Arrow Season 2, Episode 1 “City of Heroes”
Written by Greg Berlanti (story), Andrew Kreisberg & Marc Guggenheim (teleplay)
Directed by John Behring
Airs Wednesday nights at 10pm on The CW
Often, dramatic season finales feature Big Events that end up being inconsequential when the show returns a few months later, backtracked over or simply replaced with a few lines of exposition and a casual wave of the hand. In a way, the construction of “City of Heroes” gives more meaning to the events of “Sacrifice”: along with blowing up a neighborhood in Starling City, the writers of Arrow took the summer to blow up their format, using “City of Heroes” as a entry point into a much clearer vision of what this show should be. And even though it’s a exposition-heavy episode, it feels like a much smarter, sharper version of Arrow, one that embraces its comic book roots and gives much-needed purpose to secondary characters on the show.
From the opening shot of the episode, “City of Heroes” feels like a complete reset: Oliver’s on the island shirtless again, running through the woods as Digg and Felicity parachute out of a rickety plane to drag him back to Starling City. It begins exactly where the first season began, and again jumps ahead to Oliver’s second public return to Starling City, slowly laying out the new landscape for the second season. Queen Consolidated is going to shit, there are violent copycat vigilantes on the loose – and most importantly, Tommy’s death still looms large over everyone, especially for Oliver.
The show’s most difficult character in season one proves to be quite useful in absentia during “City of Heroes”, allowing the rest of the show’s new universe to form around this event. The Merlyn family is gone, and the Queens are left holding the pieces: Moira sits in prison thanks to Merlyn’s plan (which she willfully participated in, something she doesn’t deny), and Oliver has to live with the fact his best friend died thinking he was a murderer, a man-child caught between two men trying to initiate change in their own violent ways. The smartest move of this episode is to show Oliver taking the lessons of the event in The Glades to heart: being a man driven by hate and vengeance isn’t going to solve anything (the plight of Malcolm Merlyn is proof of that). As he puts it multiple times, “I’ve got to try it a different way”, speaking for the show in a similar way to the season finale’s big explosion.
Another big improvement is Thea, who no longer sits on her ass whining about things anymore. She’s never going to be the most pleasant, complex character to be around, but there’s a new vivacity to her (some might say it’s an edge they ripped right from Laurel’s character, but we’ll get to that). She’s now a woman in control, both of the bar and her rebel boyfriend (“I control your paychecks and your sex life,” she tells Roy at one point) – and once she’s had a few guns pointed in her face, control of her perspective, understanding how important it is for her to reconcile with her mother, even if she’s still pretty pissed at her for being complicit in the murder of hundreds.
In terms of story, there are a few bits that reveal themselves too early: particularly on the island, which shows us that Slade and Oliver’s eventual downfall will come fighting for the love of Shadow (as Slade tells Oliver: “You’re not the only one who cares for her”, the jealousy already seeping into his voice in every scene). Then again, the island’s always been more of an annoying distraction than a useful plot device, so it’s almost a given that what happens there will prove to be weaker than what’s happening in Starling City (does anyone really care who shows up on that boat, or who is hunting people on the island?). The Felicity/Isabel/Oliver love triangle also shows its hand a little too early, with Felicity’s continued obsession playing right into the hands of the intriguing looks shared by new Queen Consolidated co-CEO’s Isabel and Oliver (the theme of this paragraph: love triangles are never fun, as we saw throughout season one -but this is the CW, and these things are to be expected at some point). We’ve even got a third love triangle coming in from the side, as newly-clean Thea wants Roy to stop beating up bad guys on the streets, moments before he meets Black Canary (Caity Lotz, a character we’ll spend a lot more time with come the fifth episode of the season) for the first time, kicking some ass before she disappears into the shadows of the Starling City’s destruction.
“City of Heroes”, despite its heavy-handedness delivering exposition at every turn, shows a more self-aware, focused version of Arrow (although those damn island scenes are still frustrating). It really feels like a reset for the show, re-establishing some long-running arcs (Laurel hunting down the vigilante, Oliver searching for purpose) while having its fun setting up the many, many character arcs and plot lines we’ve heard passed through the rumor mill all summer (there isn’t even a mention of Barry Allen yet, who will be spun off into his own show by the end of season two). All in all, a promising opening to Arrow‘s sophomore campaign, an hour that takes its time bringing the audience back into the fold, but still saves room to have some Hood-flavored action in the end. Excuse me, Arrow-flavored action: “I don’t want to be called ‘the Hood’ anymore.”
– pretty funny how casual everyone was with Oliver walking out on everything once again. I enjoyed it, though: hearing everyone bitch about him leaving would just waste time better spent on new things.
– Who is “Blood”? I’d assume Roy, but it doesn’t appear he has any kind of reputation in the ‘hood.
– Roy talks about his “wicked good hearing”, proving that Stahhling City can’t be too far outta New England.
– Felicity: “FYI, no one is eating the bagels.”
– Lance isn’t trying to take the downgrade to Officer too heavily: he gets to wear his fancy uniform again!
– SEASON TWO UPGRADES, BITCHES. Lab? Fresh. Costume? Fresh. Bow? Fresh. Super high-tech information systems that can access crazy specific information in milliseconds? One big motherf*cking check there. It’s another touch I love: the show’s embracing its comic book roots a little more, stretching slightly into surrealism without sacrificing the tone it established in season one – it’s really a nifty little tweak to the show’s personality.
– Thea: “If I hug you, are they going to shoot us?”
– Randy Dankievitch