Arrow: 406 “Lost Souls” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
During the often rocky third season of Arrow, Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer was often one of the very few sources of genuine lightness and humour in a season packed with dour brooding, and the news that he’d play a key role in spin-off Legends of Tomorrow was greeted with nothing but enthusiasm from this reviewer. However, first, Arrow had to get Ray out of the tricky situation he’d found himself in…
This week’s episode, Lost Souls, saw Arrow finally clear up its last bits of spin-off set-up before the big crossover in a few weeks’ time. It wasn’t just Ray, however – the episode was also tasked with prepping the recently resurrected Sara for spin-off land. And it’s there where the episode fell flat, dragging down an otherwise good instalment. The Sara arc of season four has flip-flopped from being rushed and half-hearted to often revelatory as was in the terrific Beyond Redemption, but here it’s back in unconvincing territory. Perhaps it’s just awkward timing (Arrow having to barrel into the Ray story straight off the back of Sara’s resurrection), but the episode just didn’t have time to deliver Sara a solid amount of screen-time, meaning that it was robbed of the chance to truly take advantage of Sara’s resurrection. Many of the things you’d hope for, such as her personal feelings at coming back to a hugely different status quo and her opinions on Laurel taking up the Black Canary moniker, are only given lip service or are passed over entirely, and the only substantial bit of Sara-related material the episode offers up is her continuing bloodlust. That would usually be fine, but this exact ground was covered with Thea just a few episodes ago, and the excitement and shock factor has long since faded, especially considering Lost Souls didn’t make any attempts to mark Sara’s bloodlust out from Thea’s. Her abrupt departure is also galling – a moment where the moving cogs of a huge expanded universe is all-too visible. I hope Sara will pop in again soon enough, as Lost Souls was unfortunately a rushed departure for the character that missed several storytelling opportunities and left the character on a decidedly uneven keel for the spin-off.
On the bright side, things were a little better elsewhere. For the first time this season, Oliver and Felicity’s relationship came under strain – and, surprisingly, for a relationship that was at the epicentre of season three’s flaws, it works pretty well. It’s really interesting to note how differently Arrow handles inter-personal drama now to when Ray was regularly around – now, it’s handled with a maturity and efficiency that not only makes the characters more likeable, it streamlines the drama so it doesn’t bog down the season as a whole. What we get is a fairly diverting exploration of their relationship that reaches a satisfying conclusion in one episode, packs in a nice bonding scene between Oliver and Diggle (the increasing emphasis on their friendship is an example of how Arrow’s been using some of the best stuff from its early days lately) and manages to deepen every character while averting the common trick of making any character too unsympathetic. I’m not really a huge fan of the ‘Olicity’ relationship, but Lost Souls handles an exploration of its flaws and an affirmation of its strengths briskly and maturely enough to be thoroughly watchable.
It’s also quite fun to have Ray back, even if he was a tad underused here. His escape from the Palmer Tech explosion is handled exactly as you’d expect (he shrank), but it’s still a fun novelty to have a mini-Ray imprisoned in a tiny cube on a desk, which works well as a teaser for the presumably regular shrinking action in Legends of Tomorrow. His rescue is one is Arrow’s stronger action scenes, incorporating a larger amount of heroes than ever (including Curtis, whose list of skills is pretty terrific) in an indicator that Arrow’s ever-expanding roster of costumed superheroes is actually working not only as a way to provide a little more warmth, but to spice up the action.
As something of a side note, it’s also great to see how Arrow is using its Big Bad this year. The introduction in the mid-season finale was beginning to get a little stale, so the continued use of Damien Darkh as a constant threat Team Arrow are almost always clashing against, even by proxy, is a refreshing change for the show. It’s been great to have a consistent sense of threat throughout the season, and Darkh’s continued presence has averted the pacing issues that the late villain introductions have usually brought about – with the villain on the scene by episode one, season four has had no need to drag the teasing and build-up out for nine episode. Arrow may yet run into issues if it keeps Darkh as a regular presence for the entire season, dragging out the conflict and straining credulity n the process, but for now it’s been a storytelling decision that’s provided impetus to a part of the season that’s often a slightly sluggish and protracted set-up for the more exciting things to happen in the second half of the season (season three certainly suffered from this problem, with a notably weak second half).
It’s a little bit of a shame, then, that this fresher storytelling approach hasn’t quite brought about the superb results it could have due to the necessity of the Legends of Tomorrow set-up. In fairness to Arrow, it’s had a harder job than The Flash, which only needed to recalibrate two characters who were far from regular presences on the show. Sara and Ray, on the other hand, were key characters in past seasons, so the set-up has filled up a great deal of the season thus far. It’s not been dreadful, especially when it’s been used to progress other characters (Felicity and Lance have both benefited), but both Sara and Ray’s stories, much like Firestorm’s on The Flash, are infused with a sense that none of this will really get a good pay-off on the parent show. It’s felt at times as if the writers, understandably, are trying to shove the set-up out of the way as soon as possible, but this has come with the consequence of a great deal of this set-up feeling thinner than other plotlines on the show, functioning on weaker plotting and often baffling character decisions. The Flash has flourished after it concluded its set-up duties, so let’s hope that Arrow will do the same in the next few episodes – crossover excepted, of course.
Lost Souls does its job as an episode, and there’s plenty of good stuff here – but as an individual episode of Arrow it’s slight and suffers from the collective responsibility of juggling set-up for Ray and Sara. Arrow continues its solid run of form here, and there’s no signs of the season as a whole going off the rails, but after four episodes, I’m a little burnt out on the Legends set-up. There’s the crossover, which will be fun as it’s a designated episode where the ongoing storylines will always be locked away for a week, but it’s about time Arrow returned to its own stories – which, thankfully, it seems to be doing next week.