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!

Advertisements

Arrow Season 3 (Review)

  • Series: Arrow
  • Season: 3
  • Episodes: 23
  • Discs: 5
  • Cast: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Willa Holland, Colton Haynes, John Barrowman, Paul Blackthorne
  • Network:  CW (Warner Brothers Productions)
  • DVD Format: Color, Widescreen

Season 3 of the CW’s Arrow was criticized by fans for being “too dark”. Rather than being dark, though, I saw Season 3 as being very intense. And it was a season that I found, in a sense, easier to watch on DVD than watching it as it aired last year. When I watched the season last year, the flashbacks to Oliver in Hong Kong seemed very out of place, and even disruptive to the main story line in present-day Starling City. However, watching the series all at once, on DVD, over the course of a week – and having seen the show last year, it becomes clear that the flashback story and the present-day story are parallel. And the flashback story has a important point – rather than simply pointing out that Amanda Waller and ARGUS are always willing to let the ends justify the means, even crashing an airliner full of innocent civilians to kill one “criminal”, as it appears when watching the show live from week to week, with several long breaks – there is a bigger point. The flashbacks give us, the audience, the necessary background to the Alpha-Omega Bioweapon, so that when it shows up in the present, we know how dangerous and deadly it is – and the story-tellers don’t have to slow down the story and explain it. The flashbacks also introduce the Yamashiros – so we know who they are when they return in the present.

Season 3 also brings into the CW Arrow universe four more characters from DC Comics: Wildcat, Black Canary, the Atom, and Katana. In the first episode of Season 3 of Arrow, Sara Lance, the Canary up to now, is killed. Oliver and company cover up the death, burying Sara in her grave from seven years ago. To his credit, though, Oliver does tell Laurel to tell her father, Captain Quentin Lance that his other daughter has died. Laurel, however, is unwilling to do this, fearing for her father’s health since he recently suffered a heart attack. Laurel’s decision will have grave consequences throughout the season. But Laurel decides also she will take up her sister’s mantle and become the Black Canary. However, Laurel doesn’t know how to fight – so she heads to Ted Grant’s gym. The Wildcat teaches her how to fight. Often the Cat and the Canary have had a special relationship – so it is great to see Ted Grant in Arrow, and I hope we see him again.

Meanwhile, Oliver, not the most attentive of CEOs because of all his distractions is about to lose Queen Consolidated. Although he makes an impassioned speech, there is another bidder for the company. Dr. Ray Palmer wins his bid for QC – renaming the company Palmer Technologies. Soon Felicity is his VP and deputy CEO, though she also continues to help Team Arrow. Ray meanwhile is developing his Atom suit so he can help people and perhaps fight crime.

Finally, Tatsu Yamashiro is Katana, a well-armed swordswoman, who became a superhero after personal tragedy struck in Hong Kong. Her husband, Maseo Yamashiro, having experienced the same loss, joins the League of Assassins and becomes The Phantom.

The over-arcing theme of the season is that R’as al Ghul wants Oliver Queen to be his heir, this is especially true after R’as defeats Oliver in single combat, but Oliver recovers from his apparently “fatal” wound. R’as plans drive the season – but Oliver has plans of his own, plans that he doesn’t share with the rest of his team in order to protect them. Only in the last three episodes do Oliver’s plans start to become clear, and only in the final episode of the season in the real mastermind of everything revealed. This means the story plays out like an elaborate chess game of moves and counter moves that make it not only watchable – but re-watchable. In fact, I’d say I enjoyed Season 3 of Arrow even more upon re-watching it on DVD because it was, in a sense, easier to put all the pieces together and follow what was happening.

Season 3 of Arrow sees Thea, Laurel, and Felicity all grow, change, and become who they will be or even more of who they will become. Thea accepts Malcolm Merlyn as her biological father and he takes her to Corto Maltese where in trains her to fight and to defend herself. But in an unseen scene he also drugs her, takes her to Starling City, and has her kill Sara. Thea is completely unaware of what she has done until the towards end of the season. And it even takes Oliver and company awhile to figure out that it was Thea who killed Sara. For awhile, Roy is convinced he did it – but his dreams are actually a mash-up of his murder of a police officer while under the influence of the Marikuru drug from last year and Sara’s death. Thea goes through a lot of changes and challenges in her relationship to Malcolm and to everyone else. However, after R’as al Ghul kills her and she’s brought back via the Lazarus Pit, Thea is also ready to take on her destiny and her new identity. She becomes Red Arrow (Speedy), the Arrow’s assistant. Meanwhile, Arsenal (Roy Harper) has left town, having faked his death after claiming he was the Arrow to protect Oliver. No doubt, Roy will return.

Laurel, as I mentioned, takes up her sister’s jacket and bow staff – and even has Cisco Ramon from The Flash work her up a miniaturized sonic Canary Cry device. Wildcat trains her. Eventually, Oliver sees the light and trains her as well. Laurel takes her place in Team Arrow. She also is an alcoholic but on the path to sobriety. I really liked how Arrow portrayed Laurel’s journey. Not only did we see her having problems with alcohol and drugs in the last season or two – but this season we see her deciding not to drink. We see her attending AA meetings. We see her even walk out of an AA meeting. And we see her clashes with her father – who still has issues with drinking. I liked that Laurel’s alcoholism was realistic and shown as a continual struggle rather than “A Very Special Episode of Arrow” ™ with everything being resolved at the end of 42 minutes and never mentioned again. It was so nice to see a realistic portrayal and that a character we like would both make strides and slide back and then make strides again towards not drinking and getting her life back together.

