In 2005 Christopher Nolan shocked the world with his surprisingly well-made gritty Batman Begins. In 2012 the trilogy came to a close with The Dark Knight Rises. The Dark Knight trilogy was a resounding success and is one of the reasons why superhero films became mainstream blockbuster films.
Of course, we already had the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy a few years before, and the MCU was already in its first phase, but as much as I personally enjoyed the mix of comic-bookesque goofs with grounded drama, Marvel films were nowhere near as realistic as the Batman films. In fact, while Marvel’s films always retained their connection to the comic books, DC took Batman’s success to mean that all of their properties would now have to be gritty and realistic.
Of course, their attempts at this failed miserably with films such as Man of Steel, the attrocity that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and so on. Their films went from dark and realistic to dark and nonsensical.
Even though the continuity of the DC films currently is a convoluted mess, the same serious characters have begun to loosen up and the films have started to add more humour and comic book-like elements into the mix. But let’s go back to 2012 and the height of DC’s success with The Dark Knight Rises.
At the peak of the Batman hype, a new show was born. The name was Arrow. When I first saw the poster, I didn’t even see the DC part and had no idea what the show was supposed to be about. All I saw was a shirtless grim-looking Stephen Amell. I thought to myself, is this going to be an action adventure drama directed towards a female audience?
But when I watched the pilot, I stopped it after the first five minutes to look up the synopsis online. Did they say Oliver Queen? Indeed, the show is a DC Comics adaptation of the Green Arrow. And it was good. In fact its first two seasons reminded me of a mix between the Nolan films, (dark, brutal, violent and full of existential brooding) and 80s/90s TV dramas (mystery, intrigue, interpersonal relationships and conflicts driving the plot forward). The main difference was that the plot was moving as fast as a leopard. In the 80s and 90s, shows would mostly have full episodes of self-contained drama (fillers to today’s impatient audiences) and only small drawn-out movements of the overarching story. The point was to tease the audience and make them squirm for every little bit of actual plot development. But Arrow didn’t play around.
[From now on spoilers for all seasons of Arrow]
Within four episodes, Oliver Queen was already arrested and interrogated under suspicion of being the Hood (the name he used back then, when his mission consisted of crossing off names from a list and murdering said people and their henchmen in cold blood).
By the end of season one, the entire cast had gone through multiple changes of character and motivation and we had to deal with multiple tragic deaths. The plot twists were excellent and both the drama and action felt satisfying and exciting. The fact that Oliver Queen had spent five years on a mysterious deserted uncharted island that is named Purgatory in Chinese (LOST anyone?) and we had to learn bits and pieces about what he had to endure on the island through flashbacks, only enhanced the viewing experience. We needed to know what happened.
Then season two upped its game even more, by introducing us to several new heroes, such as Arsenal and the Black Canary (later retconned to only Canary) and the best villain of the show, Slade Willson himself, Deathstroke. Deathstroke had been teasted throughout season one and while the show made it appear as if he had been a villain of the past, there he was in the flesh and his introduction on screen was one of the best moments in television history.
Unfortunately, the show split off into multiple shows after this, forming the Arrowverse (DC TV Universe) and with the spin-offs the quality of the show(s) went downhill.
Arrow’s main issue was its inability to present even greater threats, after Deathstroke, without tapping into the mystical and supernatural. Season three still had a very interesting villain in Ra’s Al Ghul, who will need no introduction to fans of Batman or DC more generally. But in introducing this immortal enemy, Oliver Queen’s character was severely damaged. First, he literally was stabbed through the chest and thrown of a mountain. Then he miraculously survived this (how???) and returns only to betray everyone he knows and loves to join the League of Assassins. But don’t worry, he needlessly made everyone suffer as a ruse to gain al Ghul’s trust and then betrays him at the last second and wins his rematch with him (all of a sudden he is waaay better at swordfighting somehow).
This is also kind of spoiled, because Oliver crosses over into the new show The Flash during its finale to help him out, revealing he has really not turned into a villain after all.
The finale of Arrow season three is awful and makes no sense. But the entire season smelt fishy from its first episode. In the final episode of season two, the Black Canary leaves town to go on her own adventure (would have been a great spin-off!), but leaves her leather jacket for her sister, saying it would suit her better anyway.
