May 15, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Arrow”


Marvel may own the movie houses, but DC Comics has been demonstrating that it has the edge when it comes to the small screen.  ARROW has steadily improved since its debut, and in its second season it provided a model of the way comic book action-adventures can work on TV within the limitations of a tiny budget (and it’s safe to assume that even beyond comparisons to theatrical movie spectacles, CW gives Arrow a budget much smaller than the one Agents of SHIELD gets from ABC).  This past week, DC was rewarded with 4 new series orders, for a Flash and spinoff and the new iZombie on CW, Gotham on FOX and Constantine on NBC, while Marvel had to be content with a SHIELD renewal and a limited series order for Agent Carter, which will fill in the 2-3 months between SHIELD‘s fall and midseason arcs.

The Arrow Season 2 finale, written by series co-creators Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg and Marc Guggenheim (Berlanti was credited with the story, the other two with the script), satisfyingly brought the narratives of the season to their conclusions.  There was an enormous amount to cover, and the episode was virtually non-stop.  (Kudos to director John Behring who, if he couldn’t hide the relatively meager resources at hand, made the absolute most of them, doing a particularly strong job in a sequence that intercut between a present-day battle and one between the same foes in flashback.)   The main issue, of course, was how Oliver Queen/Arrow (Stephen Amell) and his band of heroes were going to bring down Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), who had a murderous grudge against Oliver to begin with and didn’t become any more cheerful when he was infected by the Mirukuru, turning him and eventually his army into virtually unkillable super-soldiers.  Oliver, for his part, was burdened by his vow at the start of the season that he was out of the execution business.

The writers came up with a solution that was fiendish in its meta-cleverness, feeding on fan longing for a romance between Oliver and his assistant/computer genius Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards).  Oliver finally “confessed” his love for Felicity in a scene that played very straight, but only so that Slade would be suckered in and, in his desire to kill everyone Oliver cared about, would bring Felicity close enough for her to inject him with the Mirakuru antidote–a ruse viewers didn’t discover until Slade did.  In the end, Oliver delivered on his commitment not to kill, imprisoning Slade in a super-max prison newly located on the remote island where Oliver and Slade had been marooned for years.

There was plenty more going on in the hour.  Oliver’s sister (as it turned out, half-sister) Thea (Willa Holland) decided to leave Starling City and spend some time with her supervillain dad Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman).  Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) also left town, to rejoin the League of Assassins along with her ex, Nyssa (Katrina Law), after Nyssa and the League helped clear Starling City of super-soldiers–most specifically killing Oliver’s former business partner (now a Mirukuru-fueled villainess) Isabel Rochev (Summer Glau).  Sara’s father Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) keeled over with some kind of internal bleeding as he finished seeing Sara off with sister Laurel (Katie Cassidy)–weirdly, even though Sara’s ship hadn’t gone anywhere yet when he collapsed, Laurel didn’t seem to think of calling her sister back.  Roy (Colton Haynes) was cured of his own Mirukuru poisoning, but now will have to get by without Thea.  Oh, and Diggle (David Ramsey) found out in the middle of all this that he’s going to be a daddy with ex Lyla (Audrey Marie Anderson).

Arrow did a great many things right this season.  The flashbacks to Oliver’s life during the time he’d been missing from Starling City were much more germane to the present-day plotline than Season 1’s more generic origin story had been.  (The set-up for Season 3 is that during that mystery period, Oliver apparently spent some time working for the government in Hong Kong, so that’ll certainly be something different.)  The series showed itself willing to take shocking twists, most notably when Slade murdered Oliver’s mother Moira (Susanna Thompson) before his eyes.  More than the Joss Whedon-helmed SHIELD, Arrow has developed a strong ensemble, in which every regular’s role is well-defined and well-played, and it has a welcome sense of humor, much of it provided by Felicity.  Amell, who initially seemed like just another piece of CW beefcake, has turned out to be a deft performer in the David Boreanaz thinking action-hero mode.

The series still has flaws.  There was no suspense in the finale about whether Oliver would actually kill Slade, because the issue had been telegraphed so bluntly and so many times that it would have been a genuine shock if he’d reversed himself.  (Although at least the show resisted the temptation to go the cliche route where Oliver would have let Slade live but then the villain would have died anyway, in some final desperate lunge to kill Oliver.)  The character left out of the fun for almost the entire season was the show’s original leading lady, Laurel Lance, which left Katie Cassidy as the least important woman on the show, to the point where its energy level dropped whenever she was on camera (hopefully, now that Laurel knows that Oliver is the Arrow, she’ll get to play more of a part in the main storylines).  The comic-book genre almost inevitably brings along its share of flat expositional dialogue, with little room for subtlety.

Nevertheless, Arrow is pulling off the transfer from comics to TV about as well as any series ever has.  It continues to be a hit for CW and now, like The Vampire Diaries, it’ll co-exist with a spin-off in the form of the new Flash, who exists as a character in the Arrow universe.  Marvel should be paying attention to learn how it’s done.

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."