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Thursday, 11 December 2014

Arrow Series 3 (First Half)

Series 3 (First Half)

Ah, Arrow. I love you, but I hate to love you, and we are currently witnessing what I can only refer to as 'the last of your easy seasons', and we'll ... get to what I mean by that in a moment.

Arrow, based on DC Comics' Green Arrow properties (and, if we're being honest, Batman), is about Oliver Queen, a wealthy man with a penchant for voiceovers and flashbacks who returns from being stranded on an island, only to immediately become a vigilante who use a bow and arrow. Grim and tortured and accompanied by his much lighter and chirpier friends, Ollie sets out to cleanse his city of the corruption threatening it.

These first few series have all operated on a fairly logical progression of plots: The first series featured Malcolm Merlyn, an old friend of the Queen family, as its main villain, while setting up in flashbacks the relationship between Oliver and the second series' villain, Slade Wilson. The second series, in turn, had Slade take the reigns as the main villain, while setting up assassin leader and mentor of Merlyn Ra's al Ghul, who now seems set to become the villain of this third series. So you see where I get the impression that this is the last easy season: No villain is being set up in this one. We're in relatively uncharted waters after this.

Actually, in this first half of the series, what little we've seen of Ra's has been extremely disappointing. For someone with so much build-up, his reveal as a slightly ineffectual seeming middle aged Australian gentleman is disappointing, and only made moreso by the fact that the villain of the last series was also a middle aged Australian fellow, giving the strong impression that the Arrow writers are just deeply distrustful of the Antipodes. 

It's okay, this guy isn't from anywhere even near Oceania.

It's symptomatic of this series' shortcomings in general, which is that it's falling consistently short of the mark it intends to reach. Some of this is because when contrasted with Series 2, which featured the introduction of superhumans to the world, Manu Bennett as probably the most effective villain on television that year, and the return of John Barrowman as Malcolm Merlyn, the stakes simply do not feel as high as they did last year. Some of this is because when contrasted with sister series The Flash, which is sunny, bouncy, enthusiastic, and blessed with between one and seven terrifying villains depending on how you interpreted the quagmire of mystery and misdirection that was the most recent episode, Arrow is coming off as a little stale.

(Indeed, the episode where Arrow shone brightest so far was its crossover with The Flash. It incidentally also contained a lot of jokes about how Arrow really wants to be a Batman series.)

The driving plot of this series is the death of Sara, sister of main character Laurel, daughter of other main character Quentin, and former lover of Ollie. This is a plot with heaps of potential: A major character has been murdered, after all, in fairly brutal fashion, by someone she recognises. Instead, it feels like the actual murder investigation part of that plot is all but forgotten about, with the focus instead being on Laurel's emotional reaction - and while it's definitely necessary to see that, and a good character arc for Laurel, that doesn't a plot make. When Sara's murderer is revealed, it comes across as almost like an afterthought. There isn't any way the audience could predict the murderer, and the reveal doesn't feel like it was earned by the characters. 

... You look ridiculous and I cannot place my finger on why.

The episodic plots frequently suffer from the same problem, with conclusions barrelling out of nowhere as if the writers are disgustedly tossing them down at our feet, hissing 'There. There is your precious plot resolution if you want it so much', and the other running subplots of this series so far have tended to fall a little flat as well, although for different reasons. The Diggle and Lila relationship plot, while adorable, does not imbue the show with any particular change in dynamics. Meanwhile, the plotline about Felicity working with Ray Palmer benefits from the excellent chemistry between the two actors involved, but kind of strains believability when we see Felicity asking for time off work more than we see her actually working. Again, the resolution - or resolution in part - of this plot falls short, as it consists mostly of Felicity demanding to know Ray's secret, only for Ray to immediately capitulate and reveal that he's intending to become a Kamen Rider.

Ray Palmer will be the third DC Comics character Brandon Routh has played.
It is possible to love DC too much, Routh. That is possible.

So, does this mean that Arrow is maybe declining and should soon be put out to pasture? Probably not, to be honest. This first half of the third series has not been all it could be, and to be honest, I put that down to the writers not really knowing how to pace their plots. I fully expect to see a rapid and drastic improvement in all these areas when the show returns in January.

There's not much to say about the soundtrack, that remains very good. Cinematography remains good. Acting remains at a consistently high quality, with the exception of new recurring character Whatshisface DJ, played by Austin Butler, who is the most irritating character to ever cross a CW show. 

Overall, it's been an enjoyable nine episodes, but they haven't achieved the heights that either of the two series preceding this one have. But that's fine: Lacking for time and episodes to rectify this problem, we are not. I would rather a series get off to a poor beginning than to suffer a poor end. 

Kudos to the mid-season finale for a genuinely alarming moment right at the very end, though. That was some good work.

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