Sunday, June 15, 2014

DVD Review of Arrow the Pilot Episode

I've heard nothing but good about the television series Arrow (2012 - ) for quite some time, but I rarely watch shows while they are current, so I have been missing out. I was considering renting the DVDs of the first season when I saw a discounted box set of season one in the store yesterday. Throwing caution and my budget to the winds, I bought it. Last night I watched episode 1 of season 1: The Pilot.

Assuming Stephen Amell, who plays Oliver Queen/Arrow, does his own stunts, I'm impressed. The episode starts out like a shot with this mad figure scrambling quickly over rough terrain, running up seemingly impossible angles, and then shooting an arrow an incredible distance down to the beach of an island to explosively ignite a wood pyre, signaling his rescuers.

The mystery begins from the very start of the show. Who is this guy? How did he get on the island? What happened to him there?

The story of Oliver Queen of five years ago is told in flashbacks, with just enough information to tell the audience this is no simple "stranded" story. There are actually multiple mysteries. Who is Oliver's father and why, after their yacht exploded in the South China Sea, was he willing to do anything, including commit murder and then suicide, to insure Oliver's survival? Why does Robert Queen (Jamey Sheridan) tell Oliver the truth only at the end, and expect his son to right all of Queen's wrongs in Starling (not "Star") City? How did he know that Oliver would not only survive, but that his spoiled, playboy son would take on the mission set before him as well as acquire the drive and the skills to do so?

As Oliver's doctor told his mother Moira (Susana Thompson), he may not be the same son she knew five years before. That's something of an understatement.

The original comic book story was very simple fare by comparison. Millionaire playboy Oliver Queen is shipwrecked on an island for some years and, in order to survive, he taught himself archery. After he is rescued, for no particular reason, Oliver takes on a ward, Roy Harper, creates identities for them as Green Arrow and Speedy, and recreates all of Batman's gimmicks and gadgets (Arrow Cave, Arrow Car, Arrow branded everything) redone in an archery motif, and then fights crime with a bunch of tricked out arrows.

Of course, this was back in the day when comic books were written primarily for children. The 1970s saw Ollie evolve after losing his fortune (Roy grew up, moved away, and became a heroin addict) into an angry maverick with a hyper-developed drive to help the underdog and massive distrust of the establishment. But that was then.

Green Arrow, prior to this series, was most recently featured in a live action show in the landmark television series Smallville, but Justin Hartley's emerald archer was no where near as dark as how he is played by Amell. He was still darker than the world's ultimate boy scout Clark Kent (Tom Welling), but in order to keep Smallville at a certain level of "goodness," Hartley's version of "Arrow" could only fall so far.

Not so this Arrow who commits cold-blooded murder because "No one can know my secret." I only know this person from one episode of the show, but I would guess that his secret isn't just that he plans to fight crime while wearing a green hood and shooting arrows.

In fact, with few exceptions, Queen's arrows have no gimmicks and they do what arrows are supposed to do: put holes in things and people, including fatal holes.

Oliver's family is just as mysterious and troubled as he is. His mother was remarried (presumably they had Robert Queen declared legally dead since there was no definitive proof -- that is "a body" -- he was deceased) to Walter Steele (Colin Salmon, formerly "Charles" in the Pierce Brosnan "James Bond" films), his teenage sister Thea ("Speedy") is into drugs, and his best friend and "wingman" Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) has been spending time in the sheets with his ex-girlfriend Laurel Dinah Lance (Katie Cassidy).

But while re-connecting to his former life is heavily on Oliver's mind, the greater weight in contained in a small notebook of names, the first one on the list (actually, it's in the middle of the list) is Adam Hunt (Brian Markinson).

Oliver isn't after the common thug in the street. He's pursuing men formerly associated with his father, men who all had a hand in the ruin of Starling City, men who Oliver will make (literally) pay, and he'll do anything to succeed...anything.

Oliver's baptism of fire is a kidnap attempt by a group of thugs wearing skull masks. They seem to know more about Oliver than the audience does. Did Tommy wake up in time to see his best friend take these guys out with ridiculous ease or was he telling the truth when he later said he was still too drugged to see more than a blurred movement?

Five years ago, Oliver was on the yacht having an affair with Sara Lance, Laurel's sister. Laurel isn't the only one who blames Oliver for her death. The detective in charge of investigating Oliver's and Tommy's kidnapping is their father Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne). Starling City must be a small town for people to cross-connect so closely.

Oliver came back from that island with not only enhanced survival skills, but the ability to speak Russian. Also, he's not only scarred and burned (which didn't happen in the yacht sinking) but tattooed front and back. He couldn't have tattooed his back by himself, so he wasn't alone on that island for those five years.

By threat and brute force, "Arrow" (his alter ego isn't given a name in the pilot) extorts $40 million from Hunt but leaves him alive. His brand of justice or revenge doesn't demand death but it does demand a lot of money, which is funneled into the bank accounts of (presumably) Hunt's victims.

After the kidnapping attempt, "Mommy Dearest" assigns a bodyguard to Oliver, an ex-military type named John Diggle (David Ramsey). How is Oliver going to sneak out at night with his own personal shadow tagging along? You can only grab and knock out a guy so many times before he starts to get suspicious.

The pilot episode is full of surprises, particularly how Oliver's mother was the one who arranged for him to be kidnapped in the first place.

Nothing is as simple as it seems. What was Robert Queen, Oliver, Sara, and four other people doing aboard a yacht in the South China Sea? Did the yacht sink because it was caught in a storm or did something more sinister happen? The last we see of Sara, she's falling into the water and disappears. Robert, Oliver, and one other person survive the initial sinking. Did Sara really die or will we see her again?

It almost seems as if Oliver's destiny to become "Arrow" and to avenge the wrongs done in Starling City was set in motion even before the yacht sank. Is there a master player or organization manipulating events behind the scenes?

Laurel Lance is named after the comic book character Black Canary. Does she have a future as a superhero? Oliver called his sister "Speedy" which is the comic book identity of Green Arrow's teenage sidekick. Would this show create a brother-sister crime fighting team? Who is Tommy? There are indications he's not just the happy-go-lucky pal he seems to be on the surface. What does his relationship with Laurel mean? Why would Sara betray her sister by sleeping with her sister's boyfriend?

The pilot episode of Arrow creates a good balance of mystery and action right from the beginning. It's as if Oliver, in trying to rediscover his life in Starling City is also rediscovering himself. We have seen only a tiny fraction of what happened after the yacht sank five years ago and Oliver was inexorably swept to the island which would become his home, prison, training ground, and I suspect so much more. What else will the series reveal about the secret of Oliver Queen and the person who will be known as "Arrow"? I'll post my impressions as I continue to review the first season of this series.

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