Arrow Season 4 Review

  • Series: Arrow
  • Season: 4
  • Episodes: 24
  • Discs: 5
  • Cast: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Willa Holland, John Barrowman, Paul Blackthorne, Neal McDonough
  • Network:  CW (Warner Brothers Productions)
  • DVD Format: Color, Widescreen

Season 4 of Arrow is very dark, and that isn’t just a pun based on the main villain of the season being Damien Darhk. But the season is also very…strange. The first eight episodes of the season play like an extended backdoor pilot for Legends of Tomorrow, cumulating in the two-part crossover with The Flash that introduces and spins off Legends. Laurel decides to bring back her dead sister, Sara, so she and Thea dig her up and bring her to Nanda Parbat to drop her in a Lazarus Pit – this despite the plot thread of Thea continuously fighting the blood lust she now suffers thanks to being brought back to life by the same Lazarus Pit. Once in Nanda Parbat, both Malcolm Merlyn and Nyssa al’Ghul warn against using the Lazarus Pit – but Laurel persists. When Sara is brought back she’s a feral beast. Even Quentin Lance, her father, considering killing her. Oliver calls in John Constantine to bring her back to herself. Constantine’s magic works. Shortly after, Felicity discovers that Ray Palmer wasn’t killed in the explosion at Palmer Tech, rather his Atom Suit works and he’s become extremely small. Unfortunately, Ray and his suit are captured by Damien Darhk. Felicity and Curtis Holt (Mr. Terrific to be) rescue him. With Ray now alive, and in possession of a working A.T.O.M. suit – he’s ready to become part of the Legends. The lead in brings us to the crossover with The Flash that also introduces Legends of Tomorrow, and Ray, Sara, Heat Wave,  Captain Cold, and the Hawks (Hawkgirl and Hawkman) spin off to face Vandal Savage. However, that crossover also features Barry Allen’s Flash running through time to prevent a disaster, Oliver discovering he has a son (an element from season 1), Barry accidentally messing-up Oliver and Felicity’s relationship, and Malcolm Merlyn taking the dust of Savage as a trophy or something. But both parts of the crossover are included in the DVD set – Warner Brothers must have heard the cries of protest about last year’s DVD sets not including both halves of the crossover on both sets.

Having successfully spun off Legends, Arrow settles down to be it’s own thing. There’s a continuing thread of “let’s bring people back/in for an episode”. We see Constantine – and yes, I loved his episode so much I bought Constantine on Blu-Ray, as well as all six issues of the Justice League Dark and all four issues of the Constantine DC graphic novels – so I’m glad Arrow introduced me to the character. And – it fits with the CW pulling together references to the wider DC universe. But the episode also sticks out a bit – for a series that stated at the beginning that it would be realistic with no “superpowers” it’s slightly odd to have an entire season of magic. John Constantine isn’t the only DC hero to show up – much later in the season, Oliver brings in Vixen, remarking, “We shared an animated adventure in Hub City,” a reference to the CW Seed animated Vixen series. Vixen has also become a regular in Season 2 of Legends of Tomorrow. Arsenal, Roy Harper, also returns for an episode. But villains return for single episodes (or two) as well, we see: Brie Larvan (the Bug-Eyed Bandit); Cupid; Anarchy; Felicity’s hacker boyfriend, Cooper; and the Calculator, another hacker who turns out to be Felicity’s father. These one-offs work – but at the same time, they distract from the main villain – Damien Darhk – though Cooper works with Darhk, Anarchy wants to kill him, and the Calculator ends up helping Oliver and company against Darhk. But the effect of the one-offs, especially the Cupid episode (which seems designed to be used in trailers to suggest something happens that doesn’t) and the Bug-Eyed Bandit episode seem like breaks in the storyline. Almost as if when putting together the Damien Darhk story the writing and production crew didn’t have enough story planned for the entire season.

