I love CW’s Arrow. I absolutely adore it, the way one loves a pet with serious behavioral issues.
The fourth and most recent season of the show concluded last week, and it left me wondering, where do we go from here? The season wasn’t without some great moments – the guest appearance by Matt Ryan as Constantine, crossing over from his canceled eponymous NBC show, was awesome. Neal McDonough elevated the presence of his character, Damien Darhk, even when the writing didn’t. The cast, in general, is fun to watch even when the show they’re on is kind of stinking.
But despite me liking this season more than disliking, it’s clear that Arrow has to take some drastic measures for it to stay on the the DC TV must-watch list and to belong in the ranks of the shows it helped kickstart. Instead of reviewing it like I did with The Flash, I wanted to look at the elements of the show that have been dragging it down with the hope that things can be improved. Here are five things I think would make a huge difference.
Enough with the Flashbacks already
After five years in hell, Oliver Queen came home with one goal: to save his city. Alright, cool. In the first couple seasons, the flashbacks were an important, even crucial element to the show. We were introduced to the hardened, athletic Oliver Queen while everyone around him talked about the irresponsible playboy. As we learned about the present-day Ollie, the flashbacks acted as a slow-burn origin story for a character whose origin isn’t as etched into our culture as some more famous heroes.
As the show’s progressed, though, they’ve taken us further and further from that, tacking on parts of Oliver that don’t feel like natural extensions of the character or, really, would take a very short time to explain – not a whole season. Oliver knows what magic is. Okay, got it.
What was once a breather now grinds the pace of the show to a halt. Technically, season 5 should be the last season of flashbacks, but, really, we can do without. Or they could just edit in bits from season 1.
Stop undoing all your major plot points!
This might be considered spoilers if you’re way behind on the show, so beware as you read below.
Arrow has a bad, bad habit of setting up a story element and then undoing it later, either as a plot twist, or as plain-old backtracking. Alright, so they kind of had to bring back Oliver himself when Ra’s Al Ghul gutted him with a falchion in season 3. I’ll forgive them that one. Just about everyone else, though?
Malcom Merlyn, Sara Lance, Thea Queen, Ray Palmer, Roy Harper, Andy Diggle – did I miss anyone? At some point, these characters were dead or believed dead, only to pop back up later, sometimes dying again. Some of them are indispensable to the series or to the DC TV stable, so I’m not saying these characters shouldn’t have been killed. Instead, I’m saying that maybe killing characters isn’t a strong plot point anymore, because Arrow has cried wolf so many times. I fully expect Black Canary to return next season, and I’m half-serious about that.
It’s not just death, either. This season had Oliver and Felicity finally admitting how they felt about each other and preparing to marry. Then, Damien Darhk’s goons shot Felicity just right so that she couldn’t walk ever again. Until two episodes later, when someone conveniently invented an Iron Man-esque power-source to power an implant for her. Instead of getting a CW version of the Oracle, with all the interesting character development that would come with that, we had a time-wasting distraction. The whole marriage thing wasn’t any better.
It’s hard to tell anymore which of these are soapy twists and which are backtracking in response to fans, but both are problems. Comics are soapy enough – we don’t need to encourage it.
Let Oliver solve his own problems
I love Felicity. The character gets tons of great lines, I like the actress. I like the whole “Team Arrow” concept.
It seems, though, that as the show has raised the stakes, it’s had to slyly admit that a guy with dope archery skills can’t solve world-ending problems. Instead of trying to re-ground things like the show did in the first couple seasons, though, the story has become more and more reliant on Felicity to wave her computer wand, hacking into anything and everything at the drop of a hat. Her hacking skills have become a deus ex machina used to solve big modern problems. As this season demonstrated, though, even magic ends up playing second fiddle to technology.
I don’t want Felicity gone, by any means. And I also don’t want to see Crying Felicity from season 3 again, because she was boring. Let Oliver be responsible for some of his own victories.
Can somebody turn on the lights?
Season 4 of Arrow started out on a bright note. Oliver stepped into the shoes of Green Arrow finally, complete with the start of a goatee, and the show made promises about fighting in the light. Oliver seemed happy.
Then someone kidnapped his kid, shot his fiancee in the back, tried to kill all his friends, and sabotaged his bid at political office. I mean, yeah, that’s enough to sour anyone’s light-hearted approach to life, but that’s just the problem. The show has been relentlessly dark since the outset. The first two season, again, made it work by creating an interesting character and making us care about the villain, Deathstroke.
Since then, though, it’s been one gut-wrenchingly tense situation after another, and the theme has been “can Oliver defeat the darkness inside him?” The answer, if you were wondering, has been a resounding “no.”
I’m not one to gripe about the dissonance between TV’s Oliver Queen and the Oliver Queen of the comic book page, but the show needs to start making good on the promise of a lighter Ollie. Actor Stephen Amell loves the character and, based on his presence in social media, is a relentlessly positive person. He can handle smiling on camera, I’m quite sure of it. Let him, please.
A villain is a terrible thing to waste
Arrow , like Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, is adhering hard to this idea of introducing a villain and then doing away with them over the course of a season. Flash’s weird time and multi-verse stuff means that the Reverse Flash is never really gone, nor tied to a single actor, so intelligent use of that character means he’ll never disappear completely and can be brought back for fun later. Arrow, while raising its stakes, has still stayed grounded and, aside from Malcolm Merlyn, the disposed villains have stayed disposed.
Part of this is, unfortunately, not the fault of the CW network, nor of the writers of the show, but of the lumbering beast that is the DC cinematic universe. Arrow made some use of the Suicide Squad early on, but when the Suicide Squad movie became a reality, it was wiped from the show along with its creator, Amanda Waller. Deathstroke’s disappearance could be a similar decision. Deathstroke has never truly been tied to just one character, and he could easily appear in the upcoming Batman film or something like that. With unfixable exceptions like The Flash, DC movie characters will not appear in DC television shows, even with a different actor and costume. So, Deathstroke is probably gone for good.
That leaves us with Ra’s Al Ghul and Damien Darhk. The actors behind both played their roles fabulously, but the single-season arc of each shut down most of what made them interesting. If you ask a Batman fan what they love about Ra’s, it’s the way he challenged Batman in every way – as a warrior and a detective, and even pushed his morals to their limits. At times the two even had to cautiously cooperate. Ra’s would appear for an arc and disappear, reminding us of some of the grayer, weirder elements of the character. In Arrow, he was just an obsessive dad who was a hell of a swordsman. He relentlessly chased Oliver throughout the season as an heir and we went from anticipating his appearance to dreading it. One of DC’s most interesting villains became boring and predictable.
The same goes for Damien Darhk. They didn’t have to resort directly to nuclear armageddon to make him a dangerous character. That wild evil is one-note and boring. He could have a similar agenda that he looks to achieve more creatively, even. Just, enough with the nukes.
Make these villains believable characters and have them weave in and out of Oliver’s path. Maybe two work together for an arc of a season, maybe one ends up captured and put in an actual jail instead of magical island jail.
The upshot of all this is that season 4 left things off in a perfect place to fix all this.
After stopping armageddon, the team broke apart, making Oliver and Felicity the core again. Oliver stepped into the seat of the Star City mayor, giving an opportunity for some fun secret identity hijinks. We’re also finally getting to the Russian arc of the flashbacks, it sounds like, which we’ve been waiting for for some time.
I enjoyed Arrow season 4 despite its problems, and I think we’re in a great place for season 5. If the writing team can reground the show, make better use of its assets, and turn the lights back on, things are going to be awesome.