With a slew of DC TV hitting the airwaves this month and a killer second season only months behind it, Arrow had a lot to live up to this week. How did the season premiere, “The Calm”, hold up expectations? Let’s dive in and find out, Arrowheads.
Sleepless (Or maybe Shirtless?) In Starling
And oh, how the shippers did swoon as the couple we all wanted to see get together finally got together. Well, sort of. I loved Oliver and Felicity in this episode, for reasons beyond the obvious; beyond the fact that both characters are incredibly realized, incredibly written, incredibly acted. No, I love Oliver and Felicity because they actually make sense, something not common in the landscape of American melodrama.
Typically a protagonist of a show like Arrow would be inexorably tied to one forced romantic interest, whether it made sense in the story or not (See Clark and Lana in Smallville). Following this narrative model, said protagonist could never pursue a relationship based on shared experience, mutual respect, and character growth (see Clark and Chloe in Smallville) like the one Oliver is developing with Felicity.
By having its relationships not solely ruled by narrative schema, Arrow and its characters have never felt more real, and never been more interesting. This is especially true of its female characters. Felicity is no longer the stereotypical, geek-chic tech girl behind a wall of monitors, and Laurel (the Lana Lang of Arrow) is no longer just ‘the girl’ from a superhero show. And man, is that refreshing.
So that’s why I loved Oliver and Felicity in the premiere.
And also because they were so, so cute.
The Canary’s Swan Song
So yeah, there was a major character death in the premiere, and it was really the only part of the episode that fell flat for me.
It’s not that I’m opposed to the killing off of Sara or any character to better serve the story, it’s just that Arrow usually handles death better than it did in this episode. Compared to Tommy’s death in the Season 1 finale or Moira’s last year, Sara’s death felt clunky and rushed. The show quickly establishes she’ s back by shoehorning her into an action sequence, gives her a short scene with Oliver that’s all exposition, gives her a heartfelt (yet still exposition-y) scene with Laurel, then kills her. The camera doesn’t even linger on Laurel giving the typical Crisis “NO!” for very long.
Perhaps it’s not fair to compare Sara’s death to Tommy’s or Moira’s. All three deaths happen at different times in their seasons and serve different narrative purposes. Tommy’s death occurs at the end of Season 1, resulting in a tragic conclusion to Oliver’s first year as a crimefighter. Moira’s death happens midway through Season 2, escalating the stakes in Team Arrow’s battle with Deathstroke. Sara’s death, on the other hand, has to start off a season. It’s also notable that her death, unlike the other two, is a mystery. This fact, by default, makes her something of a MacGuffin.
It’s typical to build an entire episode around a character death, and “The Calm” simply has too much going on to allow Sara the send off she deserved. For this to be her last episode, I would have wanted to see her interacting more with the cast than depicted here. Some moments with the Arrow team, maybe a scene with her father (unless the plan is for him not to know she’s dead), and definitely more moments with Oliver and Laurel, ones that serve character and not just plot. These are the people we are going to watch mourn her, after all. But we don’t get any moments like this. We don’t even see Sara out of costume. She seems to be there just to die. And in that aim, the episode was successful.
The concept of the secret identify is one of the oldest tropes of the superhero genre, a tried and true staple used weekly for almost a century. And yet Arrow seems poised to explore it in ways that have rarely been done before. And that, Arrowheads, is very exciting.
You’ve all seen the secret identity vs. hero persona played out before. Think about every time you’ve seen or read a story in which a superhero considers quitting his life of hyper-dangerous, social-life strangling vigilantism so he can ”Live a normal life/be like everyone else/be Spiderman NO MORE!” before returning better and badder than ever. It’s classic Stan Lee drama, and I absolutely love it. Hell, the (arguably) greatest Batman story ever told, The Dark Knight Returns, is a riff on this very concept. It’s very interesting then to see Arrow appear to be doing the exact opposite.
In The Dark Knight Returns, the superhero persona manifests as an external force of torment. The first issue even goes as far as to have Batman (through internal monologue) verbally abuse Bruce Wayne just before he re-dawns the cape and cowl. In Arrow, the external force of torment is not The Arrow, but Oliver Queen himself. When gassed with a concentrated dose of Vertigo, it’s Oliver Queen The Arrow must battle.
As it turns out, Oliver Queen is much more afraid of his real face than his masked one. Given the choice in this episode, he chooses The Arrow over Oliver. And why wouldn’t he? It’s easier to be The Arrow than Oliver Queen. The Arrow saved the city from two terrorist attacks. Oliver Queen is a broke loser who lives in a basement. The Arrow is honored by city officials for his bravery and altruism. Oliver Queen is made a fool in boardrooms by smarter, more charismatic playboy philanthropists. In his case, it’s easier to be a superhero than a real person.
Oliver’s not the only character with identity issues. The question of identity is in the water in Starling this year. Diggle has to choose between his identity as key Team Arrow player and that of a new father, Roy between his identity as Thea’s ex and that of Arsenal, and Captain Lance between his shifting role on the police force, dictated by his success and health. Even Starling itself faces a new identity in the utopian Star City, proposed by Ray Palmer, who conceals his identity by omission in his first scene. The episode itself ends with us questioning the identity of Sara’s killer. Identity, identity, identity.
Where will all this lead our merry band of crimefighters? Only more time on the rooftops of Starling will tell.
New Vertigo- a familiar villain was a good b-plot threat in a finale packed with new information. However, I have to say I’m kind of Vertigo-ed out. Hoping Starling City gets a break from its evil influence for a while.
Arsenal Year One- love the look, love the moves, loved the bomb disposal. Hoping for more character to match the action in upcoming episodes. Roy’s story is very tied to Thea’s at the moment (and, like, always), so hopefully we’ll get more Harper when she gets some screen time. Does anyone think they’ll do the famous heroine addiction story with Roy, or does the Mirakuru-madness from last season count?
Soultaker- I’m very optimistic about the Katana storyline. It’s going to be really cool to see her origin worked into the DC melting pot that is Arrow’s backstory.
Baby Digg- scratch that title, this one should be just called Oliver and Digg hug, because it made that hospital scene. Awesome, touching moment.
iAtom- Ray Palmer is an interesting character to interpret as a Steve Job-esque technology mogul, a role that would seemingly fit characters like Ted Kord or Michael Holt better. That being said, I loved the Ray scenes, and hopefully they’re introducing him to get some subatomic tech going at Queen Consolidated.
In a Flash- Sure it’s indulgent, but I loved the crossover bit here (and the one in The Flash premiere). It reminded me of the Buffy/Angel phone call crossover back in the day.
NEXT WEEK: “Sara”