Sunday, June 17, 2018

Arrow, Season 1

This series has been in progress for six seasons, and I finally started watching it because I was interested in The Flash, a spinoff series in a CW-network super-franchise known (thanks, I guess, to this series being the first) as "The Arrowverse." I didn't really want to invest in the DVD set without seeing at least some of it first, especially after the "meh" impression of it that I gleaned from crossover episodes on The Flash. But then I noticed that my local public library had this season (and several others) on DVD, so I borrowed it and was pleasantly surprised. I guess I shouldn't really need this lesson to know that crossover episodes don't, as a rule, convey a fair impression of the tone or quality of the series at the other end of the cross. In this case, the contrast was absolutely staggering. It just adds a whole new dimension to my growing aversion to crossovers between different TV series. It isn't just that they don't do justice to their special guests; they absolutely take a crap on them, with writing that resembles the work of internet slash-fanfic writers, only less in touch with the personality of the characters they portray.

What I'm trying to say is, I was really surprised, I mean surprisingly surprised, by the emotional life of the characters on this show, the quality of the writing and acting in what is, frankly, a comic-book-based series without superheroes. Main character is billionaire's son/college-age bad boy Oliver Queen, played by the undeniably hunky dude shown above, who gets stranded by a shipwreck on an inhospitable island off the coast of China for five years, then returns to his former digs in Starling City, where his family and friends have already written him off as dead and moved on with their lives. Complications ensue. Making sure they ensue is Oliver's vendetta against a whole notebook full of names that his father gave him before dying in the same shipwreck. Using skills he learned on the island (it wasn't deserted, but it was VERY inhospitable), he becomes a hooded vigilante, firing arrows with deadly accuracy at mostly rich and powerful people who, he declares, have "failed this city." Adding layers of complexity to the drama are the romance between his lifelong best friend and his ex-girlfriend, whose sister died in the same shipwreck after running away with him. The ex-girlfriend's dad is a police detective who about equally hates Oliver and his alter-ego, eventually to become known as the Green Arrow (though that nickname is only mentioned once in this whole season). The best friend's dad is another archer/assassin type who is plotting an evil undertaking toward which the entire season builds. His dead father was part of the undertaking, as is his manipulative mom. Joining the ensemble is an Afghanistan-veteran security consultant, a geeky female computer expert, a bratty younger sister and her boyfriend, an ex-street thug turned Arrow wannabe. Meantime, the viewer is treated to a slow drip of memories relating to the psychological baggage Oliver/the Arrow picked up on that awful island, where he was tortured and subjected to a variety of other deadly intrigues.

This is where I usually mention the cast of the show, but I don't really know the cast of this show from anywhere except this show and, in some cases, crossovers to The Flash. I do remember seeing Paul Blackthorne (Detective Lance) playing wizard detective Harry Dresden in a too-brief TV adaptation of The Dresden Files. Susanna Thompson, who plays Oliver's mother, played a recurring Borg Queen on Star Trek: Voyager and was also, on Deep Space Nine, noteworthy for sharing a lesbian kiss with Jadzia Dax. Playing Malcolm Merlyn, the season's main villain, is John Barrowman, best known (to me, at least) as Capt. Jack Harkness on Dr. Who and Torchwood - though I have to admit I've never seen either of these series. I mean, ever.

Three scenes that made Season 1 for me: (1) Oliver reveals his secret identity to his best friend at a moment of urgent, life-or-death crisis. It's an "OMG" moment of realization, on Tommy Merlyn's part, that bears a lot fruit in the drama between the two. (2) An assassin breaks into the Queen mansion and is about to finish Oliver off when, of all people, Detective Lance bursts into the room, firing his gun. It's so much fun seeing both men suffering as Oliver thanks Lance for saving his life. (3) Another assassin, who also later ends up infiltrating the mansion, poses as a lawyer and silences his "client" in a quiet, offhand way that just chilled me to the core. This is, as I anticipated, a very dark world of adventure featuring a main character who hews toward the "antihero" end of the hero/antihero continuum, but with enough ethical distinctions to pit him plausibly against real villains. I have to admit, I'm curious to see what happens in Season 2.

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