Friday, May 2, 2014

The Good, The Bad, The Arrow

As 5,000 comic book movies open each blockbuster, pre-blockbuster, and post-blockbuster season, a blowback is inevitable. Humans were engineered with the shortest entertainment attention span so that capering idiot who can do a back flip didn't get all our bananas. You want to keep eating? Come up with something new, but it better be almost the same as before but better and more awesome.

Last year The Arrow premiered on the CW, a channel I don't normally watch as I don't fit in their vampire demographic. (I suspect somehow even Mary, Queen of Scotts is going to turn out to be a secret witch-vampire) It was obvious the creators came to the studio and said "We want to make a Batman tv show." After the execs stopped laughing because the rights to a live action Batman tv show are so screwed up, you cannot secure them unless you unlock the six assassin tombs across the globe, they pulled out their comics and said "He's a vigilante. He's rich. What about Green Arrow?"

This review of Arrow will be heavy on spoilers so if you care I'm not sure why you're reading this. If you want to watch it, watch it. If you don't want to watch it, but still care about spoilers, you're weird.

The very first episode establishes this insane world we've entered. Oliver Queen, gabillionaire playboy, is on a boat that somehow implodes off the coast of China. What were they doing off of China? Who knows, but he manages to survive along with his dad and some nameless guy. After days bobbing on the waves, as they're all getting real sick of singing the piƱa colada song, his Dad whips out a book (Why he thought to only save a book and not say a canteen of water, we'll never know) and says that it is very important Oliver survives to take out every name written in lemon juice. Then he shoots the nameless red shirt on the boat and himself, proving that this man knew nothing about his son.

Upon crashing onto the island, Oliver crumbles into a big ball of useless (which he spends the first year of the island as) and is saved by the proto-Arrow, a Chinese general that was sentenced to live on this prison island. A strange approach to justice, but perhaps the Chinese government were secretly hoping the island was full of radioactive lizards that would take care of the problem for them.

The island sequences are told in flashback as current timeline Ollie is rescued five years later and comes back to Starling City (yes, they really called it that. Oh DC, when it came to your titular character's homebases you just threw up your hands and shouted "I don't care, uh central city. Good, go!"). After five years on a chinese prison island you'd expect Oliver to be sent off to ten years of therapy, but Starling City must be owned by Scientologists. There is nary a mention of a therapist, or mental health or of Ollie being anything but hunky dory after five years on an in theory isolated island without even a volleyball to talk to.

After a confusing sequence where he has to declare he's still alive in open court (Starling City has the strangest approach to the justice system), Oliver's free to take out his father's book and start killing everyone on it. Kind of. They sort of dance around how Ollie's a killer, in that he'll take the henchmen's lives but tends to leave the big baddies, who again are just names in a book, alive if not a couple million dollars short.

As Oliver tears through his book, then forgets he has it for a month and goes on wacky adventures with Huntress *shudder*, he decides that he needs his own Arrow cave. Rather than do the smart thing and build it far from civilization, he buys or finds (it's confusing as hell) an old factory of his father's in The Glades (aka the Poors section) and decides he should build a nightclub on top of his secret base of supervigilante operations! Not once does he or the writers think that a pair of drunk idiots could stumble down the elevator and straight into Arrow Central! There's even a bit where somehow they were able to hide the secret Arrow Cave by putting a few boxes around. Though this was during a surprise inspection, so I guess they cover it up every night. Must get exhausting.

The Hood, as he's called (which always sounded like the Clitoral Hood to me), gets his first side kick in the form of his bodyguard, Diggles. I love Diggles. He is the only one who makes any god damn sense in the first season, calling Ollie out for all the stupid shit he does. It takes about three or four episodes before Oliver reveals his big secret alter ego to Diggles, after the most incompetent sniper in the history of snipers fires wildly into a crowd after missing his target, and then shoots Diggles with a poisoned bullet. Why does "I always hit my target" Deadshot need to poison his bullets? How would poisoning bullets even work? Wouldn't the friction denature any poison he coated across it? Shouldn't shooting someone be enough? We will never know.

Having failed already at the first rule of superhero club, Oliver uses Diggles to do all his dirty work. This includes quite possibly the stupidest plan ever, where he supposedly lets cameras catch him doing something suspicious like yanking a bag out of a trashcan so he can change into his Arrow costume. Ollie's big plan to get the heat off him is to force Diggles into his stanky hoody so he can jump around and bust up a drug ring of aspirin smugglers. Not once do the cops wonder why this Vigilante never fires arrows and seems to prefer shooting the criminals, but if the law side of justice in Starling City makes no sense, the police part is trying their damnedest to be incompetent.

