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Arrow Episode 1 - Pilot (2012): TV Recap

Updated on November 12, 2012

Stephen Amell as Green Arrow


Watch Arrow's Pilot Now!

In Arrow, the CW’s latest adaptation of a DC Comics superhero, billionaire playboy Oliver Queen returns home after being shipwrecked and presumed dead for five years. Though Oliver and his father both made it onto a life raft, it soon became clear that there were only enough provisions for one person. Oliver’s father sacrificed himself to save his son, but not before revealing a checkered past, not of building up Starling City, but of failing it. Robert Queen leaves Oliver a list of names, people who need to be taken care of if Oliver is to make up for his father’s mistakes.

Obviously, a big part of this series will be slowly revealing the excruciating punishment Oliver endured once his life raft washed up on a deserted island. Viewers familiar with DC Comics will notice Deathstroke’s mask, with an arrow through one eye, on the beach when Oliver’s rescuers arrive. Immediately, this tells us that Oliver is very skilled and probably very damaged from his time on the island. For those who can’t pick that up from seeing an orange and black mask, a doctor sums up the injuries for Oliver’s mother Moira: “Twenty percent of his body’s covered in scar tissue, second-degree burns on his back and arms. X-rays show at least 12 fractures that never properly healed…. The Oliver you lost might not be the one they found.”

Upon returning to his home, Oliver is welcomed by the news that his mother has remarried Walter Steele, his father’s friend from the company. This reminds me a little bit of Hamlet, where the uncle/friend moves in on the prince’s mom to gain a foothold in controlling the kingdom/company, and tries to replace a dead, idealized father. Since the father’s business dealings were apparently unsavory, I immediately expected Steele to become one of the primary villains in the series.

Oliver also learns that his now-teenaged sister Thea has fallen into drug use in the absence of her father and brother. Her nickname, Speedy, is a nod to Green Arrow’s sidekick in the comics, who also had a drug problem. Tommy Merlyn, Oliver’s best friend, shows up for dinner to provide another nod to DC history, and potential foreshadowing of villainy: in the comics, Merlyn is a skilled archer, and archenemy of Green Arrow.

Rounding out the reintroductions, Oliver stops by to see Laurel Lance, his girlfriend before the shipwreck. Unfortunately, Oliver was shacking up with Laurel’s sister Sarah when his ship went down (literally in the same bed when the ship starts sinking), and Laurel has spent the last five years hating Ollie, both for his betrayal and for the death of her sister.

Of course, Oliver is only in town a day before he and Tommy are kidnapped by some guys in masks who torture Oliver to find out how much his father divulged before he died. Ollie gets loose and takes out his captors, much more violently than I expected. One goon is killed by friendly machine-gun fire, and Oliver chases down another using parkour-inspired moves. Once the baddie is in his grasp, Oliver reminds him of the innocent man shot down during the abduction, and begins breaking his neck. “You don’t have to do this!” cries the gunman. “Yes I do,” Oliver tells him. “Nobody can know my secret.” Snap!

Nowadays, the morally ambiguous hero is commonplace, but this casual murder of henchmen is still shocking to me. I mean, it’s kind of okay to kill a bad guy if he is about to kill you or a hostage, something like that. Is it okay to kill the bad guy once the hostage is safe and the bad guy is in cuffs? Absolutely not! There’s a line between self-defense and revenge that the good guys aren’t supposed to cross. To see Oliver kill a man to protect “a secret” is way too harsh, especially when that secret was fully exposed by Oliver deciding to jump all over the place to chase the guy down. If he had just let him escape, what would the guy really know? Just that Oliver can get out of zip-tie handcuffs and punch pretty well. Now Oliver has blood on his hands for two really bad reasons: he was mad that the guy shot an innocent person (which is why we have jails now) and he needed to protect a secret that he basically revealed himself. The free-running chase was cool, but the unjustifiable murder was a shaky thing to include in the foundation of what hopefully will be a likable character. Will he be fully motivated by revenge, or will he be more altruistic?

This is a bit of a departure from the comics, but it’s a direction that could be exciting. Instead of ripping the character straight from the decades-old mythology of the comics, the superhero has been reimagined for a new audience, just like the CW’s last superhero franchise, Smallville. There’s no pressure here, no comic-book-store intimidation for newcomers to Green Arrow. You don’t have to have thousands of Green Arrow back issues to enjoy the series (although there are plenty of references for the comic book lover to enjoy). You don’t even need to have seen the Green Arrow from Smallville, as this is an entirely different character with a different origin. To get into this show, you just need an affinity for soapy drama and ripped guys shooting arrows and working out (seriously, Stephen Amell has better abs than either Clark Kent or Green Arrow on Smallville). There is plenty to like about this new series and its potential storylines. You’ve got girl trouble, of course, and a potential love triangle between Tommy, Laurel, and Oliver. You’ve got a potential villain in his step-father (and mother?) to deal with, along with a book of names of villains to work your way through. You’ve got a sister on drugs. You’ve got a friend who is at best sneaky and at worst a future super-villain. And best of all, you’ve got the lingering question, what exactly happened on that island to make Oliver turn out this way?

Great job of teasing Deathstroke's appearance.
Great job of teasing Deathstroke's appearance. | Source

I assume each episode will continue to reveal more about his mysterious missing five years via flashback, allowing the series to build upon previous episodes, fleshing out the character. Creating a complicated backstory that you can’t understand without studying every second of every episode is not a good strategy for a show just getting started, so Oliver’s father’s list of targets establishes a simple plot path for the fledgling series. Each week, Oliver will be able to target a new villain, and each episode can be fairly self-contained, so viewers who missed the first few episodes won’t get lost or bogged down in minutia. This strategy is very similar to the early episodes of Smallville, which followed a tight formula: someone becomes affected by meteor rocks and turns into a mutated villain, Clark pines over Lana, one of Clark’s friends is endangered by the “freak of the week,” and Clark defeats the villain. Arrow has the ability to follow this viewer-friendly pattern, replacing the “freak of the week” with a “shady businessman of the week,” and replacing Lana with Laurel. Once the viewer base is established, I expect to delve further into the inevitable confrontations with both his family and his friend, Tommy Merlyn.

Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8pm Eastern on CW. Pilot originally aired on 10/10/12.


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  • Geekdom profile image

    Geekdom 5 years ago

    Thanks for the review. I was slightly interested because it revolved around Superheroes and was from the same network that brought us Smallville but was hesitant on what I was seeing in the advertisements and trailers.

  • North Wind profile image

    North Wind 5 years ago from The World (for now)

    I kept hearing about this Arrow show but I really did not know what it was about. Your review let me know - The Green Arrow! Now I get it. Thanks to your review it sounds interesting.