Arcane season 1, episode 1 recap – “Welcome to the Playground”

November 7, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
Netflix, Streaming Service, TV, TV Recaps
4

Summary

“Welcome to the Playground” is an effective scene-setting opening chapter.

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4

Summary

“Welcome to the Playground” is an effective scene-setting opening chapter.

This recap of Arcane season 1, episode 1, “Welcome to the Playground”, contains spoilers. You can check out our spoiler-free season review by clicking these words.


Arcane proves it isn’t going to be a lackadaisical video game adaptation pretty much immediately, opening its premiere, “Welcome to the Playground”, with two young girls combing through devastation only to find the corpses of their mother and father among the rubble. The setting, we’ll come to learn, is a literal bridge between worlds, a connection between the scientific utopia of Piltover and its disenfranchised underbelly. The two sides are at war. And war has casualties. It’s a harsh, abrupt opening, but it sets the scene well.

Arcane season 1, episode 1 recap

The real story, though, begins later – years later, actually, with a more grown-up Vi and Powder having been raised, alongside other war orphans such as Milo and Claggor, by Vander, a hulking underworld figure and proprietor of a watering hole called The Last Drop. The premiere smartly uses a heist of a science lab, carried out by the orphans, to excuse a lot of very pretty establishing shots and solidify the group dynamics (Vi is the leader; Powder is considered a bit of a hindrance and a bad luck charm.) It introduces the loot – a haul of blue crystals – and Piltover’s Stormtrooper-esque guards, the Enforcers, as well as Deckard, another street kid. There’s a chase or two and a surprisingly brutal backstreet fistfight.

All of this looks wonderful; the setting is rich in character and the designs of everything from buildings to people are striking. A lot of the underlying class conflict is communicated through the visual design; the glimmering sprawl of Piltover versus the ramshackle underworld of Zaun, where people like Vander, having made names and reputations for themselves doing the kind of dirty work that Vi and her gang are now falling into, are trying to keep a fragile peace. Vi, though, is young and idealistic and angry. She doesn’t understand the responsibilities of being a de facto leader; of their schemes putting them at risk.

Powder, meanwhile, just wants to impress her sister, and feels as if the others’ mistrust of her is rubbing off on Vi. It’s fairly arch stuff, but it’s well-handled here, with the sisters allowing us to understand the headspace of their generation and Vander’s efforts to smooth the situation over letting us take a walking tour of the underworld (which includes meeting much younger versions of some familiar League of Legends champions.) Vander has a testy alliance with an Enforcer named Grayson but won’t compromise his morals – or the safety of his “children” – to keep the peace, even if the kids happened to heist the lab of a powerful family whose losses Piltover’s government are keen to recoup in one way or another.

While much of this is scene-setting, it nonetheless spares time for quieter moments, especially between Vi and Powder, the latter of whom kept several of the blue crystals they stole from the lab – a fact they decide to keep from Vander.

It’s a clear powder-keg type of setup, especially once we learn, at the end of the episode, that Deckard was under instructions from an as-yet-unknown antagonist, and that said antagonist is developing a liquid with the power to turn a humble mouse into a cat-killing abomination. That doesn’t seem to bode well for the future, even if the future of Arcane itself seems surprisingly bright.

You can stream Arcane season 1, episode 1, “Welcome to the Playground”, exclusively on Netflix.

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