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.
I 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 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. This 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.
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.
However, 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.)
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.