Arrow: 403 “Restoration” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Sara Lance has always had a pretty loose relationship with death. She’s ‘died’ no less than three times during the first three seasons of Arrow, but her actual death in the season three premiere appeared to be genuinely final. She was buried, mourned and then superseded by Laurel, who took on the mantle of the Black Canary. You’d be forgiven, then, for thinking that Sara was a thing of the past, someone to be mentioned in passing a few times and maybe glimpsed briefly in a flashback. This week’s episode, Restoration, set out to dispel that notion by definitively bringing Sara back to life with the Lazarus Pit in time for her to pop along to spin-off Legends of Tomorrow. Did Sara’s resurrection work, given the fact that we’ve been to a very similar place with Arrow before?
Unfortunately, not really. Restoration was another solid entry into this promising season, but most of its strengths lay elsewhere – regarding Sara, unfortunately, Restoration was a bit of a bust. This stems from the confused and garbled plotting behind it all – Arrow never offers a particularly convincing reason as to why Laurel is so hell bent on resurrecting Sara as soon as possible, with the flimsy explanation of ‘grief’ falling apart entirely when you consider that Laurel appeared to have gotten over Sara’s death around the middle of the season last year. The idea that Laurel is still grieving so much for Sara, when the back half of last season contradicted that idea completely, doesn’t wash at all, and the whole sub-plot feels exactly like what I worried it would be – a contrived and artificial way to set up Legends of Tomorrow. It’s made even worse by the fact that Nyssa of all people is dead set against the idea for quite logical reasons, making Laurel’s stubbornness feel vaguely unpleasant. If the writers are trying to present Laurel as being rash and bull-headed, they’ve certainly accomplished that, but Restoration seriously overegged the rashness to the point where it’s really hard to understand Laurel’s decision-making at all. Arrow could always wring some strong drama out of Sara’s resurrection when she comes face to face with her dad, and there’s the comforting fact that a certain John Constantine will soon play into this plotline, but the plotline really failed to make an impact here, with a distinct sense that the writers are just trying to push through this set-up as quick as possible, and have forgotten to give a logical reason as to why it’s all happening in the process.
Thankfully, there’s a saving grace in the Nanda Parbat storyline, and that’s the restoration of Thea and Malcolm’s thoroughly weird father-daughter relationship. Malcolm’s ‘fatherly help’, encouraging his daughter to indulge her bloodlust and even supplying two hapless mooks for that express purpose, is delightfully twisted, with John Barrowman’s clever performance adding genuine sincerity to his poisonous advice. Thanks to Barrowman’s earnest delivery, it’s clear that Malcolm genuinely believes that he’s helping Thea by essentially supplying people for her to unconsciously murder, adding a strong layer of pitch-black comedy and a subtle element of pure tragedy (I mean, Malcolm’s trying his hardest in his own way, yet his own daughter hates him more than ever) to affairs. Malcolm and Thea’s relationship is certainly a unique one, and the sheer unusualness of it all makes every scene with the two worth watching.
Back at Star City, things were on a slightly more even keel. The tale of ‘OG Team Arrow’ versus a HIVE-deployed meta-human is lightweight in places, doing little to nudge on the overarching story, but it’s a consistently fun affair with some meaty and compelling drama at its heart. The villain, Double Down, may have, as per usual, suffered from a lack of depth – but unlike last week’s bland and empty take on Anarky, Double Down’s an exciting enough villain for the depth issues to be fairly easily overlooked. Arrow presents his unique card-throwing powers with considerable visual panache, and the first fight between Green Arrow and Double Down is a clever and dynamic one that makes a potentially ridiculous power seem surprisingly dangerous. It’s also not afraid to get a little brutal in presenting the meta’s power – the effects of Double Down’s projectiles are shown in sharp, visceral and unflinching detail here, reinforcing the sense of threat felt during the fight scenes and adding a little bite to the fight scenes. It’s a bit of a shame that Double Down’s capture takes a backseat to the resolution of Oliver and Diggle’s conflict, meaning that the meta goes down quite easily, but Double Down represents a considerable bounce back for Arrow from last week’s fumbled presentation of Anarky.
