Arrow – Season 5 Episode 1
Arrow begins its fifth season with Oliver struggling to juggle his responsibilities as Mayor and his role as the Green Arrow.
This show has had a rough couple of seasons in terms of quality and the challenge has been how to bring it back to the storytelling heights of the second season. Last season was better than the third season and definitely had a better finale but there is still a lot of work to do before reclaiming that quality.
It seems that the plan this season is to go back to basics. There are no Metahumans in sight nor is anyone using magic. The villains so far are criminals and gangsters so we’re already back to the street level action that Arrow started out with.
Will going back to basics make Arrow great again? Of course not but the writers and producers have identified that the decline in quality happens to coincide with the more fantastical elements of the DC universe being introduced. While that’s true I don’t think that having super powers and magic show up in Arrow made it a bad show as the mistakes made were on a more fundamental storytelling level.
The real question is whether the opening of season 5 succeeds in restoring the quality and the answer is that it’s far too early to tell. I do think it’s on the right track as there’s plenty here to build on through the rest of the season but there are some lingering issues that the show doesn’t seem to be able to shift.
Team Arrow was essentially torn apart at the end of last season. Diggle re-enlisted in the military, Thea decided that she would get out of crime fighting for the sake of her own sanity and Laurel was killed. This season starts with Oliver and Felicity waging war on crime in an effort to protect the city.
Oliver is living in ignorance. He thinks that his solo venture is temporary so in his head he is only holding the fort until Thea and Diggle come back to take their rightful place on the team. The glass cases with the mannequins for their costumes being left empty is a great image to support just how lonely Oliver is at this point.
It’s an interesting development for Oliver as he has been so often established as someone who is an isolationist and had trouble getting over it even when he worked with a team. This episode shows that he has transitioned to the point where he needs to have a team supporting him but he seems to have lost the ability to be self sufficient. This episode promotes the solution to this being somewhere in-between. Oliver needs to be part of a team but he also needs distance from it to function as a well rounded person.
Felicity recognises this and keeps encouraging him to recruit others into his crusade but Oliver is as stubborn as ever and continues to refuse despite the fact that the crime rate in the city is getting to be too much for him to handle. Felicity going back to her role as a buffer for Oliver who can also challenge him is a good move and I hope that the relationship baggage from the last season disappears in favour of this dynamic.
Oliver is struggling to live up to his responsibilities as Mayor because he spends so much time as the Green Arrow. He misses meetings and is late for events so people have quickly lost faith in his ability to lead them. It doesn’t help that Oliver is so naive about how important his role as the Mayor is as he seems to think that being Green Arrow is more important.
He tells Thea that being the Mayor is the means to an end as it gives him access to information that he can act on as Green Arrow. In his head there is no more to it than that which contrasts the reason for running for Mayor in the first place. Last season he wanted to run for Mayor to inspire hope in his city in ways that the Green Arrow couldn’t. Ideally both roles could be combined into a really effective way to redeem Star City. This is something he has forgotten and Thea calls him out on it.
It’s important to have him challenged on this otherwise it might just seem like bad writing. Major character shifts to suit the needs of the plot have been fairly common on Arrow so it’s good to have it confirmed that Oliver has betrayed his initial plans.
As Mayor he makes a lot of mistakes such as talking about police corruption at a police gala and the aforementioned shirking of his responsibilities to fight crime as the Green Arrow. Police corruption is an important thing for him to deal with but as a politician he has to learn tactful ways to deal with it and that’s definitely a long way off for him. It is interesting to see Oliver’s stubbornness and impatience cause him problems in the political arena.
Interestingly his stance on protecting the city as Green Arrow has changed as he has circled back around to be willing to kill again. There’s a great moment that is a callback to the pilot where he frees himself from being tied to a chair and kills his captor because he doesn’t want his secret getting out. It’s almost exactly like the same scene from the pilot and it clearly signposts that Oliver has reawakened some old habits.
Not killing the criminals hasn’t worked out well for him -at least in his head- since they just come back to kill more people and cause more problems. The direct reasoning for this is Laurel’s death. Oliver thinks it could have been prevented if he had killed Damien Darhk at an earlier point when he had the chance so we’re back to him blaming himself for every bad thing that happens.
In this case it sort of makes sense as long as you assume that Laurel was the heart of the team. Dialogue has suggested to us that Laurel was the moral centre of Team Arrow. That was never evident in anything we saw because she often faded into the background so never had the opportunity to have that kind of role. Retroactively it seems that this is how we’re supposed to remember her. It’s weak but I’m willing to just go with it because this development works so well in terms of Oliver’s emotional journey.
It has been mentioned that Laurel was always a much better person than he was and it seems that Oliver is willing to tow that moral line so that better people than him can survive. If he had done a bad thing then a good person might still be alive which balances the scales. Whether Oliver has a point can be argued but it’s important that he believes this and has come around to the idea of killing again.
The subject of killing often comes up when discussing costumed heroes. How many more people would be alive if Batman had killed the Joker? Most heroes have a “no killing” rule built into them so that the writers can keep bringing back popular villains. On a character level it often underpins their morality and separates them from the criminals they are trying to stop but the basic reason for not killing is so that writers don’t have to keep dreaming up new villains.
