Arrow #2.1: “City of Heroes” Review (Matt’s View) Arrow #2.1: “City of Heroes” Review (Matt’s View)
Summary: A whiz-bang intro to the new season that reboots the show in exciting fashion. If you have not seen this episode yet and... Arrow #2.1: “City of Heroes” Review (Matt’s View)

City of HeroesSummary: A whiz-bang intro to the new season that reboots the show in exciting fashion.

If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!

Recap

Five months after the Undertaking and the leveling of most of the Glades, Felicity and Diggle track Oliver to Lian Yu, the island near China he was marooned on for five years. They want to bring him back to Starling City to help save Queen Consolidated, blamed for the horrific destruction and now facing hostile takeover. Oliver is haunted by Tommy’s death and wants little to do with the city and nothing to do with being the vigilante again. In the city, Thea nows runs Verdant, the nightclub Oliver and Tommy started, with Roy working by her side and going out at night to fight crime in the Glades. Oliver learns that Thea refuses to see their mother Moira, in prison for her role in the Undertaking. He reconnects with Laurel, who now works for the District Attorney’s office and won’t resume a relationship with Oliver because she feels as though she betrayed Tommy. In the aftermath of the attack, a group of vigilantes calling themselves the Hoods has formed, modeled after Oliver’s campaign but much more extreme and violent. The four manage to kill the mayor of the city and then turn their sites on Queen Consolidated. As Oliver meets with Isabel Rochev, the executive looking to takeover the company, the building is attacked. Oliver escapes and Felicity and Diggle question why he didn’t take them out like they know he can. Oliver refuses to kill now, believing it would dishonor Tommy’s memory, and can’t see being the vigilante without killing. When the Hoods abduct Thea to get to him, Oliver is forced back into costume. Working out of a revamped Arrowcave, Felicity and Diggle try to assure Oliver he can do things another way, still do good without the killing. Oliver tracks the Hoods down to a church in the Glades and captures the gang without killing, freeing Thea. He turns them over to Quentin Lance, who has been demoted to police officer. Thea finally visits Moira, and Oliver takes his mom’s advice and has Walter help him buy outstanding stock in Queen Consolidated, making him a full partner with Isabel. Oliver and Laurel agree to be friends, but with the vigilante back, she vows to take him down. Recognizing that he needs to be more than just a force for vengeance, Oliver decides he needs a new approach and a new name. Roy attempts to take on thugs attacking a young woman when a mysterious blonde avenger steps in to help and just as quickly disappears. On the island, Oliver, Shado, and Slade discover five months after taking out Fyers that they are no longer alone.

For a full recap of this episode, visit our handy episode guide.

Review

In the deluge of interviews that have preceded this second season premiere, the executive producers have been very pointed to address this new season as more of a sequel of sorts to the first. It could not be more apropos of a descriptor. While there are still very clear connections to the story and events from last year, every facet of this opening salvo is a jumping-on point, the start of a new direction for the series, meant as much to bring in new eyes as to broaden everything for the diehard Arrowheads. It’s an electric mix that’s every bit as exciting as the best moments of the first season.

The most immediate impression one gets of this first chapter is that the series has absolutely no intentions of slowing down the breakneck pace it became known for last year. Instead of lingering in the devastation of the city — which, by all means, it does not avoid — and wallowing in the tumult of the Queen family, it pushes Oliver into action both as Arrow and as the head of the family business. It gives Thea a stable base from which to work that she was missing. It manages to make Laurel suddenly much more relevant, involved, and exciting than in any of her previous plot threads. It further sets Roy down a path of his own heroism, slyly making him the first to see the new crusader on the beat. It introduces a new and thrilling threat — pirates! — to Team Lian Yu that completely alters and re-energizes everything about the island timeline. There are so many story points and arcs introduced in this, something other shows would likely take the first three-to-five weeks back to kick off, that it almost feels like overload. And yet, never once did anything in the episode feel neglected, glossed over, or barreled through. This is a declaration of a team that found its footing by the end of last season and now confidently presents a top-flight story.

