Arrow Review: “Year’s End” (Season 1, Episode 9)
It’s almost too perfect that the week Oliver Queen has to faceoff against a copycat serial killer, Arrow abandons all pretense of being merely influenced by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and just starts ripping ideas and scenes from it whole cloth. Sure, there was the usual tonal familiarity of a tortured soul looking to avenge their lost guardian(s), and the way that nighttime Starling City constantly looks rainy and orange, but the character similarities are inescapable because that’s how the original Green Arrow was written, and you can’t blame CW for trying to imitate a good look. No, what the appropriately titled final episode of 2012, “Year’s End,” does, is cherry-pick very specific plot points and sequences from not one, not two, but ALL THREE of Nolan’s Batman movies, and then throws them alongside a Christmas episode of all things. And it was kind of amazing.
Normally, something so blatantly lazy would make me more inclined to bash the show, but the episode develops something of a theme in the way it uses established genre successes, be they comics or holiday shows, to build a really strong story… just not a terribly original one. If you’re going to ape anyone’s take on violent urban vigilantism, Nolan’s reinvention of the Batman franchise is the best source to pull from. If you want viewers to be sympathetic towards characters they don’t particularly like, use the holidays as a shortcut to everyone’s emotional side. Again, there’s little that’s actually creative about Arrow this week, but that it manages to weave its obvious inspirations into something not just competent, but entertaining, is commendable.
This isn’t really all that surprising, considering that I’ve always found the show to be at its most enjoyable when it’s either sticking to established tropes of comic books, or trying to put a new spin on them, as it did in “Damaged,” when Oliver preemptively quelled the suspicion that pops up when a vigilante and a missing billionaire come to town at the same time. But when the show has tried to mix romantic soap opera attempts in with all the comic book stuff, it’s usually ended poorly, as last week’s emotionally erratic conclusion to Huntress’ introduction proved. An episode grounding all the drama in the relatable stress of the holidays was bound to be an improvement, but the quality storytelling behind the meta-game of “Spot Which Batman This is from” made “Year’s End” one of the season’s best entries.
The episode basically screams its intentions right out the gate, with the same opening skyscraper zoom in that began The Dark Knight leading us to a down-on-his-luck Adam Hunt (Oliver’s target from the pilot), who’s promptly dispatched of by a hooded figure wielding a weapon (and fashion sense) that mirrors Oliver’s. Despite his mad-on for The Hood (which has become the proto Green Arrow moniker for Oliver’s secret identity), Detective Lance is smart enough to see that the guy who offed Hunt uses a different brand of arrow than any the police have run into, so they’re more on the ball than usual when they assume a copycat killer is on the loose. The piece of the puzzle they’re missing is that it’s not the attention of law enforcement the murderer is after; it’s Oliver’s.
But before Ollie can have his showdown with the mysterious threat, and save Starling City, he has to save Christmas first. Okay, I’m a little disappointed that I can’t follow up that sentence by telling you The Grinch was on the target list, or this week’s flashbacks involved Oliver saving a shipwrecked Santa Clause, but there’s a blunt effectiveness to having the family drama center around how the Queens haven’t had much reason to celebrate the holidays since the death of Robert. It’s also refreshing to have Oliver be the one trying to reconnect with his family, even if it comes in the form of (what else) party. At least this week’s glitzy bash doesn’t feel forced or overdone, and watching gave me a vain hope that the hooded baddie would show up with a bunch of goons, and Oliver would have to recreate Die Hard in his fancy mansion.
But that’s not the film saga driving Arrow’s action tonight. Detective Lance is creeping closer and closer to Jim Gordon status, as the frustration of having his commanding officer demand a quick fix to the murder spree leads Quentin to putting evidence in Oliver’s hands. I can’t say I buy Quentin’s sudden willingness to collude with the guy who’s caused him so much trouble these last few months, but the Lieutenant Gordon type is far more interesting than whatever type Lance has been bouncing between inconsistently week after week. Similarly, Smoak is looking more and more like her (non-movie canonical) comic book counterpart, as her ability to effortlessly trace the origin of the copycat’s arrow supply is all the proof you need to know she’s destined to become Team Green Arrow’s tech specialist, much like how Oracle helps Batman.
