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After last year’s uneven season, I will admit I was less than enthusiastic about reviewing Arrow once again this year. Having loved the show’s first two seasons, I was really let down by the lack of cohesive storytelling in season three (and don’t even get me started on those flashbacks). But, after reading through a number of interviews with the holy trinity of Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg over the summer break, it became clear that the Arrow bigwigs were aware of season three’s issues (particularly how it stacked up poorly against The Flash‘s solid first season), and were going to work to course correct things. And course correct they have.
There was a lot to love about “Green Arrow,” and the show deserves a pat on the back for getting things back on track. We have the team back together, although past hurts and betrayal still linger under the surface. We have what appears to be a spectacular big bad in the form of Damien Darhk (portrayed by the always wonderful Neal McDonough), who happens to be working with one of our main characters (however unwilling Captain Lance may now be to work with a villain). And we have the knowledge that, in six months, a character Oliver loves will die. That’s a heck of a way to start a season.
Seeing Team Arrow together again was great. And seeing that the show isn’t simply going to sweep all of the baggage from last season under the rug was even better. Having a lighter and more content Oliver while those around him are in emotional turmoil (Diggle with trusting Oliver again, Thea dealing with her increased need for violence, and Lance with his distrust of all of Team Arrow) is huge. After three seasons of broody Oliver, it’s great to see that he can find some semblance of happiness. And it’s great to see that being a vigilante (or, in Lance’s case, trying to fight against vigilantes and still keep the moral high ground) takes a toll on everyone at some point. One of the major flaws of season three was how unrelenting it was in its darkness, particularly when it came to the character of Oliver. Now, having drama and dark clouds hanging over a show is perfectly fine. But 23 episodes of that really wears on an audience. Having this new and improved Oliver on the scene should help lighten the inevitable black cloud when it appears- or at least create a better balance.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the big future cliffhanger in the room. I’m not sure how I feel about the show teasing the death of a major character (or, at least, who I assume to be a major character- why else would Barry drop in?). On a show that has already proven death is less than final (hello Lazarus Pit!), and that exists in a world where a really fast guy can travel back in time and save people from dying, it’s hard to get too worried about the death of character. At least that was what I was thinking until I read TVLine’s episode post-mortem. If the show does put in place new rules that restrict the use of its various dei ex machina, well then that’s a whole different ballgame.
Over the course of the season (since I cannot imagine the death happening before season’s end) I’m sure there will be a great deal of speculation as to the identity of the dead character. Throwing my hat in the game, my guess is either Captain Lance or Diggle. I know the show wants us to think it’s Felicity (that was some pretty leading editing there), but that would be a really dumb move on the part of the writers. You don’t kill off one of the show’s most popular characters if you can help it (why else do you think Daryl is still alive and well over on The Walking Dead?). Killing Felicity would destroy Oliver, and I don’t think Barry would miss her funeral- even while fighting Zoom. Killing Laurel robs the show of one of its key comic book characters. While Thea is definitely a possibility, I don’t see the show killing of every member of Oliver’s family. With Captain Lance, Oliver’s guilt would be high and it might completely fracture his relationship with Laurel, which would make for a really interesting fifth season (Green Arrow vs. Black Canary). And, frankly, Lance has become the odd man out on the series. And killing Diggle? Well, that would be a massive hole for Oliver to dig himself out of. I know I said I didn’t want broody Oliver back, but I would enjoy watching angry Oliver react to losing Diggle. And the guilt quotient on that one would be off the charts.
I’m fully invested in seeing season four to its end, and I’m thrilled that the show appears to have course corrected from the mistakes it made back in season three. We have a long season ahead of us, but I can’t wait to see how bad Damien Darhk can be and what other twists the show has in store.
— I’m not a huge fan of the flashbacks, particularly this far into the show. Yes, there are still two years of Oliver’s life unaccounted for, but at this point I think we know as much as we need to know about him (and any major truth bombs can be covered with site specific flashbacks as needed, really). When the present version of Oliver is far more interesting and complex than flashback Oliver, the flashbacks become a drag rather than a device to learn more about our lead character. I know the show is pot committed to the flashback structure at this point, but I really wish we could retire them.
— I’m kind of happy Oliver tabled the engagement, at least for the immediate future. While I don’t subscribe to the “superheroes can’t be happy in their personal lives” theory that is prevalent, planning a wedding while fighting Damien Darhk would just be a bit much.
— Speaking of Damien Darhk, he’s a pretty awesome big bad so far. And this is the part of the review where I stress that I’m not a comic book reader and I don’t know how Damien Darhk appears in the comic book verse. Rather, going forward, I’m just going to treat him as a character unique to the TV series world of Arrow. And within that world, he’s pretty badass.