Saturday, 12 October 2013

Review: ARROW, 2.1 – 'City of Heroes'

Saturday, 12 October 2013

written by Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim | directed by John Behring

The CW's superhero drama Arrow was a big surprise last year; building on an entertaining pilot to became one of the best new US network shows in an admittedly weak season. And all this despite the usual issues trying to tell a half-serialised storyline over 23 hours, leading to a slack middle. Now it's back for seconds, more confident about its identity, its abilities, and aware there's a fan-base supporting it. (Although the 2.74 million people who watched this premiere live represent one of the lowest ratings in Arrow's history, which is a worry...)

Given the events of season 1's literally earthshaking finale "Sacrifice", much of this premiere was about catching up with the characters and seeing what's happened to them in the five months since Oliver Queen/The Hood (Stephen Amell) failed to prevent The Glades being destroyed in an artificial earthquake that killed his best-friend Tommy. It transpires Oliver returned to the mysterious island that forged his alter-ego while he was shipwrecked there for five years, but is soon called back to civilisation by sidekicks Diggle (Chris Ramsey) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), when word of a hostile takeover of his family's company reaches him.

Back in Starling City, a vigilante gang calling themselves 'The Hoods' are terrorising people to avenge personal losses suffered in the aforementioned urban disaster; Detective Lance (Paul Blackthorne) has been demoted to a modest beat cop; Oliver's young sister Thea (Willa Holland) now runs his nightclub (a welcome use of a character who badly needs direction), ex-girlfriend Laurel (Katie Cassidy) has joined the District Attorney's office (but it'll take more than that to make me care), and the Queen family matriarch Moira (Susanna Thompson) is awaiting trial for her role in the calamity codenamed the 'Undertaking'.

"City of Heroes" was a lot of fun for anyone keen to catch up with these characters, but also worked nicely as a mild rethink. Given his surprising failures last season, Oliver also proposes some changes to his super-persona—most notably a decision to spare lives wherever possible (making him even more of a Batman clone), and a final tease of that name change Arrow's been coy about embracing from the start. Oliver's 'no-killing' edict was actually one of this hour's better ideas, as the story did a good job rationalising why Oliver was so blasé about killing baddies last season—by using the island flashback to show he was something of a blunt instrument after his experienced there. He killed to survive and returned home with a narrow perspective and unwavering aims, no pun intended. Things are more complex now, and quite rightly the show has adapted to let Oliver to become a more compassionate beacon of hope. A hero, not a vigilante.

The premiere also suggested that Starling City's population of superheroes is swelling, similar to the "escalation" idea that underpinned The Dark Knight with the emergence of The Joker. On Arrow, we met The Huntress and various masked goons last season, but here came a late appearance from DC superhero Black Canary and the continuation of a storyline about a budding vigilante and Hood fanatic who feels destined to become "Robin" to Oliver's "Batman".

It's also been reported that The Flash will make his début during this season, to soft-launch his own series at a later date. It'll be interested to see how Arrow handles the introduction of someone with truly superhuman abilities, as the show prefers the idea of highly-skilled people who happen to enjoy the squeak of leather.

Genre fans will also be pleased to see moon-faced Summer Glau (Firefly, Sarah Connor Chronicles) introduced as comic-book character Isabel Rochev; a devious, ambitious businesswoman who wants full control of Queen Consolidated. At the moment she's not an outright villain, per se, and I appreciate it when Arrow remembers it's more interesting when shades of grey are employed.

Arrow's the kind of show I'm never desperate to watch every week, but I don't often regret finding an hour to watch one at the weekend. It's well-made, pilfers from better sources, and has attracted a handsome cast that bring the show to life well. The action's frenetic and comprehensible, the narrative pace is lively, and the story is certainly more gripping than anything Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has thought up yet.

Above all else, this premiere demonstrated the show isn't afraid to shake things up to keep the audience engaged, and that's great to see.

  • One concern of mine has always been how long Arrow can keep its island flashbacks feeling relevant. This premiere reveals more visitors came to the island after Fyers and his mercenaries were killed, and that the modern-day island appears to be uninhabited and safe now, but I can't say the fear about the flashback device has gone. I often enjoyed the island stories more than the city stories last season, but they will become stale if the writers aren't careful.
9 October 2013 | The CW