“The city still needs saving. But not by the Hood. And not by some vigilante who’s just crossing names off a list. It needs… something more.”
That someone, that something more …that something else is the DC Comics character Green Arrow. Not to be confused with the same-colored Hornet or Lantern. In season 2 Oliver Queen finally sheds the name and reputation of the Hood or Vigilante. He has vowed not to kill, and he no longer has the list to guide him. His job now is to go after any bad guys in Starling City.
The comics industry in films and television has been having somewhat of a modern-day renaissance in recent years. The Dark Knight Trilogy and Smallville have been huge hits for DC, and Marvel is basically printing their own money with The Avengers and each hero’s own franchise. Smallville is gone, and DC is not about to surrender that niche to Marvel, who has their Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. arriving soon. Enter Arrow and another origin story of a young hero before he became the icon that appeared in the world of comic books. With some recent failures and plenty of unkind speculation about the upcoming DC team-up film, it is the DC television universe which has done an incredible job. Arrow is going quite strong getting better every year. The Flash is about to be rebooted, and Gotham is looking like an amazing series.
Arrow follows the same basic idea that Smallville did for Superman. The character has just begun his new identity, and like Clark Kent in Smallville is not even known by his popular name yet. In Smallville Kent was known as The Blur or The Blue Blur. In Arrow, Queen is pretty much known as The Hood, The Archer or The Vigilante. There are only a couple of times you’ll hear the name The Green Arrow, and they’re basically throw-away lines meant merely to tease the comic fans. Fans will also recognize the Queen mansion as once belonging to a certain baldheaded arch-nemesis of Clark Kent. Yes, it’s the same location. It’s a famous castle in Vancouver where both shows were/are shot.
But this is not Smallville. Similarities aside, the new series has set out to deliberately distance itself from the earlier series. The first point is pretty obvious. The Oliver Queen/Green Arrow character became a significant player in Smallville, particularly in its last years. On that show he was played by Justin Hartley for 72 episodes. The obvious move would be to allow that actor to spin off and do his own thing. The crew for Arrow wanted to set a different tone and tell their own story from the beginning. Now Stephen Amell. This show is much darker from the beginning. It’s also far more violent and action-packed.
Each episode has two very separate but related parts. It’s a complicated acting challenge for Amell, but it gives the series a unique look and formula. One part of the episode happens as Oliver tackles the bad guys as The Arrow. He is assisted in that work by a team that consists of bodyguard and ex-military man John Diggle (Ramsey) and computer nerd Felicity Smoak (Rickards) (pronounced smoke).
The second part of each episode involves Oliver’s five years on the island. There he first encounters Chinese ex-prisoner Yao Fei (Mann), who teaches him how to survive on the island. He also encounters Slade Wilson (Bennett), who attempts to teach him to fight. It doesn’t hurt that we’re talking Crixus from the Starz Spartacus series, and this character happens to like to use…what else…swords. There is also Shado (Jade) the daughter of the man Oliver first encountered. They defeated some bad guys, but now there’s a whole new set coming on a freighter led by a man named Anthony Evo (Neal). They are looking for a miracle drug that can cure just about anything, meanwhile giving a person super strength and agility.
These island portions really take me back to Lost. There’s even a crashed plane and now a hatch. It’s also that there is so much mystery here that you just know there’s no way you’ll ever have all the answers. And the island comes home to the city this year as Slade finally dons the Deathstrike persona and comes to Starling City with one purpose in mind…to fulfill a vow of revenge on Oliver for events on the island that turned brothers into enemies.
When the season begins, it has been a year since the Earthquake, the result of The Undertaking. The Glades have suffered huge property loss and 503 lives. Moira Queen is bearing the brunt of the ill-feelings it has caused even though she had a change of heart and tried to warn people to get out. She’s in jail, and the prosecution is pushing for the death penalty. Oliver has been missing, and Felicity and Diggle have found him back on the island where he has been sulking in his failure. They convince him to return.
