By: Moira Kirland & Marc Guggenheim (story)

The Story: Thanks to the recession, even bank robbers are down on their luck these days.

The Review: A few weeks ago, I was on a late plane going to D.C., bored with nothing to do except stare out into the inky darkness and ponder my meaningless life in the endless void, so I pulled out my laptop to watch an episode of Arrow.  A friend of mine who was also on that flight suddenly piped up excitedly, “Is that Arrow?”  I told her it was.  “I love Arrow,” she told me, in much the same way someone might have said, “I love Mad Men” a year ago.

I should say my friend is a sweet, feminist law student whom I would never imagine watching a weekly action-drama featuring a comic book character who fought crime with preposterously antiquated weaponry.  But after that revelation, I started paying closer attention to the show and began to recognize its crossover appeal.  This is ostensibly a show about Green Arrow, but in execution, he’s merely a platform to deliver all the things people want out of TV—action, crime, justice, relationships, and family—but with more breathing space for the fantastic.

And although occasionally it feels like Arrow simply jumbles all these disparate elements without much attention to how they fit together, we’re slowly moving toward a point where it all feels like a unified show, instead of several different shows rolled into one.  This episode is perhaps the first to represent a series you can seriously watch on a long-term basis, rather than as a purely entertaining alternative.

Maybe the writers realized that a show full of characters who don’t trust each other gets tiresome after a while, because this episode does a ton of work to deepen whatever tenuous bonds already exist.  Just as Ollie begins to confide in his partner, his partner encourages him to think beyond “the list” in his ventures, about the smartest advice this whole episode.  The corporate crime thing never had much weight; stepping outside the box allows Ollie to show a personal conscience and blend more of his own values with the persona he takes on under the hood.

By necessity, perhaps, the first unlisted criminals Ollie takes down still have a pretty strong connection to his late dad’s misdeeds.  Though they disappoint Ollie’s first attempt to be curative rather than just vengeful—and they do so for about the least sympathetic reason possible*–at least they provide a case that our protagonist is a genuine hero in the making.

Other relationships begin to flourish in this episode, including the unexpected but interesting love triangle between Dinah, Tommy, and Thea.  I approve of this development, if only because it lends more legitimacy to the attraction between Dinah and Tommy (instead of, you know, just a placeholder for Dinah and Ollie’s relationship).  At least it gives Thea something to do while she’s waiting to become “Speedy” to her brother’s Green Arrow.

That said, the show needs to give Thea more of a purpose beyond sidekick, though she makes a pretty good one now, especially when backing Ollie against WASPy concerns of their mom.  In another first, I really found the family dynamic credible in this episode, particularly where the kids mock Moira’s fawning over her best friend’s “perfect” son:

“Oliver, Carter just got accepted into Harvard and Princeton.

“But that’s because Carter got a perfect score on his SATs.”

“Now how did he manage to study and cure cancer?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Ollie says in a tone of helpless amazment.

And even though the scene is almost unbearably saccharine, the final shot of Ollie and his mom eating late-night burgers and shakes is genuinely sweet.  I love that when Moira remarks that Carter probably wouldn’t know the best burger join in town, Ollie jokes, “So I have one thing on him.”

“No—you have everything on him, Oliver.”  The compliment is a little strange coming out of Moira’s generally distant, martyred mouth, but it rounds her personality in a big way.

Conclusion: Arrow is finally making use of its strengths and trimming away the problematic issues which have been dragging an otherwise solid show.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Basically, they let their oldest son’s craziness jerk them around, even though most have the sense to recognize that a life of no risk is better than a life of probably getting arrested/grievously injured/killed.

– As a Windows fan (blasphemy, I know), I was tickled pink to see Windows 8 running on Felicity’s laptop.