December 12, 2013

THE SKED Fall Finale Review: “Arrow”


Not to beat up on Agents of SHIELD more than it already has been, but comparisons between it and ARROW are particularly clear right now since both shows are pursuing essentially the same storyline, in which there’s an evil plan underfoot to inject innocent people with a serum that will transform them into super-soldiers to do the villains’ bidding.  While on SHIELD that plot has been a haphazard muddle, tonight’s fall finale of Arrow built the saga nicely, embroiling several of the show’s regular characters and setting things up for the series return in mid-January.

After an only semi-promising start, over the course of last season Arrow started to put itself together, assembling an ensemble and finding its tone.  The show figured out how to get maximum mileage out of its limited action and special effects budget, and it learned how to use its actors.  Star Stephen Amell, who had originally seemed to be cast solely because of his abs (which were showcased heavily), turned out to have a dry wit that worked better than his initially grim demeanor.  The heavily Batman-esque concept of Arrow’s alter ego Oliver Queen being a party animal/clubowner by day, crime-fighter by night, shifted to Oliver as a competent corporate CEO.  Amell teamed well with David Ramsey’s Diggle, and then the show was lucky enough to cast Emily Bett Rickards in a small role as IT employee Felicity Smoak at Queen Consolidated–and smart enough to realize that her slightly off-center, earthbound voice of reason amid the superheroics was exactly what the series needed, quickly making her a series regular.  (Felicity has moved closer and closer toward becoming the show’s romantic center, with the odd effect that Kattie Cassidy’s Laurel Lance, the putative female lead, has moved increasingly to the margins.)  Paul Blackthorne’s cop Quentin Lance, originally the Arrow’s antagonist, became a frenemy and then an outright ally.  The initial structure of the series, in which Oliver/Arrow would literally cross a Starling City evildoer’s name off his list in each episode, gave way to longer and more character-driven story arcs.

In Season 2, Arrow has been surprisingly deft at morphing Arrow himself from last year’s murderous vigilante to a hero who tries not to kill, and it’s started to solve its most annoying remaining affectation, the Lost-like parallel storyline in each episode that sends us back 5 years to the island on which Oliver Queen learned his Arrow-ness.  Instead of tiresome martial arts-driven sequences where Oliver was sternly taught how to become less shallow, the island stories have become much more closely linked to the modern-day adventures, with the character of Sara Lance aka Black Canary (Caity Lotz) appearing in both time-frames.  Tonight’s episode, written by Geoff Johns and Executive Story Editor Ben Sokolowski (from a story by series co-creators Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg), confirmed that the super-soldier serum actually came from the island, and that the storyline’s Big Bad is Slade (Manu Bennett), Oliver’s onetime friend who was thought to have died there as a result of being injected with the serum.  (Admittedly, the fact that everyone supposedly dead on that island keeps popping up alive is a well the show can’t go to many more times.)  An unintended injection of the serum looks as though it’s going to make junior hero-in-training Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) more important to the action.  In addition, the past two episodes have done a fine job of introducing Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), who when Arrow left him tonight was just moments from becoming The Flash, which if all goes well (a formal pilot is still to come) will be next season’s expansion of CW’s DC Comics universe–and Barry finally gave Arrow the real mask he’s needed for a season and a half.

Arrow is still far from perfect.  Some of the villains, like the evil politician Blood (Kevin Alejandro), are less interesting than others.  (Blood is mostly notable for the cool mask he wears).  The recent return of supposedly dead arch-villain Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) seemed to happen so that Oliver’s mother Moira (Susanna Thompson) could throw around the name “Ra’s Al Ghul,” although it did seed a plot twist about Oliver’s sister Thea (Willa Holland) that will presumably bear fruit later in the season.  Although the directors, like tonight’s John Behring, do a good job at maximizing their resources, the limited budgets are all too apparent.  But Arrow is on the right track and steadily improving, which is more than Marvel’s TV effort can claim, and with some of the highest ratings on its network, it should be able to continue its mission for seasons to come.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."