So, when Oliver tracks down the warehouse that he thinks his nemesis is staying in, only to discover a dramatically activated bomb waiting for him, my first thought was, “Huh. That sorta seems like something The Joker would try to pull.” The bomb is just the tip of the iceberg. Up until this point, you could call tracking shots, and ballistic reengineering, mere references to The Dark Knight. No harm, no foul. But then Oliver’s Christmas party is interrupted by a news report showing a hostage frantically reading an ultimatum: The Hood surrenders himself, or the evil archer will start killing people. Sound familiar?
That’s just a taste of what’s to come. Oliver proceeds to save the hostages from the (what else) abandoned warehouse, and decides to take on his rival mano-a-mano. Their duel of arrows makes for a cool double act, but ends with Oliver getting his ass kicked by a foe who knows his art better than Oliver does (sound familiar?). Narrowly escaping by jumping out a window and onto a trash bin (sound familiar?), Oliver desperately signals for his assistant to come save him (sound familiar?), waking up bed-bound and aching. Passing off the injuries as a motorcycle accident while with his family, Oliver shares a private moment with Digg, wherein he swears vengeance for his father, and his city.
I missed the fine details of the final speech mind you, I was too busy stifling a laugh at the audacity of giving Oliver a cane, because the last superhero I saw doing that was Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises. Its inclusion felt like the writers basically saying, “yup, we’re ripping off Batman, what are you going to do about it?” I admire the confidence: none of the similarities I mentioned are in any way the exclusive property of The Dark Knight trilogy, but they all appear in that trilogy, making the “references” impossible to ignore, both in their transparency, and frequency. But just because the symmetry was noticeable, doesn’t mean it wasn’t put to good use. The pastiche approach resulted in one of the strongest A-plots the show has ever had, one that smartly spotlighted the season’s villain (Mr. Merlyn is revealed as the man in disguise, his archery skills having been hinted at with his furious fencing a few weeks back), put Oliver in a position of weakness, and gave us a countdown of six months, after which, the Tempest group’s plan for Starling City will come to fruition.
It didn’t hurt that the other side plots were working well tonight too (save, of course, for Tommy and Laurel. If they eloped over the break before Arrow returns, I’d be ecstatic). Walter’s suspicions of Moira gave them a nice scene where (some) of the truth of her nightlife came to light, culminating in Walter being kidnapped and held hostage by. The flashbacks worked as a nice parallel to the present plot, while also providing a small arc of their own, revealing the island as a former super-prison, one that housed both Ur-row and Deathstroke, before Fyre’s took over. Even though we know Oliver’s eventual fate, Ur-row’s capture made for a great cliffhanger, and his brief fight with Deathstroke was pretty good too.
Hell, even Thea’s weekly whine-fest actually served a plot purpose, arguably being the least important, but nonetheless welcome reason “Year’s End” was, all in all, a banger night. The mechanics of the plot still aren’t airtight, and many of the characters are still too loosely written (has Walter’s relationship with Robert ever been mentioned before?), but when they’re a part of a ride this brainlessly enjoyable, it’s hard to take too much offense. How long the show can trade on derivative fun in place of creativity will have to be seen, but if it has to steal, at least Arrow is doing it from the best.
- Stray Thoughts
-Even if they don’t address it by name, the exposure Smoak’s Surface tablet got tonight constantly switched between egregious, and hilarious every time it found its way back into another shot.
-Adding to my “Amell is Funny When He Doesn’t Speak” theory, I laughed hard at his grunt after Smoak referred to archery as “utterly ridiculous.” And her crosshairs comment wasn’t half-bad either. Making her Jewish: a lazy, vaguely stereotypical explanation of her jokey scenes, or character etching?
-Speaking of faux pas topics, how freaking stupid was that dinner party comment about stealing from the rich and giving to the poor being “the job of the democrats?” Yes, Green Arrow is a socially conscious hero, but the CW is NOT the place for a directly party-based assessment of financial inequality. And I say that as a liberal.
-Quentin is literally taken off the murder case by his chief. Is it weird I like the character more when he’s saddled with clichéd cop/noir tropes?
-Tommy’s idea of a Christmas surprise: invade his sensitive girlfriend’s house, then give her a picture of her dead sister as a present. Smooth.
-Ab-tastic Workout of the Week: Despite Amell wearing a shirt, the knifey game of patty cake gets points for sheer manliness.
-Ridiculously Specific Trick Arrow of the Week: The explosive arrow takes the award, though was immediately overshadowed by the much bigger explosion following it.
-That’s all for 2012, see you in a few weeks Arr-bros!