“Arrow”: tensions high as new season draws back its bow

Arrow, the wildly successful TV adaptation of DC Comics’ Green Arrow series, has kicked it into high gear as its third season draws to a close. What started as a semi-procedural, with the eponymous vigilante ridding the city of various one-percenters and crime lords, has evolved into an expanded universe full of characters, with lengthy story arcs, and has even produced a spinoff – The Flash – featuring the famous “Scarlet Speedster.” But with tensions, drama, and exceptional storytelling at the highest point it’s ever been, it’s Arrow that continues to bask in the spotlight.

Bear in mind that this is a series that, in its first season, got off to a rocky start, with dialogue that could have been plucked from a soap opera and a backstory that drew criticisms of Arrow being a stripped-down version of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, a film series which chronicled the rise of its main character in a similar fashion. But Arrow quickly diverged from that trajectory, creating its own path dominated by characters the fans liked (less popular characters were moved to the background), and slowly establishing its own world that, two years later, would spill over into The Flash, and which now looks set to also influence the upcoming Supergirl TV series on CBS, and an additional spinoff (tentatively titled Legends of Tomorrow) on the CW.

You can credit the writers for the series not only having such a quick turnaround, but such a meteoric rise in quality and popularity. The fantastic cast, however, is equally responsible for this. Notably, I would actually venture to say that the acting of Stephen Amell, who portrays Oliver Queen/Arrow, seemed, in the pilot, wooden at best. But by the middle of the first season, his performance had largely improved, and by the season’s end, I realized this was actually a talented actor who had simply needed time to grow comfortable in the role, something he and his peers have certainly done, as the seemingly effortless chemistry between one actor and another proves.

In fact, I find that critics severely undervalue the fantastic acting on Arrow – something that I attribute, in particular, to Season 3’s success. The actors and actresses have sold the drama so well, and everyone I talk to who is a fan of the series agrees that the shocking twists and turns have increased to anxiety-inducing levels. What you thought was going to happen one episode ago changes completely, and by the most unlikely means, over the course of an hour, and that is perhaps where Arrow‘s greatest strength lies.

The Arrow persona

This season has focused more on the Arrow persona of Oliver Queen, as opposed to last season, which did the opposite. At this point in the series, Queen is no longer a rich playboy, having lost his company to business rival – and rival for the affections of love interest Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) – Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), who later becomes the hero called the Atom. This pull-back from the life of Arrow’s alter ego is refreshing, because, admittedly, it was sometimes filled with “first-world-problem melodrama” (in other words, you hardly felt sorry for the business, relationship, and substance abuse issues of a handful of upper-class folks with too much time on their hands). Instead, elements of a growing epic begin to trickle into the show, which introduced Ra’s al Ghul (Matthew Nable) as the new primary antagonist.

For those not in the know, Ra’s is a major villain in DC Comics and a chief enemy of Batman. He appeared, played by Liam Neeson, in the 2005 film Batman Begins, but I personally think Nable’s portrayal of the character on this show is ten times better. Ra’s’ interaction with Green Arrow in comic books is virtually nonexistent, so it was initially confusing that they decided to place the character in the series. As it happens, however, it was a good idea. It allows for rather poignant moral struggles and existential questions that no prior Arrow story arc could have offered. Cases in point: when Queen’s sister Thea is put under the influence of a mind-altering substance and made to commit a murder. Questions arise as to the extent of her culpability, if any. And, of course, in the latest episode, in exchange for the safety of Thea and all those he cares for, Queen is forced to accept Ra’s al Ghul’s offer to take his place as the head of the League of Assassins, a notorious, cult-like group with fascistic elements and a subtle but global influence. He assumes the new moniker of Al Sah-him, and we the audience are left to wonder what moral code or system of values – if any – the Arrow persona now represents, in light of this – pun not intended – sudden darkness.

And leading up to this climax was a subplot in which Arrow and associates (sidekicks?) Laurel/Black Canary (Katie Cassidy) and Roy/Arsenal (Colton Haynes) were deemed terrorists for operating outside of the law and are subsequently hunted by the police. The grounded way in which this was handled was impressive, and was yet another example of how this show throws idealism out the window. The Arrow is not worshipped as a hero, but seen by most for what he is – a vigilante whose actions are sanctioned neither by the police nor most citizens, despite whatever good might come of said actions. And so, no great serendipities befall our heroes simply because they leap off rooftops in jumpsuits; rather, this season has documented their constant struggle to stay one step ahead of a corrupt police force and what often seems like the futility of their own efforts to make even a modicum of difference in their crime-plagued city. It’s a very original and frank take on the genre.

With the cops still on the lookout for anyone with a cute nickname and a fanciful costume, the nefarious League forcing the hand of the protagonist, and the entire future of the “Arrow” – both the persona and the man beneath the hood – in doubt, the showrunners have painted almost every character into a corner around which it seems impossible for them to ever again emerge. And that’s the brilliance behind the series, really. Everything gets more complex and everyone continues to unravel, and out of the resulting downward spiral comes a plot twist that suddenly shifts the entire paradigm. It’s a fast-paced, non-stop ride, and with just three episodes left this season, anyone looking for an escapist thrill should go ahead and strap themselves in.

Arrow is on every Wednesday, at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central, on the CW.

“Arrow”

Stephen Amell, Emily Bett Rickards, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Katie Cassidy, John Barrowman, Brandon Routh, Matthew Nable, Katrina Law, Paul Blackthorne

 Photo: CW official site


CONTRIBUTOR

Blake Skylar
Blake Skylar

Blake is a production manager, responsible for the daily assembly of the PW home page. He also writes on environment and culture. He has covered issues including the BP oil spill and the UN Climate Conference in Paris. His coverage has earned him awards from the Illinois Woman’s Press Association and the International Labor Communications Association. He is currently in Weehawken, in his home state of New Jersey. He likes cats, wine, books, music, and nature. He writes a blog that can be found at blakedeppe.com.

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