After a disappointing third season, does ARROW season four see a return to glory?
WARNING: Full season spoilers to follow!
It’s fair to say that ARROW has suffered something of an identity crisis over the past year or so. After an epic first and second season, the clear lack of direction, individual character failings and underwhelming villain in season three left many fans disappointed. Fortunately, the writers have worked hard to steer the show in a much different direction for season four with the new season boasting an overall lighter tone and a much-needed change of pace, as well as a compelling new villain and a host of new challenges.
For those new to ARROW (where have you been?), the series tells the story of Oliver Queen, a spoiled billionaire playboy who is presumed dead when his yacht is lost at sea. After five years stranded on a remote island, Oliver returns home as a changed man. Using his secret persona as a hooded vigilante armed with a bow, he embarks on a mission to right societal wrongs and transform the city to its former glory. The series is based on the DC Comics character GREEN ARROW who uses his skills to fight crime in his home city alongside his fellow superheroes as a member of the JUSTICE LEAGUE.
ARROW season three ended with Oliver (Stephen Amell) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) driving off into the sunset (literally) leaving us wondering whether we’ll ever see the Arrow return to Star City. Season four opens with Oliver and Felicity settling down into a typical suburban lifestyle. The former vigilante has left his crime-fighting life behind in return for domestic bliss and quiet anonymity but it isn’t long before a new enemy lures Ollie and Felicity to return to Star City and forces him to put on the hood (now as the “Green Arrow”) once more.
That enemy is Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), a former member of the League of Assassins and Ollie’s most powerful nemesis yet. Unlike Malcolm Merlyn, Ra’s al Ghul or even Slade, Darhk is a different kind of villain than we have seem in the past three seasons and while his introduction starts off slow (it isn’t really clear what his motivations for the city until the very end of the season) he is arguably the most compelling villain of the series. Neil McDonough plays the role with such intensity and charisma that even in the season’s weaker moments, Darhk himself remains a highlight. Darhk’s supernatural powers also further open the door for the wider DC Universe with the likes of John Constantine (Matt Ryan) and Vandal Savage (Casper Crump) making guest appearances in an attempt to battle Darhk’s powers.
In addition to Darhk and his fanatically loyal HIVE agents, there are a number of sub-stories to keep the interest high for the full 23 episodes. Thea (Willa Holland) struggles with some violent side effects from the Lazarus Pit which causes an ongoing battle between Ollie and her father Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman). The growing tension between Oliver and Diggle (David Ramsey) puts both their lives at risk, particularly when Diggle’s brother Andy (Eugene Byrd) comes into the picture. As Oliver’s love interest, Felicity plays a bigger part in season four and is given a few dramas of her own, as well as an entertaining new sidekick in the form of tech genius Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum). Ollie’s mayoral campaign and general efforts to become a hero of the people (which is more in line with the traditional GREEN ARROW of the comics) also offers a solid blend of costumed and personal crises, even if it does reach an abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion halfway through the season.
But the biggest shocker of season four is the death of a major character. While this is teased early on (episode one “Green Arrow” sees Oliver standing at a graveside), we don’t find out how it is until the latter half of the season. I know what you’re thinking – ARROW has a history of ‘killing off’ characters and then ‘bringing them back’ later on but unless writers Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg decide to pull off another miraculous come-back in season five, it looks like this exit might be permanent.
For the most part, season four of ARROW delivers, particularly the first half of the series. The overall lighter tone, new villain and the introduction of some new heroes (including Hawkman and Hawkgirl) left most fans crying out for more after the mid-season finale “Dark Waters”. Shame then that the latter half of the season fails to maintain that momentum. Disappointingly, the quality of the storyline slowly declines over the course of the season and the show double-downs on the darkness that first made Oliver Queen’s character so compelling, leaving him to once again struggle to find meaning in his existence.
One of the biggest issues with season four is the continuation of the bland and boring flashbacks. After the events in Hong Kong in season three, season four sees Ollie return back to the island as Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) tasks him with infiltrating the operation of Baron Reiter (Jimmy Akingbola). While conflict starts out well, the flashbacks soon develop into a series of short, choppy sequences with little sense of plot progression, leaving us to question whether the flashbacks are even worth including anymore.
Season four also sees a greater crossover with THE FLASH and the closest thing to a legitimate JUSTICE LEAGUE team-up we’ve seen so far. While the crossover episodes are enjoyable, the intertwining storylines interrupts the continuity of the plot. Episode 8 “Legends of Yesterday” is a prime example of this, with the ‘previously on ARROW’ snippet showing a storyline from THE FLASH, which if you haven’t seen it (like me) is extremely confusing. The same can be said for Episode 17 “Beacon of Hope” in which villain Brie Larvan (aka Bug-Eyed Bandit played by Emily Kinney) escapes from prison and heads to Palmer Tech to cover the building with robotic bees. At times, it feels like ARROW is spending more time setting the stage for spinoff series such as DC’s LEGENDS OF TOMORROW than furthering its own storylines.
But the biggest disappointment of season four is the finale “Schism”. Rather than give the show the epic ending it so badly needed, the season ends on a disappointing and thoroughly unsatisfying note. The underwhelming final battle between Ollie and Darhk lacks the drama and tension it so badly needs (particularly when you consider what is at stake) and the dire ending fails to build any excitement for what’s to come in season five.
It’s fair to say that season four certainly has its ups and downs. For the most part, the episodes are enjoyable and the first half of the season does attempt to recapture some of the glory of season two. The season also boasts some of the best fight scenes in the show’s history, elevating the martial arts and bow-and-arrow action to a new level. But as the season develops, the momentum begins to fade, culminating in a disappointing finale that fails to wrap up the conflict between HIVE and Team Arrow in the way it deserves. Let’s hope the upcoming fifth season puts the show back on track.