The flashback storyline for this season has Oliver returned to Lian Yu to break-up a drug ring, attempt to save a kidnapped Russian girl, and rescue the rest of Ryder’s slave labor force. However, the last few episodes of the season clearly relate the flashbacks to the current storyline – as the idol used by Ryder and briefly, Tatiana, is the same as the idol used by Damien Darhk (or very close). Oliver also meets John Constantine on the island in one episode, which, at least, explains how he knows him. I liked the smoothness of the flashbacks, and the cuts between the past and the present. It worked so much better than last season.

The season is also marked by Star City’s mayoral campaign. First Jeri Ryan (Star Trek‘s 7 of 9) shows up to run for mayor, but she drops out when Damien Darhk kidnaps her child. Oliver then steps in to run, challenging Darhk, but he, too, eventually pulls out of the race because of Darhk’s threats against his son William, and others he cares about, including Felicity. Darhk’s wife, Revé wins the election.

The season is also framed with a flash forward to Oliver at a grave site. When watching the season for the first time, the obvious question is – Who died? When re-watching it, we know who died, in the episode “11:59” – Laurel Lance is killed, and her legacy as the Black Canary eventually revealed to Star City. Still, these flash forwards still work, not driving the story with an obvious question and worry about who died, but letting the audience know just how serious things are with Darhk.

Darhk’s plan is terrifying and for a “comic book series”, very real and frightening as a threat – Damien Darhk’s “Genesis” plan is to destroy the world in Nuclear Fire – with only his chosen few surviving in an underground colony. The people in this colony, whom we see – because Malcolm has Thea brought there and drugged into compliance – are white families – mother, father, child. ALL of them – there are no minorities, heck there seem to be no families with more than a single child. It’s a “perfect world” of rich, white, no doubt – single religion believing, fascists who have no hope. None. They buy Damien Darhk’s claim that the world is “so evil” it must be destoryed. And despite Darhk’s “Arc” there’s no real plan to rebuild anything. It’s a terrifying vision.

It is a very, very dark season. “And smile, and smile, and be a villain”, which is a Shakespearean quote – seems to apply to Damien Darhk. Neal McDonough, whom I had seen in the short-lived series Medical Investigation, plays the part with a smile – a smile in the midst of his true evil – which makes him that much more chilling. Darhk uses his magic to stop Oliver time and again. He controls the “ghosts” an army for an organization called Hive. These ghosts will literally die for Hive – when one faces capture they take suicide pills to prevent revealing any information. Darhk also gets Quentin Lance, whom he’s bribed to work for him, to upload a virus/worm to a Federal server farm that erases the entire existence of the ghosts – or their records at least. One of the ghosts is John Diggle’s supposedly dead brother – who isn’t so dead, but is a dedicated member of Hive. Quentin Lance sees Darhk’s evil and eventually helps Oliver and Company (he hadn’t wanted to work for Darhk – but at first he didn’t see the harm of supplying information, and later Darhk threatened Laurel). John tries to bring Andy to his side, but it fails – and fails spectacularly.

Felicity and Oliver do get engaged, but she decides against marrying him due to his “Lone Ranger” attitude and occasional lies. Though I felt the subplot concerning Oliver’s son was a bit forced. Samantha, the boy’s mother, comes off as extremely self-centered. Her concern to keep William secret and safe makes some sense (especially as after Malcolm tells Damien about William – Damien kidnaps him); but her insistence that Oliver can’t tell Felicity about William makes no sense at all except to create a secret that would break up the couple. It wasn’t her place to say he can’t tell his fiancée. There’s a big difference between Oliver announcing to the world he has a kid and taking William in – and Oliver letting his closest family and friends know. Also, the bit with the uncashed check makes no sense. True, I could see the pride thing of Samantha not wanting to take Moira’s money – but from a practical sense – she moved to a new city, bought a house, and she was pregnant – so she couldn’t work immediately even if she found a job. That’s going to cost thousands of dollars right there. Raising a kid isn’t cheap. Sam really should have used the money.

