*I’ve been having an issue with uploading images to the website lately, so unfortunately there’s no featured image for this review. Still, though, enjoy!
Let me get this out of the way right now: Season 4 of Arrow has to be great from the jump, or I’m falling off the bandwagon. Season 3 may be seen as an outlier for some, but considering the rise of Tuesday night counterpart The Flash, and the recent influx of great television from seemingly every other competing network, there’s no room for this series to sputter into streams of mediocrity. I, like many of us who were famished by the downturn that was all of last season’s second half, expect immediate results, and rightfully so. Thankfully, our prayers are appearing to be answered, as “Green Arrow” is an indication that brighter days are coming. And coming fast.
One of the few things I absolutely loved about this season premiere was how well it weaved around Oliver and Felicity’s getaway. This was by far the most jarring result of whatever the hell that season finale was, and many of us watching the couple drift in the sunset wanted so bad to throw our remotes at something fragile – no, not our TVs! – in utter disgust. In the pemiere, we see Oliver predictably succumbing to the simple joys of a boring, suburban lifestyle, where becoming a good cook is a larger threat to one’s well-being than masked terrorists and deranged anthropologists seeking to “take over our city.” Everyone and their mothers were waiting for him to flip a switch and come running back home to where the real fun is at Starling City (which would have been incredibly ironic given how badly its population is dropping after the last crisis.)
But if you’ve been watching enough television recently, this has been a week of premieres destined to subvert expectations at every turn. Not only did Oliver push to go back to his suburban lifestyle when he did eventually heed Laurel and Thea’s call to action – it was actually Felicity this whole time (five months, to be exact) who’s quietly been inching the situation towards an inevitable return. She was the one who grew tired of the beautiful weather and peaceful atmosphere, finding exclusive moments of pleasure by aiding the guys back home (Diggle, Thea, and Laurel) behind Ollie’s back – a revelation that’s discussed in a welcome, lighthearted argument that showcased the brand-new tone of the series going forward. Can we really blame her? Felicity has always looked like her role in Team Arrow was as firm as it gets, and she’s so goddamn good at it leaving the gig just didn’t make any sense. Saving Starling City may be becoming a tedious venture, but it’s a passion for her, and you just can’t keep someone away from expressing their passion.
Of course when this stuff is done right there are more layers to it than that. Olliver’s reasons for running away and wanting to stay away from Starling City are much clearer than in “My Name is Oliver Queen.” He’s damaged goods, and he kinda always has been, but he’s more aware of it now. The cards that Ollie’s been dealt throughout his life have steered him into tragedy and despair, pushing his integrity as a human being to its limits. Season 1 saw him lose his best friend, then Moira was murdered right in front of him before Season 2 came to a conclusion. We all remembered all those tricks he had to pull out of his sleeve to keep the “friends and family death tally” stagnant last year. These tragedies are the result of Oliver’s past looming over his shoulder, and coming back to haunt him now in the present. There’s also the matter of the affect his alter ego has had on the city, but the difference between Starling City when Ollie was on the island relative to its current state is indisputable.
More than ever, he’s acknowledged this, and was hoping the getaway would be the necessary recluse that would keep his closest friends and family perpetually safe. Unfortunately for him, Damien Darhk’s emergence (more on that later,) coupled with Team Arrow(?)’s struggles to protect the city have brought his concerns right back to the forefront. It’s important that Ollie speaks up about all this, especially since the city’s current conflicts carries so many bearings on his future.
Stephen Amell has the strength to carry an episode like this on his lonesome; it doesn’t happen very often, but “Green Arrow” was an exhibition of all the tools he brings to the table. A lot of varying emotions were expressed here, most specifically that which revolved around his ever-growing chemistry with Emily Bett Rickards, but it all felt natural due to his grounded performance. Ollie’s self-proclamation of becoming a monster over the years was also not only an honest reminder of the moral adventure he’s gone through over the years, but an example of how entrenched Amell is with the role. (Green) Arrow isn’t Batman, but thanks to Amell’s ability to flow swiftly between emotions, we’re reminded that the hero in this series is just as conflicted.