No one, except for Detective Lance -- father of Laurel, Ollie's ex, and Sarah, the girl Ollie "killed" on the boat -- gives a flying batfuck that there's a guy running around killing henchmen who are probably down on their luck therapists that became one of the 50,000 bodyguards in Starling City. They all seem to throw up their hands and go, eh, so he's killed about 30 people, call us when it breaks 100.

Though, considering the fact that Count Vertigo (do not ask) killed about 56 people perfecting his pain increasing drug (again, don't ask) and no one -- not the police, not the FBI -- gave a shit, I'm getting the impression everyone's just waiting for Starling City to implode in on itself and save everyone the trouble.

Mister Vertigo is also our WTF introduction to Felicity Smoke's superpowers. An IT girl who rambles because that's how we do awkward in TVland, Oliver hands her a sample of water and asks her to figure out what tap it came out of. First off, unless there's something about computers I really don't understand, I don't think your typical computer repair lab is gonna have an HPLC. Second, there is no fucking way in the history of CGI magic-science that you can figure out what sink a sample of water dribbled from. Though, if Vertigo had shown some dedication to the health and well being of the people he was killing and used distilled water, Felicity never could have used her magic tap guessing powers to catch him. Sloppy, sloppy work.

It takes Oliver all of a few more weeks to reveal his "secret" identity to Felicity. She's understandably skittish, given that she's now an accessory to over 30 murders, but she agrees to help him as long as they search for Walter -- Oliver's kidnapped step-father. She promptly forgets about Walter and his kidnapping for about 4 months.

In an interesting twist at the start of the season, they tried to go all Hamlet on us and fool you into thinking that Walter was evil but it was actually Ollie's mother who was all plotting and squinty eyed or something. But rather than keep with the Mom's been a super villain the whole time, she's been kowtowed by the real big baddy of the season, Merlin. He shall henceforth be known as Ra's Al Barrowman.

Ra's Al Barrowman is father of Tommy, Ollie's best friend. (Nepotism is the name of the game in Starling City) Despite the fact that Oliver, Moira -- his Mom --, and Thea -- his incredibly dense sister -- should be rather familiar with the father of Oliver's best friend, they act shocked and scared whenever they see him. This is to establish that he's sinister, but it makes no sense. If Moira knew he was bad news, you'd think she'd maybe insist Oliver not spend so much time with Tommy. You know, her son she just got back after he was "dead" for five years. Though, Tommy couldn't hurt wet tissue paper.

Established first as the playboy Oliver wishes he could be, Tommy is the kicked puppy of the season. He goes from billionaire bad boy to simpering "why won't anyone love me?" so fast I wonder if there wasn't smoke spitting off the producer notes. Tommy is there mostly to be sad. He's sad that his father won't love him. He's sad that Laurel, who they really really want us to give a shit about, is still hung up on her ex instead of getting with him. He's sad that his dead best friend is the Hood. Oh yeah, Oliver told Tommy his secret identity too. Other capes, never ever tell the Green Arrow who your alter ego is unless you want it written in 40 foot tall letters across every building.

Perhaps now is a good time to discuss Oliver Queen himself. If one were to replace the man with a cardboard cutout of the Green Arrow I doubt any of his closest friends would notice. This is particularly confusing because he shows some emotion and life in the island flashbacks, but apparently the creators of the show wanted a dead eyed, serially shirtless man as their super hero. It sort of works if everyone around him is interesting and a funnel through the blank slate, but then they try to shoe-horn in a love interest and Oliver has to try and have an emotion. That's when it all falls apart.

I have a theory that the first season of Arrow was written by two groups of people who HATED each other. One would come up with an elaborate plot involving the book of names, the next wouldn't mention the book at all. The first gave Oliver a lady love in the form of a cop and introduced the idea of a mole in the police. The second shot her, shipped her off to the Flash's city and never mentioned the mole again. One set wrote the Huntress and should be punished for all of eternity for that abomination. Thankfully the second hated the Huntress just as much and she wasn't spoken of until it was that first ones turn again.

