Arrow TV Reviews

TV Review: Arrow, “City of Heroes” (S2,E1) – 8 Observations

To read our other Arrow episode reviews please go here.

  • Airdate: 10/9/2013
  • Director: John Behring (Vampire Diaries, Charmed, Numb3rs)
  • Writer(s): Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim (Arrow’s Co-Creators/Executive Producers)

Last night’s second season premiere episode of Arrow, entitled “City of Heroes,” was the first one I really watched not just as a fan but as someone who makes a habit out of writing about the show.  I started watching the show before this website came into existence, and did not write about it until the first season’s penultimate episode.  Over the summer, though, Arrow dominated the internet news cycle more so than most other TV shows (except Doctor Who) primarily because the Executive Producers were so consistently willing to unleash plot spoilers.   

The end result for me was that “City of Heroes” yielded no surprises as all major story beats had been openly discussed by the show’s executive producers or already depicted in the San Diego Comic-Con trailer. So, “City of Heroes” wasn’t so much about seeing where the story was going but observing how exactly they pulled off all the things they said they were going to do.  On those terms, it was a success which established new enemies and coalitions, contained more than a couple of standout action sequences, and began Oliver (Stephen Amell) on his new journey to becoming a genuine hero and not just a revenge-seeking agent of vigilante justice.  There was some definite Felicity/Oliver pandering, and elements which lend themselves to nitpicking.  However, I enjoyed the episode.

In lieu of a formal review in which I break down the plot, I will instead offer a series of stray observations under the assumption that you have seen the episode.  If you want a good, succinct breakdown of the plot, check out LivingTheGeekLife’s review.

1. With Great Power Comes Great Abs

Arrow City of Heroes 1

Come on – who didn’t laugh a little when in Oliver’s first scene of the new season he shows up sans shirt because shirts are for wimps?  It could have been worse (or better, depending on your p.o.v.); he didn’t really need to put on that shirt once Felicity and Diggle arrived.

2. Felicity Still Makes Him Smile

Arrow City of Heroes 2

Over the summer, on more than one occasion Amell shared the story that the first time his character genuinely smiled on the show occurred during his first scene with Emily Bett-Rickards as Felicity Smoak.  It’s in the third episode when Felicity cocks her head in a “Really?  You think I’m dumb enough to buy that?” fashion after Oliver has tried to convince her that the laptop he needs her to crack has bullet marks on it because he spilled coffee on it and he gets his coffee in a bad area of town.  Amell was so amused by Bett-Ricards he couldn’t help but crack an unscripted smile.  As such, it was an interesting callback to have him crack his first smile of this season at Felicity’s odd pronunciation of the word “coconut” when demanding he provide her and Diggle with something to drink.

3. Roy is Literally Bruised Goods, Ala Kickass

Arrow City of Heroes 3

Both Diggle and Oliver essentially have military backgrounds explaining their preparedness to function on Team Arrow, Diggle’s training being formal and Oliver’s training coming informally from people who’d been trained formally.  However, you could argue that the show failed to fully explain what physically prepared Helena Bertinelli for her role as Huntress (her blinding hatred and rage was her source of motivation, not an adequate explanation for her skills as a fighter and shooter).  The same is true for Malcolm Merlyn as the Dark Archer, although the smart bet is that we’ll learn about Malcolm’s training via island flashback scenes this season.

As such, it was encouraging that here in the premiere they established that although Roy “Speedy” Harper may be destined to serve as a sidekick on Team Arrow he is going to have take some literal bumps first.  Roy grew up on the mean streets in a universe in which it’s perfectly normal for an impoverished street thug to look like an Abercrombie & Fitch model.  We’re supposed to believe this has forced him to adopt certain adaptive characteristics to survive such a harsh existence, but the fact that he was able to successfully rob Thea of her purse last season while displaying minor parkour skills isn’t enough.  So, although it is by no means original – see The Dark Knight RisesDaredevilKickassThe Amazing Spider-Man – I liked the notion that Roy is physically suffering from his attempts to mimic the Hood.  Plus, by making a joke about his short height Roy succeeded for the first time in saying something that intentionally made me laugh.

