Review: Arrow

Not a reader of comic-books, I expected a light-hearted series going in. What I received was a dark, character-focused drama that delivered cliffhanger after cliffhanger to keep viewers on the edge of their seats, especially in the first two seasons. Here, I describe what I thought really worked well for the series.

Character development

1) Oliver Queen  (Stephen Amell)

His story about how he became the man he is today is delivered largely through flashbacks. Pre-island, he was a selfish jerk who cared only about having a good time. He may have gotten more than he bargained for when he cheated on his girlfriend, Laurel, with her own sister, Sara, when a storm rocked the boat. He was rescued from the island after five years, a changed man. He has now seen a need to save his city. He is more distant, cold, damaged. Oh, and he’s also a vigilante.

The contrast between old Oliver and new Oliver is visible through flashbacks, as a naive Oliver is taught how to survive first by archer Yao Fei & later by Slade Wilson. The development is seen to show how Oliver learned the skills that he needed to become the Hood, Starling’s guardian.

Throughout the series, it is shown how Oliver becomes less guarded and learns to trust people with his secret, first with John Diggle and later with Felicity Smoak in Season 1, and his team expands in the later seasons.

Oliver, who didn’t pursue a relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Laurel Lance, in season 1 “to keep her safe”, has a relationship with the aforementioned Felicity in seasons 3 and 4.

Normally a stoic guy, Oliver does have his moments where he makes your heart hurt. Such moments include when his best friend dies and when he has to give up his child.

The biggest change would be how Oliver cares for others now, going so far to become Mayor of Star City in Season 5. Oliver still has a blindspot for relatives, doing anything he can to save loved ones from harm (Laurel S1, Felicity S4) and refusing to believe that they’re involved with anything unethical (Moira S1).

Relationships to watch out for: Laurel (Pre-S1, S1-S4), Moira Queen (S1,S2), Thea Queen (S1-S5), John Diggle (S1-S5), Felicity Smoak (S1-S5), Tommy Merlyn (S1)

Best performances: 

  • Episode 2×20: Moira’s death
  • Episode 5×08 and Episode 5×09 (tells Felicity about Detective Malone)
  • Episode 4×04: Oliver confronts Quentin Lance
  • Episode 2×14: Oliver and Laurel hallway scene
  • Episode 1×23: Tommy’s death

2) Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy)

In flashbacks, it seems like pre-island Laurel is quite happy with her life, with a content family life, a seemingly loving and faithful boyfriend and a promising law career. However, her world comes crashing down when Oliver and Sara are thought to be dead in the midst of betraying her. It takes tremendous strength to come out of grief after losing two of your closest friends/family, but that’s what Laurel did. She pushed herself into getting justice for the vulnerable and ended up at CNRI.

Laurel is rightfully bitter towards Oliver, and even Oliver tries to keep his distance due to his night-time activities. He’s still in love with her and later in season 1 it is revealed that she still has some feelings for him too, even getting together in the finale before everything went horrendously wrong for Starling City. Laurel tried to move on from Oliver with their best friend, Tommy Merlyn, and everything was going well until Tommy learned of Oliver’s secret identity and started to believe that she was still in love with Oliver. After losing Tommy who saved her during an earthquake, Laurel sinks to the lowest point in her life: alcohol and painkiller addiction.

A confrontation with Oliver helps her emerge from her funk and she even finds it in herself to forgive her sister, Sara, after she is found to be alive. She is accepting of Oliver’s secret identity and gives him a speech to convince him to fight.

Sara’s actual death causes Laurel to run in the opposite of her previous funk: street fighting. She trains to get justice that cannot be found in the court-room, even conning the phrase “I’m the justice you can’t run from”. She honors her sister by becoming the Black Canary.

Laurel changes from a dedicated lawyer in Season 1 (who doesn’t believe in going outside the law) to sinking in depression due to grief and emerging from it stronger as a fighter. She becomes more of who she always was.

Relationships to watch out for: Oliver Queen; Quentin Lance; Sara Lance; Thea Queen; Felicity Smoak; John Diggle

Best moments/performances:

  • Laurel and Sara reunite – Episode 2×14
  • Sharing a milkshake with Nyssa – Episode 3×16
  • Hallucination of Sara – Episode 3×13
  • Episode 1×13 – Confronting her father

3) Thea Queen (Willa Holland)

Besides her brother, Thea may have gone through the most character development on the show. In season 1, she was a spoiled teenager with a habit for drugs. In season 5, she is Mayor Queen’s Chief of Staff and an occasional vigilante. What happened?

One can argue that what Thea went through in Season 1 is the basic teen rebellion, especially since she had lost her father and brother at such a young age. She is shocked yet happy when Oliver is back, yet a bit unused to find him so much different.

She finds a boyfriend in Roy Harper, and both of them try to bring out the best in each other. Laurel gets her out of trouble of an underage drinking charge and gets her community service at her law firm. One can argue that female support like Laurel may have helped Thea realize that it was time to grow up.