But in the first episode of season three, she is suddenly back out of nowhere and helps out during one of the fights. But her appearance is shoehorned in, in a very obvious and painful way. Then the plot twist at the end of the show is that some mysterious person she recognises off camera shoots some arrows in her chest and makes her fall from the roof of a building and to her untimely death. Why? It was unnecessary for the plot. The only reason they did that was to create a pointless MacGuffin that did not even lead to anything interesting, other than minor character development.
It also served as additional motivation for her sister Laurel to take up her mantle. But her Laurel’s character had by then been thoroughly ruined. In season one she was the main love interest of Oliver Queen. Then, she goes on a vigilante witch hunt and becomes an alcoholic. Then her sister comes back and immediately starts dating Oliver, which freaks Laurel out, because the two of them had previously cheated on her. However, by this time, Laurel and Oliver were thoroughly through and Laurel still throws a tantrum about her sister coming back from the dead and stealing everything from her. The show gave so much time to Laurel’s drama, that I was really beginning to hope they would end up writing her out of the show to set up a bigger and better plot point. Alas, no such luck.
By the end of the season the two sort things out and Oliver and Sara are through (though that part always felt very quick and like an unnatural separation). The whole thing was set up in such a way as to have Laurel be the eventual love interest for Oliver. But wait! There is Felicity Smoak. Who, you might ask? Well, she is a foxy blonde IT girl, who of course knows everything about hacking and all that nonsense, who talks way too fast, is awkward and constantly makes weird sexual puns and innuendos. In other words, she is basically perfect, as she can do nearly anything the team needs her to do at any given time, except she is incredibly annoying and makes it impossible to enjoy the usually quite dramatic show, due to her constant need to awkwardly and ineffectively ridicule everything for no reason. Meanwhile, Oliver is a college drop-out, who speaks English, Chinese and Russian, has joined the Russian mob, fought with an international spy agency, was trained by Chinese and Australian soldiers and spends most of his time brooding away or at the gym. Yeah, she and Oliver have nothing in common, but some fans were extremely vocal in shipping the two (presumably because they fantasised about the nerdy girl ending up with the buff guy), so they eventually became lovers.
Meanwhile we spend a whole season building up Laurel as the Black Canary and as soon as we have her, a new villain appears in season four and kills her. Yep. She confesses her love for Oliver on her death bed and then dies, only to promptly be replaced by an evil doppelganger from a different universe, who is later redeemed and joins the group. Oh and Oliver and Felicity get together and break up a couple of times, get married, take a break from each other and get back togther a million times, because their characters just don’t have any chemistry whatsoever, but somehow we are being told that this is true love for six seasons…
Oh, you’re surprised by the doppelganger from another universe part? Yeah, let me rewind real quick. Remember when I said the show spawned spin-offs? So the first spin-off was The Flash. The character of Barry Allen was introduced in Arrow as a potential love interest for Felicity Smoak (of course he was…) and was exposed to the particle accelerator explosion at the end of the episode, turning him into the fastest man alive.
His show was intriguing at first. The Flash season one was all about physics and chemistry and how these things allowed for certain things to happen. And it was an amazing joyride to discover all these relatively believable metahuman abilities. But at the end of the first season, my suspense of disbelief ended in a flash (pun intended). The guy runs up a tornado, jumping from debris pieces to pieces and shoots lightning into a black hole to “close it”. Bad writing at its best.
Then there was Constantine, a shortlived show that was cancelled due to poor ratings, but kept alive by introducing the titular character and his own story as a guest star on the other Arrowverse shows. Which was actually a clever way to do it. Constantine was the first show to deal with the mystical elements and magic.
When viewers thought it couldn’t get any worse, we end up with Arrow season four, The Flash season two and Supergirl season one.
Oliver Queen came back from a short-lived exile with his girlfriend Felicity and donned the green hood once more, but now finally called himself the Green Arrow. So he went from The Hood, to The Arrow to The Green Arrow.
In season one, a douchy college friend of Oliver’s suggested the name Green Arrow would be far better than The Hood, but Oliver dismissed it as lame. But now he thinks it’s cool?
I mean, it’s a relatively small thing, but it is a perfect example of how the writers of the show had an original dark and gritty vision and then over time diluted it and changed it over and over again until it became a parody of itself. The Green Arrow still shouted things like “You have failed this city!” in his grim dark voice, but when he then shot his trick arrows at people in a “non-lethal way”, it felt hilarious.
Nothing against trick arrows, but comparing how the show and its characters carried themselves in the first two seasons, to how they acted towards the end, it is unthinkable. It’s like watching completely different shows.