4. They Addressed the “But Didn’t Felicity Want Him to Not Kill Anyone?” Question

Arrow City of Heroes 6

It is a fair criticism of the first season to note that those characters meant to act as Oliver’s conscience, primarily Diggle and Felicity, ceased being as insistent with their “please don’t kill anyone” pleas as the season progressed.  In Felicity’s case, she was established as having a close-ended relationship with Oliver in that she was only there to help him rescue Walter (Colin Salmon), a surrogate father figure to both of them.  However, again, Felicity and the show in general mostly forgot about Walter for a while before out-of-nowhere rescuing him.

As such, it was jarring for Felicity to be the rah-rah cheerleader for killing people when confronting Oliver about not standing up to the vigilantes during the Queen Consolidated attack.  I was likely not alone in silently composing “remember when Felicity didn’t want him to kill anyone” jokes.  By the end, though, the writers took those jokes away from us by having Felicity actually acknowledge this disconnect, reconciling that maybe there was a better, non-lethal way.  Considering the producers stated hyper-awareness of social media chatter, I read this as their attempt to acknowledge the stated criticism of Felicity and course-correct.  If so, I’d regard their effort in this specific area as a success.

5. Do We Still Hate Thea After That Scene With Her Mom?

Arrow City of Heroes 10

One of the biggest chores of Arrow‘s early episodes of its first season was getting past Thea’s scenes without wanting to punch her.  As the person on the outside of Oliver’s secret, she was placed in the unfavorable light of having to react to the version of Oliver she knew and not the hero we the audience knew.  This meant lots of “snoddy teenager” scenes in which Thea’s viewpoint was mostly justified based on the level of information she had available to her, but, still, yet another Thea bitching at Oliver scene?  The producers openly acknowledged this criticism, using the second half of the season to improve Thea by getting her out of the mansion and working under Laurel (Katie Cassidy) as a kind of Big Sister.  Plus, they gave her a love interest in Roy Harper.  It mostly worked.

The second season premiere again returned Thea to a potentially unsympathetic light, as she attempts to hurt her mother without having access to all of the information we the audience were exposed to in the first season.  For all we know, all Thea knows about her mother’s evil-doings are exactly what her mother said in the press conference in the season finale.  That communicates the big picture but not the emotionally anguished specifics we witnessed as Oliver investigated his mother in the first season.  However,  I did not actually find Thea particularly unlikable in this storyline, which also served a dual purpose to present Roy as a positive influence upon her based upon his insistence that she see her mother in prison.  The eventual meet-up between Thea and her mother (Susanna Thompson) was effectively emotional, although when they hugged I did find myself expecting an instant Arrested Development-style yell of “No touching!” from one of the guards.

6. Do We Think Oliver Squeezed Laurel’s Hand Even Harder When She Started Her Anti-Hood Rhetoric?

As predicted by many, the season set about addressing the Laurel-Oliver romance by separating the two as a couple, returning them to just friends status. I, for one, was slightly surprised Laurel went so easy on Oliver for having apparently skipped town for 5 months without so much as a goodbye or a postcard.  Then again, she did see him again for the first time after having almost been killed meaning she might have been in that euphoric “just happy that I’m still alive and you are too” state.

The later scene with them at Tommy’s grave was touching, and it was nice to see them hold hands and admit their mutual feelings of having betrayed Tommy with their romantic dalliance.

Arrow City of Heroes 7
Laurel: “Before the The Hood, we didn’t have copycat vigilantes and earthquake machines.”
Oliver: “….”
Laurel: “Owww, Ollie. Stop squeezing my hand so hard.”

And then that hand-holding must have become incredibly awkward for Oliver after he learned that Laurel blames The Hood for everything.  This is but another stumbling block delaying this would-be couple’s romance, and radically shifts the manner in which Laurel will function this season.  They have effectively inverted character roles, placing was-Detective-now-just-Officer-Lance (Paul Blackthorne) as the one sympathetic to Oliver’s cause with Laurel now the agent of conflict.

Arrow City of Heroes 9
Paul Blackthorne, please never go away so that I might get to continue typing your fantastically awesome name.

Is this a wise move?  After all, poor Katie Cassidy already has the Felicity-Oliver shippers rooting against her, calling into doubt not just the suitability of her character as  a mate for Oliver but also Cassidy’s abilities as an actress.  This now positions her as an minor antagonist on her journey to eventually becoming Black Canary.  This is a journey that also apparently includes abandoning her fight as a lawyer for the downtrodden, having moved up to now working for the District Attorney to help him take down The Hood.  This would place her character trajectory as one who began as embracing outside-of-the-law tactics last season in her support of The Hood, and after the death of Tommy has now fully embraced the full force of law and order.  One imagines this journey will lead her to discover unexpected corruption in the District Attorney’s office thus again shaking her convictions.

