to her due to a promise she made to the dying man.
  • Roy is injected with Mirakuru by the masked Sebastian Blood and survives, although he does not know how to react to or deal with his new powers. Oliver, knowing that the Mirakuru clouded Slade’s judgement and turned him into a different person, seeks to train Roy.
  • Slade is revealed to be alive and in Starling City, killing under the name Death Stoke and the mastermind behind all of Sebastian Blood’s trials with the Mirakuru.
  • Moira Queen is found not guilty of mass murder, although it soon becomes clear that this is only because the jury have been threatened by Malcolm Merlyn, who is not dead. Malcolm reveals that he knows that Thea is his biological daughter.
  • Malcolm is a deserter of the League of Assassins and this is the only way that Moira can threaten him to stay away from Thea.
  • Oliver reveals his identity to Roy in a bid to enhance his training and ensure his sisters protection.
  • Walter convinced Moira to run for Mayor against Sebastian Blood, and when she accepts, Felicity discovers Thea’s true parentage. She tells Oliver who tells his mother that while he will keep up appearances, he wants nothing more to do with her.
  • Slade makes a generous donation to Moira’s campaign and confronts Oliver in the family home. Oliver only manages to stop his family’s murder by calling on his team to come to the house.
  • Roy tries to break up with Thea to protect her from his increasingly unstable abilities.
  • Distraught, Thea is accepts a ride from Slade and is held hostage. He tells her that Oliver has kept her parentage a secret from her before letting her go. He tells Laurel that Oliver is the Arrow.
  • Laurel initially thinks of turning Oliver in to the police to save her father, but remembers how much they both believe in what the vigilante does and decides against it.
  • Slade captures Roy and uses his blood to inject a large number of inmates with Mirakura, and when then process is cut short, he completes it using his own blood. Roy is comatose with the Mirakuru still controlling his behaviour.
  • Isabell Roche is revealed to be working with Slade after she uses Thea’s kidnapping to seize control of Queen Consolidated. She explains that she was Oliver’s father’s soul mate and that he was going to leave his family to be with her.
  • Moira wants to withdraw from the Mayoral campaign to focus on rebuilding her family, but chooses not to at the last minute to give Thea and Oliver something positive to remember her by.
  • The family are involved in a collision orchestrated by Slade who asks Oliver to choose between his mother and his sister as he chose between Sarah and Shado.
  • Moira offers herself to Slade saying that her children should both live. He commends her bravery before putting a sword through her heart.
  • Thea, traumatised by witnessing her mother’s murder, has decided to leave Starling City for good.
  • Slade’s soldiers invade Starling City and begin to burn everything to the ground around the newly elected Mayor Blood. Slade reveals that he wants to annihilate the city because it is another thing that Oliver loves.
  • S.T.A.R Labs manages to come up with a cure for the Mirakuru that will render the previously injected person completely normal/human again.
  • Roy is cured.
  • Laurel reveals that she knows Oliver’s identity and that she also knows that Sebastian Blood is working with Slade. 
  • The team combat Slade’s soldiers with the help of the League of Assassin’s and aim to save everyone by injecting them with the cure.
  • Although Laurel is captured by Slade as Oliver’s true love, Oliver stashes Felicity at the Queen mansion, declaring that she is actually the woman he loves.
  • Slade captures Felicity and confronts Oliver with the choice between Felicity and Laurel, unknowingly walking into a trap. Felicity injects Slade with the cure making him easier for Oliver to now fight.
  • Oliver and Slade fight as they once did on the ship off the island. With water pouring in, Oliver lost Sarah to the sinking ship (or so he believed) and chose to try to kill Slade rather than curing him when Slade continued to vow to kill Oliver’s family in Shado’s memory. 
  • In the present, Oliver does not kill Slade, instead capturing him and having him incarcerated back at a facility on the island.
  • Oliver tells his friends that he was not always on the island during his five year sabbatical and flashbacks show him drugged and awakening in Hong Kong with the woman he currently refers to as Mocking Bird.
  • Laurel and Quentin Lance farewell Sarah, who is going back to the League of Assassin’s, before Quentin collapses with internal bleeding following the battle with Slade’s soldiers.
  • Thea, having been lied to by Roy as well, leaves with her father Malcolm Merlyn.

