Wednesday, October 5, 2016

REVIEW: 'Arrow' - Oliver Struggles to Be Both the Mayor of Star City and the Green Arrow in 'Legacy'

The CW's Arrow - Episode 5.01 "Legacy"

Oliver takes to the streets solo to protect the city as the Green Arrow. With Felicity guiding him from the bunker, Oliver is forced to deal with both criminals and new vigilantes. Felicity suggests Oliver form a new team. When a deadly new criminal, Tobias Church, enters the picture, Oliver realizes the best thing for the city might be a new team of superheroes. The flashbacks take us to Russia where Oliver faces off against the Bratva.

Across five seasons now, Arrow sometimes spends too much time on Oliver Queen, brooding superhero. He has grown and evolved over the course of the series. No one can dispute that. However, he still takes on the mantle of needing to protect this city by himself way too often. He puts the weight of the world on his shoulders a ton of the time. He always blames himself and takes responsibility whenever something bad happens to the city or someone he cares about. Having a team has really helped him defeat villains over the years. But now, the team has scattered throughout the world. All he has is Felicity providing tactical support from the bunker. He's out in the field alone for the first time since the very first season. It presents a new set of challenges for him. But it still feels like the show is embracing emotional issues and plot complications that have already been done a million times already.

Of course, some things have changed now. Oliver is both the Green Arrow and the mayor of Star City. He can protect this city in two very different ways. That's a fun new way to tell stories this season. "Legacy" doesn't really embrace all of those possibilities though. He chose to become mayor as a way to be a savior in the light. A couple of key moments in this premiere happen during the day. Oliver is not hiding behind a mask or the cover of darkness. He's effecting change in the wide open. He commissions a statue of the Black Canary to remind this city of the strength they've shown against some great adversaries. And yet, Oliver is way more concerned about making a difference as a masked vigilante. It's what he's good at. He's been doing it for awhile now. He's still relatively new as a mayor. He doesn't know how the job works or who he can trust in the system. But his juggling act is already creating a bunch of problems. He's late to all of his mayoral responsibilities because he's out fighting crime. He needs to work on this balance because it's clear the show is already ramping up a new season-long villain.

Villains became such a huge problem for the DC Comics shows on The CW last year. It felt like the creative teams were stretched too thin. Damien Darhk had his moments. He was a vast improvement on Ra's al Ghul. But the actual season-long story made very little sense overall. And thus, it didn't make much of an impact while embracing a way too serious tone. This show isn't at its best when its super grim and serious all the time. It's great when the characters can have fun or be light-hearted. However, that's always going to be a systemic problem for the show. Tobias Church makes his debut for the season. It's clear that this season is setting him up as the new bad guy for Oliver to fight. He won't just be the villain for a week. He's different than the last few bad guys too. He's a man of the streets. He's a gangster with no magical or supernatural abilities. He lets his fists do the talking. He's an outsider to Star City and wants to take down the Green Arrow to make his arrival known. That's what fuels the plot throughout this premiere.

It's a fairly standard story for the show. People from city hall are captured and the Green Arrow has to track down the bad guy to save them. The problem is Oliver is one of the people taken. So, the Green Arrow can't come to rescue everyone. He's already there and doesn't have any of his arrows. Meanwhile, his team is gone. Laurel is dead. Diggle has re-enlisted. Thea is working at city hall. Lance is drinking again. Thea ultimately decides to put on the mask again and help Oliver out of this situation. She finally found peace in her life. She realized that she could have a purpose and happiness without being Speedy. And then, Oliver is taken and she needs to help. But it seems Oliver has changed more than anyone has seen so far. He's returned to killing people. He claims it's to protect his secret identity. But he's really doing it because he blames his no-kill policy for Laurel's death. He believes he could have killed Damien Darhk before Laurel was killed. That's simply not true at all. He didn't have those kinds of opportunities last season. It just shows that he is a changed man in the present. Change isn't always for the better either.

There is certainly a throwback feel to this premiere. It's very reminiscent of the first season. That's by design as well. This season could be the end of a chapter for the show. Oliver was on Lian Yu for five years. Every season has showcased a year of his life away from his family. This is the final year for the flashbacks. Those sequences haven't carried any purpose or meaning since the second season. That year was great because it knew how to thematically connect the past and present in some wonderful ways that really helped the overall story. Since then, the flashbacks have been pointless. Oliver has already reached the end of his emotional journey there. Now, they are just about the crazy experiences that happened to him during his time away. Plus, they always carry significance to the stuff happening in the present. But this year is building to that fateful day where Oliver is rescued. By the end of this year, he'll be ready to return to Star City and begin his journey. So, it's important that he's willing to kill again. It's important that his father's book of names makes a sudden reappearance. It's unclear what will happen to this narrative structure after this season. So, there needs to be immense value in it now.

Just like the first season though, Oliver learns that it's much more effective to be out on the streets with a team. The show got so much better after Diggle and Felicity were let in on the secret and joined Team Arrow. Oliver still has Felicity but he needs more. This premiere may feel like a throwback but it's clear Oliver has made some progress because he doesn't stubbornly refuse help for multiple episodes. By the end of this hour, he knows he needs help in the field and will have to train a new team. Thea, Felicity and Diggle are still there to support him when he needs it. But their support is to Oliver and not the Green Arrow. That's a key distinction. The Green Arrow needs help protecting Star City. A new era of the team could be very exciting for the show. This premiere teases it as something Laurel wanted for Oliver as well. The promise he made to her - that was kept a mystery last season - was to not let her be the last canary. The formation of the new team will ensure that he keeps his promise. Oliver already has a few promising candidates. Curtis will be one of them. And yet, Oliver will need to train this new team quickly. Tobias Church won't be the only villain Oliver will be facing this year. "Legacy" ends with a new masked archer arriving and killing a random citizen. It's an ominous tease at the end of the hour. But it's in keeping with the "back to basics" theme that this season seems to be going for. So far, it seems good. Hopefully, that can last throughout the year.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Legacy" was directed by James Bamford with story by Greg Berlanti and teleplay by Marc Guggenheim & Wendy Mericle.
  • James Bamford has served as stunts coordinator for the show since the very beginning. Every episode he directs always showcases the fight scenes in some phenomenal ways. The action sequences of this premiere are phenomenal. Yes, that helicopter fight was silly and pulpy but it was also very entertaining to watch.
  • Oliver refuses to work with the police force because he believes too many of the officers are corrupt. He's not wrong to feel that way. But it's also important that his story in the premiere builds to the creation of an anti-crime task force made up of men that Lance personally vouches for.
  • Lance's whole identity on the show has been as a cop. Now that he's off the force, it was unclear what his purpose would be. Him serving as a liaison of sorts between Team Arrow and the Anti-Crime Force should be interesting.
  • However, Lance and Donna are no longer a couple. Donna is back to working as a waitress while Lance is drinking again after Laurel's death. Did they break up because of the drinking? Or were they just not a good match like Lance claims here?
  • Things won't exactly be going back to the way they were before because Felicity already has a new boyfriend. He's an officer for the police department. Lance doesn't assign him to the anti-crime force. So, he could be a corrupt officer. Or he could be perfectly fine. He's still too much of a stranger to lean one way or the other.
  • The flashbacks this year take Oliver to Russia to fulfill the promise he made to that woman from last year's flashbacks. That wasn't a great story. But this season is already off to a better start because they have Anatoly. He serves as Oliver's initiation into the Bratva.