Wednesday, May 25, 2016

REVIEW: 'Arrow' - Oliver Battles Damien Darhk's Magic with Hope as Felicity Tries to Stop the Nuclear Missiles in 'Schism'

The CW's Arrow - Episode 4.23 "Schism"

Oliver teams up with a surprising force in an attempt to stop Damien Darhk and his magic once and for all. 

Arrow has successfully launched a whole new franchise of DC Comics shows on The CW. This upcoming fall there will be four of them on the schedule. All of them will be starting off their respective nights with super-heroics. It's very impressive that Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg have built this franchise in just a short amount of time. But as more and more shows were added to their plates, it started to feel like they were being spread too thin. They have to juggle their time amongst four shows. That's a lot of work. The final product has suffered a little bit too. All four shows have had similar difficulties this season in lackluster villains. Damien Darhk really only worked as a season-long bad guy because Neal McDonough was so charismatic and entertaining in the role. It didn't make his nefarious plans for the world any more interesting or bearable to watch. It was hard to care when HIVE was teasing something called Genesis. And the ultimate reveal literally just felt like the latest attempt at a supervillain trying to end the world.

Arrow has always been filled with more angst and a brooding hero. Oliver Queen is a man who simply embraces the darkness as he attempts to save his city from the forces of evil who wish it harm. The flashbacks have made that journey painfully clear over the years - even though his character arc in that story had its natural conclusion at the end of the second season. So, it's not surprising at all that the show tries to ramp up the stakes more for its fourth season finale by putting the whole world in danger. It pales in comparison to what The Flash did in its finale last night with Barry needing to safe the whole multiverse from destruction. But the shows in this universe usually don't crossover very much except in short bursts of cross-promotion. That has been a struggle over the years as more shows have been added to the universe. When Arrow wasn't busy dealing with Damien Darhk or mourning Laurel's death, it was too busy doing set up for arcs that would play out on Legends of Tomorrow. That just shows just how little meat there actually was to this whole story in the first place.

All of it essentially boils down to Oliver once again struggling to balance the light and darkness inside of him. This story arc has really embraced the cheesy and corny nature of comic books more than any previous story. The only way for Oliver to defeat Darhk's dark magic is to embrace the light and hope that resides inside of him. If he doesn't, then the whole world will perish. The one thing he is constantly struggling with is what will defeat Darhk in this big battle. That takes a significant turn as well when Darhk becomes so powerful after one nuclear missile hits and wipes out thousands. First of all, the reaction to a nuke going off in the world is far too miniscule. If that were to happen, it would be a big deal. It would take so much more than a speech from a former mayoral candidate to reignite the hope within the citizens of Star City. A nuclear missile is heading straight towards the city. It's panic and chaos. Darhk is so powerful. And yet, his motivations really aren't that clear. His bunker has been destroyed. He is now ending the world without any hope of survival. Why? He says he wants a reset. A world where his daughter doesn't have to live without a mother. A world where the team doesn't have to mourn Laurel. But it's such a lackluster final rationalization to justify this cliche action.

The missile isn't successful in hitting the city. Felicity and Curtis stop it before it does. But again, all of the hacking of Rubicon to stop the missiles from ending the world just isn't that engaging. It's a subplot that gives Felicity so much importance during this final arc. She has the fate of the entire world in her hands. The only person standing in her way is her old college boyfriend who turned out to be evil. That was a character who never needed to come back. So, placing so much of Felicity's emotional weight on his presence in this finale is so weird and lackluster. Of course, she saves the world from nuclear destruction. She's as much a hero as Oliver is in this battle. But she does so by also getting Cooper killed. A fact that has no consequences whatsoever. It happens and she just brushes it off in order to stop all of the nukes. Yes, the fate of the world is more important. But even after it's saved, she's more concerned with the well-being of the team than thinking about the cost of this war with Darhk on her.

That's something the rest of the team can't ignore however. They have all embraced darkness in order to battle Darhk. It hasn't just been Oliver. Diggle struggled with the revelation that Andy was working with Darhk this whole time. And now, he is still messed up by killing his own brother. Meanwhile, Thea literally threatens to kill a child in order to stop Darhk from killing Felicity. That's a dark turn for the character that really doesn't have interesting consequences that play out later in the hour. Team Arrow has been rocked by so much death and darkness over the course of this season. Darhk's magical abilities have brought so much of it into their lives once more. They've been at a loss on how to fight it. And yet, the season still just builds to a fight sequence between Oliver and Darhk where their magical powers cancel each other out and they have to rely on their hand-to-hand combat skills. It's an ending the show has done many times before. Darhk's magic has often lead to some cool effects. But at the end of the day, this show is about the fight stunts and that's exactly what this finale produces. Oliver has a whole city on his side during this battle. That's what makes him victorious. He succeeds by killing Darhk so that he can never threaten the world again. And yet, that death only puts Oliver back on a very familiar spiral.

How many times is Oliver going to have a schism over embracing his inner darkness or hope? That's what this whole season was suppose to be about! Him embracing the hope was the only way for him to be victorious in this battle in Darhk. It works too. But having to kill Darhk makes him uncertain of all of that progress. On top of that, the team decides to go their separate ways in order to deal with all that has happened to them this year. It's very understandable. Lance, Diggle and Thea have changed. They need to take time away from the team in order to evaluate themselves and whether or not they like these lives as masked vigilantes. It provides a nice bookend for the season. The year started with Oliver and Felicity fleeing the city and needing to be pulled back into the team. And now, the year ends with Oliver and Felicity being the only two left. It all makes sense. But it doesn't really do a whole lot for Oliver's hopeful arc. He has changed this season as well. But there isn't much of a sense of how crucial that change is going to be. He's now officially going to be the mayor of Star City. That will finally deliver the promise the start of the season teased. But is that going to be enough moving forward? It's very uncertain - just like the future of the team.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Schism" was directed by John Behring with story by Greg Berlanti and teleplay by Wendy Mericle & Marc Guggenheim.
  • So, the island flashbacks reached their predictable end just like everyone knew they were going to weeks ago. Seriously, the big twist was that Reiter was using the same idol that Darhk was. That was the only connection to the stuff in the present. Plus, it was a long way of building to the Bratva story for Oliver. But Taiana was such a poorly developed and executed character. So it's going to be hard caring about them next season knowing why they are happening in the first place.
  • I'm seriously just so excited for Season 6 of the show so that the flashbacks won't be a thing anymore. Oliver was only gone from real life for five years. Of course, the show has a whole year to figure out some twist to keep that structure alive.
  • With Felicity and possibly Curtis as the only other members of Team Arrow, does that mean things will be lighter and more comedic moving into next season? I really hope so. The show needs more levity.
  • How many times is the Arrow secret lair going to get broken into? This season moved it to a much better location and it still happened way too frequently - including here where it's purpose was to destroy Felicity's equipment.
  • Malcolm's arc this season peaked when Oliver disarmed him and gave control of the League of Assassins to Nyssa. He's such an afterthought in this finale. It's also hard to care about whether he's fighting with the team or against them.
  • When Oliver is delivering his big speech to the city, he mentions all the previous times they've come under attack during the season finales. The show really does have a pattern. It needs to change that up for next year.