This becomes incredibly apparent in the show’s finale, when we see a flashback to the old Oliver Queen and how he used to get things done. The excitement was tangible, whereas for the past few seasons, I had to force myself to watch this show, in hopes it would get better, but it never did. There were glimpses of its old glory here and there, but for the most part it just got worse and worse.
Back to the plot and the spin-offs! So the Green Arrow first has to fight regular street thugs and criminals, who for some reason are now rampaging through the city and he needs to recruit a new team of superheroes to stop them. His enemies have no powers, no magic, no advanced weapons. Not even a lot of money or influence. They’re just good at stealing stuff. But somehow the guy who took down a wonder-drug powered SIS agent and his army of monsters, as well as the immortal leader of the League of Assassins and his assassins, suddenly needs a lot more help with this. Then, Damien Darhk shows up. He is the former rival of R’as al Ghul and somehow he now has access to insane magical powers, as well as endless amounts of money and power, making him a very boring overpowered villain. Once he loses all his magic, he becomes much more interesting, but unfortunately that takes place during another spin-off Legends of Tomorrow. So the entire season is focused on interpersonal drama between Oliver and Felicity, Damien Darhk’s magic nonsense and Laurel trying and succeeding in bringing Sara back from the dead with Constantine’s help.
Legends of Tomorrow was the CW’s answer to Marvel’s The Avengers. Legends took characters from Arrow and the Flash, as well as adding new characters to its roster and formed a new team of time travelling superheroes, on a mission to change the grim future that awaited Earth. The team was composed, among others, by a resurrected Sarah Lance, now the White Canary and Leonard Snart (Captain Cold), two of the better characters the Arrowverse had produced. It’s first season was amazing. Each episode dealt with a new time crisis, individual character issues and the team growing together, before facing off against the big bad. There was even a group fighting shot, similar to the Avengers and one particularly emotional scene towards the end, which I will not spoil. Unfortunately, the show turned upside down in season two and continued to spiral out of control with every further season, until it became entirely a parody of superhero films. It is now literally puns and jabs at anything and anyone in history and the Legends are also breaking the fourth wall. Sadly, Legends of Tomorrow is still the most entertaining Arrowverse show to this date. It is entirely different from the rest and more whacky than Thor: Ragnarok, but it has learned to own it and one can enjoy it, because it doesn’t take itself seriously, so why should we?
The Flash season two was okay, considering it did more of the same, but with a little less science facts and more science mumbo-jambo. The main big new thing here was the discovery that there is a multiverse and the Flash could travel between them, leading to the introduction of the alternate Laurel Lance, who at first was a Flash villain and later moved back to Arrow.
Supergirl on the other hand was a total disaster. The first season was little more than a thinly veiled attempt at social justice propaganda. Now I want to make this clear, the issues of social justice are important and we should talk about them. One can even weave them into stories like this, but it has to be done gracefully and tastefully. Supergirl did not manage to do that. Every episode at some point had a monologue (usually from the loathsome Cat Grant) about how Feminism is the greatest and we all need to get with the programme. Who are you talking to? Your audience probably already is onboard. This is your first female-led superhero show. You don’t need to force your views onto the already converted. And if there happen to be any people who don’t share your ideas and values, you’re probably going to anger them instead. I am certainly angry at this travesty, and I actually share the belief in social justice. So, you tell me if you are doing a good job.
Season two of Supergirl was arguably better in the storytelling department, but almost worse in the propaganda department. Overall it was still the best season of Supergirl to date, as it brought together Supergirl and Mon-el, an alien prince from a rival neighbouring civilisation of Krypton. He too was the last survivor of his world (or so we are led to believe) and despite butting heads in the beginning, he adjusts and integrates into Earth society and Kara is able to teach him how to be a good boyfriend. They fall madly in love with each other, but sadly cannot remain together, because of an event that causes them to part against their wishes.
The story is incredibly tacky, but its execution is actually pretty good and works mostly due to the acting of the main characters. In fact, both actors ended up falling in love and are still in a relationship today (even if not on-screen), making the love and heartbreak of the characters in the show as real as possible.
Arrow, at this point, is barely a functional show. The top-rated YouTube comment on the fifth season’s trailer read: “Wow, is this a fan fiction?” It certainly felt like it.
