Friday, October 11, 2013

Arrow - 2.01 - City of Heroes - Character Review

Note - Generally I do recaps with review mixed in. This is my first attempt at a straight up review so I am sure I will be tweaking the process as I go. Tonight the focus is on characters.

Vigilante, hero. Hero, vigilante. Often times it is in the eye of the beholder and to Oliver Queen, vigilante is now synonymous with Tommy's death. Thus sets up a paradigm shift in Arrow. Last season he was fulfilling his dead father's wishes in a righteous vengeance, but now it rings hollow. Oliver: "My mission, my father's list…it was a fool's crusade and I failed. Malcolm Merlyn destroyed the Glades…Tommy died, and the Hood couldn't stop it, so don't ask me to put it on again….ever." 5 months later, Oliver is still reeling from his best friend's death and it has shaken him to the core - which is a very good thing, at least in the season 2 premiere. This Oliver is more considerate, more conscientious of the results of his actions, more willing to apologize and reconsider. It's a more thoughtful Oliver, but one reeling for purpose, a purpose he finds in saving his father's company from a hostile takeover. I find this Oliver much more appealing and layered. Stephen Amell had plenty of material to show his improved acting skills, making the most of the opportunity.

However, Oliver isn't the only one transformed by the incident. It also means job changes for Laurel, Quentin, Thea, and Roy. Laurel trades the optimistic do-gooder reputation of the CNRC for life in the prosecutor's office. Her main goal is now finding and bringing down the Hood, whom she blames for Tommy's death. (Instead of say, going back for paperwork.) Vengeance motivates her but it is really the deep-seated guilt she feels that drives her actions. While she and Oliver have two touching scenes together, they agree that out of respect to Tommy's memory they cannot be together although they will always be a part of the other's life. For the most part these scenes do a good job of lingering in the emotional wreckage of two people struggling to change the essence of who they have been without falling headlong into melodrama, a far cry better than most of their scenes together last season. It's a positive sign since the way they wrote Laurel last year had many fans failing to connect with her character. Here's hoping the job change and some concentrated effort by the writers change that this season.

Meanwhile Quentin has been demoted. Originally I thought this would make him even more bitter, but it seems that coming to terms with helping the Hood agrees with him. He's happier and it may allow him greater freedom to interact with the characters. Anything that utilizes Paul Blackthorne more is a change for the better. I anticipate him working even closer with the Hood now that he is under less scrutiny. I hope they do not reinstate him to detective any time soon and that he gets to interact with more characters. The biggest positive change though is that neither of his scenes with Laurel made me want to shoot them both, a vast improvement from last year and a major item on my wish list. I like this new father-daughter dynamic and I hope they stay away from hypocritical shrieking and manipulation this season.

The one character change I am iffy about is Thea. While I like that the writers seem to have a better grasp on her character this year, I still cannot buy her as the owner and manager of a nightclub she can't even drink in. Likely the Arrow staff will skip these concerns, but it will be a sticking point for awhile for me. I do like that having her at Verdant gives her a better chance of interacting with other characters like Diggle and Felicity though. Essentially it puts her right in the center of the action, so I think she will uncover Oliver's secret this year. In fact, I find it hard to believe that she doesn't have some clue already given that Felicity completely transformed the Arrow Cave on Verdant property. Hrm. Thea and Roy's relationship is another iffy item. I like how they clearly know each other well, but the constant fighting over Roy's own heroics will get old fast. It's another reason to get Thea in the know quickly. Another items that puzzles me is Thea being okay with Oliver abandoning her to bear the brunt of hostility alone. It could not have been easy to be named Queen in the months after the earthquake and I hope we get more perspective on this in the future. The fact that she spends so much time in the Glades makes it even harder to believe she wasn't targeted. Her reaction to Moira though feels spot-on. I love how it took the possibility of death to make her understand her mom's perspective and the scene between her and Moira at the prison was beautiful. I also love the scene where Roy opens up about his parents and calls Thea out on how withholding her love from her mom is hurting her too. All in all, everything involving Moira is fantastic, whether she is present for it or not.

Unlike the other characters, Diggle seems very much the same. It should be interesting to see if the show is going to address how the earthquake affected him gradually or if he will be largely unaffected because he saw so much horror in the military. Felicity on the other hand continues her downward slide into apathy about the body count. Lilith and I mentioned this nonchalance in the podcast last season but she flat out says it in the premiere. Oliver: "There's a part of being the Hood that neither one of you are considering, the body count." Felicity: "And excuse me for saying this but so what?" That's a cold and jaded Felicity that I hope isn't her new post-earthquake personality. Originally, she was the conscience of Team Arrow and now, well….there's no one. It's interesting that as Oliver struggles to follow his conscience for Tommy, Felicity is more pragmatic about killing. Hope springs eternal though as it is Felicity who says, "Maybe there's another way."

City of Heroes feels like the Arrow staff preparing the audience for a season where they too are going another way. They seem to have taken criticism from last season and used the earthquake as a logical way to reboot the main characters. Without the finale destruction and jumping forward 5 months, this plan would have felt too jarring. Instead the changes seem natural and allow the show to expand. As an action junky who sometimes finds big character episodes tedious, kudos to all involved for a great premiere and a good mix of everything that makes Arrow entertaining. I am excited to see where they are leading us, and isn't that the hallmark of a good premiere?

Grade: B+, which is high marks indeed if you know me

Episode Awards:

Best Scene - Thea and Moira at the prison.
-This scene was touching because it marked a change in their relationship. Plus both actors nailed the emotion in a way that wasn't too melodramatic and yet charged with emotion.

Most Important Scene - Oliver kills Shado's kidnapper
-While I usually hate the island flashbacks, this was a solid winner. It also gave me hope that we would be moving at a faster island pace this season. While I am just guessing at this point, I think killing a person in rage is the first huge step toward Oliver becoming the Hood and will transform his personality almost instantly.

Most Improved Character - Oliver
-Oliver with more of a conscience was high on my season 2 wish list.

Worst Version of a Character - Felicity teen crushing on Oliver
-I like Felicity as a character...a lot, but the creepy, sexual harassment statements have got to stop.  She can be quirky without sounding like a freaking stalker.  It's hard to take her as an equal partner in Team Arrow when they keep adding these lines in.

Best Cameo - Walter
-Walter returning was #3 on that wish list. I love that he hints for Oliver to call on him in the future too because that makes it more likely we will keep seeing him.

Biggest Logic Leave - Thea as manager of Verdant.

Best Snit - Hoods leader sulking because Oliver returning got all the media attention instead of his mayoral assassination. Bwah! Even criminals want paparazzi.

Biggest Ewww! - Felicity vomits on camera. Was that really necessary?

Best speech - Oliver saying that he cannot dishonor Tommy's memory anymore

Funniest Scene - Diggle and Felicity heading to the island

MVP - tie - parachutes and shoddy glasswork
- I agree Felicity. I think you were safer jumping out of that plane than staying in it. Plus if Queen Consolidated didn't skimp on the windows, you and Oliver would be toast. Still I think it is time for an office makeover. This isn't the first time someone has been able to crash right in.

Most Kick Butt and Spoilery - Masked blonde chick who saves Roy. If you don't already know who she is, you missed one heck of a fan uproar over the summer. Good on you.

Most Missed - Tommy. Just consider him a lock on the category all season.

Best Reason to Watch - Hmm, that is a tough one. I'm going with to see how they deal with the aftermath of the explosive finale. (Or to see if it measured up.)

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