Arrow has addressed the “no killing” rule since the very first episode. In season 1 Oliver would kill people who didn’t back down and do what he wanted but as the show progressed he decided that he would rather save his own soul and resolved not to kill any more with some exceptions when pushed. He identified that Ra’s Al Ghul had to be killed and Damien Darhk was a personal revenge mission for him but on the whole he has injured criminals before locking them up.
This season seems to be different but there is work to be done before Oliver’s true stance on the issue can be identified. Personally I’d like to see him come to the conclusion that killing is occasionally necessary as a last resort but it won’t be the first solution he goes to. I’m not saying it’s morally right but it’s something that would make sense for Oliver as a character given everything he has experienced. I imagine this development is ongoing.
The important thing for Oliver to come to terms with in this episode was accepting that the old Team Arrow wasn’t coming back and embracing the idea that he needs a new one. Felicity has a bunch of potential recruits lined up but beyond Wild Dog (Rick Gonzales) we don’t see any of them. The name Evelyn Sharp was mentioned so it looks like she will be returning after her brief stint as Black Canary in “Canary Cry“. Curtis is also on the team so we’ll get Mr. Terrific.
Tied into this acceptance is the hidden final words from Laurel to Oliver where she makes him promise not to let her be the last Black Canary. It works here as a memory Oliver can revisit to bring him around to the idea but as a reveal of what Laurel said to him it’s very weak. I suppose there is no small sentence that could live up to the mystery but I couldn’t help thinking “is that it?”. Still it lets Oliver accept that he needs to have others around him and move forward with a new Team Arrow. Felicity seems surprised that he comes around to the idea so quickly so that sort of explains Oliver’s quick change of heart.
Thea weighs in on the killing issue as well and it becomes the basis for her wanting to stay away from the team. She is horrified that Oliver killed right in front of her which makes sense since she spent a good portion of last season fighting the urge to kill. It makes perfect sense for Thea to not want to be a part of this world any more and I’m glad that she’s sticking to that. Coming out of retirement to save her brother’s life was a one time deal so I wonder what role the show will find for Thea this season.
Quentin has fallen off the wagon again and I can’t say I blame him. He has had to mourn the death of his daughters three times which is some feat considering he only has two. Laurel’s death has completely destroyed him and he is back into full on alcoholic mode. He is no longer with Donna so feels completely alone. It was a distressing image and Paul Blackthorne plays it perfectly by playing most of his scenes as if he is in a drunken haze. He is inspired by Oliver’s tribute to Laurel to put his life back together but I don’t think he’s found his reason to be sober quite yet. Quentin has always been an interesting character to me and this should provide some interesting character beats.
Diggle’s brief appearance was pretty well done in that he fills the role he always has. He is Oliver’s equal and gives him advice on what he should do next. Diggle thinks that a new Team Arrow is a good idea and the conversation helps Oliver accept that Diggle isn’t coming back any time soon and that he has been holding up his old team mates to an impossibly high standard. It’s good to see Diggle and it seems that time away is just what he needs.
He does awkwardly mention Oliver’s relationship with Felicity and questions whether that is definitely over which leads to the “shock” reveal that Felicity has a new boyfriend in the form of Detective Detective Malone (Tyler Ritter). Playing this as a shocking development brings back painful memories of love triangles and emotional angst that I just don’t want to see again. Hopefully this won’t be a big deal because it is becoming really tiresome.
The main villain of this episode is a man named Tobias Church (Chad L. Coleman) or Charon because of his calling card of leaving coins on the eyes of his victims. As villains go he seems threatening enough from his commanding voice and impressive physicality but I’m not sure how much mileage he has. He reminds me a lot of Vinnie Jones’ Brick in that he seems like someone who can cause issues for a few episodes but has no long term staying power. If that’s the case then that’s fine as a short term villain can be really effective.
We also get the hint of another arrow wielding vigilante at the end of the episode. It’s a brief look but he seems committed and strong so time will tell on how effective this character will be. Is he a season long villain or does he exist to make a point in the first few episodes?
We are in the final year of flashbacks and now Oliver is in Russia where he meets up with Anatoly who starts his induction into the Russian Bratva. It’s too early to tell but at least for this episode the flashbacks seem relevant enough. The list comes back into play which makes sense as Oliver wants to get the final training he needs before returning to his city to start crossing names off it. Just how he ends up back on the island to trigger the opening scene from the pilot is anyone’s guess.
There was a clever moment where Anatoly teaches Oliver how to free himself from being tied up which immediately pays off by him doing the same in the present day. It reminded me of better times when the flashbacks informed the present which made their appearance feel necessary.
A solid opening that sets up the “back to basics” approach for this season. Oliver is struggling with not having a team supporting him and misunderstands the importance of his responsibilities as Mayor. He has a defined arc where he comes to terms with those things and starts to move forward. The villains are gangsters and criminals which creates different stakes and the flashbacks seem relevant again. Despite falling back on old habits involving relationship angst there’s plenty for the show to play with for the rest of the season.
- Oliver’s strong character arc throughout the episode
- the flashbacks being relevant…so far
- Quentin’s lapse back into alcoholism
- Thea’s desire for a normal life
- falling back into old habits with the “shock” reveal of Felicity’s new boyfriend
- Laurel’s underwhelming final words