Arrow Season 2 Midseason Review

We haven’t spent much time talking about Arrow here. Okay, there was that once, but that was a review of the very first episode, so we’ve definitely got some lost time to make up.

cw-arrow-green-arrow-bannerI never really bothered to review the show during its first season because, well, I didn’t think it was much to write home about. Much like my decision to keep buying the Fearless Defenders comic, I tuned in weekly more out of a desire to give a hopeful, just-starting-out superhero show good ratings so that the CW would continue making superhero shows. (I was apparently successful, as they’re planning a Flash spinoff series. Dammit, CW, make a show about a lady superhero, not another white guy.) The writing was sort of terrible, the plots were sort of predictable, and at least half of Oliver’s manpain was based on the fridging of his illicit lady-love. The only character who had consistently decent dialogue for the entire first season was our hero’s go-to hacker Felicity Smoak, a queen among women.

Anyway, I’m glad I gave the so-so first season a shot, because the second season is pretty much kicking it in the ass. Spoilers below the jump.

The best friend's dad is played by John Barrowman, btw.

The best friend’s dad is played by John Barrowman, btw.

The first season followed billionaire Oliver Queen, who, after being stranded on a remote island for five years, came back to Starling City with a mission. Armed with a hit list of people who had ‘failed the city’ in one way or another, he took it upon himself to clean up crime with deadly force, aided by his bodyguard John Diggle and the aforementioned Felicity. As the season ramped up, he learned of a plot to destroy a poorer section of the city—masterminded by his best friend’s father and supported by his mother—but in the end it was too late to stop it. The device, a futuristic earthquake machine, destroyed the Glades, and Oliver’s best friend died in the collateral damage.

For better or worse, this has given the second season a ton of interesting material to work with plot-wise. A major plot arc has dealt with Oliver’s mom, Moira, being put on trial for the murder of all the people who died in the Glades. City of HeroesThis in turn caused a rift between Moira and Oliver’s sister Thea, whose arguments and relationship growth were realistic, touching to watch, and provided several episodes with Bechdel-passing dialogue. The stock crash that followed the disaster meant another corporation, led by a serious businesslady CEO, swooped in to acquire half of Queen Consolidated, and so Oliver has had an extra voice demanding accountability for his constant rash decisions. The destruction of the Glades has also given the show the opportunity to delve into issues regarding class and privilege and white saviors and the way people respond to (and prey on) disasters that strike poorer, mostly PoC areas.

The death of Oliver’s friend Tommy has also done a lot for several characters. Oliver himself has sworn now to use only non-lethal force, which I think makes for a far more interesting hero. Any asshole with a gun can kill someone; murdering bad guys instead of just collaring them doesn’t make a superhero more gritty or cool. It’s also been a formative experience for Laurel Lance, the lawyer (and Oliver’s friend and former girlfriend) who was dating Tommy at the time. In the first season she was working with a pro bono legal office, but due to her desire to catch the vigilante—aka Oliver—whom she blames for Tommy’s death, she’s taken a job with the District Attorney. I obviously don’t advocate violence toward men any more than I advocate violence toward women, but it’s an interesting and refreshing take to see a woman on a vendetta fueled by a man’s death rather than vice versa in a comics-based property.

On the topic of fridging, one of my biggest complaints about the first season was that they did just that as part of Oliver’s backstory. He had been dating Laurel at the time of his disappearance, but had snuck off on a yacht for some extra-relational nookie with Laurel’s sister Sarah. When the yacht sunk and stranded him on the island, Sarah died. The fact that he was both cheating on Laurel and had caused the death of her sister was a source of great mangst throughout season one.

Sarah's hero outfit is so sensible! There are pants! And flat shoes too!!

Sarah’s hero outfit is so sensible! There are pants! And flat shoes too!!

In this season, however, another masked vigilante appears in Starling City: a blonde lady with kickass martial arts skills and some nifty sonic bombs, who turns out to be not-dead-after-all Sarah. Sarah as Black Canary is awesome and pretty much all I wanted from the story. In the comics, Laurel is the Black Canary, and I spent most of the first season wondering how they were gonna make that happen. I like this way better, though, because it both unfridges one lady character, and allows Laurel to remain the sort of badass who will serve you a subpoena but not beat you with a stick. I’m all for variety in my asskickery.

Arrow is actually doing pretty well this season as far as having a variety of female characters goes. There’s Moira and Thea, Oliver’s new co-CEO (played by Summer Glau, and it’s great to see her in a role that’s not a waifish ninja), Sarah and Laurel, Sarah’s ward Sin, Felicity, and several others. The fact that the show has a variety of women in different walks of life allows them to have a variety of personalities, and as such, there isn’t pressure on one single woman to fill every sort of role.

City of HeroesHowever, the fact that I’m more pleased with this season in general should not be a sign that it’s totally perfect. For one thing, although it’s no Supernatural, it still has a tendency to fall flat on its face when it comes to race. All the aforementioned women are white. The show does have a leading character of color in Diggle, who regularly subs in as the vigilante for Oliver and who has plot arcs of his own, unrelated to Oliver, in both seasons. However, there are not many other characters of color besides Oliver’s stepdad Walter, who is only a recurring character, and Oliver’s on-island mentor and his daughter, who we see in his frequent flashbacks but who are, as of the midseason finale, both dead. The show has also chosen to avoid further diversity by whitewashing Sarah’s protegee Sin, who is of Asian descent in the source comics.

