Friday, May 23, 2014

Arrow Hits The Target With Its Second Season

Agents of SHIELD wasn't the only comics based TV series to finish its season last week, as Arrow pulled the curtain on its second, with a rather explosive ending. Also this season saw it take a much more obvious step towards it's superhero source material than the more crime drama filled debut. Mostly because of the villain Deathstroke.

As soon as Slade Wilson was introduced I was intrigued. We'd already met Deathstroke, yet here was the man behind the mask as a separate identity. It seemed like only a matter of time before he swapped sides. Yet he was originally presented as the man who made Oliver Queen into the man who donned the hood. And they eventually became brothers-in-arms. It got to a point where the two facing off against each other was unthinkable.

Then the death of a woman they both loved finally drove a wedge there. That we got it as a result of a secret formula that allowed superpowers to finally make their debut in the world of Arrow helped even more. I'm not going to pretend that the comic book geek in me doesn't hurt a little Deathstroke is so driven by the loss of a loved one, but I can take it, mainly because of Manu Bennett. He's the reason Slade Wilson is such an amazing character on the show. He not only sold Slade's flip to villainy, but made him one of the best bad guys on TV right now. Arrow also keeps its record of decent costumes with Deathstroke, and it might even be one of their best. Agents of SHIELD need to look at how Arrow did it to see how much of a mess they made of Deathlok.

His plan to devastate the life of Oliver Queen seemed solid, and form a great second half of the year. Each move was carefully orchestrated to chip away at Ollie and leave him a wreck when Slade destroys Starling City, the city Ollie loved. And it works, each episode Slade managed to deal crippling blow after crippling blow. Slowly but surely Ollie begins to doubt himself and often thinks about turning his back on the promise to not take a life again as it's the only option left open to him.

Ollie proving himself to be a killer. Another win Slade will accept. But in there he makes one wrong move. Laurel. Revealing Arrow's secret identity to her was meant to get her to turn on Ollie. And it nearly did. But Wilson didn't take into account her sister, Sara, who had returned as The Canary working alongside The Arrow. It was a great bit of characterisation that Laurel needed to see what the years had done to Sara, and how her and Ollie had saved each other that let Laurel see past her anger at Ollie's lies and actually become a shoulder for him.

It's not enough to stop Wilson attempting to destroy the city, but it did make Ollie more trouble for him then he'd anticipated. Still that's two years on the trot that Arrow's season finale has put Starling City on the edge of destruction. How does it have any citizens left? If I lived there, I'd be looking to move elsewhere as soon as possible. I've heard Metropolis has low rent costs. Something about recent rejuvenation of the city. It's not going to be difficult for Ollie to take back control of Q-Consolidated either, because no one's going to want to take part in it.

As for the Canary, Sara's already made her exit. Just in case you weren't sure Caity Lotz wasn't going to be back in Season 3 not only does she sign back on with the League of Assassins in present day but also disappears once again underwater back on the island. Sara's an odd one. I can't quite make my mind up on my feelings for her. I liked the presence of a Black Canary seeing as she's probably my favourite DC heroine. But Lotz just never pulls off Canary well enough. She doesn't have the sheer determination I expect from Lance. She's also a little too easy to head towards killing, which for someone who has Gail Simone's Canary as the shining example of how the character should be handled, is just flat-out wrong. Canary's the one who doesn't have that issue at all.

Except she might not be the only Canary this show has. Sara quite pointedly hands the jacket over to Laurel as she boards the ship, illiciting a fantastic response from their father. That Sara then gives Laurel some weird permission about Ollie, about him needing her, that basically came across as “yeah, don't feel any guilt about shacking back up with Ollie now that I'm off.” Very odd conversation for two sisters to have about a guy who keeps rebounding between them. I can't fault the writers for the Sara relationship though. Like the Huntress before her, she offered Ollie a chance to be with someone who could be a part of both sides of his life. Now Laurel knows she can as well, but with the added benefit that she'll be less stabby than either of the other two, and more focused on the civilian side than the mask. She now even has the classic superhero back story of a parent dying too.