In Oliver’s absence a group of terrorists have taken on his image and believe they are carrying on his fight. It’s enough to prove to Oliver that the city needs a new hero, one who can set a better example than he did before. He also finds that everyone’s lives have changed. Thea (Holland) is now running the club and sleeping with Roy (Haynes). Roy is also trying to make a difference, and it’s driving a wedge in their relationship. Laurel (Cassidy) has lost her law firm in the earthquake and is now working for the other side. She’s a DA now, and one of her cases is going to be prosecuting Moira Queen. Detective Lance (Blackthorne) is now patrol officer Lance because of his teaming with The Hood. There’s a new politician in town named Sebastian Blood (Alejandro). Fans of the comic know there is much more to Blood than meets the eye. He’ll have a good/bad alternating relationship with Oliver/The Arrow.
Another new addition to the cast is Angel/Firefly star Summer Glau as Isabel Rochev, who is out to take advantage of the hits Queen Consolidated has taken and wants to take it over. Oliver doesn’t really help himself as much as he’s an absent CEO. Of course, she has other motives for her hostile takeover that will dovetail nicely into the climactic moments of the season finale.
The supporting cast here continues to be some of the best guest/recurring stars around. If you’re a Spartacus fan, you already appreciate Bennett in a much more expanded role here. He’s not just fighting now. We get to see far more facets of his character than ever before. He’s joined by fellow Spartacus alumni Katrina Law as Nyssa, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, a DC villain who is set up to became a major presence next season. If that’s not enough, Spartacus star Nick Tarabay is set to become Boomerang in the coming season.
It’s no major spoiler to tell you that Sara returns with a new actress portraying the role. She’s now Caity Lotz. This also brings us the promised debut of Black Canary. This is my least favorite performance on the series. She’s easily the weak link and brings a decidedly undynamic approach to both roles. Her voice has a nasal quality that irritates me to no end. This is a show of great talent. Unfortunately, Lotz isn’t one of them.
Colton Haynes gets a lot to do this year as Roy. Comic fans will remember he was Speedy in many of those books, a nickname Oliver now uses on his sister. He gets some superpowers this season but has a hard time controlling them and his rage. Oliver tries his Karate Kid routine, but remember that didn’t work too well last season with The Huntress. The actor does a superb job with the many levels of the character, and it’s going to be fun to see where he goes from here.
Other guest stars include Prison Break’s Robert Knepper as Clock King. He’s been showing up a lot lately, and this performance with little dialog helps to explain why the talented actor is in such high demand. The earthquake took out the Iron Heights Prison so look for returns of The Count and Dollmaker. Helena returns as The Huntress, and Diggle finally tracks down Deadshot only to end up working with the killer.
The folks at A.R.G.U.S. take a huge lead in this season, becoming a crucial part of the season finale and giving Diggle some off the books jobs.
One of my absolute favorite small roles this season goes to Stargate: Atlantis’s David Nykl. Who can forget his wonderful banter with Rodney as Dr. Zelenka? He’s almost unrecognizable here in the island sequences with a huge bushy beard. His voice and style are unmistakable. There are some other returns and guests that would just be ruining it for you to tell.
Production values are another place this series shines. They’ve done a tremendous job of creating an atmosphere that immerses you into this particular corner of the DC universe. The city is often rainy, and most of the action happens in the night. There’s a gritty underbelly to this place that’s mostly found in the city’s poor area known as The Glades. It’s this economically challenged location where Oliver puts his nightclub and lair. It’s also the focus of the ongoing diabolical plan known as The Undertaking. The action is filmed almost in a documentary style. All of this lives in a stark contrast to the glitzy world many of our characters live in during the daylight.
The island is another completely different environment and atmosphere. Here lighting is harsh, and colors are bleached away to an almost monochrome that sets it apart from the “present-day” action of Oliver on his quest.
I’m a bit disappointed that the arrows are pretty much CG even as he grabs them to put in his bow. There’s obviously a lot of computer-generated f/x here and plenty for stunt men. As I said there is far more action here than in Smallville. The locations really help tie it all together, and the show does look pretty darn good.
