Monday, August 25, 2014

Television Review: Arrow - Seasons 1 & 2

First off, I am not much of a DC fan. By no means do I dislike DC; I'm just not into it as much as I'm into, say, Marvel. (Guardians of the Galaxy just came out. Did you see it? Dang, it was amazing!) Something that I have very much become a fan of, however, is the television series Arrow, which is loosely based on the DC comics superhero named "Green Arrow". To put into perspective how much I love this series, I will tell you that I watched the entire first two seasons (46 total episodes, 42 minutes each) in six days flat. That's averaging almost episode episodes per day. So what makes this series amazing? Let me tell you.

The story focuses on Oliver Queen, a young man from a family of billionaires. Five years ago he went on a trip in his father's yacht with his father and his girlfriend's sister. (That last part was obviously not a good idea.) Something happened, causing the yacht to sink. Oliver was the only survivor, and after days in a lifeboat he made it to an island where he would be stranded for the next five years. Fast forward to present day, Oliver is finally rescued and brought home—but unknown to those around him, he was given a mission by his father before he died, and Oliver has every intention of carrying it out. At night he dons a suit and hood with the intent of putting an end to the corrupt men and women who take advantage of others and rule their city through fear.

Right off the bat, the series shows itself to be strong. A young man returns home after being stranded on an island for five years... but nobody knows what really happened to him. He's a mystery. Unbeknownst to the people of Starling City, Oliver has also acquired incredible skills in archery and other manners of physical abilities. What's more, the viewers don't know how he acquired these skills either, which introduces us to one reason why this show is so spectacular: It shows the story of two timelines, not one.

The narrative alternates between the present-day adventures of the mysterious "Vigilante" and the five-years-past adventures of a broken and lost Oliver Queen, and how he becomes the so-called Vigilante. The latter storyline is usually depicted gradually, with an episode's narrative focused on the present day. However, at least one episode of each season switches the priorities of the narrative, meaning that, conversely, the episode focus is on Oliver's island story and the present-day part is shown in shorter fragments.

The Present-Day Story of Oliver Queen

Oliver returns home to a family and city welcoming him with open arms. There are, however, two people who aren't happy to see him: Laurel Lance, his former girlfriend whom he cheated on with her sister on the yacht trip; and Quentin Lance, a police detective and Laurel's father, who blames Oliver for the death of his other daughter on the yacht trip. And, you know, they certainly had every right to be pissed at him. Oliver had not been a good person five years ago, and he knows it.

However, Oliver has higher priorities to think about than his furious former friends. He's on a mission to save his city. Before his death on the yacht, Oliver's father told him that he'd not been the person Oliver thought he was. He'd done terrible things, and wished more than anything that he could atone for his sins. He told Oliver to make things right, and now Oliver has every intention of doing just that. His father left him a book of names, of corrupted people in Starling City who were taking brutal advantage of people lesser than them. Oliver uses this list as a reference as he sets out to give these corrupt individuals a second chance, and if they refuse than to take more drastic measures.

What follows is an epic and thrilling adventure full of action, mystery and betrayal. An unforgettable cast of characters is introduced throughout the story, portrayed by some of the most superb actors in the industry. The writing is superb, the actors are fantastic, and the presentation is incredible. Oh, and the music? It's awesome. As the series progresses the characters continue to change and develop, and the story goes in all sorts of different turns. Throughout the first two seasons you get to watch as Oliver Queen, the Vigilante, gradually transforms from a dark antihero into the savior of Starling City. But still, after all this, there is so much we have not learned about how he became who he his.

Oliver Queen and the Island

Oliver tells people that he survived on the island alone for five years. However, that is quite a distortion of the truth. His body is covered in scars—how could this be so if he had been alone? Beyond that, the viewers know that he somehow turned from a spoiled kid into an expert warrior and archer during his time on the island. Again, how could this be so if he had been alone? Well, the truth of the matter is, he wasn't. In fact, he had many adventures on this island, and most of them were not pleasant.

As time passes in the present-day narrative, the same amount of time passes in the island narrative. Meaning, at the end of Season 1, the present-day narrative shows an Oliver that's been home for a year, and the island narrative shows an Oliver that's been on the island for a year. With that being said, after the eventual Season 5 (if the series lasts that long—which I most certainly hope it will), the island narrative will probably cease, because it will have reached the point at which Oliver got rescued present-day at the beginning of Season 1. I honestly cannot wait to see what they do with the narrative after that.