It’s a pretty good week for villains actually, as Damien Darkh was back on form here. He was fairly wasted in last week’s episode, which failed to provide a convincing purpose for him to be around, but Darkh is once again prominent this episode, allowing for another great turn from Neal McDonough that deftly walks the tightrope between gleeful and camp. Part of the fun of Darkh is that he’s allowed to be purely evil, killing his underlings for mistakes without a second thought. It’s a different take on a Big Bad, but the lighter villain is working wonders for Arrow in its fourth season – and despite the fact that Darkh’s a less grounded foe than any of the previous Big Bads, he’s already considerably more threatening than Ra’s al Ghul was at any point last season. In short, Arrow’s successfully having its cake and eating it, by presenting Darkh as a more traditional, slightly silly comic-book foe who still happens to be pretty damn scary. Will he work as a more direct threat to Oliver rather than the enjoyably unpredictable strings-puller he’s been for the first three episodes? Time will tell, but the decision to bring Darkh in right from the get go is paying off in spades.
The main dramatic conflict of Restoration stemmed from the feud between Oliver and Diggle reaching its apex. I criticised this subplot back in the premiere review as feeling like unwanted leftovers from season three, but it’s handled pretty well here, with Restoration smartly tying it into the Diggle/HIVE storyline that originates from the distant days of early season two. David Ramsey and Stephen Amell convey the former friends’ splintered trust well, and their rift is effectively conveyed in the way they choose to act alone, both failing, when chasing down leads on HIVE and Double Down. The resolution of it all is strong, too, relying on a good old-fashioned act of sacrifice that’s simple, but efficiently does the job in providing a credible reason for Diggle to forgive Oliver – a strong example of slightly machine-like plotting that still, undoubtedly, provides results. Felicity also takes a more active role in this all, playing the forceful peacemaker in an enjoyable role that self-consciously harks back to the simpler days of season one. In fact, a large part of Restoration does feel like a throwback – and while I’ve enjoyed the introductions of the new heroes through the last couple of seasons, it’s fun to have a trimmed-back and slightly more compact instalment that relies heavily on crime-fighting relationships that have had four seasons to develop and evolve. Diggle, Oliver and Felicity are all powerhouse characters, and focusing much of the episode on them, therefore, is a great move that lends all of the storyline more dramatic heft that it would have had if say, Laurel and Thea, slightly rawer characters who are pretty new to the crime-fighting game, were also present.
However, as strong as the OG Team Arrow stuff is, it’s weirdly contradicted by everything surrounding it. Not only is Restoration a sprawling episode that encompasses a pivotal resurrection and generous focus on the villains (alongside a tie-in to an extremely long-running storyline), it also takes painstaking steps to nudge Echo Kellum’s Curtis Holt towards joining Team Arrow. It’s hard not to see the foreshadowing in Holt’s brief trip to the Green Arrow’s lair and his discovery of Felicity’s secret – and while I have absolutely no qualms about this instantly likeable character joining up, the forward-looking things Restoration does with Holt actively contradict the notion of a trimmed-back, Original Team Arrow episode. It’s hard to swallow the idea that Restoration is a return to the simpler days of just three Team Arrow members when Arrow’s taking such obvious steps towards introducing a new member into the team – and the perfectly acceptable idea of the three, and only the three, crime-fighters stopping Double Down is hindered by the fact that Holt plays a crucial role in helping out. It’s muddled plotting, and it damages a focus on the Original Team Arrow that’s hard to fault otherwise.
With Sara back in a scene that feels a little too much like a retread of Thea’s resurrection last season, Arrow gives us one last mystery to chew on. Just why is Felicity’s phone acting up in Palmer Tech, and why did her name appear on the screen at episode’s end? It’s almost like there’s someone trying to contact her – someone who’s too small to be noticed otherwise… Come to think of it, didn’t Ray Palmer die in that exact room?
Sara’s resurrection is a mess, and the writers could have perhaps moved the Curtis developments to an episode that didn’t put such an emphasis on the old band getting back together, but Restoration does offer a solid A plot with a fun villain, and some strong Diggle/Oliver drama to keep season four’s form up.