And “conflicted” might be the lightest way to describe Starling City’s current situation. Finally, the people have responded to the turmoil their hometown has inflicted, as citizens are bailing and main city attractions are losing their allure. There’s no official mayor right now, and City Hall is in terrible shape power-wise. It’s really no wonder why Laurel and Thea reached out to Ollie for help, and it’s certainly no surprise seeing how easy it was for Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) to make his mark this week. Cold, assertive, and demanding consistency, Darhk’s arrival would be perfect timing in an alternate universe – here it’s the equivalent of the nail in the coffin for Starling City. Even though I wasn’t exactly a fan of his scheme to run a bomb-rigged train into the city (you know, with the idea of it all almost mirroring the climax in Batman Begins,) this episode made us recognize just how serious of a threat he is. His interrupting that City Hall meeting, for example, introduced him with gravitas, then he killed his own henchman later to demonstrate why it’s probably wise to let him speak his peace. McDonough goes about his business as the new big bad with as much potency as the rest, and given that this premiere clearly went out of its way to showcase Darhk’s persona and intentions, his performance only elevated the quality of the episode in general.
Let’s get back to Oliver and his return to Starling City for a moment. Most of Team Arrow couldn’t be happier seeing Ollie don the new costume and alert the city that he’s back to protect it yet again, but that does little in encouraging Diggle to forgive him for what’s happened before this. I liked this move because, for three – going on four – seasons now, we, too were led to believe that Diggle and Ollie shared a friendship/partnership that was immune to deceit or secrets. Sure, Ollie’s plan to trick Ra’s last season worked mostly because he went through with confining and incapacitating his friends. But to Diggle, the idea of gambling on the lives of his friends for the sake of the greater good – even if trickery is indeed the only option left – is a preposterous line of thinking. Oliver didn’t tell him that was his plan all along, which never allowed Diggle and the rest of the team to prepare for it and completely disregarded their consent. He has every right to hang that over Oliver’s head, regardless of how much time’s passed. The fences between their friendship will take plenty of time to mend, and I respect Arrow for not constructing some contrived mechanism that patched things up here.
Although “Green Arrow” brought the show back on solid footing, there were still noticeable causes for concern. Thea has never really been that convincing in her transformation as Speedy/Red Arrow, and no matter how good of a fighter she’s become, the character’s gonna need serious help from Willa Holland to make any of it convincing. That one particular scene where she nearly beats up one of Darhk’s thugs to death came from out of left field, and it’s started to get annoying how reluctant she is in listening to Oliver’s advice. He’s not only her older brother; he’s arguably the only reason why Starling City is standing still after three separate catastrophes. What excuse could she possible have that’s making her reluctant to follow anything he says?
The action scenes this week were also a letdown. Since Arrow has reached a point where we depend on at least one great set-piece every week, it was disappointing seeing it come back with stuff as generic and recycled as a few moderately-scaled fist fights. We don’t need to watch everyone just crack skulls all at once, and even when the action hit the road, we wound up with a bike-truck chase scene that felt way too similar to the same bike-truck chase scene in last season’s premiere. The promise of Team Arrow working together is as enticing as can be, but we’ve got to see some diversity – both in aesthetic and location – in how they go about their business. Is every thug in Starling City confined to 18-wheelers and dimly-lit warehouses? Oh, and don’t get me started on Ollie’s encounter with Darhk – ugh.
Surprisingly, the flashbacks were an excellent contrast to Oliver’s emotional plight this week, as we saw the younger half seeking a purpose after what happened in Hong Kong. Waller obviously had other ideas for him, which led to what seems to be another visit to the island he developed his survival skills at. If this means that the flashbacks are aiming to focus more on Ollie maturing enough to come back home, then I’m all for it – I just hope that the show doesn’t stray too far away from the present storyline as extraneously as it did last year.
Arrow is back. More often than not, this week’s premiere cleaned up all the contrived nonsense from Season 3, and re-established Oliver Queen as an engaging, layered central character. It didn’t hurt that McDonough killed (no pun intended) as Damian Darhk, or that Diggle stands to represent a lot of the consequences that came with the decisions Ollie made to stop Ra’s Al Ghul a season ago. Let’s not forget that there are plenty of new questions following all those answers, with Quentin supposedly conspiring with Darhk (whaaaa??,) the flashbacks, and the brief flash-forward to that funeral at the end of the episode. Once again, someone very close to Oliver was spared in his fight to save Starling City, which opens the door to plenty of opportunities for Arrow to flesh out its central cast and explore ways for Oliver to finally find peace.
+Oliver’s plight for peace with himself, friends
+Damien Darhk a commanding presence
+Oliver and Felicity’s return thoughtfully handled
-Action scenes fell flat
-Thea/Speedy/Red Arrow not a good fit with Team Arrow thus far