She must have gotten the shock of her lifetime when it was revealed (at a press conference) by Moira Queen herself that she was complicit in the Undertaking, especially since Roy lived in the area where the earthquake would occur. Showing no regard for her own safety, Thea rushes to find Roy. First sign that Thea has started thinking about other people.

Season 2: Thea shows compassion by forgiving her mother for her misdeeds as Moira committed those crimes in fear of her children’s lives. She also takes over her brother’s nightclub and runs it quite successfully. However, she does show immaturity when she realizes that her mother and brother are keeping a secret from her and rebels by going with her biological father Malcolm Merlyn.

Season 3&4: 

  • Thea trains with her father, who is a former League of Assassins member. She becomes emotionally strong.
  • She is convinced by Oliver to return to Star City.
  • Handles the reveal of his secret identity really well and thanks him.
  • Breaks her relationship with Malcolm after learning off his manipulation.
  • Strengthens her bond with Ollie.
  • Learns how to be a vigilante from Laurel & Diggle
  • Runs Oliver’s campaign for Mayor

By Season 5, Thea has become Oliver’s emotional support, truly the only one who knows both old and new Oliver.

Relationships to watch out for: Oliver Queen; Roy Harper; Moira Queen; Laurel Lance; Malcolm Merlyn

Best moments/ performances:

  • Thea finds out about Oliver being the Arrow – Episode 3×13
  • Thea & Oliver conversation – Episode 5×08
  • Thea & Roy Goodbye – Episode 2×23

4) John Diggle (David Ramsey)

Diggle was introduced as Oliver’s strict, rules-enforcing ex-Army bodyguard and has transformed into Oliver’s sounding board and brother. Diggle has strong moral values, which he cannot compromise on, but as the series progressed, he realized the world wasn’t white and black. He had to commit questionable acts for the greater good. For example, Season 1 Diggle would never imagine having to kill his own brother.

Diggle hasn’t had much character development, but he does balance the vigilante lifestyle and being a father/husband quite well. With Diggle though, once he’s your friend, he’s there for you for life.

Relationships to watch out for: Oliver Queen; Lyla Michaels-Diggle; Andy Diggle; Felicity Smoak;

Best moments / performances:

  • Episode 4×19: Diggle grieves
  • End of Season 3, Beginning of Season 4: Diggle is mad at Oliver
  • Episode 2×16: Suicide Squad

5) Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards)

Felicity was introduced in Season 1 as a recurring actress, but her awkward nature and Emily’s interaction with Stephen charmed the audience, and they brought her on in late Season 1 as a recurring character, becoming a main Season 2 onward. Little was known about Felicity, mostly being used as “light” in a dark-themed show. More information was revealed in season 3 – being raised by a single mother, her dark past, how she changed – and she also developed serious feelings for Oliver.

Most fans loved Felicity in seasons 1 & 2, but they wanted real character development. However, she was made to be a “drama queen” in seasons 3 & 4; in the sense that drama was created for the sake of drama, not because of actual interesting conflict between the characters. Scenes such as walking out of a wheelchair without any hesitation (after being paralyzed) or making jokes after making a difficult decision to send a nuke to another city struck most viewers the wrong way. Not just that, but her viewpoint on some issues were also inconsistent such as whether lying is right or wrong.

Nevertheless, I believe the writers have realized their mistakes and have toned down the drama, and many viewers like the way the character is headed, especially after the mid-season finale, which has set a dark route for Felicity to follow. Felicity has tons of possibilities open in front of her, and the writers should take full advantage of it.

Character development: More understanding & mature from Season 4; may start to understand how Oliver feels with his guilt; not everything is black & white.

Relationships to watch out for: John Diggle; Oliver Queen; Laurel Lance; Donna Smoak; 

Best moments/performances:

  • Episode 5×09: Oliver tells Felicity about Billy
  • Episode 3×13: Felicity encourages Laurel
  • Episode 1×03: First scene – Oliver asks Felicity for help

6) Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne)

Like his daughter, in flashbacks it seems like Quentin has it all: a good career, a happy family, stable health. His world along with Laurel’s comes crashing down when they are told that Sara, along with Oliver, was killed aboard the Queen’s Gambit. Quentin and Dinah (Laurel’s mother) couldn’t make it work; he became depressed and he became an alcoholic. It is implied throughout the series that Laurel was Quentin’s main support; she took him to AA meetings and took care of his health.

In Season 1, it seems like he still has trouble handling his alcohol but seems stable enough, although he holds a serious grudge against Oliver. He is quite overprotective of Laurel, seen when cautioning against her working with the Hood. He believes in the law (again like LL) and commits to catching the vigilante.

Throughout season 1, Lance and Oliver end up working together on a few occasions. It isn’t until the Undertaking that Lance changes his mind on the Hood. He starts seeing the Hood as a savior of the city, the hero the city needs in its most urgent times. In season 2, they continue working together, Lance an asset to Team Arrow. Lance believes so much in the Hood that he risks his job, when accused of working with the vigilante. Lance took a hard approach with Laurel, when she sunk into a depression. But he was there for her, just like she was with him.

