Arrow – S01E01 – ‘Pilot’
Warner Bros. Television
Directed by David Nutter
Story by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim
Teleplay by Andrew Kreisberg, Marc Guggenheim
Starring: Stephen Amell (Oliver Queen/Arrow); Colin Donnell (Tommy Merlyn); Katie Cassidy (Dinah “Laurel” Lance); David Ramsey (John Diggle); Willa Holland (Thea Queen); Jamey Sheridan (Robert Queen); Susanna Thompson (Moira Queen); Paul Blackthorne (Detective Quentin Lance)
Wednesday 8pm EST/7pm CST on the CW Network
It has been 514 days since the finale of TV’s Smallville, a likely 514 of which Tom Welling spent wearing absolutely anything other than red and blue. For some fans, that’s nearly 18 months of hoping Remy Zero doesn’t pop up on shuffle in the midst of that inopportune social function when the flood of hot, violent tears could never possibly be explained. It’s 2012 and Michael Rosenbaum’s scalp is an increasingly foggy memory.
Mourning time is over.
Shrug off your veils, you castoffs of the Talon, you teeth-gnashing Smallvillian diaspora. For the aesthetic of Millar and Gough’s sudsy Superman serial is alive and well in tomorrow’s pilot for CW’s Arrow. In fact, the series seems to have latched on to the farm boy’s cape and claimed a bit of Smallville’s latter-day momentum. In several crucial ways. Arrow looks and feels like a lost episode from the Metropolis years of its predecessor’s run. Were this not a complete refresh of the Green Arrow character (Justin Hartley played Queen in Smallville’s final half), it might even function as a sequel. But is it a true spiritual successor? More yes than no. But those points of disparity are worth noting. But first, let’s set the scene.
Disgustingly wealthy and reckless wild child Oliver Queen is dead. At least, that’s what his surviving friends and relations back in Starling City think. They had a service for Oliver and his pop, that rascally vice president from Homeland Jamey Sheridan, ages ago. Their party boat The Queen’s Gambit met her doom in the Pacific. So it comes as a shock, five years later, when Oliver strolls back into their lives, newly subdued but alive and ticking. We see Oliver’s rescue by fishermen on an island in the North China Sea, a densely wooded rock where Oliver abandoned his Gillette Mach 3 for a bow and arrows. It’s evident that we’ll return to this place throughout the series one, perhaps in each episode. For now, we’ve got one tantalizing clue as to Oliver’s years in that place. A familiar mask displayed ominously on the beach. A warning? A grave marker? A trophy?
It’s not long before Oliver returns to his place on the pedestal of Starling City celebrity, though he’s hardly invested in the lavish party scene to which longtime friend Tommy Merlyn is so eager to usher him. Oliver’s true priorities are a secret. If you’ve been following this project for a while, you’ve likely seen his arduous workout routine involving escalating pull-ups up a salmon ladder and launching arrows, rapid-fire, at a cascade of bouncing tennis balls. This is the young man’s Bat Cave, a secretive base of operations where he also plots a systematic take-down of Starling City’s mustache-twirlingest tycoons, Beatrix Kiddo style. Central to this mission is a promise made in the fateful hours after the wreck of The Queen’s Gambit. In the pilot, we witness his first assured outings as a hooded vigilante. He’s green and he shoots arrows, but he’s not known as Green Arrow or even Arrow yet. Right now, he’s just a modern day Robin Hood, and he’s earned the attention of Detective Quentin Lance (the wonderful Paul Blackthorne, perhaps best known as TV’s Harry Dresden). Oliver isn’t just spurring curiosity from the Starling City PD for his colorful theatrics though.
Oliver Queen kills dudes. Therein lies the key difference between Arrow and Smallville.
I was never much of an advocate for Welling’s Clark Kent, but I find myself pining for at least a smidgeon of that hayseed charm. Arrow isn’t exactly The Crow, but it’s a largely humorless affair. I only hope that Oliver has opportunity to mellow some, even as he ticks off the mobsters on his bucket list. Killer instinct aside, Stephen Armell registers more as a dirty-blonde Bruce Wayne circa Year One than the plucky and roguish Oliver Queen of previous celebrated incarnations. Detective Lance also promises to serve as a kind of Jim Gordon for Oliver. It’s a characterization that works, but Oliver Queen has the potential to be much more than a mere mimic of his more popular comrade in Gotham. If I have any wish for Arrow, it’s that Oliver can find and place a feather in his cap, even if it’s only a figurative one.
Among the many relationships introduced in this first hour, the strongest bond might thrive between Oliver and his little sister Thea “Speedy” Queen. Speedy was twelve when Oliver and her father disappeared. She idolized them. To see Oliver return in tact is a huge moment for the young woman. It’s a refreshing sibling friendship, free of the tired sniping and rivalry. Oliver is protective of her, and that makes the promise inherent in her nickname and the choice to cast them as brother and sister all the more compelling. That’s all I’ll say on the Queen family for now. Except to say that they have the potential to be a fine mix of the Kents and the Luthors.
A little murkier is Oliver’s relationship with former flame Laurel Lance (daughter to the detective). At this end of the series, Laurel is pretty miffed at Oliver, and for good reason. Other than her role as a junior prosecutor, there’s no real evidence toward her inevitable vocation or potential metahuman abilities as Black Canary. That said, the early seeds for a love triangle with Oliver and his pal Tommy Merlyn are pretty evident. It is the CW after all.
Tommy. While it’s probably that most viewers won’t recognize the surname as belonging to Green Arrow’s longtime nemesis Merlyn, they’re likely to pick up on his villainous future. It’s pretty obvious where this is going, whether you do the algebra and identify his role as the Lex corner of the romantic triangle or simply recognize his temperament from college flicks set in the 80s. Tommy isn’t quite the Judas Iscariot of this little saga quite yet, but he definitely represents the past Oliver is so desperate to escape. Whether or not Donnell’s far more grounded take on what Rosenbaum did for all those years on Smallville is an improvement is a hugely subjective thing.
Oh, there’s also a ex-military body man named John Diggle. He’s not terribly interesting. He could be. But right now, just a cool shoutout to Green Arrow: Year One writer Andy Diggle. While we’re on it, there’s also a name drop for artist Mike Grell.
While it’s a bit brackish with exposition and backstory, the Arrow pilot is a tantalizing tease. It may use its comics pedigree as a bit of a crutch, leaning on fans’ preconceived affections to carry it that extra mile. It certainly benefits from that visual and thematic likeness to the wildly uneven, but charmingly goofy Smallville. It might be too soon to evaluate just how addictive the series might become, but there’s enough promise in its inventive adaptation choices–its structure as a Robin Hood meets Falcon Crest adventure soap, all those relationships–make it an easy recommendation for your next guilty pleasure. It could well be a grittier and more artful Smallville. That’s one possible intention. Me, I’m kinda hoping the writers are kicking back with Revenge and Pretty Little Liars.
(Out of 5)