Furthermore, however much plot and character mileage the show has gotten out of the destruction of the Glades, it still stands that the writers decided to level an inner-city area—an action with implicitly racist undertones—as a way to forward their story, and then made us root for the exoneration of the one character who was alive to be held accountable. And the one underprivileged character that we do get to meet and get to know from the Glades before they’re destroyed, Roy Harper, is a white dude. (Who is played Jackson from Teen Wolf, and do not get me started on what I think about him leaving Teen Wolf for this of all the boring-ass roles.)


Go back to Beacon Hills, ya dweeb.

The writers seem aware to a point that they’ve created a show about a ludicrously wealthy dude using his money to beat up bad guys, and that making those bad guys be people who were in any way underprivileged would therefore be in very bad taste. In the first season, for example, most of the vigilante’s targets were one percenter types who had done some harm to the poorer classes in some way. It would be nice if the writers would realize that that is not enough. If your lead character is going to be yet another super-privileged, super-talented straight white cis dude, you need to really mix up the rest of your cast. Diverse representation that only includes white women is not diverse at all. And while I’m at it, diverse representation that doesn’t include a single queer character is not exactly diverse either, and I’d sure like to see a disability represented that isn’t superhero-brand PTSD.

That all said, Arrow is one of the few TV shows I watched this season where I genuinely looked forward to tuning in every week. It certainly has its problems, but given the amount it’s improved since last season, I think that it may be able to overcome them. If you can make it through the first season, then it’s definitely worth the watch.

6 thoughts on “Arrow Season 2 Midseason Review

  1. I’m trying to find the right words to respond to your post, so please forgive me if I ramble a bit.

    I really liked your review of the show. There were certain aspects that I may not have disagreed with, but that is what makes for great dialog among fans. One of the points you touched on is normally an issue I too have had with CW in general over the years and that is the acute lack of diversity in their programing. Having said that, I feel as though seeing as Arrow is loosely based on the comics, their hands may have been a bit tied in that department. Because let’s face it, the Green Arrow comics also seem to lack diversity.

    I’m not giving the show a free pass by any means, but I can see where the conflict might be. Additionally, as a woman of color, I don’t know if television has “desensitized” the issue of diversity for me, but I find myself more apt to require talented actors in my television viewing over diversity. Please don’t judge me for that. If actors that fit that bill of diversity can be found without sacrificing talent to deliver it, I’m all for it. And let’s be honest, acting chops within the cast of CW is not usually a requirement. It SHOULD be. Another point, remember Smallville’s Pete? If you’re thinking who is Pete…you’ve proven my point. Pete was easily phased out without a second thought. I hated that. I’m still worried about Diggle’s life expectancy. I also felt the destruction of the Glades was more about a socioeconomic divide between the haves and have nots, not a racial one.

    As for a disability being represented, normally, I would agree, but not on this show. It may threaten my agenda. Remember the Oracle in the comics, super smart tech geek turned superhero, shot by the Joker and paralyzed? Heavy rumors are floating around the internet that they will go that route with Felicity. This can not happen. She and Moira Queen are the main reasons I watch this show. I do not want that for her at all. 😦

    I would also like to say that although I hate Arrow’s frequent need to have strong women “saved” by their hero (rolling my eyes), I like that there are so many strong women on the show. A few I could do without, but they are all fairly capable. Do you know how awesome that is on a CW show? Another reason why I’m loving the show, they have a stellar crew working behind the scenes. I’m talking legendary. The only question that remains for me is if this stellar team can perform at a marathon’s pace; that is network television, instead of a sprint that is often found in movies and comics.

    • First of all, thanks so much for the long and thoughtful comment! You make a good point about the fact that Arrow is based on a very white-person filled comic, but I think they’ve taken enough liberties with the original comic plot (ie with Sarah being Canary instead of Laurel, etc.) that switching up the color of the cast wouldn’t be too shocking. Changing a character’s race doesn’t necessarily change their personality, and can improve representation for otherwise white-bread casts. For example, Nick Fury was always white in the comics, but the cast of the Avengers movie would have been entirely white without Samuel L Jackson, and I can’t imagine anyone else playing Fury at this point. (Although my inner cynic points out that it’s hard to expect sensitivity to diversity from a DC product produced by CW staff.)

      I definitely agree that the destruction of the Glades was more socioeconomically motivated than racially motivated, but it’s hard to untie class and race issues, especially in an urban setting. I pointed it out because, whether or not the writers realized it, destroying a poor urban neighborhood would likely effect people of color to a far greater extent than it would white people.

      Oh man, I hadn’t heard that (I’m not that involved in the fandom or the rumor mill)… If they Oracle Felicity I will be so mad. We certainly need more disabled characters on TV, but going the violence-against-women route to do it is so tired, and she would seem like a poor copy of Barbara Gordon to fans.

      But yeah, in the end like I said I really do enjoy this show, and although the representation on gender and race terms isn’t anything to write home about in a vacuum, for the CW it’s a major improvement all around. I look forward to the rest of this season for sure.

  2. I was really unhappy with what happened to Shado especially in relation to how Sarah entered the picture. It felt like they were choosing the white girl over the Asian. I’m glad that she didn’t become a villain like she is in the comics, but she deserves more than to be the motive behind two white guys’ reasons for being who they are in the present day (I’m trying not to be spoilery). I still like Arrow, but that’s going to be a sore spot. However, I am happy Nyssa al-Ghul’s actress is at least half-Asian unlike what the Batman movies did with Ras and Thalia.

    • I was so so angry at that episode, because it really did feel like that, and it was like ‘way to unfridge the white girl just to fridge the Asian girl’. I’ve come to expect better of the show this season so it was especially awful given that.

  3. Pingback: Arrow Gives Us a Queer Character, Makes Me Love It Even More | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  4. Pingback: Was Arrow Season 2 on Target? | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

Comments are closed.