7. Summer Glau=Ice Queen

Arrow City of Heroes 12
Savor it. That is Glau’s one and only smile in the episode, and it’s a half-smile at best.

When Summer Glau was announced as having been cast as comic book villainess Isabel Rochev, I was apparently among the few to greet this news with considerable enthusiasm.  I subsequently discovered via the show’s IMDB message board that many feared this meant Arrow would suffer the Summer Glau curse (many shows she appears on die early deaths) or simply regarded Glau as being a crappy actress.  On that last point, it is either rather telling or simply type-casting that Glau keeps getting cast to play oddly aloof or flat-out emotionless characters (Firefly, Sarah Connor Chronicles), and is seen here playing Rochev as an emotionless ice-queen.  Here’s looking forward to Glau getting a chance to display a little more range as the story progresses, which will likely see Glau functioning as one of the season’s big bads.  Plus, how do you cast the girl from Firefly and not eventually get her into some awesome fight scenes?

8. Cool Last Shot

Arrow City of Heroes 13

Now, that is how you end a season premiere.  It is an inherently strange thing to transplant from a comic to a film or TV show in a real world setting the moment when a masked hero states aloud “From now on, you are to call me Batman!”  As such, it was better left implied than flat out stated that Oliver wishes to now be called Arrow or Green Arrow.

NOTES:

-As most eagle-eyed viewers, DC comics readers undoubtedly noticed, the name of the newscaster Oliver observes on a TV in his nightclub is Bethany Snow (her comic book bio may or may not contain potential spoilers for what Arrow will do this season).  Snow originally had a rather shady background, but in the New 52 continuity she is just a news anchor.  Let’s see which way Arrow goes, though it’s likely the latter.

-So, are we supposed to just assume the four hooded copycat vigilantes were quietly killing the outdoor security guards for all the places they appeared to rather easily crash?  Seriously, how the hell were they able to just walk in on a Queen Consolidated board meeting?

-After The Dark Knight, it seems inevitable that if you have a vigilante main character you have to do the storyline with copycat vigilantes who serve to function in their dysfunction as confirmations of our protagonist’s superior moral code.  Arrow had already done it at least once last season, and it made sense to do it again here although it was a bit disappointing that these figures were our primary mouthpieces for the victims of the destruction wreaked upon the Glades by Malcolm Merlyn.

-Do you think Isabel Rochev or any one of her nameless cronies ever looked around the boardroom scenes and actively wondered who the hell Felicity was or, if they at least knew her name, wanted to know why Oliver seemed to always carry around a low-level IT employee everywhere he went?  Diggle’s presence would make sense within the show’s universe as he has a cover identity as Oliver’s bodyguard, but unless we learn of Felicity having received a major promotion in the interim she was only present because the show knows she is a part of Team Arrow.

-Why on Earth was I genuinely surprised at the end when Walter walked in the boardroom to save Oliver’s ass?  Of course, that’s the “full family” Moira meant when Oliver asked for advice.  His name is Walter, but he’ll always be Dr. Moon from Doctor Who‘s “Silence in the Library” to me.

-Am the only one who thought the overhead shot of the island would reveal that there was actually a beach resort nearby catering exclusively to vigilantes?  Forever working against this show will be the increasingly improbable island storylines which will slowly challenge Gilligan’s Island for the loosest definition of “abandoned island”

-That Black Canary tease with Roy toward the end was already depicted almost entirely in the “City of Heroes” trailer shown at Comic-Con.  However, if you avoided the trailer and haven’t kept up on the spoiler-y news over the summer, that sequence must have been a real “WTF!” shocker….or you just wondered why China White (Kelly Hu) put on a new outfit and helped Roy.  It’s not China White; it’s Caity Lotz playing a proto-Black Canary.  We were all going crazy over the news back in July.

What did you think?  Like it?  Hate it?  Let us know in the comments section.

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4 comments

  1. Do you think Isabel Rochev or any one of her nameless cronies ever looked around the board room scenes and actively wondered who the hell Felicity was or, if they at least knew her name, wanted to know why Oliver seemed to always carry around a low-level IT employee everywhere he went? Diggle’s presence would make sense within the show’s universe as he has a cover identity as Oliver’s bodyguard, but unless we learn of Felicity having received a major promotion in the interim she was only present because the show knows she is a part of Team Arrow.