Felicity, as I mentioned before, ends-up working at Palmer Technologies for Dr. Ray Palmer. She’s the audience’s introduction to Ray and his ATOM suit. But from the beginning, Ray actually treated Felicity with more respect than Oliver did at Queen Consolidated. Oliver “promoted” her to his personal secretary, which she objected to and with good reason (see more on this in my post on Felicity as a Role Model), but when she bursts in to talk to Ray because she has no choice but to take his job offer, Felicity gives a speech about “not bringing him coffee”. Not only does Ray introduce Felicity to her executive assistant and offer to have him get her coffee, but he then leaves her in her huge executive office. Felicity is given the respect her considerable talent deserves. Ray pretty quickly introduces her to his ATOM suit, but also tells her why he wants to make Starling City a better place – his financeé, Anna was killed during the attack by Slade’s Marikuru Solders in the previous season. So he’s decided to put his considerable resources behind re-branding Starling City as Star City, but more than just a new name, he wants to clean up and improve the city. The ATOM suit is his more personal take on helping people.

We also see “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak”, which I was a bit disappointed with when I originally saw it last year. Second time around, I knew what to expect, so it wasn’t quite so disappointing – and I guess it makes sense that Felicity would be a “super-hacker”, but it seems so stereotypical – and I was so proud and happy that Felicity was a college graduate, from MIT no less, and not simply “a hacker who fools around with computers for fun” as is the norm for both male and female computer geeks on TV and in film. However, when we see “Mama Smoak”, especially when she returns when Ray in is the hospital – it’s brilliant. Meeting Felicity’s mother did more for explaining who Felicity is than her origin story – and now I want to know who her father is.

Finally, Felicity gets a lot of action this season. Dr. Ray Palmer falls in love with her, we can guess at first sight, and they eventually sleep together. Felicity sort of has a thing going with Barry Allen, though they both decide not to pursue it because Felicity really loves Oliver – and Barry really loves Iris West. In the flashback, we meet Felicity’s college boyfriend. And finally, at the end of the season, Felicity sleeps with Oliver. She literally gets more action than Oliver – for at least this season.

An impressive theme of the season, however, besides the growth of several of the characters, is the importance of both honesty and cooperation. Oliver continuously gets in trouble because he thinks he can keep secrets to protect everyone he cares about. Yet those secrets inevitably come out – causing more pain, hurt, anger, and mistrust than if Oliver had been upfront in the first place. (Or take Laurel – Laurel’s plan to keep Sara’s death from their father was a bad idea – and when Captain Lance finds out it causes a major rift.) Oliver learns that he cannot be alone, he can’t be a lone wolf, he needs others. And he learns there are plenty of people who want to help him – both personally and with his crusade to save Starling City. After everything he goes through, Oliver realizes this.

When I started this I wanted to keep you as far away from it as possible, because that has always been my instinct, to go it alone. But the truth is that, we won tonight because I wasn’t alone! I thought this crusade would only end with my death. But even if I had died tonight, it would live on, because of you, and you, and you.” – Oliver Queen

“It’s true – this city isn’t lacking masks.” – Laurel Lance

“Heroes.” – Oliver

And this is something that sets the DC Comics Universe apart from other comics universes. The characters are not lone wolves fighting a solo battle. All the characters in DC Universe have friends and colleagues that help them in their personal and Superhero lives. And Heroes have other heroes to rely on as well. Not only does DC have a rich history of team-ups, especially in the Silver Age, but there’s the Justice League (aka Justice League International, Justice League of America, Justice League America). All DC heroes belong to the Justice League – it’s like a professional association. And as part of the League, everyone knows who everyone really is – there secret identities and known family, friends, and associates. But it goes beyond simply a professional association, or back-up if one needs it – there’s a camaraderie between heroes. And this offsets the often tragic nature of the heroes backstory. In DC, the hero often becomes a hero after a personal tragedy – the death of parents or a parent, a brother, a sister, a child – these personal tragedies forge heroes. But DC Villains also often have tragedy in their background. It isn’t the event that causes the person to become a hero or villain it’s how the individual reacts to the event that makes him a hero or a villain. Malcolm Merlyn lost his wife, Rebecca, to “random” street crime. Dr. Ray Palmer also lost his financeé to violent crime. But while Merlyn is sent down a dark path leading him to become The Magician and the Dark Archer and even to become R’as al Ghul himself; Dr. Ray Palmer takes the death of Anna and it becomes a driving force in him. He acquires Queen Consolidated and makes it into Palmer Technologies – he wants Starling City to become a better place, Star City. He uses nanotechnology to save his own life but will no doubt bring that tech to the public to save other lives. And he creates the ATOM suit to help people. And DC Heroes are surrounded by those who share their mission. Oliver belatedly realizes he needs those who surround him – not to “use” them, but for friendship, support and help. Barry Allen on The Flash also has a group of friends and family. Even Batman, whom many only know the from the Adam West cartoon TV Show or Tim Burton film (and think of as a solo character), has close to a dozen friends and allies in the comics (Batman himself, Alfred Pennyworth, Dick “Nightwing” Grayson, Jason “the Red Hood” Todd, Tim “Red Robin” Drake, Damien “Robin” Wayne, Barbara “Oracle/Batgirl” Gordon, Cassandra Cain, Lucius Fox, etc.). For this reason, DC always seems more optimistic and yet real than other major comics.