This Apple+ series from M. Night Shyamalan features spiritual and psychological twists and turns—and disturbing ones at that.
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: Billionaire playboy suffers massive personal tragedy … which turns him into a mask-wearing vigilante determined to protect his beloved hometown.
You have? Well, no surprise there. The superhero world is littered with crusading billionaire playboys—so much so that we have to wonder why Bill Gates wastes his money on charity work and hasn’t started buying high-tech crime-fighting gear and domino masks. What’s his problem? Does he have a bad back, perhaps?
No matter. The most popular moneyed do-gooder in the game today—or, more accurately, the most popular one who has a show on the CW network—is not Batman or Iron Man or even Mr. Gates, but Oliver Queen, a fellow known in comic book lore as the Green Arrow.
Arrow is an almost paint-by-numbers illustration of the life of a superhero … as interpreted by the youth-and-relationships-obsessed CW. That’s not entirely a put-down. He is, after all, at least trying to do the right thing, which is more than we can say for the folks he’s fighting.
It wasn’t always so. Oliver was once the enfant terrible of Starling City’s ludicrously wealthy and powerful Queen family. There never was a party he didn’t like, a drink he didn’t quaff or a girlfriend he didn’t cheat on with her sister. But his attitude begins to change after his father’s ship wrecks, killing almost everyone on board and leaving young Oliver marooned on a mysterious island (its Chinese name translating to Purgatory). There he is taught belated lessons of right and wrong, of loyalty, of courage and (most importantly) how to shoot arrows really, really straight.
Flashbacks show that Oliver’s path to good-dom wasn’t exactly straight as an, um, arrow. He spent some time in the Russian mob, as we see from numerous flashbacks. But hey, he gets there eventually. Fast-forward a few years, and Oliver’s a real do-gooder, determined to clean up the newly renamed Star City either in a suit (as the city’s new mayor) or in, well, another sort of suit (as a hooded vigilante, toting around a quiverful of high-tech arrows to harass and occasionally kill evildoers). We see him live for the good of the city (as he sees it) rather than the next big party. He tries to be a better person to the folks in his life whom he might’ve hurt before. And he risks pretty much everything when he goes out to deal with all those desperados.
He’s got a bevy of helpers these days, most of whom also enjoy wearing a mask or a cowl when they’re taking on the town. Currently, his team includes John Diggle, who serves as Oliver’s bodyguard and (since that seems like a pretty boring job these days) fellow vigilante. He prowls the streets with loose cannon Rene Ramirez, a.k.a. Wild Dog; Curtis Holt, a gay, married man who becomes Mister Terrific and police captain Dinah Drake, also known as The Black Canary. Meanwhile, Felicity is a full-time tech-wiz and Oliver’s wife. And Oliver also has a son, conceived from his affair with a woman named Samantha Clayton.
Batman would be aghast at the ethos of Oliver and his pals, though, given the Dark Knight’s no-killing creed. While Oliver’s vigilante slayings aren’t necessarily graphic, they’re inherently disturbing. He’s the show’s hero, remember—a self-appointed avenging angel who’s trying to make us all safer. But considering that his idea of making things “safer” is through assault and battery and the occasional murder … well, even Iron Man might get all high and mighty about that.
Stephen Amell, who plays Oliver, says Arrow’s penchant for killing isn’t admirable, but necessary within the context of the show.
“The central character of all the great shows on television, and I don’t list these names to draw comparisons, but as an example—Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper—these are all incredibly flawed people that do regrettable things, terrible things, unforgivable things,” he said back in 2012 in an interview with SFX magazine. “But as long as they’re pursuing an overall goal, and as long as they engage the audience, that’s why those shows resonate. I’ve always wanted to play somebody who was unflinching, who set up for something and followed through with it. That’s why we have to kill people on the show, because he’s trying to clean up the city. To think that there wouldn’t be collateral damage, that would be farcical.”
The show has other problems, too. Oliver regularly breaks the law to defend his fine city. CW loves its soapy plotlines, and Arrow is filled with suds. Relationships can get hot and steamy. Language, in between the twanging of bow strings, can be a bit rough. Also, because superhero worlds can sometimes be filled with questionable theology, you never know when you might run into themes involving reincarnation, immortality or godlike beings.
After learning from a “godlike being” that he is going to die but save his friends and family in process, Oliver Queen travels to an alternate reality to obtain some important dwarf star particles—the only ones that exist in the entire multiverse. He runs into old friends (who died in his own dimension) as well as some not-so-nice versions of his current friends.