Every season is more or less the same now. The characters don’t tell each other an important piece of information for no reason whatsoever and then have to live with the consequences, or some other kind of fabricated personal drama creates conflict and prevents any of the characters from really growing, because they keep on making the same old mistakes over and over. There is an emotional resolution at the end, but then next season, the whole thing starts over again. Worse, at times the characters who did the moral preaching turn around and do the exact same things they were just lecturing another character about. It makes for stale, artificial and unbelievable drama that sends the audience to sleep.
So the Green Arrow is once more back to fighting street gangsters. And suddenly, they prove to be an even bigger problem for him. He recruits yet another new team and trains them personally, but finds that he is really bad at it all of a sudden. There is more drama, interpersonal conflict, some betrayals and a nice cameo. The entire season is uttely forgettable and the only reason I even watched it, was because I wanted to understand what was going on with the characters, when they joined the cross-over.
Cross-overs. While characters are named and sometimes jump between shows, there are also formal cross-overs. Every year, there is one dedicated cross-over where each of the shows experiences the same threat at the same time and all teams from all shows team up to fight it over multiple episodes of the different shows. The first time, Arrow and Flash joined forces in one episode of the Flash and then continued the action in the next episode of Arrow. This guarantees that you have to watch all of the shows, so you can understand and don’t miss parts of the cross-overs. A terrible way to keep an audience alive, but unfortunately, effective.
The Flash Season three brings us to the Flashpoint Paradox. Barry Allen goes back in time to save his mother and in doing so alters the future. He realises his mistake and that he should not meddle with the timeline willfully, so he goes back in time and stops himself from saving his mother, resetting the timeline. Except, you can never put it back exactly the same way it was before. So the Flash ended up changing things everywhere, including in Arrow, where certain characters disappeared and new ones appeared. But Supergirl remained unaffected, because this show takes place on another Earth. Why? Because originally, Arrow was gritty and realistic and there is no place for superpeople in a show like that. So they consciously put Supergirl on another Earth, where her crazy superpowers could make more sense than on our Earth.
The Flash is an odd show, as it generally is slow and boring, but somehow still offers the most interesting overarching plots of all other shows. Unfortunately, some of the episodes are the least watchable of all shows too. For example, there is one episode entitled #Feminism, in which the male characters are all incapacitated and so all the female characters have to work together to do what the boys normally do, save the city. And of course the villain is also female. And at the end of it all, they literally say “Yeah, we did it girls and we didn’t need the boys to do it for us at all. #Feminism.” Cringe…
Supergirl’s third season was entirely forgettable, so I am just not going to talk about it. The fourth season, however, had one of the most thoughtful and emotionally powerful episodes of all the shows, entitled Man of Steel, in which the great Sam Witwer portrays an average college professor with an okay job, a nice family and some minor life issues, who experiences some horrible events that eventually radicalise him and turn him into the leader of an anti-alien movement. Powerful stuff.
Too bad his character is entirely wasted in the last few episodes of the season, where it seems like the writers ran out of ideas and just let Supergirl save the day in a subpar way.
But at the same time, we get to meet Lex Luthor in those same last few episodes, who was behind it all along and came up with a ridiculously convoluted and stupid plan that of course fails and backfires. What makes it even worse is that he succeeds in killing the “Red Daughter”, a Soviet version of Supergirl, whom he trained himself. She is teasted for the entire season, introduced at the last minute with an interesting backstory and then killed off-screen. Ridiculous.
We also get another show, called Black Lightning. I imagine the writers saying something along the lines of this, when thinking of the show: “okay, we need to cater to the Black demographic in America. Let’s throw together an almost-only-black cast and talk about racism, while punching up bad guys.”
I liked the first season. It was fast-paced and introduced new characters very quickly. But season two was so awful, it took me two years to finish it, because I had to force myself to do it. It didn’t help that Black Lightning was the only show to not feature in any of the cross-overs. Season three was just as bad and I honestly didn’t get past the first three episodes.
So let us talk about the end of Arrow. Seasons six and seven find Oliver Queen and his new team struggling even more against a new mobster, who seems to beat them at every turn. It is painful to watch and makes no sense most of the time. The most refreshing part in season seven was a flash-forward story to twenty years in the future and features Oliver’s son and daughter in an even darker Star City. Although this version of the future conflicts with the events of Star City’s future as seen in Legends of Tomorrow’s season one. Whoopsie!
This is quickly retconned in the final cross-over of Arrow: Crisis on Infinite Earths. Ever since the previous cross-over in season seven, we had been told that Oliver Queen would not survive the coming crisis. We knew this would be the case as well, because the actor Stephen Amell has had enough and asked to be written out of the show.
