At the end of season 4 of Arrow, we laid out the problems plaguing the eldest of CW’s super shows. Over-reliance on flashbacks, ever-present darkness, and increasingly unbelievable stakes were making the show harder and harder to stay connected to. The fans know it, and it seems like maybe the writers know it, too. Tons of news came out of the TV Critics Association event this week, giving me some hope that the show has life left in it.
Prepare for Arrow season 4 spoilers below.
One more round of flashbacks
One of the staples of Arrow since its inception has been the use of flashbacks as a storytelling device. At first, they were a great way to show us Oliver’s journey and the fall of Slade Wilson from mercenary to ‘roided-up revenge monster. Slowly, though, it started to look more and more like the writers didn’t know what to do with the flashbacks.
They became a way to conveniently tie together things that didn’t need to be tied together. More importantly, they felt less like important character development and more like unnecessary distractions. Characters in flashbacks either had nothing to do or, at best, very little to do with the show’s primary storyline, and we’ve already learned about as much as we need to about Oliver’s past.
This season, the writers have said, will be the last to feature flashbacks as we know them. No more flashing back to parts of Oliver’s past to fill in blanks that weren’t there. The writers don’t want to write themselves into a corner though. Rather than promising that flashbacks are gone and then having to go back on that, producer Greg Berlanti said that any future flashbacks will center around other characters, or that the show might use flashforwards to give us a hint of how Oliver progresses.
They’re pretty committed to a certain story arc right now, finishing out Oliver’s five years in hell before coming to Starling, but they know that if the show is going to have life past that, some things need to change. And apparently those season 5 flashbacks are going to involve Dolph Lundgren. You know, Ivan Drago, He-Man – yeah, that guy. Maybe the season 5 flashbacks won’t be so bad after all.
Keeping everyone’sfeet on the ground
Neal McDonough was tons of fun as Damien Darhk, but the villain simply felt out of place in a series that had previously been grounded. In a show that relies so much on hand to hand combat, a magician was out of place – even when he engaged in melee with Oliver.
Then there was his evil scheme to nuke the entire world which was at once hackneyed and tired in terms of supervillain plots and also way more excitement than Team Arrow should’ve been able to handle. Instead, they fixed everything with hope and computer hacking. An unbelievable story fixed in silly, unbelievable ways.
In season 5, Oliver will be fighting someone calling himself Promethus, and executive producer Marc Guggenheim has said that this new villain relates back to the first season, which was a simple, compelling revenge story.
And one of Oliver’s biggest won’t even be a villain. Instead, it’ll be the appearance of other vigilantes following his inspirational speech at the end of season 4. This has the potential go wrong in a Scrappy-Doo kind of way, but it could also give the show an opportunity to explore vigilantism from some other perspectives, as well as give Oliver some new people to bounce off of.
Lightening things up
Simply removing Damien Darhk from the equation and rooting things in Oliver’s past gives us an opportunity to move forward with a lighter show and a more consistent tone.
To help this along, Echo Kellum, who plays Curtis Holt, will join the cast as a regular, and we’ll see him grow into the hero Mr. Terrific. Origin stories are fun and satisfying; watching a character get stronger and more confident always feels good. But further, Kellum proved himself a good foil for both Oliver and Felicity, matching her wit and keeping him off guard without feeling as much like a self-insert fan character as Felicity sometimes can be.
We also know there’s a big four-show, week-long crossover coming in December, which should give the real-ish Arrow characters a chance to react to the appearance of the inspirational flying alien called Supergirl. If Arrow‘s Diggle had a tough time with Flash, how is he doing to handle Supergirl?
Is this a promise they won’t mess things up? No, it’s not. In fact, I’m still worried. I love Arrow despite how troubled the show has been for the last two seasons. But it’s hope for the future, and hope that the writers are listening. It’s a last chance before we give up on season 6.