Getting back to Darhk – every time he tries to stop him, Oliver fails. At one point, he and his team capture Darhk – but Darhk claims he’s someone else and tries to get the charges dropped. The only thing that stops him is Lance, who incriminates himself to testify against Darhk. Darhk then immediately escapes prison – and in the resulting “riot” he kills Laurel. Darhk also attacks Lilia and baby Sara – and takes Rubicon, a computer program meant to prevent nuclear disaster. Darhk will, of course, use this fail safe program to launch the world’s weapons and create Armageddon. Felicity, Curtis, and Noah “The Calculator” Kuttler (Felicity’s father) work together to bring down Rubicon. However, unusually for this genre – one of the missiles escapes – the only thing Felicity can do is divert it – and the missile hits and destroys Haven Rock rather than Monument Point. Felcity’s feelings about this disaster and the tens of thousands of deaths are played way down in the few remaining episodes of the season. Not only that, but the work of Curtis, Noah, and Felicity only buys the world another twenty-four hours. The computers in the Bunker (or Arrow Cave) are destroyed by a Hive attack and the laptop with the anti-Rubicon program is stolen. But Felicity and her crew are able to get to Darhk’s hideout to stop his hacker, Cooper – who gives his life in the process of saving the world. Felicity and Curtis also save Star City from imminent attack. Meanwhile, Thea and Anarchy destroy Darhk’s arc community – driving Malcom back to Oliver and Company, because he’s sane enough to realise he lives in the world that Darhk still, arrogantly, wants to destroy. Revé is killed, and Thea kidnaps Darhk’s daughter. Oliver and Darhk fight, again, but having learned some magic of his own from a friend of Constantine, Oliver is on more even footing. In the end, Oliver kills Darhk. Oliver is also sworn in as Star City’s interim mayor.

Season 4 of Arrow was overwhelmingly dark – not simply the bad guy of the season – who’s ultimate plan is to destroy the world – but in terms of personal relationships. The season opens with Felicity and Oliver living in Ivy Town, and Oliver states many times he is happy there – though Felicity is bored. Yet, the two’s engagement falls apart. One of John Diggle’s motivating factors was the “death” of his brother – yet when Andy comes back, it isn’t a happy reunion and in the end, John kills him. Thea gets Yet Another boyfriend who is just bad for her. It’s a season of reunions and one-time returns, but all those characters appear in one-off episodes. Well, for the most part. The season spends it’s first eight episodes in an extended back door pilot, and as much as I like Legends of Tomorrow, and it was necessary to bring back from the dead the two characters who would spin off, it felt odd to put so much effort into that “mini-story” and then never mention any of those characters again. The next story has Oliver unsuccessfully running for mayor – because he’s forced to drop out of the race by Darhk. Though, in the last episode of the season, he becomes mayor anyway. Felicity is shot in the back and becomes paralyzed – but regains the use of her legs due to a techno-miracle developed by Curtis. This will, no doubt, make comparisons to Oracle even more obvious – though I feel such comparisons between two brilliant characters to be a disservice to both. Felicity loses control of Palmer Tech at the end of the season. The flashback story is much better integrated into the main story, and provides a lot of background – so that’s helpful, but it’s a dark story as well. And then the main story is about, to be frank, a powerful white rich guy who has every, single, advantage, and still feels the world is “too evil” to exist – so he becomes determined to destroy it. Even when his “ark” is destroyed – he still wants to destroy the world. The arrogance, egotism, and hubris boggles the mind – and Darhk is a pure psychopath as well. Neal McDonough is a brilliant choice for Darhk though, and plays the part with a fascinating twinkle – which of course makes him even more scary. It’s an odd season. It’s a dark season. It a very real sense, it made Arrow my least favorite of the CW DC shows. One thing Arrow has gotten right though, and it’s something I like about the entire CW DC line-up, is the bringing in of other characters from the DC Universe – heroes, villains, allies – CW is almost close enough to having a weekly Justice League on the screen they’ve brought in so many characters. That is fun, seriously. It rewards the long-time DC fan, and for new fans, it send them scrambling for the DC Wiki. This is how DC is done!

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