If it weren’t for Smallville, it’d seem almost unbelievable that a show like Arrow not only exists on CW, but is also something of a hit. We’ll have to wait and see how taking a week off, and the nation’s collective turkey withdrawal, will affect the ratings, but the number of week-to-week viewers has slowly but surely climbed since the pilot, which pulled in a big audience from the get-go. The numbers are all relative to CW’s lesser station in the overall television hierarchy, but where other superhero shows failed on the big networks (Heroes fans dropped like flies after the second season premiere, and No Ordinary Family never caught on to begin with), CW seems to be the only safe place for a live action comic book adaptation.
Not that they haven’t had their fair share of failures though, and you can look back further than late-period Smallville for evidence. Back when it was The WB, the network caught onto the superhero craze faster than most with the short-lived Birds of Prey, a moderately faithful crime drama that brought together some of DC’s most famous female vigilantes and villains under one banner. And let’s not forget Aquaman, the non-starter pilot from 2006, mostly memorable for its ambition to turn the waterboy of the Justice League, into a household name… despite the obvious difficulties that come with shooting a series based around underwater adventures.
Still, having gotten ten seasons out of Clark Kent, and what could wind up being just as many from Oliver Queen, the network that currently survives on Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries somehow became the best source of filmed, non-Hollywood cape and cowl action. It’s pretty obvious which half of the teen/geek fanbase CW is playing to every week with Arrow. You can’t really blame them for the weekly shots of Stephen Amell’s abs, as ridiculous physiques getting shown off gratuitously are a big part of comics, but you could point to how paper thin Tommy and Laurel’s relationship continues to be in its connection to Oliver’s story, to see how important pretty people swooning is to CW’s livelihood.
While the maudlin romance and constant sexual tension will some weeks feel like small penance, in exchange for a decently accurate Green Arrow show, moments of geeky goodness like the arrival of Huntress make you wish there were no soapy drama dues to be paid in the first place. She doesn’t actually show up properly this week, but as someone who doesn’t read a lot of comics, but knows plenty about them through various other means, Helena Bertinelli’s entrance into Oliver Queen’s life was exciting. The internet spoiled the surprise of her introduction weeks ago, but it was fun all the same to see Gotham’s most vicious vigilante come to Starling City, and to see a descendant from Birds of Prey (if only in name) actually getting some viewers for a change.
Arrow has been shameless in its liberal borrowing from Batman at most every turn (partly by design; the similarities between the characters are well documented), mostly in the characterization of Oliver Queen, but also in roping in second-string characters that haven’t been a part of the Dark Knight’s cinematic legacy yet, like Deadshot, and now Huntress. I was initially hesitant with how quickly the creators felt the need to look at other franchises to fill the character roster, but considering how sparsely populated with memorable villains Green Arrow’s canon is (China White, from episode two, appears again this week, mostly in a diplomatic capacity), it was smart to bring in a guy like Deadshot early, and establish that the universe of Arrow is a permeable one.
Huntress is a much more intriguing addition though, because despite being the established rebellious child of the Bat-family, Helena Bertinelli has much more in common with Oliver Queen than Bruce Wayne. Like Oliver, Helena comes from a family of immense ill-gotten gains, and has had an epiphany that the best way to right the wrongs of her parents is by violently taking the law into her own hands. Whereas Robert Queen may have committed his crimes under duress, or the illusion that it was leading to something better for Starling City, Papa Bertinelli is your classic ruthless mob boss, going so far as to kill his daughter’s fiancée when convinced he’s snitching to the feds. In a nice twist, Helena turns out to be the real informant, but her husband-to-be took the fall, adding extreme guilt to the list of emotions driving her war on crime.
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Huntress’ merciless approach to taking down her father’s empire gives Digg the chance to call Oliver on his questionable methods of dispensing justice. The episode makes a point out of showing Oliver as chomping at the bit to kill the man who gives Moira a nasty concussion after she gets to close to one of Bertinelli’s goons, but when he finds out that he is a she -a particularly attractive she, who seems to understand the fallout from his island experience better than anyone- Oliver suddenly thinks the criminal must have a reason for her killing spree. Like last episode with the Bonnie and Clyde family, “Muse of Fire” sets Oliver out to be reluctant in popping his hood into anything unrelated to the list, but once Digg prods him, he discovers that getting the bad guy isn’t so simple when asked to judge a person’s actions based on something more complex than the scribblings of your dead dad.