In season 3, Lance is blissfully unaware of Sara’s death because Laurel hides the truth due to his deteriorating health. Lance and Laurel’s relationship is harmed, he considers it a betrayal because, “he and Laurel were supposed to be the same”, yet she hid the truth. He switches his stance on the Arrow and arrests Oliver Queen. Lance and team Arrow (including Laurel) remain at odds until the end of season 3.

Lance’s love for Laurel is shown when he agrees to work with Damien Darkh to protect Laurel’s life. Now it was Laurel’s turn to be angry with her father for compromising on his principles, but nothing was more important to him than her. She tries numerous ways to prevent him from testifying and thus causing him his badge, yet he remains committed to correcting his mistakes.

Unfortunately, after Laurel’s death, Quentin took a step backwards and became a drunk again, this time rescued by Thea. She gave him the job of deputy Mayor and convinced him to go to rehab, for Laurel.

Relationships to watch out for: Laurel Lance; Sara Lance; Oliver Queen; Thea Queen (S5); Felicity & Donna Smoak (S4)

Best moments/performances:

  • Episode 4×19: Quentin breaks down in front of Oliver
  • Episode 2×19: Quentin defends the Hood, saying “the man under the hood is not important”.
  • Episode 1×02 and 1×13: Protecting Laurel
  • Episode 2×05: Discovers Sara’s alive

7) Roy Harper (Colton Haynes)

Introduced to the audience as a brash, young man who tried to survive on the ruthless streets of Star City, Roy developed into a responsible and mature vigilante who trained under Oliver.Oliver and Roy had a bond, separate from Thea’s. Roy took the blame for Oliver after he was accused of the hood and decided to retire, taking the heat off of Oliver. Oliver took Roy in when he had nowhere else to go.

Thea and Roy’s relationship was complicated – on and off. First, it was interrupted during the Undertaking. Then Oliver told Roy to stay away from Thea after he was injected with a drug. In the finale of s2, Thea ran away with Malcolm. They stayed friends in season 3 until Oliver was arrested, and Roy had to leave without saying goodbye to Thea. Roy passed on the red costume he wore as Arsenal to Thea, who then became “Speedy.”

Relationships to watch out for: Thea Queen; Oliver Queen; John Diggle; Laurel Lance; Felicity Smoak; Sara Lance

Best moments/performances:

  • Roy passes the suit to Thea – Episode 3×23
  • Roy remembers that he killed a man under the influence of a drug
  • Roy says goodbye to Oliver and the team – Episode 3×18
  • Roy returns briefly – Episode 4×13

Cliffhangers:

Arrow has a great skill in keeping viewers engaged and making them wait anxiously for the next episode. Some great endings include:

  • The reveal of Malcolm Merlyn as the Dark Archer – Episode 1×09
  • Slade Wilson is still alive – mid Season 2
  • Oliver is killed – Episode 3×09
  • Moira shoots Oliver disguised as the Hood – Episode 1×12
  • Artemis is working with Prometheus – Episode 5×07

Good conflict / drama

Ignoring Season 4 for the most part, where most of the drama was contrived, the earlier seasons played out very realistically. We got to see a man return from being stranded on an island for 5 years and repairing the relationships he left behind. The drama with Laurel and the love triangle with Oliver/Laurel/Tommy was well-written and we could see Oliver fighting to keep his feelings hidden, Laurel torn between two men she loved and Tommy wanting to just spend his life with this woman.

The relationship between Oliver, Slade and Shado was nuanced and we slowly saw the bond developed between them until everything went south. Slade’s reaction was realistic and the fight between them in 2×23 was one of the best on the show, if not the best.

Other great story lines include Thea cutting ties with Malcolm, Laurel and Quentin’s rift, Sara’s return and her relationship with Oliver and Laurel becoming the Black Canary after everyone discouraged her.

Action sequences

The fighting will keep the viewers entranced and it seems to have stepped up to the same level of the earlier seasons in Season 5. The dark tone, the thrilling music and sequences of ziplining add an air of credibility to Oliver as a vigilante, especially when he fought alone. The best action sequences are with those that Oliver has a history with and that Stephen seems to be comfortable with.

  • Episode 2×23: Oliver vs Slade (“Past and Present”)
  • Episode 1×09: Malcolm vs Oliver
  • Episode 1×23: Malcolm vs Oliver
  • Episode 3×09: Ra’s Al Ghul vs Oliver
  • Episode 3×13: Sara vs Laurel
  • Episode 5×08: Ray, Sara, Oliver, Thea and Diggle vs Malcolm, Darkh, Slade
  • Episode 5×09: Prometheus vs Oliver

Season 1: 9 / 10

Season 2: 9.5 / 10

Season 3: 7.5 / 10 (Up until 3×09 it flowed well but after that the story seemed convoluted)

Season 4: 5/10 (Killing a major character for no reason, bad relationship drama, technology that doesn’t make any sense … bad, bad writing).

Season 5: (until 5×09) Interesting new villain who’s identity we don’t know yet, flashbacks to Russia seem much darker than last season and good conflict between team members with an interesting betrayal. 9.5/10

Watch the show, you won’t regret it.

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