“Sometimes to honour your wishes, I’m going to have to dishonour your memory,” says Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) over the empty grave of his father, Robert. He’s justifying everything that unfolded in the previous 40 minutes, but it’s perilously close to the first real occasion we see Oli emote and not just look blank or smirky.
It’s the second episode in, and The CW’s Arrow is either still setting up its formula – which is fine – or settling into one, which isn’t. One of the bad bastards on the list his father left him of parasites and philanderers who are bringing down Gotham Starling City is being pursued by dogged lawyer/sort-of love interest
Rachel Dawes Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), and Batman Green Arrow is able to kill two birds with one stone by taking him out and leaving enough evidence lying around to put him away.
As if that doesn’t sound familiar already, the following scenarios are repeated from the pilot episode:
1) Sister Thea Queen (Willa Holland) delivers a speech about how hard it was for everyone without Oliver, and brushes off his lame-duck drugs intervention attempt.
2) Oliver pretends to be a drunk playboy douchebag, Batman Begins-style in order to get out of doing something.
3) Bodyguard John Diggle (David Ramsey) suggests he knows something’s up.
4) Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) reminds everyone how Oliver was once a tearaway, and follows up by suggesting to Laurel that he’s not good for her.
5) Someone sees Oliver’s scars and begs him to talk about it.
6) Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), like all policemen do, threatens Oliver with physical violence while on duty.
7) Oliver seems to suddenly get really angry that his mother (Susanna Thompson) is boffing his father’s CFO Walter Steele (Colin Salmon) and then gets over it almost instantly.
8) It all more or less builds up to one big flashy ejaculation of the entire special effects and stunt budget, this time in an – admittedly brilliant – battle alongside a container ship.
9) There’s a flashback to the island, which looks increasingly like somewhere in Canada the more we see of it.
10) A gimmick arrow appears at the end to advance the plot rapidly to its crucial resolution.
11) Oliver is forced to have an out-of-costume fight that he pretends didn’t happen/was dumb luck.
Although the Nolan-era Batman reference points are still constantly beneath the surface – in the prologue when Arrow holds a nogoodnik’s face over a ventilator fan you almost expect to hear Christian Bale’s stupid Bat-voice barking “DON’T PANIC, YOU’VE BEEN POISONED” – but there’s also a hint of 2003’s fondly remembered (by geeks at least, all hiding behind the brilliance of the Coolio subplot in the director’s cut) Daredevil in there, too – the music video fight choreography, the muted primary colours in leather, the use of vigilante justice as a part of the courtroom process and how claustrophobic and reduced the direction is. Things happen, then someone reacts, then someone else reacts, but given how many characters and plot threads they’re trying to deal with in just over 40 minutes that’s to be expected.
It’s not all prissy face nitpicking, though; we get three major overarching plot developments – a mysterious Seal Of Rassillon/Dharma Industries-type logo, a first DC universe villain and possible Season 1 big bad – Kelly Hu’s Triad boss China White (from Andy Diggle and Jock’s brilliant Green Arrow: Year One which you should totally read right now) – and a tantalising closing reveal of what unfolded on that mysterious island.
All the ingredients are there for a piece of must-watch TV, and now Arrow has been frequented a full 22-episode first season, only in time will we be able to work out whether ‘Honor Thy Father’ was the second, more confident step on level ground before the climb began, or early evidence of the show running out of steam. Regardless, it’s still a fantastic piece of superhero entertainment that deserves far better considering the ghastly Birds Of Prey series kicked off with around 3 million more viewers.