Arrow Season 1 Finale Review “Sacrifice”

Superhero shows are something of a small commodity on television. Shows about people with special powers or a unique desire for revenge often fail and fail miserably. Characters far more prominent in the Marvel or DC universes have come and gone without making much of an impact on the television landscape. Given the immense success of superheros on the big screen, it’s been somewhat surprising to see the failure of the genre on the small screen.

The reasons for the lack of success are numerous, but the biggest reason is the most difficult to overcome. Simply put, when good fights evil, we end with villains who are too hammy, heroes who are boringly unbeatable, and supposedly strong women cry and swoon over masked men or their civilian counterparts.

For the vast majority of the season, Arrow avoided this fate. While there were plenty of inconsistencies and maybe a bit too heavy of a hand on the class warfare side of things, the show managed to avoid falling into the superhero show trap. It was steadied by a breakout performance by Stephen Amell, and a strong vision coming from the writers room. Oliver Queen doesn’t always make the right decisions. He’s still a person trying to grow and find himself in the world. While a lot of the action is well-conceived, the show really hums when Amell is out of the hood and interacting with those around him.

And the show just cruised along. It was well-paced, well-shot, and always fun. Unfortunately, with the season finale requiring resolution and big, bold action, the show fell right into the superhero show trap. It’s problems began right from the opening bell. With Amell in chains (without his shirt, nobody said the people at Arrow were stupid), Malcolm Merlin delivers the bad guy speech featuring the word that gives the finale its title. The first one wasn’t a problem. It was the 37 others that followed throughout the hour. Themes are fine. Themes that are blatantly obvious are fine. But themes that are beaten into the audience’s skull pass the point of redundancy and start becoming insulting to the viewer.

One of my other concerns is the fate of Oliver and Laurel. I don’t mind the coupling of the two. Obviously, it’s something the show is going to explore. They’ve positioned them as something of soulmates, so I can’t quibble with the notion. However, the back and forth between the two over the past few weeks has turned Laurel into the standard damsel-in-distress that can drag a lot of superhero stories. I’m not a huge fan of the Laurel Lance character to begin with (though I understand her necessity), I appreciated her more when she was kicking tail and dominating the law. The show has to strike a balance in season two.

The episode was dragged down by lofty expectations and typical superhero show troubles, there were plenty of moments in the finale that really popped. I appreciate the growth of the Arrow team, and I legitimately enjoyed their Buffy the Vampire Slayer “the hero has friends” moment underneath Verdant. Oliver’s not alone. With so much of the season featuring him struggling to let people in, it was nice to finally see him acknowledge the trust he has in these two people. We don’t know if Tommy’s death will have a negative impact on his budding relationship with Felicity and Diggle, but that establishment of trust and togetherness between the three should be something that maintains through the hiatus.

While the show has some solid ancillary characters (and some profoundly ridiculous ones), the show is going to ride on the considerably chiseled shoulders of Amell. He’s made potentially clunky dialogue carry some real weight, and has given the proceedings a grounded humanity that is hard to find in these types of shows. His performance has been truly impressive and something that is really going to vault him into a legitimate star. He doesn’t have the chops of the top flight actors yet, but he’s got a great presence, The Look (duh), and he was pretty effective at showing off his range throughout the season. I would like the show to showcase more of his humorous side in season two, because that always worked this season. Unfortunately, the show took itself a little to seriously down the stretch, so we didn’t get to see much of Amell’s comedic chops. He really has a good sense of the moment and uses facial expressions well to get his point across. The sky is the absolute limit for him.

The sky isn’t quite the limit for Arrow. The finale definitely had its problems, but its freshman season did prove one thing: There is room for the superhero on television. With another attempt at Wonder Woman coming, and ABC’s much ballyhooed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on the horizon for the fall, hopefully the other networks are serving notice.