Arrow: 405 “Haunted” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Constantine might not have gelled entirely as a show before it was taken off the air in untimely fashion early this year, but there was one unqualified success from the cancelled show – Matt Ryan’s acclaimed take on magician and petty dabbler in the dark arts, John Constantine. With the powers that be having wrangled the rights to have Constantine on Arrow, was this long-awaited Constantine episode a success?
Surprisingly enough, Constantine is far more of a supporting player in Haunted than I expected, with the majority of his screen-time actually occurring in the flashbacks. It’s understandable, given that there’s only a need for Constantine to enter the present day story late on, but it’s still a tad disappointing to get relatively little screen-time for a character whose appearance was hyped up as the crux of this episode, when it’s merely one element. Nonetheless, Matt Ryan really makes Constantine’s screen-time count, effortlessly slipping back into the charismatic, entertaining shoes of the character that gained him so many plaudits – more than ever, it’s plainly apparent than Ryan fits the role like a glove, and it’s a real shame that he was only called up for a sole appearance. Constantine’s only really there as a plot device in the modern day, but he does also serve to give the meandering flashbacks a solid jolt by stripping away much of the blandness that had really weighed down this year’s island adventures.
It was inevitable that Oliver would come into contact with magic and mysticism in this year’s flashbacks, given his established prior knowledge of them, but it’s still a relief to have something a little more unusual thrown into the mix. There’s still many of the issues that have plagued the flashbacks early on, such as a meandering pace where the status quo is continuously threatened then repaired (I guess that cliffhanger from last week didn’t matter that much, then), but it seems John Constantine’s appearance is to thank for introducing a little more wacky comic book intrigue into what had been a painfully conventional plotline so far.
With Constantine only entering late on, most of Haunted focused on the hunt for the escaped, feral Sara. It’s a solid enough plot that gives Thea, who is fast becoming a heavyweight in terms of character depth, plenty to do, even if it settles into a predictable formula of Sara being cornered then fleeing (which happened about four times – a little too much) – and considering this is still very much setting up a spin-off, it’s handled just about as well as it could be given that it’s not really a plotline with many long-term benefits for Arrow. Perhaps the most intriguing thing Sara’s plot delivers is a thorough examination of the tumultuous, complicated relationship between Oliver and Laurel. This was a long time coming, and the plotline does achieve a successful conclusion and moments of inspiration, but Arrow wobbles just a little on the way.
Stephen Amell and Katie Cassidy are good actors, Amell in particular, and they work well with the material they’re given, but Haunted’s examination of their relationship feels like an awkward dredging up of the slightly muddled Oliver/Laurel drama of season two. By harking back to a very different time on the show, Arrow creates a slightly awkward fusion of season two’s attitudes and dialogue, and the wackier and less realistic tone of season four – Laurel’s complaints about Oliver judging her may have felt at least a little understandable when the issues were more grounded topics like drug addiction, but they don’t work quite as well when applied to topics like a pit that raises people from the dead. The result is that Laurel comes off as irrational and unreasonable in a scene that should really challenge viewer sympathies (in fairness, Laurel’s pointed comment about Oliver not seeing her as an equal is a more reasonable comment that I hope is followed up on), and that’s a pity, as Laurel has considerably improved as a character since the aforementioned days of season two; she didn’t quite need to be dragged back to times when the writing for her character was far poorer.
On the bright side, Haunted does pull it back a little by episode’s end. Having both Oliver and Laurel work together to save Sara in the weird Nanda Parbat spirit realm (seriously, what was that place?) was a nice way to tie everything together, and there’s a real sense of closure of all the tumult and disagreements between the two when Oliver and Laurel reconcile. Their friendship has been a fixture of the show since the very first episode, and it’s about time Arrow started taking advantage of all of the history it brings alongside newer relationships as well. It’s a satisfying place to end up in, then, but the road along the way saw Arrow fall back into some of its old, bad habits.
And then there’s Diggle, who received a bit of a shock this week. The Andrew Diggle mystery has been one of the show’s longest running, so it’s great to see an answer, and an actively surprising one to boot. The reveal that Andrew was mixed up in criminal activities is a great one because it promises to have huge repercussions for Diggle, completely changing the heroic view he had had of his brother. The HIVE plot always promised some substantial material for Diggle, and Arrow seems to be really delivering on that front this season, finally giving Diggle the focus he’s lacked so frequently in the past couple of seasons. Of course, the Andrew could lead to heaps of frustrating, momentum-killing angst, but it’s still great to have some closure on a plot that I never thought would be given a straightforward answer.
Ticking away during the last few episodes has been the build-up to the return of Ray – something that’s been handled well thus far, even if the pace of this subplot has been frustratingly glacial (without the Sara plot, Arrow could probably have rinsed through all the Ray build-up in half an episode), with the plotline stuck in a holding pattern until the Sara resurrection arc for over. Now Sara’s dealt with, it’s Ray’s turn, with the cliffhanging reveal that he’s alive. Okay, we all knew this was coming (thanks, Legends of Tomorrow!), but it’s exciting to finally see the Ray plot push forward, given how enjoyable a character Ray was during the frequently dour third season. Not only is Ray alive, however – he’s also in trouble. Coming back from the dead is never easy, is it?
Haunted is a solid instalment of Arrow with a very enjoyable guest turn from Constantine and some great progress on long-running subplots, but it doesn’t quite achieve the incisive look at Oliver and Laurel it aspires to give thanks to some muddled scripting.