There is, of course, the mushy romance stuff that develops between Oliver and Helena, and while their attraction is more believable in their histories than the actual dialogue they share, at least Amell’s got someone more interesting to make eyes at than Laurel. Having each find out the other’s by the end of “Muse of Fire” offers more interesting plot potential than if they were to dance around one another for a few more episodes, and next week’s promos showing Helena in the Arrow-cave certainly recall the promise that came with Diggle being brought into the vigilante fold, before he got relegated to just being Oliver’s conscience that is.
Jessica De Gouw is solid as Helena, though even out of costume, she still comes across like a low-rent version of Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, but she’ll have better opportunity to channel the character’s familial rage when next week’s episode rolls around, and it looks like a doozy. For largely convenient reasons, Bertinelli thinks it’s the Triads that are shortening his professional Rolodex, and his threats of retaliation look like they’ll be made good on after Oliver and Helena take out his chief lieutenant in self-defense. The scenes involving China White and Bertinelli are purely setup, but do give reason to bring back Quentin Lance, who is recovering from the professional embarrassment Oliver forced upon him by donning the persona of a Raymond Chandler gumshoe. His few scenes were delightfully unhinged, and highlights including the use of a phrase like “mobbed up to the eyeballs”, as well as a dire prophecy that the mafia-Triad conflict would mean World War III for Starling City.
Lance starting to go off the rails is a luxury that, sadly, not every bit player in Arrow can afford. As usual, the events surrounding the rest of the supporting cast were mixed, though it’s becoming clearer who falls into the hit category, and who belongs with the misses. Moira now seems capable of giving Oliver his space, so long as they share a meal every now and then, and it was gratifying to have someone finally admit that, hey, maybe a guy who’s been exiled in the wilderness for five years is going to be messed up for a long time. Thea, on the other hand, is understanding of Oliver, right up until the moment it inconveniences her (read: she has to take care of mom instead of going clubbing), and she gives Oliver the same histrionic dressing down that she does every other week. Thea, Laurel and Tommy are a holy triumvirate of deadweight, so it’s marginally more bearable when they’re being dull on their own time, rather than interfering with the characters who are actually interesting.
Granted, Tommy has been slowly climbing out of his template douchebag caricature lately, and the revelation that his father is The Well-Dressed Man was surprising, if patently obvious in retrospect. Tommy and Oliver were inevitably going to clash over Laurel (remember: CW), and connecting the two via the dissolving relationship between their parents will get Tommy and Oliver from A friendship to B conflict as quickly as possible. That’s the sort of star-crossed lovers overarching plot that will likely come to bare near the end of the season, or perhaps later, as CW has proven it knows how to play out hormonal yearning for years. All the same, the show I want to watch has Arrow and Huntress kicking ass across Starling City, and if nothing else, it looks like next week will deliver on that.
- Stray Thoughts
-This episode is credited to Geoff Johns, who’s been a big wig at DC for a while, and scripted a few key episodes of Smallville. That’s probably why the fan boy stuff feels so on this week, and the dialogue seems so off.
-Laurel’s repeated use of Tommy’s lastname would hint that his eventual rivalry with Oliver will turn him into “Merlyn”, who falls into the comic book villain category of “exactly like the hero, only evil.” What are the odds that Tommy also spent Ollie’s five year absence mastering the bow and arrow?
-“You left mom on the street, alone, and hurt, on the street.” Thea seems less offended about Oliver leaving their injured mother while pursuing a bad guy, than the idea of Moira being seen out on the pavement, like some sort of street urchin!
-I will admit to genuinely laughing at the happenstance of Tommy bringing sushi the same moment that the pizza guy arrives for Laurel. It’s almost like the beautiful and wealthy are real people, you guys!
-No island flashbacks this week. Can’t say I particularly missed them, especially with an episode this busy in setting up a part two.
-Knowing Huntress would be the Daft Punk-looking shooter from the cold open, I couldn’t help but laugh at the number of times the script goes out of its way to imply the biker is male. Helena taking off her helmet dramatically is supposed to be shocking because, *gasp*, a WOMAN is an assassin.
-Walter’s back, hopefully, with a purpose, as his vacation was a smart way of keeping part of an already overloaded cast on the bench for a while.
-Warning to all the plebes of Starling City: do not be caught talking to the Queens or anyone else important. If you’re introduced on camera, it’s only so you can die/get robbed later.
-Perhaps my focus on CW standards this week was triggered by the absurd number of unidentifiable Top 40-wannabe slow jams that show up. Laurel’s apartment must be next door to a studio for bands that only make money off of TV airplay songs.
-Ab-tastic Workout of the Week: Ollie slaps away at a coatrack. All the guys are pretty slap-happy this episode.Previous