City of HeroesOliver’s repulsion at climbing back into the hood has a palpable weight to it. It’s not just that he feels he failed the city, but that it represents everything reprehensible that Tommy came to despise. This gives a very strong roadblock for him to overcome that’s much different from his reluctance to get back in the suit following his beatdown at the hands of the Dark Archer last season. This isn’t confidence shaken; this is outright disgust at what he became and how, despite knowing and accepting of Malcolm’s and Moira’s complicity in the Undertaking, that led a course of events that ended in Tommy’s death. It’s intriguing that Oliver took himself back to Lian Yu, a place we’d come to know and believe was full of heartache and horror for him. Yet, when it comes down to it, the island was a place that Oliver came to learn how to overcome and cope with things. In that regard, it offers a reset button for him, a chance to cleanse himself and restart his life. When Diggle and Felicity find him, it doesn’t appear that he has any intention of leaving, whether to return to Starling City or to seek out somewhere and someway new to move forward. In fact, there’s an almost odd primal quality to Oliver when we first see him, perhaps feeling like he’d become a beast and this was the best place for him. It makes for an intriguing transition when he comes back to the city, and it’s very telling that he doesn’t put the suit back on until he accepts that he has to be the beast to rescue his sister.

That makes his switch in outlook and operation all the more poignant. Putting on the hood unleashes a feral quality that he has to actively control, something even more firmly underscored in bold by the flashback to Oliver bludgeoning to death the man who had pulled a knife on Shado (Celina Jade). They’d dealt with Oliver’s ferocity early last season in “An Innocent Man,” but the stark rawness of this scene made for a disturbing and powerful statement about Oliver’s future apprehensions. Oliver’s transition from vigilante into hero isn’t going to be as simple as changing his moniker and making nice with the police and merely refusing to kill. He’s got the motivation, but he’ll have these demons to struggle with all season.

City of HeroesThroughout it all, Stephen Amell proves further how he’s become the rock of this crew. There are still a few little quirks with his style that you just kind of accept with the territory now, but there isn’t a false note in his performance. You never once lose sight of a man who is haunted, in both good and bad ways, by what has transpired. By the same turn, he’s never really debilitated by that haunting, not in the ways that we’d normally see on similar shows where the lead would be sulking or drowning his sorrows in alcohol. Oliver feels like a man fundamentally changed and yet grappling with the dark aspects of himself that aren’t so easily brushed aside. All of it is a tribute to Amell and his complete understanding of this character. There’s a moment, just after we’ve seen an aerial view of the leveled Glades, where the focus is on Oliver staring out the window at everything, and Amell sells every bit of emotion with his eyes — the shock, the disappointment, the sadness, the scale. It’s a moment like that where you know that he is this world and everything depends on him to make you believe it. And we do.

One of the more surprising aspects of this episode is just how much more present Laurel seemed to be. For whatever reasons, the character has always come across more as an afterthought or a plot device, especially as she became the bean bag love interest to toss between Oliver and Tommy towards the end of last season. Even the one distinct storyline that was her own — her mother Dinah showing up with evidence of sister Sara being alive only to be proven wrong — felt like a misfire and there just appeared to be this overwhelming sense that they didn’t know what to do with her. It’s all quite the shame because Katie Cassidy can be a fun and engaging presence on-screen, but they were losing her in the shuffle. They’ve quickly remedied that this season, and while it’s sad that the loss of Tommy had to be the catalyst, one sort of has to be grateful that they were able to use it to jar Laurel into life. Pitting her against the Arrow for the season will make for an interesting dynamic, especially as they’ve pulled that onus off of her father (Paul Blackthorne), even if it’s not quite clear how it came to light that the vigilante was squaring off against Malcolm Merlyn and that Malcolm was the Dark Archer became public knowledge. (Yes, Moira announced Malcolm was behind the Undertaking, but how many people eventually saw him in his archer get-up?) Giving Cassidy that fire to work with made for one of the better turns for the character in the series so far.

Of course, the puzzling question is that of the Black Canary, or what we’re led to believe is the first incarnation of the Black Canary. (Note, no fishnets.) The showrunners have explained this as one of their Arrow things to do, just as they had Yao Fei in the hood early on in the series and the Billy Wintergreen version of Deathstroke. With Laurel becoming such a firebrand and the anticipation of an arc that will start to take her down her own path toward herodom, for all the thrill of a Canary-like figure appearing, there’s a bit of an anti-climactic feel to see a prototype out there before Laurel. It pays to reserve judgment until it is seen what they do with this development, but it is a bit conflicting all the same.

