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I’m honestly not sure what to make of “Schism,” the end to Arrow‘s incredibly uneven fourth season. It was an episode with almost no oomph, despite some lovely hand-to-hand combat sequences (which, at this point, is one of the few things the series has going for it- consistently great fight scenes). “Schism” lacked any semblance of a heart or soul, moving the characters beat by beat to the expected ending: Team Arrow defeated Damien Darhk and saved the world. There was never any doubt in the outcome of the battle, and no (important) lives were lost in the struggle. It was a complete and utter bore.
I’m not sure who or what to blame for the painful lack of focus Arrow exhibited this season. My natural inclination is to lay the blame at the feet of Marc Guggenheim, Arrow‘s showrunner, who has steered one of the CW’s most promising and smart shows into arcs populated by characters who consistently do incredibly stupid things just to increase the tension of a story that could have been resolved in a matter of minutes. I also think some of the blame should be reserved for super producer Greg Berlanti, who now has so many shows on the air (The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow, just to name the ones in the DC universe) that he can’t be involved enough in Arrow. When Berlanti was involved in the day-to-day running of the series, Arrow was at its creative peak. Now? Well, I think season four proved things need to drastically change.
The nonsense with Damien Darhk could have easily been solved from the earliest indication that he was in possession of the totem and had magical powers. As we saw in the flashbacks throughout the season (the awful flashbacks that are a complete waste of time and should be discontinued ASAP- even though we know they won’t stop them), Oliver has encountered this totem before, knows its power, and knows that the person possessed by it must be killed. So, instead of allowing Oliver to use his knowledge to take care of the problem, the writers have him ignore it for months, watch innocent people (including Laurel) die at the hands of Darhk, and then STILL have Oliver waver over what to do. I’m perfectly fine with having heroes make mistakes and need to learn from them, but good lord, Oliver had the tools and knowledge to defeat Darhk from the beginning and did nothing. That’s just ridiculous.
A lot of my complaints with the season come back to the fact that Arrow, unlike a number of strong cable and premium dramas, must adhere to the traditional 22-episode season (in this case, 23 episodes). This means that, instead of putting together a quick, 13-episode arc with very little filler, Arrow needs to drag its storyline out even longer. But, why can’t the show put together two season arcs (a la The Walking Dead, which has 16-episode seasons it divides into two clear 8-episode arcs)? Sure, that might mess up the flashbacks a bit, but I’m confident the writers could find a way to make a season’s worth of flashbacks work within two loosely related arcs. With only 10 or so episodes to tell a story, Arrow would be much tighter from a narrative angle. And, just maybe, the characters might stop doing exceedingly stupid things for the sake of extending the season arc.
I haven’t really talked much about the episode itself in this review because I don’t have much to say beyond commenting on the overall blandness of the story. Having Oliver beg Star City to believe in him and themselves so that they could fight Darhk was pretty ridiculous (I referred to it in my notes as the “Do You Believe in Fairies?” speech, since it pretty much served the same purpose as clapping for Tinkerbell in Peter Pan). Allowing a bunch of untrained civilians armed with baseball bats to fight a gang of Ghosts with guns was not a rousing plan for uniting a city. It was a ridiculous plan that put people in grave danger.
And the decision at the episode’s end to have Team Arrow scatter? Well, it was simply the inverse of the season three finale. I have no doubt Diggle will be back in the fold before too long, and I certainly hope the writers don’t let Thea mope in a corner for episodes on end. Turning her into Speedy was the best thing the show has done with the character, and I would hate for her to backslide into a passive character. The writers need to decide what to do with Malcolm Merlyn- he needs something to do besides picking one side and switching to the other over and over. And, with the news from earlier this spring that Echo Kellum (Curtis) will be a series regular next year, it looks like Mr. Terrific might be on Team Arrow sooner rather than later. It’s a bad sign when your audience can shrug their shoulders at your finale, safe in the knowledge that everything will be right again within the first several episodes of the next season.
— While season three was a mess, it at least had a strong season finale, with the introduction of Damien Darhk as the season four villain (in name only, but still a nice bit of foreshadowing), and a clear break in Team Arrow. Having Team Arrow broken up, with everyone looking sad, and no mention of what might be lurking in season five, provides no incentive for coming back to see what’s next.
— So, after watching them the entire season, the flashbacks were officially worthless. At least next season is the last in the cycle of 5 years of flashbacks. But, on the downside, it looks like we’ll be traveling to Russia for 23 episodes. Sigh.
— While I don’t watch The Flash anymore, I’ve heard that its season ended with Barry essentially wiping the entire present of that series off the map by saving his mother. My hope is that this doesn’t reflect onto the other DC shows on the CW. But, it would be a convenient way to wipe away some of the stupid things Arrow has done in the past few seasons.
— And, a programming note for those of you who watch the CW on WGN in Chicago (like I do). The CW will be moving to WPWR this fall, as WGN looks to become a more independent network. Considering the CW is regularly preempted on WGN for sporting events, this is a very good thing.