Arrow Review: “Muse of Fire” (Season 1, Episode 7)

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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