Arrow 2-01: “City of Heroes”
Are we all on the same page with Season One of Arrow? Good. Let’s proceed apace to the Season Two opener.
We start off on the island of Lian Yu. For a refreshing change of pace, this is set in the present day and thus is not one of Oliver’s dreary and unnecessary flashbacks to his island-dwelling days. Oliver scurries around madly, all shirtless and muscle-bound. Meanwhile, Felicity and Diggle parachute down from a small plane, then proceed to fumble their way about the island searching for Oliver. They’re all high-energy and funny and adorable, and I feel an immediate wave of reassurance that, no matter what all goes wrong with this season, these two will do their best to bring the awesome.
Within minutes, Felicity manages to step on a landmine. Digg makes a manful attempt to disarm it with a pocketknife, but before he gets very far, Oliver swoops in Tarzan-style and swings Felicity to safety as the ground explodes beneath them.
It’s not a bad way to kick off the season, I gotta give Arrow that.
So it seems Oliver exiled himself to the island several months ago in the wake of Malcolm Merlyn’s destruction of the Glades and Tommy’s subsequent death. Even though strife-torn Starling City is worse off than ever before (over five hundred people died in the Glades, we discover), Olivier has wholly renounced his former crime-fighting ways. Felicity and Digg wheedle him into returning to save Queen Consolidated: With Moira in jail awaiting trial for mass murder and public perception skewed badly (and deservedly!) against the Queens, the company has become vulnerable to a looming hostile takeover.
In Oliver’s absence, Thea has assumed ownership of his nightclub, Verdant, with Roy Harper now gainfully employed as her most fetching waiter. Roy, meanwhile, has picked up some of the Hood's slack by going out at night and beating up miscreants in the Glades. Roy and Thea, you’ll be delighted to hear, are also still being all sexy and cute and fun together.
At a fancy gala to raise money to rebuild the Glades, a throng of heavily-armed masked baddies who’ve styled themselves after the Hood swarm in and kill the mayor. Newly-minted assistant district attorney Laurel uses her martial-arts skills to take down one of the hoodlums, but she’s quickly overwhelmed. One of the hoodlums dry-fires his gun at her forehead—it’s unclear whether he’s out of ammunition or if he’s just trying to scare her—before taking off.
The police show up at the crime scene, with Quentin Lance, who’s been busted down from a detective to a beat cop, among them. Oliver arrives to make sure Laurel’s okay. Laurel flippantly shrugs off his concern: “Nothing that a few self-defense classes couldn’t handle.” Hey, Laurel? It’s genuinely cool that you took down one of the gunmen, but the mayor got killed, and you came a hair’s breadth away from getting shot in the head, and yeah, it was something your self-defense classes couldn’t handle, so maybe ease up on the smugness a bit?
There then ensues one of those low-energy, curiously frosty Oliver-Laurel scenes that lasts for approximately a million years. A popular complaint about Arrow is the lack of chemistry between its two romantic leads, and you know what? Chemistry would be great, but at this point I’d just be happy with some indication that Laurel and Oliver can stand being in the same room together.
(Arrow writers: Please make Laurel awesome this season. Please?)
When Oliver learns that this same gang of thugs has been terrorizing Starling City for the past few months, he grows pissy and accuses Digg and Felicity of luring him away from the island under false pretenses. He’s right—that’s exactly what they did. Of course that’s what they did. Digg and Felicity have some nerve, what with expecting Oliver to use his unique skills set and his formidable resources to save lives while undoing some of the damage done to his broken city.
Meanwhile, the hoodlums watch the local news. They’re appalled that the lead story is about Oliver’s return to the city after several months ostensibly spent vacationing in Europe, not about their violent murder of the mayor, and… yeah, the hoodlums have a valid point here about the media’s utterly effed-up priorities. They decide to make Oliver their next target.