In several fight sequences, opponents punch, kick, and slam each other into walls and tables. We also see characters shoot arrows and bullets into their opponents, killing them instantly. One woman makes use of a katana to cut down her adversary. A woman is thrown through a glass table and the resulting shards cut her up quite badly. A man kicks his opponent’s face into a concrete pillar so hard that the pillar crumbles a bit. Billions of people presumably die as the world around them disintegrates into nothing.
A man finds dead bodies with bloodied arrows sticking out of their chests. Another corpse sports several obvious bullet holes in his torso. A group of masked assailants attack a party with machine guns, but don’t shoot anyone. Later, the same assailants hold a man down while their leader punches him repeatedly in the face.
A woman eyes a man as he exercises shirtless and another man calls him a “showoff.” A guy mentions his two divorces. A woman wears a long dress with a slit up the leg (which appears to be functional since she later gets into a fight and kicks her opponent around).
A man is shot with a dart containing a substance that knocks him unconscious. He is later chained up by his wrists and onlywakes up when someone throws a bucketful of water on him. People break through windows, sending glass everywhere. A man pickpockets a key card and breaks into a high security laboratory. He also hacks into a computer system.
We hear about a young woman who overdosed on a drug called “Vertigo.” People dance and drink alcohol at a party. A man says he misses tequila. “H—,” “d–n” and “a–” are all heard, and God’s name is taken in vain twice.
Recently released from prison and no longer carrying a hidden identity, Oliver attends a gala for prison reformation—but this Green Arrow will have to watch his back for imposters who are bent on destroying his name. Rene and Dinah team up with Oliver to uncover the identity of an entirely new Green Arrow prowling the streets. Meanwhile, Oliver’s wife, Felicity, grapples with her own emotional changes since her husband’s time behind bars and her added responsibility for stepson, William. Elsewhere, Oliver’s bodyguard, Diggle, and his wife, Lyla, hide a crucial secret from Oliver.
In a flash-forward, Oliver’s son, William, is trying to uncover details about his deceased step-mom’s murky past, and he discovers that he’ll have to track down a violent woman called Blackstar before he can get any answers.
Characters engage in hand-to-hand combat. Men and women are punched and kicked, as well as shot and stabbed with arrows (we see a little blood). Bodies lie in body bags, and people talk about multiple murders. A building explodes. There’s visible tension between vigilantes and government officials.
Men and women are seen dancing at various nightclubs. Women wear revealing outfits (including leggings and sports bras), Oliver is seen topless (in the shower) and elsewhere with his wife in bed. Couples kiss and flirt. A man refers to a friend who slept with his now ex-wife.
People drink champagne, liquor and beer. Language includes a handful of words like “h—,” “d–n,” “crap” and “freakin’.” A man is called a “douchebag.”
Oliver decides to break his friend and ally, John Diggle, out of military prison because he didn’t commit the crime he’s supposedly guilty of. But there’s a complication: Diggle wants to stay in prison, penance for a crime he did commit but was never punished for. Meanwhile, Oliver’s cast of fledgling vigilantes tries to tackle crime boss Tobias Church and his nefarious organization—without Oliver.
One vigilante, Mad Dog, is captured and tortured by Church. He’s strung up by chains, his face cut and bloodied, and blood drips on his trademark hockey mask. A lackey zaps him several times with electricity. Church and Mad Dog fight before the latter’s capture, Church using brass knuckles to give his fists extra weight.
A man is shot in the leg with an arrow. Another gets thwacked in the back with a knife. Several security personnel are rendered unconscious via darts. In flashback, Oliver—part of the Russian mob, apparently—kills someone in prison by breaking his neck. Before the murder, Oliver punched him in the throat and threatened the lives of the man’s wife and daughter. Several people appear to be shot and perhaps killed. Others are involved in several explosions. A ladder falls with several people on it. We hear about the destruction of Rory’s hometown—a cataclysm that computer whiz Felicity facilitated.
Good guys and bad guys both steal things. Another flashback shows Oliver and his Russian mob boss drink vodka. The boss also splashes the liquor on Oliver to make it appear that he’s drunk. (He kicks out a headlight on a police officer’s car to get thrown in prison.) Characters say “a–” once, “b–ch” once and “h—” a half-dozen times.
Arrow discovers that he has a 9-year-old son! He and his posse also travel to Central City and team up with the Flash to battle Vandal Savage—an immortal villain who has spent the last 4,000 years or so killing the constantly reincarnating wing-beings Khufu and Chay-Ara.
