It goes without saying but when it comes to most works of fiction, a suspension of disbelief is needed. This is especially true for the superhero genre. In a world where meta-humans, costumed vigilantes, super-powered terrorists, and mystical leagues of assassins are the norm, it’s rare that the words, “unrealistic” or “illogical” are uttered.
However, as entertaining as Arrow is (and personally I love the show), the show has really been testing said suspension, this season more than ever.
One issue with Arrow is that he is often used as a substitute for Batman if the Dark Knight isn’t available due to licensing or other contractual issues. Understandable.
Both masked vigilantes have a similar premise, a team of operatives, and a gallery of rogue arch villains.
But that’s where the similarities end.
Green Arrow on his best day, is nowhere near Batman’s caliber. Batman is a world class detective, martial artist, with a genius level intellect. This is also true for some of the Dark Knight’s greatest foes.
Inserting prominent Gothamites and other DC characters into Arrow certainly works. It is a time honored tradition in comic books and it has led to some great storytelling on Arrow. The Birds of Prey and Suicide Squad episodes are prime examples.
Making Deathstroke the big bad of season two worked because the narrative established that Oliver was outclassed and outgunned by his former mentor. As the stakes were continuously raised and Slade continuously bested his former protege, it ultimately took a combined effort of other many prominent players: Amanda Waller, Nyssa, Canary, and most notably Felicity (in a most excellent surprise twist) to help stop Deathstroke.
It worked because it was consistent with the characters both on the show and the comics mythos and the narrative.
Oliver being able to defeat Nyssa one on one? Not so much. This leads to another major issue with the characters on Arrow; the instant expert trope.
At this point, it has been eight years between the time the Queen yacht was sabotaged and the current third season of Arrow. The flashbacks are now at year three and Oliver Queen is nowhere near having the skills of a world class warrior. And yet he’s able to best Nyssa in a skirmish? The same Nyssa whose genius rivals that of her father, Ra’s al Ghul.
Nyssa is a woman, who is considered in many circles to be royalty of the mythical caliber. She is no mere figure in some terrorist cell. This is the League of Assassins. Nyssa is a woman who has had a lifetime of tutelage by some of the greatest academics and assassins in history and yet the Arrow is able to trounce her with considerable ease.
Diggle is also a victim of this inconsistency. With the exception of Felicity, he’s consistently portrayed as the weakest warrior of Team Arrow, when in actuality he should be the most formidable. It would be one thing if he were simply a bodyguard with no extensive training but that is far from the case.
Not only is he a military vet but he’s also ex-special forces. More than that, his skills get him drafted by Amanda Waller for some key missions for A.R.G.U.S. and the Suicide Squad. Diggle has more training and experience than Oliver and Roy put together and yet he’s usually portrayed as the weakest of the three.
This is one of the issues with Malcolm Merlyn. He left Starling City following the tragic death of his wife, Rebecca, and traveled to Nanda Parbat where he joined the League. As Nyssa explained, Merlyn was the first to be released from the League provided he adhered to the code which he later so blatantly broke — as bad guys tend to do.
In two years time, Merlyn was skilled enough to join the ranks of some of the greatest warriors in history.
For the sake of discussion, if Merlyn continued to train and hone his skills long after returning to Starling, it would explain why he trounced Ollie throughout season one. It would also explain why it took a combined effort of both the Arrow and Diggle to finally subdue him.
However by season three — when Arrow and Merlyn do battle again — Arrow is able to take his nemesis with considerable ease. This is also a major inconsistency for the mythos because Merlyn is arguably Ollie’s greatest adversary and the victories Ollie has over his foe are never simple.
Carrie Cutler aka Cupid is another example. Now to the showrunners’ credit, it was established that not only was she a skilled police officer but was the S.W.A.T. unit’s first female member. And if her M.O. as a vigilante was limited to conventional weaponry, it would’ve made sense. The problem lies in the fact that in six month’s time, her training in archery was at a level to pose a threat to both the Arrow and Arsenal.
Meta abilities aren’t as prominent in the world of Arrow as it is in spinoff series, The Flash or other comic book shows. Arrow is established to be a more “realistic” adaptation of the comic. So transforming ordinary humans into superheroes or super villains in such a short time frame without those plot devices is challenging. No question. But when the narratives in comic books begin to be more realistic than the live action adaptation, that’s usually a sign that there’s a disconnect in the narrative.
Hopefully this will be addressed in the very near future. Because someone has some explaining to do.
2 thoughts on “Why Suspending Disbelief for Arrow is Becoming an Exercise in Futility”
Excellent laying out of the relative capabilities of characters in this show. It is one of the more difficult things to get my head around. (If I let all the obvious medical and technological impossibilities go by.)
However, why did you mention Malcolm becoming so skilled in two years? The story line seems that Malcolm left for Nanda Parbat about 20 years ago. Has it ever been stated how long he was away? I’m wracking my brains because I think Tommy mentioned it at one point but I can’t remember.
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