As someone who hasn’t watched a series on the CW in a very long time, and who is only vaguely familiar with the DC Comics character, Green Arrow, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the pilot episode of Arrow. What I got was an unexpectedly dark superhero soap opera, and I loved almost every minute of it.
It might be an understatement to say that Oliver Queen was a little rough around the edges. He was stiff, unnatural, and brooding, which is precisely what I’d expect of someone who was forced back into high society after having spent five years surviving on an island named after the Mandarin word for Purgatory. We don’t know exactly what happened to him on that island, but over the course of the episode we get some hints that he may not have been alone that whole time. Even if he was spending time with other people, the way that Oliver returned to the present time made it clear that he was not practicing his social skills on the island.
Initially, I was shocked to see the Arrow actually killing most of his enemies in combat. I feel like that’s not something we get out of most protagonists in this type of television show or even in many films. Usually, we see our heroes aiming for shoulders and knees to immobilize their attackers, or just knocking the bad guys unconscious while they go on to save the day.
I wasn’t expecting Oliver to be quite so ruthless, but as the episode continued, I appreciated how this added another layer of darkness to the character. At one point, Oliver tells Laurel that the island didn’t make him a better person. He wasn’t lying about that. He’s not a virtuous hero, he’s a grim avenger trying to right the wrongs of his family as quickly as possible, using force when necessary.
Oliver’s family is a big mystery. His mother didn’t waste much time mourning the death of her husband and son before remarrying her husband’s old business partner, Walter Steele. Oliver’s sister mourned the death of her brother when she was 12 years old. Now 17, she’s following in her brother’s footsteps, doing drugs and hanging out with a fast crowd.
Even the little we saw of Oliver’s father on the raft was surprising. His father was so insistent on Oliver returning to Starling City to right his wrongs that he was willing to kill himself and another man to give Oliver a better chance of survival. It was the grisly first step to Oliver’s complete transformation.
The action sequences were some of the best I’ve seen on television recently. It was like watching superhero parkour as Oliver ricocheted off the buildings and walls of Starling City. The hand to hand combat and the signature bow and arrow weaponry use was also quite impressive and I appreciate that the camera didn’t move all over the place in an attempt to make bad fight choreography look better. These action scenes were choreographed and carried out carefully and the results really paid off.
There are some things that I hope will improve as the show continues. For one, I hope they kill the voice over narrations as I found them to be a little cheesy for a show that was otherwise very gritty. I’m also not sure how I feel about Laurel Lance just yet. I liked her when she told Oliver off about how messed up it was for her to not be able to mourn or be angry for the way her sister died, but later, she did a complete 180 and was strangely compassionate towards Oliver. I think I would have liked if she stayed angry longer without feeling like she needed to be nice to Oliver just because he survived on an island. I would have liked to see Oliver slowly earn her forgiveness instead of having her offer it, only to have him push her away by pretending to be his old jerk self.
Unlike fans of the comics or fans of the Green Arrow from other TV series, I didn’t have any expectations about what this character should be like or how this story should be told, and I think in this case, it worked in my favor. I’m hooked. I want to know everything. I want to know what happened to Oliver on that island (and who wore that red and black Deathstroke mask that was on a spike.) I want to know what his father told him that made Oliver populate that mysterious hit list, I want to know why his own mother would hire masked thugs to kidnap him for information, and I want to know what will become of his friendship with Merlin, his new relationship with his sister, and how he’ll avoid being unmasked by Detective Lance and his daughter.
For a pilot to make me so interested in a story that has only revealed the tip of the iceberg, I’d say that Arrow was an absolute success.