Arrow: 401 “Green Arrow” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Five months after Oliver and Felicity rode off into the sunset, Arrow has put itself in an intriguing position for season four. Having wiped the table almost clean for a soft reboot of the show with a notably conclusive season three finale, Arrow now has to essentially reinvent itself and ensure its long-term future once more. The way Arrow’s chosen to do that is kind of spoiled by the episode title, but how did the beginning of this new era fare, coming off the back of a disappointing third season?
Green Arrow is both a title and statement of intent for this new version of the show. It’s not necessarily light and frothy, but the hero at the centre has evolved considerably into a more traditional comic-book hero befitting of the Green Arrow moniker – and, alongside a generous helping of arc set-up for this year’s conflict, Green Arrow’s main purpose was to set up Oliver’s new role in the show. It’s not without a few wrinkles, but it does this very well indeed in a return to form that really raised this reviewer’s optimism for the episodes to come. Wisely, the portrayal of Oliver and Felicity’s domestic life wasn’t dragged out for too long, allowing the momentum introduced by the action scenes in Star City (it’s going to take some getting used to calling it ‘Star’) to be upheld throughout the episode – and there was a really fun novelty here in seeing Stephen Amell playing a lighter, domesticated Oliver who’s cast away his inner demons completely. It’s good, solid character development that’s played well by the increasingly versatile Amell, and almost retroactively makes some of last year’s brooding and internal conflict a little more worth it. His eventual transformation worked well, too, with the episode giving Oliver’s slow change of heart over staying in Star City time to breathe and establish nuance. Oliver’s speech against the Green Arrow frequently verged on becoming saccharine in its signposting of Oliver’s emotional transformation, but there’s no doubt – it’s pretty damn awesome to hear Oliver utter the words ‘I am the Green Arrow’. It’s a long-awaited moment that’s delivered with all the cheesy triumphalism it deserves – for all the lack of subtlety in this speech, the framing and dialogue makes it feel like it’s been ripped straight from a comic book. That may not have been a compliment in season one, but it’s certainly a compliment now.
The idea that Felicity is the one who couldn’t really walk away from crime fighting was a clever switcheroo as well, subverting expectations in a way that felt consistent with her character. Felicity, infamously, wasn’t exactly a success last season, but Green Arrow shows some decent, if not enormous progress on that front – Felicity is a far more positive and supportive presence here, thankfully, and there’s a welcome touch of the light-heartedness that elevated her to popularity in the first two seasons here. Equally, her position as CEO of Palmer Tech looks like a promising opportunity to give Felicity a character arc that’s far more independent of Oliver than last year’s – so on the whole, Green Arrow got the process of turning Felicity back from something of a satellite character to the team’s quippy tech support (that just happens to be Oliver’s girlfriend) underway in style. Admittedly, the ‘Olicity’ romance moments are ladled on a little thick, but it’s possible that’s just frontloading the season with indicators of Felicity and Oliver’s relationship so that new viewers who aren’t acquainted with the ins and outs of Arrow can get a sense of where the characters stand. We’ll see if the overuse of moments that still seem cynically crafted to appease a certain section of fandom continues, but, on the bright side, it certainly seems like the angst has been heavily dialled back (even the source of conflict between the two is more understated than anything last season offered), which can only be a good thing.
One element I’m not sure I’m as big a fan of is Diggle’s continued animosity towards Oliver following his actions as Al Sah-Him last season. On one hand, it represents an admirable commitment from the writers to delivering long-term consequence and weight to that slightly rushed yet hugely promising Al Sah-Him arc, and Diggle putting aside his grudge in one episode would have felt overly rushed, but there’s a feeling here that this arc could become a huge drag on this show’s new era if it’s played out over too many episodes. Green Arrow is aiming to be the start of a new chapter, so the idea to heavily link a conflict into the events of last season inhibits the episode from truly feeling like a fresh start – it’s going to be hard for Arrow to truly move on if there’s still dirty laundry to air left over from season three. Then again, it’s played well enough in this episode itself, and it serves a purpose in pushing Oliver to donning the Green Arrow suit, so this is hardly a major storytelling misstep – yet it could become a sore spot for the show if this arc is dragged out for too long.