The island narrative is a really cool part of the series. First you have this really cool present-day story involving dark heroes and mastermind villains, while at the same time being shown the story of a castaway on an island full of danger and fear. I've done my best not to spoil much of the story for either narrative, as I feel it's best for you to experience them for yourself.

The Terrible and Brilliant Drama of Arrow

If there's one thing my dad doesn't like, it's character and relationship drama. Disagreements, misunderstandings, dysfunctional relationships... they can really ruin a story. Unfortunately, Arrow is full of this drama. Fortunately, it's not too much to ruin the story. On almost any other series it would be, but yet Arrow is additionally full of brilliant writing and story that is able to outweigh some of the drama that we wish would not be there.

Arguments happen, relationships happen, drama happens. Oliver knows that he was not a good man five years ago, and he retains some of his not-so-great tendencies to the present day. He still knows they're wrong, and that's one of the more intriguing parts of his character development over the years. Other characters have family and relationship problems, and they intermix, and... well... I'm not sure my dad would like this show.

...But it's so awesome! I said it before; the storytelling definitely makes up for the drama.

Even when the drama is at its worst, the actors are so incredibly amazing at acting the parts. So, even when a scene is not the funnest to watch, the presentation is still top notch. I cannot stress enough how amazing these actors are.

Season One vs. Season Two

There is actually quite a contrast between the first two seasons, both in the present-day narrative and the island narrative. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I will only talk about the present-day narrative here.

The first season is about a man making up for the wrongs of his father. Oliver Queen is on a mission to cleanse Starling City of the corrupt individuals who hold the citizens of the city in a state of fear. He's ruthless, and while always making sure to give his adversaries a chance to right their wrongs, isn't afraid to drop bodies to make a point. He's by no means a hero; he simply has a mission and needs to see it carried out.

Season 2 is different. Things have happened, and he's changed. He goes from being not a hero to trying to be a hero. He doesn't care about a mission any longer; he cares about the people of his city, and wants to do his best to save them without sending goons and villains to the morgue. This radical change in his character starts a new chapter in his life, and is a focal point in the story of the season.

Another interesting difference between the two seasons is that Season 1 feels more grounded in reality. It feels like it's a story that could have actually happened. All sorts of pop culture references lead to a feeling that this story actually takes place in modern-day, on Earth. The second season is what makes the series start to feel more like it's from the DC universe. Subtle hints are dropped that there may exist people with supernatural abilities, and a serum that can induce superhuman strength is introduced and has a key part to play in the season plot.

In fact, a spin-off of Arrow is coming in October, called The Flash (based on the DC character of the same name). That series looks like it's going to have superpowers everywhere. As with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the world is changing slowly from a relatable world to a world dreamed up in a comic book. I really liked the feeling of the first season, so I'm more sure if I'm a huge fan of the way this is going. At the same time, though, the series is still incredible and is no way growing any less in its level of awesome.

Conclusion, etc.

In the end, Arrow is a wonderful telling of two adventures. The characters are amazing and relatable, the actors who play them are incredibly good at what they do, and overall the presentation is top-notch. I've also noticed a number of recurring or guest characters who are portrayed by actors I know well from other series I love. So far I've recognized two actors from Doctor Who (John Barrowman and Alex Kingston), two actors from Stargate SG-1 (Ben Browder and Teryl Rothery), and two actors from Firefly (Summer Glau and Sean Maher). I also discovered that Manu Bennett, the actor who plays the character Slade Wilson, also portrayed Azog the Defiler in the Hobbit films. That's pretty darn awesome.

I hope I've done well in explaining why I love this series so much. Honestly, you'll just have to watch it to see all the stuff I've left out. I don't expect you to watch it nearly as fast as I did, but you may be tempted. This series is da bomb! If you haven't seen Arrow yet, I very highly recommend it.

Also, for the record, I'm known for being passionate about people watching things in order, but that's usually for a good reason. The episodes of Arrow are most often not self-contained. The series is a constantly progressing story, and if you jump in at a random episode, you will jump smack into the middle of that progressing story. It'd be like opening an action-packed novel to a random chapter and reading from there. It's just not a smart thing to do, and I really don't recommend it. Please start at the beginning.

Now go watch it. Peace!

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