City of HeroesA fun facet of the episode was in seeing the parallels between Team Arrow and Team Lian Yu grow. Bringing breakout character Felicity in as a regular was a shrewd move, and the somehow even more lovely Emily Bett Rickards tears into her new status with aplomb. For as solid as David Ramsey is as Diggle — and as the one character who wasn’t given a substantial personal storyline this time out, it’s positive we’ll delve more into his new and continuing narrative in the next few weeks — it was intriguing to see the lion’s share of dialogue and moral compassing given to Felicity this go-round. It’s actually made her into even more rounded of a character. The quirky humor isn’t lost, but there was more meat to Felicity’s presence and that’s going to be make for a compelling triumvirate in the Arrowcave as the season wears on, not to mention the stronger focus on Queen Consolidated this year. Just as important is the solidifying of relationships in the island timeline. Oddly, Team Lian Yu feels more like a family than even Team Arrow or the Queens do. The brotherhood that’s developed between Oliver and Manu Bennett’s Slade is tangible, and it’s quite the quick to see their playfulness as they train. It’s also lovely to see the growing relationship between Oliver and Shado, something that, despite the looming danger, looks to be quite delicate and intimate. The one bit of pause would be the apparent seeds of a love triangle forming with the group, at least as far as Slade is concerned. Again, something not to be judged (or dismissed) so hastily, but it does bring on a bit of wincing at the possibility.

Particular note should be made at just how gorgeous of an episode this is. Director of Photography Glen Winter, the master, outdoes himself with a stunning tapestry of colors and shots this time out, and director John Behring, who viewers picked as their favorite director in this year’s GreenArrowTV Awards is spot on his game, finding great ways to shoot the top-notch work of James Bamford and his stunt and fight choreo teams. The focus on Oliver’s eyes at various points throughout the episode really drove home the connection for the audience with his point of view. And everything about Lian Yu was more vibrant and also more full of dread and wonder than the washed out and oppressive feel of it last year. The opening sequence with Felicity and Diggle skydiving from the prop plane was marvelous and had a fantasy feel to it that immediately kicked off a warmer and more expansive tone than the first season. The shot of the parachute dropping to the beach framed in the wreckage of the boat actually brought a bit of a jaw drop, as much for trying to place the ship as for the scope and composition of the shot. That was matched with the beautiful pan up over the tree canopy to look out at the ship in the bay in the moonlight during the flashback. Both day and nighttime aerial views of the ravaged Glades made exceptional impressions as well.

Pages could be devoted to discussing each of the characters, their current places, and the fascinating directions that seem to lie ahead for each. Hundreds of words more could thoroughly dissect — and gush — about all of the plot possibilities that have been cultivated. And that’s really what stands out most about this opening hour. “City of Heroes” is the proverbial embarrassment of riches. A well-plotted, tautly-paced reintroduction to a world familiar and yet dramatically changing, not just for our familiar characters but for the very nature of heroism as presented in the show so far. EP Marc Guggenheim stated that the title of the episode serves as the overarcing theme for the entire season. The quality of this first episode back leaves one question: Where do we register for our membership cards.

Odds & Ends

  • Particle accelerator mentioned in the news as a throwaway line is likely to play a big role in the introduction of the Flash and superpowers to this world. It’s little hints like this that make the show buzz with life.
  • The odd little Canary chirp (wasn’t really a cry) that they tossed into the soundtrack when the heroine both appeared on the scene and then jumped out of it was kind of cool and a little odd.
  • It was nice to see ol’ Walter again, and it looks as if they might find ways to bring he back in now and again. Hopefully, they present Colin Salmon with a bit more than just cameos.
  • In addition to the particle accelerator mention, already threading in the Sebastian Blood storyline is another example of how well this show populates itself with hints that pay off as the season goes on.
  • Though it’s likely been pointed out in a number of places, the name of Isabel Rochev (Summer Glau) was seen on the list not far below Adam Hunt’s name all the way back in the pilot episode. It remains to be seen if that will be brought up on the show.
  • Will Oliver’s new codename be Arrow or Green Arrow? (Likely the former.)
  • Has “You have failed this city!” been retired from Oliver’s lexicon? The Hoods adopted it as their own, seeming to put a stake through the heart of it.
  • How awesome was the scene between Willa Holland and Susanna Thompson in the prison? It’s a very good thing that they’ve moved Thea out of the teenage storylines.
  • The Arrowline away when Oliver left Lance was just a hair too Batman.

Matt Tucker Editor/Senior Writer/Reviewer

Matt Tucker is a stage and film actor, writer, Seattleite, comics nerd, sports fan, and aspiring person. Someday, he’ll be a real boy. He's an editor and senior writer for KSiteTV network (GreenArrowTV, DaredevilTV) and the sports blog Sonics Rising. He's also Movies/TV editor at SmarksOn. Follow him on Twitter at @MattBCTucker.

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