It was like there were two shows happening congruently with the same characters. One wanted to explore vigilante justice and the toll it takes on those around you, the other watched a shit ton of Teen Titans and really wanted to do Batman. In a behind the scenes bit the writers proudly proclaimed they had ADD and it shows. Plot points aren't so much dropped as abandoned in a factory they later destroy with an earthquake machine. But here I am, getting ahead of myself.

Back to Merlin, and the thin silver of plot. After Oliver's remembered about his little book and killed off another 20 guys he assumes are evil because his dad said so, we learn the truth: Merlin's plotting to destroy the Glades in the most insanely super villain way possible. Apparently some 5-6 years prior, Ra's Al Barrowman got it in his head to gather his friends together for a time share meeting. He showed a few charts about how his plans to fix up the Glades were to purchase buildings cheap, encourage gentrification, and force the poor from the rising land. No, wait, I'm sorry, his plan was an earthquake machine. Seriously, an earthquake machine.

Now, you may be wondering who in the hell makes an earthquake machine? Why would anyone do that? How would you even test it? Good question, and apparently it was one it took Merlin 5 years to solve because after passing out the party bags containing the books filled with a list of the fellow men who sat through the time share but had nothing to do with Merlin's insane plan, he promptly did nothing. It was incredibly lucky that it wasn't until Oliver bothered to get his ass back to the states, that Ra's Al Barrowman got a reminder that his earthquake machine was done and he could pick it up at his convenience.

This reveal also raises a lot of questions the show never bothers to. They seem to establish that Ra's Al Barrowman was working alone, he blackmailed the Queen family into making his earthquake machine (but since they can also trace water with GPS levels of tracking, I guess it's possible), but otherwise it was all him doing his crazy plans. There's even a subplot about the other conspirators trying to off Merlin so he can't accomplish his insane plan. Does this mean that Ollie was actually killing what were basically innocent people who sat through an insane plan from a sick man and nodded along with it because who hears "I'm gonna build an earthquake machine and destroy parts of the city" thinking it'll go anywhere? It seems less like his father was doing something noble, and more he wanted his drip of a son to clean up his mess.

I haven't talked about the island flashbacks much because I've been saving the best for last. Okay, it takes Oliver all of a day or two to get his ass captured on the island by the most insanely perfect man I've ever known. His name is Fyres and he is the boss from hell. Despite them being on a prison island they had to all fly on a plane to reach, he orders his men to wear ski masks. (Which Oliver does by shoving his nose through an eye hole. It is humor perfected) He regularly catches Oliver, acts like he knows who he is, loses Oliver, catches him again, has no idea who he is, then forces the kid to fight to the death. He does this with all of his ski mask wearing henchmen to "build moral."

Once, he catches the proto-Arrow -- his real prize apparently -- and says he's ordered 3,000 bows and wants the Chinese general to teach his men to fight the way he does. This is never ever mentioned again. None of the men learn to fight, they mostly get easily tripped up by a college student who can barely tie his own shoes and fail to find a crashed plane on the island. It was at this point I was beginning to suspect this prison island was actually Australia. Time to introduce Slade!

For reasons no one ever explains, the Australian government sent two agents to secure the Chinese general on prison island. They sent Slade Wilson and Billy Wintergreen and made them wear the stupidest two toned masks because periphery vision is overrated. I suspect Australia was really trying to get rid of them and probably sabotaged their plane themselves. After it crashed, Bill Wintergreen promptly dumped his best friend for Fyres. Why? Who cares. It gives Slade motivation and he kills the Deathstroke *snicker* stand in and then accidentally rescues Oliver.

I adore island Slade. He's grouchy, he's gruff, he's competent, and he calls Oliver on his shit all the time. I know there seems to be a pattern of me loving people who tell Oliver when he's being a moron, but so often the main character becomes the infallible god, it's great to have those willing to put them in their place. I would so watch a show of just Slade and Diggles. But since Slade's really Deathstroke, we know eventually he'll turn evil. Sigh.

