Episode 101 “Pilot”
So, Oliver Queen gets his moment to shine, following his also-ran status in Smallville. And as I mentioned earlier this year, Arrow is not the heir to Smallville. Which is a very good thing. Justin Hartley would not have been a good fit for this show.
So, let’s dive in.
This show is going to hang its hood on flashbacks, but the structure of the show allows for them to organically fit into the narrative of the episode. And this episode is packed with a ton of material.
The challenge with pilot episodes is always heavy. Not only do you have to tell a good story, but you also have to introduce the characters, establish conflict, and create a world that the audience can believe in. Arrow does this very well, giving us several characters with depth who have histories in the matter of a few lines of dialogue. The writers have done a very good job weaving backstories into the narrative while moving the story forward at a pace that would rival the Nolan Batman trilogy.
That’s the pedigree this show claims, probably more than its predecessor in the superhero TV shows. Smallville was DC Comics 90210, and it was OK for what it was. But the superhero TV show has clearly grown up.
Oliver Queen returns from the dead, making his way from being stranded on an island to reclaiming his place as millionaire playboy overgrown kid. Along the way, we meet Laurel Lance, crusader legal aid worker (and Ollie’s ex), best friend Tommy Merlyn (who’s smarter than he lets on), his mother, his sister, Laurel’s cop dad (who has it in for Ollie), and a big conspiracy brewing underneath it all.
Some really good writing here, except for the fact that it’s supposed to be seven years — not five — for someone to be declared dead. Oliver’s family had the funeral, meaning he’s been declared dead. What happens now that he’s back? We saw this when Bruce Wayne came back from the dead in Batman Begins. It wasn’t a big moment, but Nolan at least addressed it. Here, we still have yet to learn why he was declared two years early. Part of the conspiracy of whatever is going on?
The story does a good job setting up the potential triangle between Ollie, Laurel and Tommy. Merlyn, of course, is Oliver’s enemy in the comics, so it will be interesting to see how this relationship develops. So, too, the feelings between Laurel and Ollie. It’s still too soon to see if Laurel will become Black Canary or not, especially since the writers are using her middle name instead of Dinah.
The first half of the episode carries the load of setup. Oliver gets rescued from the island — where Deathstroke’s mask is on a pike by the beach — and starts to use his newfound archery skills to mete out justice against the bad guys on a list provided by his father. Stephen Amell does a good job playing Oliver with restraint. He’s clearly gone through some stuff on the island, and his reserved demeanor is the perfect complement to his new vigilante persona.
Of course, he still has the reputation as the LiLo of Starling City (why did they change that?), so it’s the perfect camouflage for his masked antics. It’s a lot like Bruce Wayne, and over the years Oliver Queen has always had to face that comparison, which is why the O’Neil/Adams incarnation of the character is so much more interesting. Will the writers go that way? Too soon to tell.
One of the major differences between Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen — at least this version — is the idea of killing the bad guys, which Ollie has no qualms about. He’s carrying a lot of guilt over being the only survivor of the shipwreck — and the death of Laurel’s sister along with it. But he’s channeling that guilt into revenge against the people his father said are responsible for corruption and crime in Starling City. How involved was his father? What secrets are written in that book?
Ollie’s batcave may be a poor choice, in the long run. An abandoned factory owned by Queen Consolidated may not be the best place to hide. Unless he’s pulling the “hide in plain sight” tactic. But that still doesn’t address the fact that he jumped the fence in broad daylight with two heavy packs — something that, in a post-9/11 world, would certainly draw attention from someone in the real world.
Speedy is going to be interesting to watch, too. The fact that she’s Ollie’s sister instead of his sidekick Roy may not be much of a difference. There’s still the possibility that she could end up being the sidekick. They’ve already established her drug habit, so it really seems like they turned Roy Harper into a Starbuck and left the rest of the character intact. I also like that this show is going full bore in embracing the DC Universe. Merlyn, Dinah, Speedy… and with Deadshot and China White coming in future episodes, plus Huntress on the way, it looks like the writers are not going the Smallville route that got them in trouble in later seasons. One can hope that Metropolis and Gotham City at least get a mention.
And it’s a delight to see Paul Blackthorne back on TV. He’s able to put a lot into a little with Detective Lance. It’s one of these “economy of scale” bits, with the short bits of dialogue giving away a lot — the reveal that he’s Laurel’s father, the fact that he blames Oliver for the death of his daughter Sarah, and his decidedly negative opinion of Ollie — all in one or two lines. Very smart writing.
One technical note, production team: when you want to show us a reflection in a car window, it has to be backwards. Please make a note so you don’t look like amateurs.
Overall, a strong first episode that sets up a lot of plot threads. Some of those are going to have to play out over more than one season. Let’s hope the show gets to see it through.