TV Review: ARROW (Season 4) – Soft Reboot Required To Return To Its Roots
The CW’s adaptation of the infamous DC Comics character Green Arrow, has been a resounding success. So much so that spin offs of the show include the even more popular ‘The Flash’ (My Season 2 Review here) and ‘Legends Of Tomorrow’ (my Review of Season 1 here). The spin-offs have been so successful for creator Greg Berlanti, that he even created ‘Supergirl’ on a different network, though that will soon be a part of The CW next season.
With 4 Seasons in, ‘Arrow‘ is still considered to be the veteran show for all of these others, part of the ‘Arrow-verse‘. However, the comparison doesn’t really hold up in terms of quality. Spoilers of Season 4 of ‘Arrow‘ will follow. You’ve been warned.
So here is my Review of the entire Season 4 of ‘Arrow‘ on The CW.
Initially starting off as a gritty and dark reality, establishing the tortured character of Oliver Queen who, after much trauma and, yet to be revealed past, decided to become a vigilante by donning a hood and picking up a bow. The progression of the character, his motivations and the backstory provided, was seamless and developed the character quite well. However, things took a messy turn when the character archetype for Arrow was abandoned, and the writers attempted some fan service, which they’ve been unable to recover from since.
While the other CW shows rely on super powers, outrageous set ups and out of this world plot devices, ‘Arrow‘ was the show that kept it real. (or a 100, if you will) The most fantastical element of the show until Season 2, was an engineered serum that provided super strength, (Mirakuru) and later on a mysteriously ancient fountain that had healing abilities. (the Lazarus Pit) All ideas the stretched the idea of realism, while still maintaining a firm footing in the practical.
Season 4 abandons all of this, and adds elements of mysticism, supernatural elements and other wordly concepts, none of which are adequately explained. After running off with Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) at the end of Season 3, Oliver (Stephen Amell) is called back to Star City to help fight a new threat in the form of a mysterious man known as Damian Darhk (Neil McDonough) who has plans to end the world. Darhk has powers that conveniently relate to Oliver’s past, and something he’s very aware of, apparently.
Where It Went Wrong
The flashbacks of ‘Arrow‘ used to be metaphorical, relating each experience in the past to the present, through a symbolic subtext, allowing Oliver to deal with whatever he was dealing with at the time. Season 4 instead, saw his past flashbacks be a direct link to deal with the same threat in the present. It’s an absurd device that makes Oliver seem unnecessarily secretive, even more so than he is now.
Through the flashbacks we learn that he already experienced something exactly like Darhk’s powers in the past, but refused to share with any other character, until it was revealed to the audience in subsequent episodes. It’s a case where the attempted dramatic style of storytelling directly impacts the logic of the story being told. Why does the main character only share information as its revealed to the audience, even though he apparently knew about it from years ago??
‘Arrow‘ is now also suffering from indifference. The way in which side characters are introduced, for showy gimmicks, and then relegated to the background, creates a situation where we just don’t care anymore.
Thea (Willa Holldand) became Speedy so abruptly, joining Team Arrow in their crusades with no internal motivation of why she wants to fight crime, that her arc through out the season is hard to relate to when we don’t know why she’s even still part of the show to begin with. Brand new character Curtis (Echo Kellam) was introduced, and was a delight and big source of comic relief for the first half of the season, but then disappeared until conveniently returning near the end. And for what pathetic reason is Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) still hanging around, just going along with whatever is going on at the time, is beyond me.
‘Arrow‘ also does something, that I find completely absent in ‘The Flash‘, which is put together the leading couple of the story in a happy relationship, only to create conflict to rip them apart again. It’s a tired and stale formula used repeatedly, and to death in conventional daytime soap operas, and a plot point that is below the standards of the ‘Arrow‘ writers room. And this happens constantly on this show. There is no more character development left for this set of characters, and it’s a plot point that needs to be abandoned.
There’s also the matter of the main character himself. Usually, a character arc should start from one point, increase in stakes until it reaches a crescendo of epic proportions, before returning to a similar starting point, but with a new outlook or some sort of resolution to whatever started the arc. Oliver however, has what can only be described as a group of character hills; going up and down, to varying peaks, and at times plunging into a valley from which he is hidden from audience interest. It’s always the same issues of his darkness, hope, brooding, trust, isolation, blah blah blah. The character grew immensely from Season 1 to Season 2, however keeps yo-yo-ing between the same internal conflicts for two entire seasons now, and it’s getting tiresome.
Why There Is Still Hope
Season 4 of ‘Arrow‘ ended not in a cliffhanger, but with everything resolved and a nice little bow on the end. Berlanti and the writers’ room need to use this opportunity to really dig deep into what made this show great. They need to bring ‘Arrow‘ back in Season 5 with some forward momentum, while digging into the past. Oliver’s characterization needs to change. He needs to find another motivation for constantly putting himself on the line, that isn’t as cheesy or completely random as the Season Finale speech. The brooding, martyr syndrome needs to stop. Now that he’s Mayor, hopefully Oliver will have more optimistic approach to vigilanteism than always crying about something.
In a dark setting, a story needs to have the crusader for justice be more hopeful and passionate. I’m not asking Oliver to be cracking jokes and zingers, but he needs more passion that goes beyond vengeance. This is especially so if they choose to continue to make him husband material, or indulge in more relationships. Also: no more magic and mysticism. The show needs to go back to street level crime and bad guys, with layers that don’t just involve end of the world consequences. With Oliver as Mayor, hopefully the stories will get more complicated, political and commenting on socio-economic issues.
If ‘The Flash’ is the show on CW that deals with characters and their relationships in a superhero world, ‘Arrow‘ needs to be the one that deals with more real world elements and situations.
What did you think about ‘Arrow’s Season 4?
Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @theshahshahid