A red herring on the island is the hanging planter of "who is gonna teach Oliver to fight?" At first you think it'll be proto-Arrow because he makes Ollie kill a chicken for dinner but he gets captured (then freed, then captured again a few times. See paragraph about Fyres). Then you think it'll be Slade. But he seems to see how absolutely useless Oliver is. Aside from a few moves when they have some plan to infiltrate and steal an airplane (Oh yeah, this island is large enough it has a runway) Slade gives up on Oliver. Just as we figure Oliver will learn his arrow skills from a bunch of Errol Flynn movies that washed up, in comes Shadow. (I think her name is actually spelled something stupid like Shadoe, but since I don't have to worry about trademarking it, screw it)

Shadow is the daughter of Chinese General and Fyres kidnapped her while she was getting her doctorate in America. I'm guessing. She breaks away from Fyres because everyone does that at one point, (I suspect there was a scene cut where Fyres escapes from himself) and joins up with Slade and Ollie. Finally, someone to teach him some skills. Which she does by having him slap a bowl of water for hours.

I assumed this was so Shadow and Slade could wander off and have crazy sex while Oliver's slapping the bowl of water, unaware of the world around him.

Sure, it'll make you strong. Why not. *snicker* There's no way he knows what we're up to. Come on.

To tie in with the big earthquake reveal, we learn that Fyres great plan on the island (when he can remember who he is) is to shoot down any planes flying into China. This raises a lot of logistics questions. From what we saw, old Crazy only has one surface to air missile launcher, yet there are far more planes landing and taking off from the entire country of China than he could ever hope to shoot down.

Also, part of his plan is to force the Chinese General to claim he's the one behind hit. Interesting tactic, seeing as how you're also on the island the Chinese government sentenced him to, so in theory all they'd have to do is bomb the shit out of that scrap of land and then fly back home. Done.

In a fit of only Fyres brilliance, while he has Ollie, Slade, and Shadow hostage he gets the proto-arrow to read his stupid script (probably while the General mutters under his breath how fucking dumb this plan is) then, rather than killing one of the hostages, shoots and kills the General.

Okay, send the message out.
Uh, Sir, we didn't quite pick up the audio right. We'll have to do it again.

Oh Fyres, your madness was not long for this world. Now that the rage has been induced, Oliver finally does something useful and, by sheer force of screen writing, manages to shoot Fyres in the head while he's holding Shadow hostage (even though she'd been shown to break out of that shit easy peasy earlier). This was despite an earlier scene when he failed to hit a tree with a bow and arrow; a tree that was maybe 30 feet away. I assume Oliver was actually aiming for the guy behind Fyres. And that wraps up what happens on the island.

Back in present time, Oliver and company (man, he'd be so much more adorable as an orange cat) are working to stop Ra's Al Barrowman and his earthquake machine of DOOM! They do this in the most convoluted way possible, by sending Detective Lance to stop the machine while Oliver gets his ass almost killed by a mid-40 year old man. (Seeing as how Tommy's got to be in the 25 range, and Barrowman looks so damn youthful anyway, it was a weird as hell relationship to see) Oliver stabs an arrow through himself to try and kill Barrowman.

Yeah, I have no idea how that was supposed to work. Plus, they've given him ties to the League of Assassins and the Lazarus pit, so you know Ra's Al Barrowman is coming back. Well, by the magic of computer SCIENCE Felicity is able to find a manual on the internet for an earthquake machine no one knew existed and talk detective Lance into disarming it. He succeeds but...plot twist!

There were two earthquake machines!

Because, if you're going to go stupid you might as well go big. The second one goes off, Tommy in a pique of super sad runs through the building Laurel refused to evacuate because she's an idiot and saves her. In the process, he gets an I-beam through the gut and dies, sad in the knowledge that no one ever loved him.

And that's season one. I had intended to talk about season two, but this got long. Next time, for I have much to discuss with this years Arrow.

My point, Arrow is a fun show if you want the surface stuff. Billionaire playboy, (who's not Batman) hunts down criminals vigilante style (who's still not Batman) with a crazy gallery of sidekicks (I can't believe it's not Batman).

But it's really great when you stop and watch for the plot holes large enough to lose a crashed plane in, or the pure insanity of what has to be a show conceived and written by aliens basing their knowledge of the justice system from a few old Matlock episodes.

I'd still kill for a Slade show, but first season Slade. What they did to him in season two makes me weep sad, Tommy-like tears.


Katherine Hajer said...

I guess I'm slow, but it finally clicked: his name is OLIVEr and he's the Green Arrow? That's so Tom Swiftian.

That you have reasonable criticisms and still recommend the shore makes me more curious about it.

Sabrina Zbasnik said...

I forgot to mention that his night club above the Arrow cave is called "Verdant" even though it's predominantly blue lighting and gears. Yeah...