I expressed surprise in my review of The Flash’s premiere that the Big Bad would be mentioned this early – but Arrow goes even further by introducing this year’s central villain in under ten minutes, and placing him as the central villain here. That Big Bad, of course, is Damien Dahrk, a thoroughly different villain to anything that’s come before. Fittingly for this lighter new version of the show, Dahrk isn’t a noble villain like Ra’s al Ghul or a tragic villain like Slade Wilson – he’s an unashamedly moustache-twirling villain in the classic comic book mould who callously kills his own men with a smile on his face. It’s certainly a change from the blueprint, but that’s refreshing – Neal McDonough’s gleefully evil, thoroughly charismatic performance is a huge amount of fun to watch, and everything to do with Dahrk feels like genuinely new territory for Arrow to cover, showing that it’s unafraid to stray far away from the traditional formula of the first three seasons.
One element that felt a little jarring here but has the potential to become fascinating is the mystical side to Dahrk – not only does he have the ability to kill people with just a touch and deflect arrows telekinetically, but he also appears to gain his abilities from blood sacrifices to a mysterious, unnamed idol. There’s a lot of mystery to chew on here, and the shot of Dahrk’s arm healing up after a set of runes appears indicates that we’re well into uncharted supernatural territory – but there’s a sense that Arrow might be taking things a little too quickly. Arrow’s a long way from the Dark Knight-inspired quasi-realism of season one nowadays, but the only supernatural element we’ve seen yet, really, has been the Lazarus Pit. Especially considering the relatively conventional night-set action with Dahrk’s Ghosts this episode, the final scene with Dahrk’s blood sacrifice feels just a little too much, too soon – perhaps the displays of Dahrk’s powers would have been enough for this premiere. It’s exciting, no doubt, to see Arrow embrace a less ‘gritty & realistic’ arc that’s thoroughly different to the science-fiction of The Flash, but the show could have done with easing us just a little more into the magic and mysticism here, and drawing out the mystery of just how Dahrk gets his powers a little longer.
And of course, there are the flashbacks. Last year’s Hong Kong flashbacks were unfortunately turgid and dull for the most part, but Oliver’s year four flashbacks kicked off in tantalising style here. The brief scenes showing a proto-Arrow contain a little too much of the clunky foreshadowing that cropped up often in season three, but the flashbacks soon took a wholly unexpected turn as Oliver ended up back on Lian Yu on a mission from Amanda Waller. It’s hard to make a snap judgement about the return to the island just yet given how little time the premiere spends on it, and it’s a storytelling choice that has just as many negatives (Arrow covered a lot of island material in the first two seasons, and it’ll have to tread carefully here to avoid a retread while leaving material for inevitably island-set season five) as it does positives. Encouragingly, though, Green Arrow’s flashbacks don’t waste any time plunging Oliver right into danger, indicating that this year’s flashbacks will at least be faster-paced than the often downright-tedious (and slow-starting, too, so the premiere can be taken as a good indication of what’s to come) Hong Kong flashbacks. The jury’s still out on this one, but the return to Lian Yu almost seems like a tacit admission of failure of the Hong Kong arc from the writers, and a subsequent desire to make up for last year’s mistakes.
And then there’s the final scene, which was almost certainly precision-crafted to melt the Internet. I never quite expected Arrow to take a leaf out of Breaking Bad’s book with a tantalisingly ambiguous flash-forward to Oliver and Barry Allen visiting a grave, but it’s an irresistibly teasing conclusion to the episode that cleverly toes the line between being maddeningly vague (there are genuine hints here to what happened, enough to form a good working theory) and patronising in how it signposts what happens. Just who is buried in the grave? Who’s the ‘him’ that Oliver’s going to kill (I would be happy to bet that the ‘he’ isn’t Damien Dahrk, despite the episode clearly nudging the viewer into expecting that)? And why does Oliver feel personally responsible? All questions that will be answered in due course – but judging from the mournful atmosphere of the scene, just because Oliver’s lightened up doesn’t mean he’s free from darkness…
Green Arrow is a very encouraging start to the season, introducing a dynamic new bad guy and recalibrating Oliver’s character in style. There’s a couple of flaws that could spiral in future episodes, and some strange moments of plotting, but this is undoubtedly a return to form that bodes well for the future.