If you found Arrow’s third season as depressing, dark, and dull as I did, you’re probably wondering, “Is there any hope for Season Four?”
The answer is… Kinda? Maybe?
After leaving the urban-vigilante lifestyle behind, Felicity and Oliver are enjoying their tranquil new life in suburbia. (Well, Oliver’s enjoying it, but anyway.) Jogging! Cooking! Getting tattoos removed! Engagement rings!
Yes, despite his three seasons of brooding, self-involved descent into darkness, Oliver actually enjoys being happy and conventional. It’s a pretty interesting character moment—but this episode could’ve pushed it a lot further, and to greater comedic and dramatic effect. There are hints that Oliver might be a little manic in his efforts to become a competent cook and suburban socialite, but I would have liked to have seen him pursue domesticity with the same dysfunctional intensity that characterizes the darker periods of his life.
Back in Starling City, Team Arrow is still going strong without the Arrow. Diggle, Laurel, and Thea are hot on the trail of a shadowy group of mysterious terrorists known only as “Ghosts.”
There are a lot of pretty great things about Team
Arrow. Laurel has blonde hair! Thea calls herself “Red Arrow”! Digg is wearing an off-brand Magneto costume!
I’m very proud of these crime-fighting dorks, but I’m also very underwhelmed by every action sequence in this season premiere.
Remember Season One, when this show featured at least one impressively-executed fight scene every week? It’s what originally kept me watching through the first dozen episodes, keeping me around until these silly characters started to grow on me.
Remember shots that lasted longer than 1.5 seconds? Actual wide angles? Cool martial arts and faux-parkour? Remember when Arrow fully utilized the physical skills of actors like Stephen Amell, Manu Bennett, Celina Jade, and Caity Lotz? Performers who did their own stunts and looked convincing doing it? I have nothing against the blatant use of stunt doubles—this is a show in which three quarters of the main characters now regularly wear masks, so it’s a bit of a crime not to develop some more spectacular physical sequences and effects.
Anyway, Laurel and Thea’s investigation of the “Ghosts” is stalling, so they ask Oliver and Felicity to come back to Starling City and help them. Oliver is hesitant at first, but Felicity (who is pretty bored and frustrated with suburban domesticity) insists that their friends need their help.
Unfortunately, Diggle doesn’t want to work with Oliver anymore, refusing to “go into battle with a man [he] can’t trust.” But he quickly reconsiders when Felicity discovers that the Ghosts have stolen some nasty explosives.
Basically, Oliver returns to Starling City to find that a lot of people are Totally Over his former alter ego. At various points during this episode, Thea tells Oliver she doesn’t want or need his help anymore, Digg calls him soul-less, and Quentin Lance calls him a monster.
And honestly, I am Totally Over it, too. At some point during Season Three, Oliver became unrecognizably self-indulgent and self-centered. He became a torturer, a criminal, and a heartless manipulator with a martyr complex, illogically pushing away his closest friends and most competent allies to keep everyone “safe”. In short, the Arrow became, hands-down, one of the unironically least heroic “superheroes” I’ve ever seen or read.
But this episode isn’t called “Arrow”—it’s called “Green Arrow.” So maybe—maybe—we’re in for something a little different.
We see flashbacks to Oliver’s early attempts at vigilantism. Like most of Arrow’s flashbacks for the last two seasons, this one is pretty boring and pretty useless. (But I did sorta enjoy the triumphant return of Oliver’s terrible long hair. Also, Amanda Waller’s zany micro-management of random long-haired rich boys—this time, with scotch!)
If I have one wish for this season of Arrow, it’s that it stops relying on flashbacks to make its protagonist compelling again. For better or for worse, Oliver Queen is the center of the show. I want character development, not explanation of his actions. I want this show to show us what makes a hero, not tell us why he’s not acting like one.
Waller eventually tells past!Oliver the advice present!Oliver needs to hear: “Stop trying to run from your inner darkness. Embrace it.”
Oliver comes to the (long-overdue) realization that he doesn’t want to be “dark” anymore. You don’t need to be dark to fight the darkness, and you don’t need to be a monster to fight monsters. Here’s hoping that this season vindicates Oliver’s new attitude, and also that it delivers the lighter, more inspiring and comedic tone that this show so desperately needs. It doesn’t hurt that the season’s villain is basically named Demon Darkness, just in case you missed that very subtle symbolism.
I joke, but I’m very, very happy that after a truly dreadful, depressing, boring third season, Arrow seems dedicated to solving its tonal problems. Now, if only it’d address its structural ones. (Cough, flashbacks. Cough-cough, action scenes.)
Anyway, fifteen pages of exposition later, we’ve learned some important stuff. The “Ghosts” are actually H.I.V.E., led by Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), and they’re planning to “kill” Starling City by “letting it die.” Also, they’re assassinating a bunch of city leaders and trying to blow up a new train station.
Darhk has some powerful mojo on his side—while spying on him from behind some conveniently-placed tarps, Team Arrow sees him kill a henchman by “manipulating primordial energies.” This incident leads to another uninspired action sequence, but more importantly it leads to this amazing exchange:
Oliver, what that man did was not natural!
Yeah. It was mystical.
(…which Stephen Amell, bless his heart, actually manages to say with a straight face.)
To symbolize his new positive attitude, Oliver takes on a new name, “The Green Arrow.” (Yay!) He also puts on a new uniform that is—get this—a slightly less-dark shade of green than his old costume. It also shows off his elbows. (Only tormented antiheroes hide their elbows.)
With some help from a slightly-less-P.O.’ed Diggle, Oliver manages to stop Darhk from blowing up the train station without getting magic-ed to death in the process.
There are a couple of big (SPOILERS!) revelations at the end of “Green Arrow.” We learn that Quentin Lance is secretly working for/with H.I.V.E.! Scandalous! And there’s a final flash-forward scene in which Oliver and Barry Allen stand over [someone’s] fresh grave, and vow revenge on [someone else]. Tragedy!
So: scandalous, tragic things are imminent! But let’s be real, and focus on what are obviously the real highlights of this season premiere:
- Off-brand Magneto!
- A little boy telling Laurel that she’s “really strong!” (My heart!)
- Oliver’s gratuitous gymnastics down the side of a train!
- Neon green arrows, because why not?
- Neal McDonough’s icy blue stare!
- Off. Brand. Magneto.
- “We can get a rug” = Oliver’s solution to the unsightly bloodstain from that time HIS SISTER WAS STABBED TO DEATH.
You see? This show can still be cute, and funny, and inspirational when it tries. It’s just like
Arrow Green Arrow said: Darkness can be defeated by light.
Mad Moll Green writes in Los Angeles and Vancouver. She loves horror movies, comic books, and ironic spandex.