Arrow – Season 4 Episode 1
Now it’s time for Arrow to be back. Oliver is brought out of retirement when yet another powerful threat hits his city and needs his unique set of skills to tackle it.
My anticipation for this season of Arrow has been relatively low as season 3 had such a disappointing ending for me as well as being relatively weak overall. Of course I came back for this season as I still have faith in what the show used to be and want to see it regain -if not surpass- that quality. It’s well know that when Arrow started the inspiration was Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. I’m sure that there was a note somewhere that told the producers to make Batman for TV and that’s exactly what they did. Season 1 was relatively grounded in something resembling a sense of realism which worked for back then but when season 2 came around the show needed to step up its game and did so by introducing the concept of super powers. The third season gave us a hint at the mystical but didn’t really take the idea as far as they could have so what is there to do in season 4?
It’s clear from this episode that the show is going to delve more into the mystical side of things with a villain very much steeped in that part of the universe but more importantly this season marks a change in overall tone for the series. Oliver Queen as a dark vigilante is over and it’s time to do something else. To quote the former opening monologue, Oliver “must become something else!”.
That something else is the Green Arrow. It’s the name Oliver uses in the comics and now it’s time for the TV show to follow suit. I think that having him known as the Vigilante, the Hood and the Arrow across the past 3 seasons was the right thing to do and making him a dark character to begin with made sense given that the guy had been marooned on an unforgiving island for at least 2 out of 5 years. You don’t just come back from that light hearted and ready to be a superhero.
In those early seasons Oliver fought crime and punished the corrupt out of a sense of compulsion. Early on he felt it was his mission to avenge his father and bring justice to those people on the list. After that things got a bit more complicated with his motivation but it had been taken about as far as it could go so it was time for a change to keep the show and the character developing.
One thing this episode definitely does deliver is that change. When we see Oliver Queen he is happier and more at peace with himself than we have ever seen. He’s pleasant to his neighbours and has discovered a love of cooking as well as other areas of domestic bliss. I had my issues with how the season 3 finale handled his departure from his life as the Arrow but this episode really sells that Oliver has completely changed as a person in the 5 months since leaving Star -née Starling- City. Stephen Amell’s performance is to be commended as he has managed to fundamentally change his portrayal of Oliver Queen without feeling like it’s a completely different character. I was impressed by the shift in the general tone of his voice and the way he conducted himself. It does feel like Oliver has moved on from what tormented him in the past.
This is made even better by giving an obvious contrast to the Oliver of 5 years ago as seen in the flashbacks. After leaving China Oliver is miserable, angry and severely lacking direction. We’ve never seen him as dark as this but it’s a lot closer to how he appeared in season 1. It’s a massive acting challenge for Amell to play these opposite versions of Oliver Queen in the same episode but it goes a long way to show how far he has come.
We weren’t given much of the flashbacks but I’m really having trouble with the location shifting that has been happening. I was secure with the idea that he was on the island for 5 years so for me the globetrotting doesn’t make much sense. It makes even less sense that he was prowling around Coast City in a green hood with a bow and arrow and nobody reported any of this. The guy he was after even lived to tell the tale so it kind of flies in the face of the mythos of the show considering the reaction to the Arrow’s appearance was that it was something new. At least he’s back on the island now and I liked the brief tease of Martin -father of Green Lantern Hal- Jordan’s flight jacket. I do look forward to seeing the 2 different versions of Oliver be featured and developed over the course of the season,
They weren’t bad at all but I found Oliver and Felicity’s domestic suburban bliss to be really insufferable. It had a “too good to be true” quality to it and it came across as overly cheesy. Fair enough it made its point about how living like this has improved Oliver psychologically. I will say that their relationship really works when Oliver can be so casually honest about his feelings. The emotional barrier between them that plagued the show for so long seems to be gone which means that things can move forward.
I was actually really surprised that it was Felicity that turned out to be bored by this lifestyle and was helping out Team Arrow on the sly. Oliver seems to be perfectly happy living a slower pace of life and honing his culinary skills but this life doesn’t fit Felicity at all. She is apparently running Ray Palmer’s company from a distance and seem to be running it into the ground because she’s a technical genius but not a financial one. I’m not sure what’s ahead for her character this season but her desire to be Team Arrow’s tech support is made abundantly clear.
Speaking of Team Arrow, they are really struggling without Oliver to lead them. The only competent member of the team is Diggle who is stuck with a really stupid looking helmet. I wonder who approved this because it is really terrible. I hope it doesn’t stick around for too long. There’s also the fact that he’s wearing plain clothes with that helmet which somehow makes it look even stupider. Laurel doesn’t seem to be any more competent than she was when she started her career as Black Canary. Despite being trained by both Wildcat and Nyssa Al Ghul she still looks awkward when she fights.
Thea is handled a little better and feels a lot more natural in her identity as Speedy -though she wants to be called Red Arrow- than Laurel does as Black Canary. I like that she is characterised as a bit of a loose cannon and almost completely loses it in a fight. There’s a strong hint that her resurrection has had a deeper effect on her than previously established so if that is the case I look forward to seeing that play out. It was another annoyance from season 3 that there seemed to be no consequences to her being brought back from the dead.
