Arrow pilot episode review

The love child of the Dark Knight films and later seasons of Smallville, Caroline finds much to enjoy in Arrow's pilot episode...

This review contains spoilers. Our spoiler-free pilot review is here.

1.1 Pilot

A lot of different people will be coming to The CW’s newest superhero show in a lot of different ways. Some will be fans of Smallville, just last year ending its decade-long run and leaving a big hole in the network’s schedule; some will be fans of DC and the Green Arrow character; and some will be tuning in for the considerable emphasis on Stephen Amell’s body in previews and ads for the series. I lie somewhere in the middle of all those elements, and went into the show with as open a mind as is possible.

In keeping with the generally positive buzz about the series, this first instalment of Arrow was surprisingly good, gritty, fun, and I suspect that the teen-orientated network may have just successfully retargeted their demographic. Sure, there’s plenty for a young audience to enjoy here but I dare say there’s a much bigger emphasis on courting comic book fans. The only cheese to be found is the ever-so-slightly earnest voiceover narration, otherwise, the show is a much darker take on super-telly, and you can tell that the showrunners are well aware of the public appetite for realism. In a nutshell, if later seasons of Smallville and Nolan’s Dark Knight film series had a love child, it would look a lot like Arrow.

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The basic premise may be familiar to fans of the character, as millionaire playboy Oliver Queen is stranded on a remote island for five years before being rescued and plonked back into a morally bereft society. Once here, he assumes a secret identity as Green Arrow (a title never actually uttered during this first episode) and begins to ruthlessly target the criminals of his city. Sound familiar? It was always expected that the show would build upon the current popularity of Batman, but some tweaks have been made to the mythology to actually distance this hero from the dark crusader.

We meet Oliver at the moment he’s rescued, and only see his life on the island in flashback. Word is that this will continue throughout the series and only cease once it draws to a close – meaning the series finale will include the first scene of the pilot. I’m interested to see how they can drag out his (presumably solo) adventures for multiple seasons, and it could add a brilliant depth to the series should the format prove a success. The people he is shipwrecked with are important to the present state of the character, and the Queen family as imagined by Arrow might be the biggest departure from the established mythology.

Though previous versions have had Oliver exist as an orphan, pre-island Oliver actually had a mother, father and twelve-year-old sister. While Robert Queen doesn’t last too long, his influence on his son seems to have been instrumental in setting up his mission. The scene in which Robert sacrifices himself to ensure Oliver’s survival is one of the episode’s best moments, and we can deduce that Oliver’s driving force upon his return was set out by the two of them. Moira Queen is even more mysterious, effectively kidnapping her son in order to find out what he knows. The information she wants is unclear, but we could be looking at an eventual villain.

Thea Queen (now seventeen) might be my favourite supporting character from the pilot, and Willa Holland’s easy chemistry with Amell could be the show’s secret weapon. We have to trust that there’s a specific reason the producers have created an entirely new sibling for Oliver to deal with, and sincerely hope it’s not just to provide an annoying teen tearaway for him to scold every week. Judging by the tone established here, I doubt it, especially since she’s one of the people foreshadowed for future heroism.

It’s actually a pet hate of mine carried over from Smallville when the writers throw in teasers for a more knowledgeable audience, since I resent being kept out of the loop when watching a show I support and enjoy. It’s kept to a minimum throughout most of the episode, which actually does a stellar job of introducing a little-known character to the uninitiated, but crops up again with Laurel. A spurned lover of Oliver’s from before he ‘died’, she’s less than pleased with his return. Having lost her sister (with whom Oliver was playing away) on the same accident, there’s certainly reason to hold a grudge, and I was kind of disappointed at how quickly it dissipated.

Laurel will undoubtedly be the love interest for the series, but she isn’t given the best material here. She’s independent and moral, and clearly still in love with Oliver, but her motives will have to be pushed forward in future weeks to keep things interesting. A love triangle including Oliver’s best friend Merlin also becomes apparent late in the episode, and this rings alarm bells. In a show this unexpectedly gritty and violent, the romantic entanglements may actually be the least interesting part. Laurel, however, is the second character to be offered some foreshadowing, as we discover her full name to be Dinah Laurel Lance, aka Black Canary.

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But the best thing about Arrow is its star, with Stephen Amell more than capable of playing the conflicted hero. Viewers hoping for a genuinely damaged vigilante won’t be disappointed, since the show hasn’t shied away from making him as ruthless as network TV will allow. The fight scenes are also great, with good choreography and stunt work being employed over fast editing and shaky camera tactics, and it’s not hard to believe this guy would kill anyone who gets in his way. Armed with a list of targets, I predict that things are going to get messy, and it’s refreshing to see the human drama and superhero antics on an equally considered and compelling. 

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