A review of last night's “Arrow” season premiere coming up just as soon as all my data is replaced by audio files of porcupine flatulence…
“Arrow” is a show I enjoy a lot, and consider easily the best of the current wave of superhero shows. But it has certain tendencies that it has to keep carefully in check, chief among them its love of melodramatic angst for Oliver and its need to restate the themes of a given episode or season as many times as possible. These are both fundamental parts of the show, but also parts the show sometimes leans on too much.
For a while, I feared “The Calm” was going to be one of those episodes where my eyes rolled at least as often as my fists pumped.
A lot of that eye rolling was specifically regarding Oliver and Felicity. It's not that my enjoyment of the show in any way depends on whether those two get together and live happily ever after, but that one of my biggest pet peeves is when a show contorts itself to keep an obvious couple apart when there's no reason they wouldn't get together, other than a fear that relationships are less interesting than endless pining. Oliver is essentially Bruce Wayne, he's given his entire life over to this crusade to save the city, he cannot risk his happiness distracting him from that mission – or endangering the one who makes him happy – etc., etc., etc. I get all that. But it still felt like “The Calm” kept tying itself up in knots just to make sure Oliver understood this, and to make the 'shippers understand that they're going to have to keep waiting for their big moment.
But then a big moment of sorts came in the hospital at the end. They talked about their feelings for each other honestly and openly, Oliver gave her a big kiss and told her, “Don't ask me to say I don't love you,” and it's clear that even if the two of them are putting things off for the moment, the show itself has a lot more to tell about their story. This wasn't a push of the reset button, but maybe just pause. And it goes without saying that Amell and Rickards were terrific in that scene, and even in lighter ones like their awkward first date (pre-rocket attack).
In continuing with the show's use of the Green Arrow universe as a mash-up of many different parts of the DC universe as a whole, the new Count Vertigo (played by Peter Stormare) resembles Batman villain the Scarecrow even more than the Seth Gabel version, and the drug-induced Arrow vs. Oliver fight scene very much resembled a darker version of the Superman vs. Clark fight from “Superman III.” (That was another scene that came perilously close to hitting us too hard over the head with the theme, but ultimately the idea of Amell vs. Amell – or Amell vs. his stunt double – was too irresistible.) And Brandon Routh, who himself played Superman once upon a time, pops up as Ray Palmer, here reimagined as a tech sector corporate raider who may really have the company and city's best interests at heart, or may just be a d-bag who likes to say “BTW,” even though it's more syllables than “by the way.” You likely don't cast Routh as Palmer without eventually intending to introduce his alter ego(*), but for now Oliver remains a man without a company, or any way to subsidize his very expensive war on crime.
(*) Unfortunately, the relatively down-to-earth nature of the show means we will likely never get a dramatization of the best Arrow/Atom moment of them all, from Grant Morrison's “Rock of Ages.” (And technically, that one involved Connor Hawke.)
Like most season premieres, “The Calm” had to spend a lot of time to setting up the new status quo, including Roy as a full-time costumed sidekick (though a show that films so much in darkness might want to do a stronger job differentiating between the two hooded costumes), Diggle being relegated (for now, because no one on this show gets to be happy for too long) to support staff with the arrival of his baby daughter, Felicity basically joining the Nerd Herd (which makes Routh's appearance at the store extra-strange) and both Laurel and her father now being very pro-Arrow, even publicly, while Sara returned from her time with the League of Assassins to pitch in again.
And just when things seemed to be a little too peachy, other than the Oliver/Felicity situation… some mysterious figure (Malcolm Merlyn seems too obvious) pumps Sara full of arrows and sends her falling to her death, right in front of her sister. Sara isn't the Lance sister I'd be removing from the show full-time – though Caity Lotz can keep appearing in flashbacks(**) as needed – but it was another big dramatic moment of the sort the show does well, and it sets us up for what the initial arc of the season is going to be.
(**) Speaking of, we'll see where the Hong Kong story goes, but I do find it amusing how Oliver's adventures in the aftermath of the boat sinking keep paralleling his current problems in such a linear fashion. Given that the writers treat the island (and now Hong Kong) storylines as a season-long arc, it's probably not practical for the flashbacks to appear wildly out of order, giving us different moments from the time gap that just happen to remind Oliver of what he's currently enduring. But it'd be fun to see them try that next year.
“The Flash” is getting all the plaudits right now (and “The Calm” pretty seamlessly answered the “When do Oliver and Barry have that conversation in 'The Flash' pilot?” question), but that's the new and shiny (and so far, very solid) thing. We've gotten used to “Arrow” at this point, but in the way where we expect goodness from it. And “The Calm” delivered on that.
As happened last year, I expect to check in on this show only occasionally (which is not a commentary on how I feel about it versus, say, “Gotham,” but about which shows I have more things to say about on a weekly basis right now), but let's get talking about the premiere. What did everybody else think?