Due to how useless Team Arrow seems to be there is a strong justification for Oliver to come back. The city is in ruins and things have never seemed worse. Quentin mentions that businesses are selling up, people are leaving and those that remain live in constant terror. It makes sense given that there has been an artificial earthquake and 2 separate sieges in concurrent years. That’s the kind of environment you wouldn’t want to live in. The people need hope and that’s where Green Arrow comes in. Oliver takes on the identity and promises the city that he will be that symbol of hope that they needed. It tells us that the show is taking on a lighter tone and Oliver’s mission has changed in a really profound way. With the new identity also comes a new suit and the result is something that looks really cool as well as being a bit more comic accurate. No ridiculous goatee thankfully but the new suit matches the new tone.
Initially Oliver only comes back to help out with one job because Thea and Laurel ask him to but he is compelled to stay when he encounters Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough). From his first scene he appears to be a really big deal and conducts himself in an effortlessly confident way. This is a guy who means business and knows exactly what he’s capable of. McDonough instantly nails this part with an intensity that is very entertaining to watch. He just chews the scenery and will definitely be the villain that this show needs for this season.
The first suggestion of the mystical is done really well here. Darhk is shown to have powers that are magic based with the Metahuman possibility immediately disregarded. It is made clear that this is something different and that science can’t explain it. Unsurprisingly Oliver has seen all of this before which prompts Diggle to question when Oliver is going to tell them everything. It’s a fair point as Team Arrow seem to not know everything about his 5 year exile so seeing it finally addressed is a good thing. For now Darhk’s abilities aren’t that interesting as all he does is stop a few arrows as well as kill one of his henchmen just by touching him but I hope we’ll see a wider range of his abilities as time goes on. Maybe when a certain chain smoking scouser shows up this part of the universe will open up even more.
I was very surprised to see that Quentin is working with Darhk. He seems reluctant but I always felt that he would never cross a line like that. If done right it’ll be interesting to see what brings him to the point where he would consider that his only option. When Laurel inevitably finds out I’m sure we’ll get our annual Lance family rift.
Diggle still hasn’t forgiven Oliver for what he did despite the fact that Lyla understands why he needed to do it. As far as Diggle is concerned Oliver crossed a line that lost him Diggle’s respect and trust and there’s no coming back from that. He doesn’t want Oliver to be around any more but does the mature thing and finds a way to work with him albeit reluctantly. When it’s confirmed that he is staying Diggle realises that he has to find a way to at least make peace with the situation enough to continue working with him. This is a really powerful story as their friendship was a strong one so seeing it in ruins like this is dramatically fascinating. He also has a connection go the Damien Darhk story as it was H.I.V.E. that were responsible for killing his brother. This season should really test Diggle when he is confronted by his brother’s killers.
The final scene where Oliver stands over a grave 6 months from the show’s present raises a few questions. Obviously the identity of the deceased is the top question as the episode wants me to believe that it’s Felicity but I think that’s too obvious. The options are relatively limited due to the surprise appearance of Barry who is noticeably torn up about it. I do love these casual crossovers as it really deepens the friendships between these characters if they turn up at random for a single scene.
It’s clear that the deceased is someone who means a lot to both of them which lends credence to the Felicity theory but it could easily be someone that we haven’t met as yet who appears in both shows. Oliver makes a vow to kill “him” which marks a further change in character. In times gone by he would blame himself but in this instance the blame is with whoever the murderer is. Again, the episode wants us to think that it’s Darhk but it may not be. Its an engaging mystery so far and I think it will be the subject of the midseason finale.
A solid start to the 4th season with a well timed change in tone both for the show and for the character of Oliver Queen following his retirement from his life as the Arrow.
I found it interesting that it was Felicity who had become bored with domestic bliss where Oliver has never been happier. I have to commend Stephen Amell’s performance for putting across a very different version of Oliver Queen than we have seen before. Ever since his retirement from being a superhero he has become more at peace with himself than he has ever been. It’s a good transition for the character and it’s given more weight by the fact that he is at his darkest and most miserable in the flashback sections.
The flashbacks aren’t much to go on so far but it does have Oliver back on the island by the end of this episode so I am interested to see where it goes and what effect the binary development of Oliver Queen at two vastly different psychological points in his life.
It’s a personal thing but I found the domestic bliss between Oliver and Felicity to be really insufferable. None of it was badly done but I felt that it was being laid on a bit thick. Their relationship works a lot better when Oliver is open with his feelings as their chemistry feels more natural and angst free.
Team Arrow seem fairly useless with Oliver absent as a leader. Diggle is still competent but Laurel really doesn’t know how to fight despite all the training she has had from various sources. I did enjoy the hint that there are consequences to Thea’s resurrection when she was acting more than a little aggressive.
So far Damien Darhk makes for a great villain. Neal McDonough chews the scenery wonderfully and the establishing of his mystical abilities builds intrigue for the rest of the season. He is a formidable foe and should give Team Arrow some serious trouble to deal with.
Oliver becoming the Green Arrow is at the right time as now more than ever his city needs a symbol. The place is in ruins, businesses and people are packing up with those that are left living in constant fear. Quentin points out how hopeless it’s all getting which might explain why he decides to work with Darhk. There may be more to it but it seems like a solid motivator.
There are other interesting developments such as Diggle’s lack of willingness to forgive Oliver for the betrayal at the end of last season. He cares about the actions not the reasons so it will take quite some time to repair that rift if it gets repaired at all. The scene at the grave with a Barry Allen cameo sets up an interesting mystery for who might be killed and what happened around that. Season 4 is off to a good start I’m glad to say.