Television

'Arrow': Today's Preferred Superhero, Self-Righteous and Rich

Traumatized and well worked out, Ollie takes aim at smug one-percenters.


Arrow

Airtime: Wednesdays, 8pm ET
Cast: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, Willa Holland, Susanna Thompson,
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: The CW
Director: David Nutter
Air date: 2012-10-10
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"The abduction was unexpected," observes Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), after he's escaped it by smashing a few heads and sending his kidnappers to the hospital. "It forced me to move up my plans. The man with the green hood was there and he's just beginning."

Such awkward phrasing might actually be appropriate for Ollie at this point. He's just arrived back in Starling City, following five years cast away, alone, on an island. During those years, you learn very quickly at the start of Arrow, this callow young fellow has learned not only to survive all manner of weather or privation, but he has also spent long, hard hours working out, climbing trees, and practicing parkour.

He's also been refining a superheroic persona, featuring that green hood. And in this adaptation of DC Comics' Green Arrow, Ollie's first appearance on screen -- all fast-cut point of view shots and hectic close-ups -- indicates that he's a brilliant athlete and scamperer on rocky cliffs, instantly capable of hailing the Chinese fishing boat that accidentally heads his way -- this hailing by way of arrows and a bit of fire he sparks with his knife in a second, combined to make an explosive bonfire on the beach, all ready and waiting for his about-to-be-rescuers.

It's an ingenious first two minutes of a series premiere, actiony and exciting and legible enough. From here, Ollie is restored pretty much instantly to his rightful-heirish place in the mansion inhabited by his Moira (Susanna Thompson) and sister Thea (Willa Holland), not to mention Walter (Colin Salmon), mom's boyfriend and erstwhile number two at Ollie's dad's company.

Ollie's insta-resentment of Walter underscores that his father (Jamey Sheridan) is missing, thus leading to expository (but still rather hectic) flashbacks, showing how father and son were on a party boat that went down in a storm, that dad made sure Ollie would endure by making him promise to "right my wrongs" and giving him a list of names just before shooting himself -- spectacularly -- in the head.

This bit of trauma sticks with Ollie.

It leaves him seeming a little at odds with himself. Depending on the scene, he's sullen or slick, grumpy or glib, and mostly inelegant. He beats up the bodyguard his mother assigns him, he shows frustration that his sister has followed him into a rebellious debauchery, and he's not at all caught up on what's happened since he disappeared, though his best friend Tommy (Colin Donnell) does his best to help, listing Super Bowl winners and noting the US has elected its first black president.

Still, Ollie remains out of place, distrustful when his mother assigns him a "babysitter" (a burly Afghanistan war veteran nicknamed Dig [David Ramsey]) and feeling guilty about his ex-girlfriend Laurel (Katie Cassidy), because, on the night his party boat sank, Ollie was bedding her sister on board, and, more trauma, the sister died. Now a lawyer at the local legal aid office, Laurel is plainly a Good Girl, and so Ollie determines to put her off. "You're looking at me, wondering if that island changed me somehow, if it made me a better person," he tells her. "It didn’t. Stay away from me, otherwise I'm just going to hurt you again." The camera cuts from his sternish face to her stunned one, as she is utterly unable to interpret his inelegance.

It's the sort of logic that drives and defines superheroes, compounded by the whole secret identity business. When Ollie moves out of his mom's house (Where, she points out a little creepily, she's left his bedroom exactly as it was five years ago, even though she thought he was dead) and into his father's abandoned warehouse. Here he hunches over a desk he stocks with the latest and greatest computers and other surveillance and gadget-making machinery. You know, because you have access to Ollie's frequently cryptic voiceover, that he means to use the Arrow disguise to right his dad's wrongs, by targeting dad's old colleagues, whose "crimes go deeper than fraud and theft."

Even as you might ponder what that can mean, Ollie sets to more training in his deeply shadowed warehouse, borrowing from The Dark Knight by inverting the lighting scheme of Superman's Fortress of Solitude (helpful, as Arrow means to fill in the void left by Smallville). Like Bruce Wayne, Ollie's an unhappy billionaire, looking to repair what his socioeconomic class has more or less wrecked. This leads him into the troubles usually facing comic book heroes, as he's intent on his self-appointed vengeance mission and less focused on the people around him, except as they serve as adversaries.

In Arrow, these include thugs and bullies as well as his dad's smug one-percenter cohorts and also the cops who have no idea what's going on. Like Chris Nolan's Batman, Ollie embodies the dilemma of the rich guy with loads of guilt, over being rich and also over being stereotypically rich. With five years of harsh-weather exile behind him, Ollie seems ripe for redemption, especially if he can manage it by serial brutal beatdowns. In this he is not like the farmboy Clark Kent, but instead embodies today's preferred superhero model, the outraged rich guy, claiming poor people's grievances and moral ground, living an austere though not deprived life, and lording over all foes his new clear-eyed vision of justice and self-righteousness. It helps that he's in the city, too, being prone to parkour.

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