So seasons seven and eight were a long-winded good-bye to the character. And then the crisis came. The crisis was the most interesting if also the most ridiculous cross-over event ever aired on television.
Not only did it cross-over between Arrow (and Oliver Queens’ kids from the future, who will get their own spin-off!), The Flash, Supergirl, Black Lightning and the new Batwoman (which started off really badly, but actually is kind of growing on me slowly now), but also crossed over with a lot of previous DC shows and films.
What was the crisis? Well, the anti-matter universe is trying to destroy the multiverse. So all of the multiverse’s greatest heroes have to come together to stop it. Along the way, we meet so many different characters and universes that all belong to the same multiverse. There is the 60s Batman show, the 90s animated Batman show (which was butchered in a way, because this Batman is revealed to have turned evil and killed most other superheroes in the end), the 90s live-action Flash show (which gets a nice little send-off), Smallville (which also gets a nice send-off), Lucifer and the original Superman films, as well as the current DC films in cinema, to mention just a few. The future Arrow from Legends of Tomorrow is conveniently revealed to also be from a different universe and the Legends apparently accidentally travelled to a parallel universe, rather than their own future, which makes no sense, but whatever, none of this does.
Oliver Queen dies in the first episode of the cross-over, saving millions apparently, but it is all narrated and happens off-screen and feels really cheap and illogical. Then Sara Lance and Barry Allen try to revive him the same way they revived Sara before. They succeed, but then he refuses to come back to life and instead becomes Spectre, a basically all-powerful ghost. After lots of back and forth, all of the Earths and universes are destroyed (so think, all your shows and movies end with total universal annihilation in this cross-over, nice! *facepalm*), but the paragons of virtues, needed to defeat the anti-monitor (who conveniently mostly consist of Arrowverse heroes) are saved at the end of time (which also makes no sense, because that would still have to be located in a universe and they are all supposed to be gone now…). There Ghost Oliver contacts them, they drift through their collective memories and travel to the beginning of time (again, should not exist), where the Anti-Monitor battles them one last time. The paragons mostly don’t do much, except for a quick fighting montage with some ghosts, while Oliver Queen actually does all the work and not only defeats the anti-monitor, but also creates a new universe. He gets his emotional send-off and in his second death reveals to the audience (but not the heroes), that a new multiverse was born, which contains all the new terrible DC shows, such as Titans, as well as the original Superman films (but none of the rest, they are all dead, sorry folks!). In the next episode, the heroes all wake up in the same universe, now called universe-prime and the Martian Manhunter helps all those people who “forgot” what happened to “remember” their lives in the previous universes. Oliver Queen conveniently put all main shows back into one single universe without him. They form the Justice League and hold a funeral for him. It turns out, Oliver also brought back all his friends and loved ones from the dead (except for Laurel, cause we already have the doppelganger, who now had this whole redemption ark, so yeah, let’s not revive his old flame) and made everything overall better. Thanks, Ollie!
It is a great way to retcon things and start over, especially if your cinematic universe is failing miserably and you need an excuse to reboot it. The TV universe just gave you one. Well played!
But the cross-over was such horseshit writing, that one cannot even begin to dissect the plot. It is like the reverse of swiss cheese. The holes are the actual cheese and they are floating around among all this hollow space, where the glue of the plot should be, but there isn’t one and therefore it would not even make sense to attempt to put it together. Let’s just accept it for what it is: the most ambitious television cross-over ever made, that was very well made in terms of bringing all these worlds together and should be admired for this, but makes no sense whatsoever, much like all the shows at some point.
In conclusion, the Arrowverse has found its end and another new beginning as the remaining shows continue to run in a new timeline and universe, in which a lot of crap is going down that makes no sense, but is super convenient to come up with better plot lines and intriguing character interactions. One can only hope that the new Arrowverse (sans Arrow), will be a better TV universe. But one thing is for sure. The gritty realistic Arrow is a show that only lived for two seasons and died long ago both in the hearts and minds of its writers and its audience and no other show on TV currently dares to attempt anything like it.
So in a way, we got a taste of something good and pure for a little while that spawned off its own whacky weird uncle of a TV universe but we can always choose to remember the good old days fondly, and move on to better entertainment elsewhere, while allowing those who enjoy it to continue with their enthusiasm for the whacky crap that the CW is currently pooping out each week.