Let’s dispense with the island flashback subplot quickly: Oliver and Shado begin to fall in love, Shado gets kidnapped and roughed up by mysterious visitors to the island, and Oliver violently beats one of the kidnappers to death with his bare hands while rescuing her. So it’s good for showing how Oliver evolved into a stone-cold killer, but it’s terrible for providing yet another example of Shado—ultra-competent martial-arts master Shado—getting captured and needing to be rescued by a dude. This is getting old, Arrow.
At Queen Consolidated, Oliver meets with Isabelle Rochev, vice-president of acquisitions for Stellmoor International, which is leading the hostile takeover attempt (just FYI, Isabelle’s name is on the list in Robert Queen’s notebook). Isabelle is played by Summer Glau in yet another example of Arrow’s ability to attract guest stars from cool cult shows (last season featured appearances by Farscape’s Ben Browder, David Anders from Heroes and Alias, Fringe’s Seth Gabel, and some Battlestar Galactica alumni: James Callis, Tahmoh Penikett and Rekha Sharma). Isabelle is only a few shares of stock away from completing her takeover bid; with the Queen name in disgrace, it seems unlikely that Oliver will be able to raise enough capital to save the company.
While the meeting is underway, the armed hoodlums burst in and shoot up the conference room. Diggle smuggles Isabelle to safety, while Oliver grabs Felicity and swings with her through plate-glass windows. That’s twice in one episode that Oliver and Felicity have rolled around on the ground together, and with all this close physical interaction, it’s hard not to notice that Felicity and Oliver have waaaaaaaay more spark than Laurel and Oliver do. That’s sort of a big problem for the series.
(Thinking about it, though, it’s probably less a matter of chemistry and more one of character development. Laurel has been fleshed out erratically at best, and thus it’s tough to picture how she’d respond to being literally swept off her feet by Oliver. Would she be grateful? Would she get mad? Would she laugh it off? It’s impossible to say, because she doesn’t have a set of consistent personality traits to help viewers anticipate her behavior. Despite receiving far less screen time than Laurel, Felicity has received much better character development, and thus she’s able to whip out a whole battery of plausible and consistent reactions here: She’s flustered and freaked out and kind of thrilled, all at once. It’s cute.)
The masked hoodlums next burst into Verdant and threaten to murder clubgoers until Oliver shows his face. Roy does his best to fight them off, but he’s forced to back down when they take Thea hostage.
So finally, with his kid sister in mortal peril, Oliver decides that, yes, he will become a hero again. Felicity and Digg show him the new, improved, souped-up superhero lair beneath Verdant.
Oliver tracks down the hoodlums and rescues Thea. As evidence of his commitment to a kinder, gentler brand of vigilantism, he refuses to kill the hoodlums and instead leaves them for Quentin to arrest. It’s an important step here, Oliver deciding he should knock it off with all the murdering that he did last season. Our bloodthirsty vigilante is finally growing up.
He then prevails upon the kindness of Walter Steele, Moira’s estranged second husband, to help him stop Isabelle’s hostile takeover by buying up the rest of the Queen Consolidated stock. So that plotline was resolved pretty easily.
While prowling around the Glades at night, Roy comes across a gang of thugs assaulting a woman. He tries to fend them off, but he’s badly outmatched (I like the repeated indications that, despite Roy’s genuine enthusiasm for crime-fighting, he’s not especially good at it). He’s saved by the arrival of a mask-wearing, leather-clad blonde woman, who jumps into the fray and effortlessly beats up the thugs. Black Canary, Green Arrow’s partner in crime-fighting from DC Comics, has arrived! Interestingly, she’s not Laurel, whose full name is Dinah Laurel Lance, which is the civilian identity of the comic-book version of Black Canary. Huh.
And the episode ends with Oliver, Digg and Felicity hanging out in the lair, while Oliver muses about how he’d like to stop being known as the Hood and find a cool new nickname. He stares meaningfully at a bunch of arrows…
Strong start. Happy to see Black Canary. Here’s to a good season.