I have to say; the beginning of season two was perplexing. It was jarring seeing Oliver back on the island after being so desperate to leave. How did he get back there? Why was it so easy for Diggle and Felicity to follow? It seemed a little bit callous to have those few moments be his return to such a traumatic place.

The new computer tech equipment and glass case for the costume are also jarring, in many ways they are way too flashy for the Arrow that we knew in season one.

Once we become used to these changes through, the rest of the season has the same familiar tone and the characters grow and develop in very interesting ways. Oliver’s new struggle, to find purpose and become a hero rather than something that he is ashamed of or fixing someone else’s mistakes is an interesting journey to watch. His relationship with Diggle and Felicity becomes more trusting and more reciprocal which is satisfying.

The island scenes continue to add richness to the story and to flesh out the transition that Oliver went through at that time, and in this season, the transition that Sarah went through. Sarah is a fantastic thread between the past and the present for many of the characters and both timelines of her story were done incredibly well. 

Slade makes an exquisite bad guy; so seeped in who Oliver is and also so far from what we know Oliver has become. Oliver feels responsible for what happened to Shado and for the fact that he tried to survive rather than trying to save Slade, but he learns through the season that although he is a product of those choices, he might not have been able to make very different ones.

The women characters continue to impress with Sarah being an obvious stand out in the arse-kicking department, but Laurel and Felicity have both grown and begun establishing themselves more. Laurel takes a journey through success, dealing with loss and falling into a black pit all in the space of one season. She finds herself at the bottom of a bottle and a pillbox and more sympathetic to what her father experienced in the past. She reconnects with her sister and tries to think in different ways and challenge herself, leading to her alignment with Oliver as the Arrow. Felicity is fantastic and watching her storm around saying that she didn’t study at MIT to be a PA while wearing cute very girly clothes is a testimony to the fact that the women in this show are not cookie cutter stereotypes in many ways.

The depth of relationship between the women is definitely something the show runners should be proud of. It's actually startling how few television shows and movies don't have more than one female character included, let alone female characters who have relationships with each other outside of the male heroes or villains. Sarah and Laurel's relationship this season actually had me in tears at one stage as they struggled with losing one another and then finding their families and themselves again.

The League of Assassin’s translates very well to the screen and makes Sarah’s skills believable. They’re also a great set up for Malcolm Merlyn’s backstory now that we know that he belonged to the League and its leader is out for his head. Malcolm’s return and his alliance with Thea surely indicates that season three will have more of the League and Malcolm’s back story. I can only hope that this means we get some Moira flashbacks because she was a fantastic character. I am also hoping that maybe Thea will get some ninja skills of her own.

Although rushed in many ways, Laurel’s decent into alcoholism and substance use was particularly confronting. We watched her go from the beginning of her career and a successful person to falling into a heap. Thankfully, that arc turned around quite quickly and she began to take some responsibility and connect a little more with the people around her and what she needs to do to survive and be all that she can be. Ominously, even though she seems like she has turned a corner, she repeats what the Huntress tells her, that “once you let the darkness inside it never leaves” when she begins blackmailing people in order to get what she wants. It’ll be interesting how much of this will be explored in future episodes.

Speaking of the Huntress, I am interested to see whether she will get fleshed out more in coming seasons. It seems like the story had a lot of potential in the beginning and became two dimensional towards the end, possibly because of Sarah’s inclusion. 

The finale team up of all of our heroes thus far was pretty stirring and looked damn awesome! I'm looking forward to all of the little clues that have been thrown our way thus far with regards to team-ups and where they are headed. The Suicide Squad was pretty fantastic but the Birds of Prey is what I am really looking forward too. Also, will we get another Canary? Hmmm. There's also talk of a lot of cross over with the new CW show The Flash. Barry Allan was introduced in Arrow Season 2 and we saw him struck by lightening. There's heaps of team-up potential there. Plus, there are some Harley Quinn rumours! Ah!

Looking forward to next season! Not long to go now!

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