Wednesday, October 7, 2015

REVIEW: 'Arrow' - Oliver Takes on a New Identity in Order to Save Star City from Damien Darhk in 'Green Arrow'

The CW's Arrow - Episode 4.01 "Green Arrow"

Oliver and Felicity's blissful getaway is cut short when Thea and Laurel pay them a visit and tell Oliver they need his help back in Star City. The city has been attacked by "Ghosts," assassins led by a dangerous man named Damien Darhk. When Oliver returns, Diggle makes it very clear that he doesn't want Oliver on the team.

Season 3 of Arrow wasn't that great. The show set out to tell its most serious and worldly story yet and came out of it a grim and dour mess. The darkness consumed the show. Not only that, the story involving Oliver needing to join the League of Assassins just wasn't that good. Paired with the Hong Kong flashbacks that killed momentum and energy whenever they appeared, it was just a mess of a narrative arc. The season ended with it being the end of the Arrow as he was. Oliver drove off into the sunset with Felicty in order to be happy. It was basically the only time in the season that the two of them smiled. But it also hinted that the future wouldn't be as dark and serious as it had just been.

In fact, Season 4 opens with Oliver and Felicity in domestic bliss living in the suburbs and having brunch with their new neighborhood friends. It's drastically different from the world the two of them just escaped. A world that Diggle, Laurel and Thea are still dealing with on a regular basis. Starling City has been renamed Star City in memory of Ray Palmer. But it has also fallen into even more chaos following the Arrow's departure. Sure, that has more to do with Damien Darhk and his HIVE of operatives attacking the city than it does Oliver not being there. But that is still a part of the narrative. No one wants to live in this city any more. That's understandable given that it's come under attack by crazed terrorists several times over the course of the show. Diggle, Laurel and Thea can only do so much to save the city.

Oliver needed to feel the calling again in order to pick his bow and arrow back up. He is happy with Felicity in the suburbs. He is ready to propose to her! And yet, he is pulled back into the chaos of Star City when Laurel and Thea visit desperate for his help. It's only slightly surprising that Felicity has been going behind Oliver's back in order to still offer technical support to the team in Star City. But it was to be expected that this premiere would bring those two back into the structure of the show. While it's great to see them happy somewhere else, that's not what this show is about. This premiere does force an emotional change in the characters. They feel at home in Star City. But being there makes them want to put on a mask and protect it. It's a calling they both feel. It just takes Oliver a minute to actually embrace being one of the heroes who helps protect the city again.

Part of that comes from realizing his enemy is none other than Damien Darhk, who trained with Ra's al Ghul and has his own organization of very well-trained soldiers. Damien is the show's entry point into mysticism. Damien has powers not associated with being a meta-human - like on The Flash. He can suck the life out of someone as well as stop an arrow flying right at him. He has super strength which makes him very formidable in hand-to-hand combat. That is a new type of villain for the show to do for the season. Usually the premieres like to keep it mysterious for a little while. Here, he pops up pretty quickly and is evil in all of his interactions with other people. He plays much closer to the work that John Barrowman's Malcolm and Manu Bennett's Slade did as villains than Matt Nable's Ra's al Ghul. That can only be a good thing for the future.

Oliver stays because of the severity of the situation and the enemy. He still hasn't earned back the trust of Diggle - who is rightfully mad at Oliver for kidnapping his wife in order to fool Ra's. But a meaningful change is happening with Oliver too. He no longer wants to be seen as the darkness of the city. He doesn't want to be the man who brought all of this chaos and destruction. He wants to be seen as a symbol of hope and inspiration. That's what leads to the creation of the Green Arrow. He is proud to reveal himself to the citizens of the city. He promises that he will be there to protect them against this big foe.

Of course, the future has already been set for Oliver and the show. It's one that leads to even more emotional devastation. For all the darkness on display in this first episode back, several characters got to make jokes. They didn't distract from the narrative but it did make the situation feel less serious. And yet, the premiere ends with a character getting his or her death sentence. Oliver stands over a freshly dug grave grieving this massive loss at the hand of Damien. Barry is there for a minute to offer his emotional support. That establishes that the person in the ground holds a connection to both characters. But it also establishes that the narrative this season is going to follow a similar trajectory as the previous three. Oliver is trying to be a better and more hopeful hero. The team dynamic isn't the same as it was when he left. He'll have to get used to that. And yet, it seems like the future has already been written. Letting the audience know that can be exciting. It's going to be a mystery regarding who dies in this battle. But that still feels formulaic and wallowing in a way that this episode probably shouldn't have been. The show is rebuilding itself. The end result could be massively and emotionally affecting. It's just difficult to feel confident with the show getting to that point in a rewarding way follow the missteps of last season. Still this episode did enough to keep the intrigue high.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Green Arrow" was directed by Thor Freudenthal with story by Greg Berlanti & Beth Schwartz and teleplay by Marc Guggenheim & Wendy Mericle.
  • Captain Lance has apparently aligned with Damien. That twist felt slightly forced and a reason to give him something to do this season. He has frequently been positioned as a moral center of the show. It should be interesting to see how all of this happened and what it will require him to do over the season.
  • The side effects of being in the Lazarus Pit are finally starting to effect Thea. It's fun when she notes just how cool all of this fighting is. It's less so when she doesn't know when to stop beating up a bad guy.
  • Diggle finally has a helmet to conceal his identity out in the field. That is a long time coming. Though it still reads as slightly awkward. Is he really effective out there with that on his head?
  • As if the flash-forward tease wasn't enough, the show still maintains its flashback narrative that takes Oliver back to Lian Yu. It's not surprising given how putting him in Hong Kong wasn't that great. But the show better have a reason for all of this to be meaningful. A brief tease of him dealing with mystical elements isn't enough either.
  • Oliver was in Coast City for a little bit before he was drugged by Amanda Weller and taken to an assignment only he is somehow qualified for. During that time though, the show does drop a small Easter Egg with a uniform on display at the bar that belongs to someone named Jordan. Hal Jordan, perhaps?
  • Oliver and Felicity are now staying in Thea's phenomenal apartment and Thea is staying with Laurel. Also, Oliver hides the engagement ring he has for Felicity. Though the hiding place he put it in doesn't inspire a lot of confidence that it won't be found soon.