Detective Lance's death wasn't exactly a shock to me. Every since he became a champion of the Arrow I've been waiting for him to die. In the comics Dinah Lance's cop dad bought it years ago and it's one of the reasons she becomes the Black Canary. So it's inevitable that he buys the farm here. I just hope that dead dad doesn't means that Laurel is A) going to slide back into drink or B) just be genuinely mopey for five episodes or more. She's finally started on a road that is making her an interesting character, something she'd been practically lacking for the first year and a half of the show, and I really don't want to see her go back down that road. Her being the only one who cottoned on to the machinations of Sebastian Blood this year helped immensely too.

Then again Arrow pulled the same double bluff at the end of season one with Lance's death. I think the producers like playing with comic nerds beliefs and put in him in life and death situations, and then surprise us by having him survive. Then again, the standard TV audience might get sick of a main character being 'bullet-proof' as TV shows are wont to do.

Away from the Lance family, Diggle is still one of the best things about the series, and is still being underused. Though I did appreciate an entire episode based around him, including flashback and more Ben Browder. The revelation he would soon be a Dad was weird though. I'll admit I was worried he was going to die after that revelation. I knew we were promised a death and I seem to always worry about Diggle whenever there's a death rumour. Especially now that Roy is properly on Team Arrow.

Unfortunately Colton Haynes just isn't a great actor, and I found it quite amusing that during everything ramping up he's written out to be in a coma. Finally out of it he's handed a bow and a mask and we have Arsenal/Red Arrow joining the team. Hopefully Haynes learns to act in the mean time. Taking away his way too dependant relationship with Thea should help too.

Thea's one of the characters that's gone through massive changes this season. First season she was an irresponsible party girl, taking over Ollie's old role from before the island. Post-earthquake, she's not only running Ollie's bar, but had grown a lot, yet was being stubborn about her mother. Well is it stubborn when she's an accused mass-murder. The revelation that her dad is really Malcolm Meryln was a great shift, and another deft move by Slade. But the second half of the season had Thea just be genuinely mad at the world. I originally figured it to be the bad characterisation that had plagued Laurel for so long had jumped to another female on the show. Every other episode seemed to give her someone to be mad at. Her mother and Ollie for lying about her father. Roy for being Roy. Then Ollie for lying about knowing Slade after he killed their mum. But they turned it around in the final episode.

First Thea just outright shoots Malcolm in the chest for acting like a weirdo dad. When she met back up with the no longer comatose Roy and they both slipped back into their old routine my heart sank. Roy runs off to play hero 'one last time', and Thea is left to pack. Then she founds some arrows and she leaves quietly into the night. Meeting back up with Merlyn and unable to trust anyone in Starling City. Next season for Thea is going to be bloody interesting. On reflection she was never going to go back to being just the old Thea Queen, and if she is going to ever become Speedy she needs a big arc, considering where she was before Slade threw the city to hell.

The second sting at the end revealing that not only did Ollie make it off the island three years before we all were led to believe, but he also worked for ARGUS was a good tease for next year's flashback storyline. I'm sort of glad to see the back of the island, after Fyers, Ivo and then Slade's stints as evil bastards, that island was looking a little too crowded. I also liked it was hinted at before with one of Waller's early appearances and how she and Ollie hate each other, and then never elaborated on until that scene. It raises two big questions for me. If Ollie made it back to civilisation how come no one heard from him? And how on earth does he get back to the island and look such a state for being found in episode one?

This second season of Arrow has had its ups and downs. A number of times I have gotten sick of just how much it relies on more soap opera tactics with personal relationships, but genuine surprises like Laurel and Thea's turns help it. Yet it pulls of the superheroics brilliantly well, and there was always Manu Bennett being such an awesome bad guy to bring proceedings up a few notches. Season 3 is looking like it might be pretty awesome.

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