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Friday, 9 December 2016

Arrow S5 (First Act)

Quickly regarding What We're Watching: While that series isn't being stopped, it will be going on pause for a few weeks as I catch up not just on reviews of various shows going on hiatus, but also on video game reviews for things like Final Fantasy XV, Pokemon Sun and Moon, and probably The Last Guardian. But then it will return!

Series 5 (First Act)

We're hitting a busy season now, as one after another, shows drop off the radar as they enter their overly long and completely pointless Christmas hiatuses, leaving me to spend a few weeks making vague remarks to the effect of 'the first half was okay, maybe the second half will be better' or 'the first half was terrible, maybe the second half will be worse.' With Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supernatural all going on pause this week; Gotham having paused last week; and Once Upon A Time due to pause some time soon-ish, I've got my work cut out for me a little. Just a tad.

Today we're talking about Arrow, though, a show that has been in steady decline since the end of its second series. Having wasted half of its good storylines and exhausted half of its bad ones, it was difficult to see precisely where the series might go from there, especially as it's not necessarily built for sustainability. 

In this year's series, with both Thea and Diggle having left him and Laurel dead, Ollie continues his vigilante activities alone, shifting back towards the more brutal tactics of his early career. At Felicity's urging, he reluctantly gathers a team of apprentices, including Curtis as Mr. Terrific; reckless hockey mask wearing vigilante Rene Ramirez as Wild Dog; one-time Black Canary Evelyn Sharp as Artemis; and mystically empowered rag-wielder Rory Regan as Ragman. As an ambitious and brutal criminal overlord, Tobias Church, begins to take over the city, Ollie and the team find themselves up against what seems like an insurmountable foe -- but lurking in the city is also Prometheus, a ruthlessly efficient and highly skilled murderer who knows everything about Ollie.

The gang's all here.

So, actually, in a baffling turn, the first half of this series of Arrow hasn't been terrible. I know, I was as shocked as anybody. It's a very alarming turn for all of us, after the series in which the main villain was a smarmy guy with telekinesis, and the series in which the main villain was a confused suburban dad from Sydney.

The root cause behind this series actually being, you know, halfway tolerable, is that it changes up the formula in a few key ways. 

Firstly, it gives Ollie his team of apprentices, creating a whole new dynamic as he and Felicity act as mentors to a group of young and often reckless vigilantes, and it helps that most of those apprentices are genuinely pretty interesting -- interesting enough that the four of them probably could hold up the show all by themselves, if they had to.

Secondly, it gives Ollie a double life as the mayor, adding in an extra dimension as we see him attempting to navigate politics while also balancing his vigilante activities with his daytime activities. While you could very easily say that 'hero has to balance real life responsibilities with superheroing' is old hat now -- and you would be totally correct in doing so -- it's an element the CW has very much avoided with its stable of superheroes, so it actually does manage to come across as vaguely fresh here. Well, for the moment, at least.

Rene's no good bad day.

(It also definitely helps that there's no 'my loved ones must never know' shenanigans afoot, since all of Ollie's friends and family are well aware of who he is.)

But thirdly, it actually gives us several compelling villains. 

Tobias Church is a pretty straightforward, violent mob boss type, and it's clear right from the outset that he's not going to be the series' main villain, but while he's around he manages to at least make something of an impression and to ramp up tension in interesting ways. 

More to the point, though, Prometheus and Vigilante both work as compelling antagonists: Prometheus is practically a back-to-basics for the show, taking the same basic concept as Malcolm Merlyn in his early appearances as the Black Archer and ramping certain elements up to eleven, making him almost inhumanly skilled and deeply mysterious. As this act of the series winds on and we discover more about Prometheus and his methods, he actually starts to come across as someone who's genuinely terrifying, since it becomes clear that he's deeply and grotesquely obsessed with Ollie. The ninth episode even works in some horror elements, with Prometheus drawing Ollie into a sick game that ultimately culminates in Ollie accidentally killing Felicity's boyfriend.

Also, he has a cool mask.

Vigilante, meanwhile, has a lot less depth, but as a 'vigilante type who very closely resembles first series Ollie' he works quite well, working to highlight Ollie's character development and, perhaps more importantly, draw attention back to the crimes that Prometheus is targeting Ollie for.

Overall, these first nine episodes of the fifth series have actually been pretty solid. Only time will tell if the show can actually keep up this momentum and remain this interesting, or if it'll collapse in on itself, but I do hope it does. That having been said, though, this series feels like it could be a good point to end the story, so there's also that.

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