I do have some problems with the season. They are really nitpicks, but I feel I should mention them to balance all the things I do love about this show. Once Moira is freed from jail, she runs for Mayor. This whole arc annoyed me to no end. No one who helped kill 503 people has a snowball’s chance you know where of getting elected. Yeah, she had a change of heart, but for all we know Hitler had a change of heart before he killed himself. Does it matter? Would anything he did after that make him beloved? I’m just saying.
The show did finally fix the worst flaw in the show. Oliver finally gets his mask. Let’s be real for a second here, OK? A trained detective can be face to face with The Hood for hours and not notice it’s Oliver? Never bought it. Yes, this is the same universe where Superman hides behind a pair of glasses and a hair curl. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.
The season includes two episodes that introduce Barry Allen and set up the upcoming Flash series. It’s one of the better back-door pilots with a build-up for several episodes if you’re paying attention to news reports in the background. The new show will feature both main stars from the 1990’s show. John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry/Flash in that show, now plays his father. Amanda Pays, who played his confidant and assistant Dr. McGee, will reprise the same role in this show, but she may not be a good guy this time around. We’ll have to wait and see.
There’s a lot going on this season. Without the list Oliver’s task has grown. Slade and his revenge plot is a well thought out and executed season arc. I am left with great excitement for where this is all leading. More people than ever know Oliver’s secret, and it changes their lives dramatically. Thea will be a particularly tough force to handle next season as she not only learns about Oliver but a devastating secret about herself that changes who she thinks she is.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. Black levels are absolutely vital in this high-definition image presentation. So much of the action happens on rainy nights and in the shadows. Fortunately there’s solid shadow definition here, or this could well be a bloody mess to try and make out. When colors need to stand out, they do. Keep in mind it’s not really as colorful or bright a show as Smallville was. Look more for contrast and textures to replace shiny surfaces.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is pretty sweet for a television production. You can imagine that with so many arrows and such flying around, the surrounds would go a long way to immersing you into all of the action. The dialog is fine. The score gets quite rousing at times, and your subs often get plenty to do. It’s a dynamic audio presentation that should be setting the standard for television productions, at least on network television.
Gag Reel: (4:44)
Bonus Recap Episode: (41:30) This is one of the best extras here. Because of my review schedule, I do not watch these shows when they air. Instead I binge-watch them prior to their release for these reviews. That means it’s often been a full year since I’ve seen the last season finale. This comprehensive recap of the first season was just the thing I needed to get completely caught back up from last season. Bravo.
From Vigilante To Hero: (24:12) This feature looks at the evolution of the character from The Hood/Vigilante to The Arrow.
How Did They Do That? :(11:17) This is an f/x feature that takes the pilot rescue craft scene and allows you to follow the stages and process of building an f/x scene. It’s a great demo.
Wirework – The Impossible Moves Of Arrow: (9:43) This time it’s the stunt process from staging, rehearsal to execution that is demonstrated.
Arrow 2013 Comic Con Panel: (26:10) This one includes interviews with the participants after the panel. It’s obvious from the discussion that they were treated to some preview before the panel. There’s also a mystery guest that will be a little bit of a spoiler for the season. That’s why I have not mentioned his participation in this review.
The series is flush with colorful and interesting characters. While the series does not hold any closer to comic cannon than Smallville did, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a lot here from the comics. It’s a veritable Easter egg hunt in every episode. You’ll see allusions and references to plenty of comic lore. Many characters are named after the artists and writers who have worked on the comic over the decades. If you notice a large use of the number 52, it refers to DC’s controversial reboot of their comic universe a few years ago. Even with so much homage paid to the comic incarnations, this is a stand-alone universe and often drifts from the characters and kinds of events portrayed over the decades in its four-color splendor. Purists are often bothered by that sort of loose playing with canon, but this needs to establish itself as its own thing with its own history and dynamic. Go with it, and you’ll likely find it an intriguing idea with superior writing and production values. “I approve this high.”