    LOL! You know, I think that Felicity’s ubiqituous presence is probably due to the rather blatant Felicity/Olicity pandering in this episode (and presumably in episodes to to come!). If the TPTB can’t make Felicity/Oliver a bona fide romantic couple, they can at least shoehorn Felicity into as many scenes with Oliver as possible, to give the “Olicity” shippers their “feels” as well as the illusion(?) that Felicity is a very important person in Oliver’s life, though her presence in many of these scenes is totally superfluous from a plot POV.

    I also thinkt the “oliciters” should start to worry whether their tactics of trashing Katie C,. for her acting skills might come back and bite them in the behind. Katie is no Meryl Streep, but neither is Emily B.R., and after her honeymoon with the fans some people are starting to notice and comment on her inexperience as an actor and the sometimes unconvincing delivery of her lines. Not all viewers are shippers who are convinced that their OTP (whether it’s “Lauriver” or “Olicity”) is a match made in heaven with regards to the chemistry or the skills of the actors. With more screen time and character development, Emily will have to go beyond the “geeky girl” cliché and prove her mettle as an actor. Lots of people will love her anyway, because she is supposed to be the everyday lovable girl who helps the hero, but some viewers are surely going to start judging her by the same standards as they judge all other actors, whether it’s on “Arrow” or any other show.

    I was somewhat disappointed in the “Arrow” premiere and I hope the show will pick up in the following episodes. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter how much “Olicity” the writers feed us….those who are not die hard shippers/comic book fans will probably leave the show and start watching the new “genre” shows in the same style.

    1. I had no issue with Rickards’ performance in “City of Heroes,” but you’re right – her newfound upped screentime does serve the potential to expose Rickards’ inexperience as an actress. As we appear to both agree, they really need to write in a in-universe justification for her sudden omnipresence as she was mostly superfluous to the plot at Queen Consolidated (that’s assuming she’ll be around during future Queen Consolidated scenes as well). Either Oliver has promoted her and they’ll formalize it (or make a passing reference to it) next week (potentially setting up a couple of jokes about how other Queen Consolidated employees assume Felicity slept with Oliver to get promoted), or you tie her promotion or new role into Walter’s influence considering the influx of cash he pumped into Oliver’s hold on the company.

      There was some obvious Olicity pandering – she didn’t really need to be with Diggle on the island, Oliver saves her life lying on top of her one time, next to her one time, etc. It wasn’t quite enough to bother me (maybe because a lot of it had been seen in clips already so I knew it was coming), but it was enough that during their conversation in the boardroom at the end I remember thinking, “Holy crap, are they going to kiss…already!?! That was quick.”

      Beyond Felicity, Laurel, or Oliver, though, I guess in my observations I never really said that I actually liked the episode. There was quite a bit to nitpick about it, of course, and I can see where the clear Olicity pandering would be distracting to the point of annoying. However, overall I thought it was a perfectly effective table-setting season premiere, though maybe I’m too trusting when I assume Felicity won’t be quite as omnipresent in coming episodes as she was here. They could have done a better job of focusing on the destruction to the Glades than giving us 4 copycat vigilantes who merely function to validate Oliver as having a superior moral compass. So, I hope they won’t be the last time victims of the Undertaking to be addressed. My main point of ambivalence is that despite my initial enthusiasm at her casting I was not wild about Summer Glau as Rochev, but we are only talking about one episode here.

  2. You caught the Bethany Snow reference, but you didn’t mention the Flash setup she was reporting on. A particle accelerator…?

    And LOL to Arrested Development! I was thinking the sand thing. Wouldn’t that have been awesome!?!

    1. Yeah, I know. I actually caught the Flash reference, even jotting it down in my mental notes as I was watching the episode. I’ve got to learn to write those things down. Of course, “hey, I totally meant to mention it” is not as good as “I did mention it” as I noticed you did in your review.

      I love Arrow, but I do have Joss Whedon-tendencies with my taste for comedy so I notice how often they pass up obvious opportunities for rip-poking humor (which is fine since it’s a mostly serious show). So, I did want the guards to pull out a “No Touching!” reference. I also kind of wanted Oliver to suggest a really stupid-sounding name as he was looking at the Green Arrow at the end, like maybe the The Dark Avenger and His Gang Green (instead of Team Arrow) or something, looking up to see Felicity and Diggle fighting back laughter.

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