Heavily inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Arrow sees the character of Oliver Queen adapted for television. Like Bruce Wayne and his masked alter-ego, Queen is a tortured playboy living a double life where he fights crime in an attempt to fix a city plagued by greed, dishonesty and selfishness. One of the wisest decisions the producers make, though, is to have this not be the story of Queen as Green Arrow but to tell the story of how this man is shaped into a hero.
That intent is made clear in the pilot when we see him kill without remorse, and from then on it’s obvious that we’re watching a different kind of hero. He’s far from perfect, constantly making mistakes and struggling to connect with people. The structure of the season is less one with procedural cases for Oliver to solve (or names to cross off his list, in a fashion not dissimilar to early episodes of Revenge) and more about what he can learn from each instalment.
Even more frequently, Arrow is about what Oliver has to unlearn in terms of skills he has developed to survive. The first episode shows us that he’s been stranded on an island for five years and has only just been rescued. Cleverly, the series doesn’t end that story there and continues to tell the island story through flashbacks during the season. This is designed to exist throughout the whole series and is an effective way of constructing an extended and believable origin story without taking anything away from the central plotlines. The island material doesn’t always work, but it hits the show’s themes effectively and should grow stronger in Season 2.
In the title role, Stephen Amell gives a very convincing performance. He’s able to convey the animalistic physicality of Arrow while also managing to pull off a more complex portrayal of Queen as a man changed by his experiences on the island who is attempting to hold it together.
The supporting cast is strong too, with David Ramsey and Emily Bett Rickards filling standout roles as John Diggle and Felicity Smoak respectively, and an enjoyable turn from John Barrowman. Colin Donnell’s best friend character, Tommy Merlyn, also grows into a remarkably emotional and conflicted figure.
Spartacus’s Manu Bennett also shows up in the middle half of the season, performing well as the mysterious Slade Wilson. There are a couple of episodes of note after the show moves beyond an uneasy first third; ‘Vendetta’ and ‘The Odyssey’ particularly stand out, while the three or four leading up to the finale prove the show’s confidence in its tone.
Throughout this season, Arrow shows that it is unafraid of dealing with story elements sooner than its audience expects. Numerous key comic books characters have already been introduced and many more are reportedly on their way. Plotlines, also, don’t drag and tend to have surprising consequences or developments. While it has a brisk approach to pacing, though, it is always restrained when it comes to character drama, letting events progress a little more naturally.
With a darker conclusion to the season than anticipated, Arrow reaches an unexpected but perhaps all too inevitable finale that leaves plenty of room for Oliver to develop and moves all of the characters into more problematic positions. This is a show that knows its lead character can’t simply become a superhero without a great deal of growth beforehand, and its patience in telling that story is what makes it a rewarding watch.
Extras: Season 1’s special features are limited but worthwhile. There are two relatively lengthy featurettes, ‘Arrow Comes Alive!’ and ‘Arrow: Fight School/Stunt School’. Both are entertaining and informative, although the insight into the stunt work is decidedly more interesting as it gives us a real look at what goes into pulling off the dynamic and exciting combat and parkour scenes on the show.
There’s a short but amusing gag reel too, and some fun highlights from the Paley Fest 2013 Arrow panel that show the great rapport the cast members share and the evident enthusiasm of Arrow’s writing staff and producers.
Released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 23 September 2013.
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