December 13, 2012



ARROW, CW’s successful new superhero action series, has found its own best secret identity as a quasi-soap, a fact imperfectly illustrated by tonight’s midseason finale.

The tactic of conveying a comic book saga through soapiness isn’t a crazy one–the Spider-Man franchise, in both its recent incarnations, has been as much romance as spectacle, and Arrow, unlike its bigscreen counterparts, can’t compete with the budgets that the excesses of its genre require.  Arrow worked best in its recent pair of episodes involving the Huntress aka Helena Bertinelli (guest star Jessica De Gouw), a gangland daughter turned vigilante who was romanced by our hero in his plain-clothes persona of rich kid Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), and ultimately tutored by his alter ego in what Dexter would call the Code, although that didn’t work out too well.  All this caused gratifying ripples in the relationships among Oliver, his once and presumably future romantic interest, public defender Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) and his now-impoverished best friend Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell), who’s Laurel’s current flame.

When Arrow sticks to straightforward comic book hero convention, it still tends to be warmed-over Dark Knight, although less somber and turgid than its pilot had suggested.  Storylines involving Laurel pluckily solving crimes herself have thankfully mostly vanished, and Laurel’s cop father Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) has become more or less the Arrow’s reluctant Commissioner Gordon.  There are fewer training montages that exist to show off Amell’s bare chest, and the mythology-establishing flashbacks to Oliver’s 5 years on the not-quite-deserted island where he learned the superhero trade are briefer.  Also, the series can’t have too much Diggle (David Ramsey), Oliver’s former bodyguard and now acerbic sidekick. Even though the head baddie, Tommy’s dad Malcolm Merlyn, is a fairly tiresome stock powerhungry tycoon type, Arrow was smart enough to cast John Barrowman in the role, and Barrowman (best known as the ambiguous hero Captain Jack Harkness on Torchwood) brings an edge to the cliches.

Tonight’s episode, written by series co-creators Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg (from a story by Guggenheim and fellow co-creator Greg Berlanti), and directed by John Dahl (a house director on Dexter during its season) was one of the less compelling recent hours, as a copycat Arrow who turned out to be Malcolm Merlyn in disguise was killing people on Oliver’s list of villains (provided by his dead father) to discredit the Arrow and draw him out.  Although Arrow has learned to keep its action sequences small in scale, rather than attempt scenes it doesn’t have the budget to pull off convincingly, the fake Arrow vs. real Arrow fights tonight were only moderately thrilling.

The show can’t seem to come to terms with just how much of an antagonist it wants Oliver’s mother Moira (Susanna Thompson) to be–she’s part of Malcolm’s cabal, but she feels really bad about it–and despite Barrowman’s efforts, Malcolm appears, in the end, all too easy to crush.  The personal part of the story mostly concerned Oliver’s continuing attempts, through hosting a family Christmas party, to build back his relationship with semi-bad girl sister Thea (Willa Holland), who needs an alter ego of her own if she’s to be interesting. There wasn’t very much of Laurel, which is too bad, because although she’s a fairly cardboard character, Cassidy is better with the show’s stylized dialogue than most of the cast.  Also, even though Oliver’s stepdad Walter Steel (Colin Salmon) was abducted out of the storyline at the end of the episode, one hopes we haven’t seen the last of infinitely gifted IT worker Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), who has the ability to geekily solve any problem brought to her.

With the best ratings on its network behind only The Vampire Diaries, Arrow will undoubtedly be a long-term player for CW, so it’s gratifying to see that the show has started to improve in its first half-season.  It still needs to capitalize on its super-strengths and work on some of its super-weaknesses, but the outlines of a show worthy of its mighty (well, CW-mighty) ratings has started to emerge.

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."