It’s not right to say that Arrow was the first show to do superheroes right — that would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer — but when it premiered in 2012, there’d been a long list of failures. Heroes had quickly dissolved into a ludicrous mess without stakes or structure. No Ordinary Family was boring without the ambition to try to become anything but boring. Misfits was an interesting show about superpowers, but it intentionally refrained from making their characters heroic.
And when CW launched Arrow, the show felt like it was hedging its bets.
Green Arrow’s not as obscure of a DC Comics character as say, Calendar Man, but he’s also not Batman or the Flash. A failure wouldn’t tarnish a major brand. Compared to The Flash’s premiere two years later, Arrow had an aversion to magic and gee-whiz science. Green Arrow was a superhero, but one in the Batman rich-guy-with-gadgets-who-fights vein more than the ice-breath vein.
Arrow wasn’t humorless, but it could certainly be bleak, with Starling City facing 1980s New York-levels of poverty, drugs and crime.
What Arrow needed was a hero of an actor with a performance to elevate the surrounding show.
And it wasn’t Stephen Amell. As Oliver Queen,
Instead of the guy in the Batman role, the standout is the actor in the Commissioner Gordon role: Paul Blackthorne, playing Capt. Quentin Lance. In a series where heroes and villains alike tend to be yacht-owning billionaires or nigh-immortal mystics, Lance is the maybe the only one who’s remotely relatable. Bald and
In last week’s episode, he admits to Queen that he’s been working for the season’s big villain, Damien Darhk, to protect his daughter Laurel.
“Actually it’s been a little more than two months now, me working with Darhk. It started out benign. He said he had resources. He had people. Money. He held himself out as just another guy who wanted to help this city. And we needed the help. You weren’t here. By the time I figured out who he was, WHAT HE WAS, that’s when he threatened Laurel.”
On paper, the monologue is nothing special. It’s an exposition dump. But Blackthorne’s performance turns it into something far more sympathetic and profound. His voice — Blackthorne’s English-doing-an-American accent — is raspy and raw, exhausted and desperate. The delivery of the lines moves between defeated and
Blackthorne understands the second before delivering a line is as crucial as the line himself. He’ll often pause a beat, react internally, with an emotion flitting across his face, and then swallow before speaking.
Just as Fringe was carried on the back of an eccentric John Noble performance and Daredevil excelled because of Vincent D'Onofrio’s childlike thug Wilson Fisk, Blackthorne makes the weaknesses of Arrow — flip-flopping alliances, pointless flashbacks, chemistry-free love triangles — more tolerable.
This season, Blackthorne is joined by another stellar actor. Neal McDonough's performance, playing
Like many characters on Arrow this season, Quentin Lance is a little bit crazy. But unlike most of the others, it’s not because he’s been resurrected in a mystical pit to become something more than human. Instead, it’s because he’s far too human.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8 pm on the CW.