In flashback, Khufu rises from Chay-Ara’s bed shortly after (it’s implied) they’ve had sex. Vandal Savage—then an Egyptian priest—attacks them both, thwacking them with his staff and, eventually, stabbing them. (He’s stabbed, too.) As they lie dying, Chay-Ara (a priestess) prays to the Egyptian god Horus for protection (a request that is apparently granted). We hear repeated references to Khufu’s and Chay-Ara’s reincarnation (they’ve lived 206 times previously) and Savage’s immortality.
In an alternate future, Chay-Ara and Khufu (now known as Kendra and Cisco) are stabbed by Savage and die, whereas every character except for the Flash is vaporized by evil. (Flash saves everyone by going back in time via super-speed, though he knows time travel always turns out bad eventually.) People get shot with arrows and thwacked with staves and kicked and punched. Someone gets zapped into a pile of ash. Kendra kisses Cisco. Characters misuse God’s name twice.
“Draw Back Your Bow”
Oliver is plagued by a lovestruck vigilante (nicknamed Cupid) who is killing ne’er-do-wells as a way to attract a would-be beau. But Oliver is also distracted by the pretty and brainy Felicity, with whom he broke things off recently and who now has gravitated into the orbit of her new boss, Ray Palmer.
Cupid uses her attractiveness to “encourage” a computer expert to find out where Oliver hangs. When he tells her, she straddles him on his chair—and then stabs him in the neck with an arrow. She also nearly blows up a gangster. (Oliver rescues the guy, then punches his lights out.) Cupid leaves a body for Oliver to find. And the two of them ultimately get into a knock-down-and-drag-out fight, filled with punches and kicks. When she handcuffs him to a railroad track, both of them face sudden death by locomotive. (He dislocates his thumb to extricate them.) In flashback, Oliver’s punched by thugs (leaving his face covered in blood) before a woman kills several assailants with a sword. (More killings are referenced, and we see bits of other violence.)
Couples kiss. Felicity wears a curve-hugging dress, and one of Cupid’s sexy outfit bares her midriff. Palmer works out without a shirt, impressing Felicity. Drinks are served at a bar. We hear “a–” and “h—” once each, and God’s name is misused two or three times.
With his mom no longer on trial for murder, Oliver turns his attention to a disturbing new, super-strong criminal. A wet-behind-the-ears CSI shows up to help, though he has his own secrets to keep.
Oliver gets into a couple of fights with the masked evildoer, who is doped up on some stuff that accounts for his super-strength and immunity to pain. The first time, Oliver stabs him in the leg with an arrow. The malcontent knocks Oliver through doors and windows and eventually sends him spinning into a pile of trash. During the second melee, Oliver uses a special arrow to lasso the dude’s neck with wire, slowing him down, then shoots the dastardly strongman in both feet, further immobilizing him. No matter: The villain breaks the wire and both arrows and severely punishes Oliver with his (yep, super-strong) fists. Oliver ultimately crashes into an industrial shelf and has his leg punctured by syringes filled with a mystery chemical, rendering him unconscious.
Another mystery serum is said to kill unless it’s mixed with a tranquilizer, leaving recipients to die while bleeding from their eyeballs. (We see one man do this, and the corpse of another victim in an alley.) A security guard’s neck is broken. (We see the deed and look at a postmortem picture.)
People drink alcohol. Women wear revealing gowns. Folks say “d‑‑n” and “h‑‑‑” (three times each), and “jeez” (once).
Oliver is roughly arrested, under suspicion of being the “Hood” (which he is). He’s also tortured (but not by police). We see a masked man slice Oliver with a large knife (the blade partially obscured by Oliver’s shirt).
Oliver tells a baddie that he’s been a disappointment to Starling City, aiming an arrow at him before the screen turns black and we hear the arrow fly. Folks fight, getting hit, kicked and choked. Someone gets shot by the police and dies. Someone else dies in a car accident (offscreen). A special arrow traps a man. A rabbit is skewered with an arrow.
Oliver takes off his shirt to show Lauren the scars on his torso, and the two kiss before Lauren backs off. A wild party features scantily clad women dancing, some in cages. Participants consume a variety of alcoholic beverages. Characters say “d‑‑n,” “a‑‑” and “h‑‑‑” (once each). They lie a lot, even evading polygraph tests.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
Kristin Smith joined the Plugged In team in 2017. Formerly a Spanish and English teacher, Kristin loves reading literature and eating authentic Mexican tacos. She and her husband, Eddy, love raising their children Judah and Selah. Kristin also has a deep affection for coffee, music, her dog (Cali) and cat (Aslan).
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