The end has come. Arrow season 4 is over and brought with it many answers and some questions. When Arrow season 4 premiered, I called it “The Green Reboot” as this season was designed by the showrunners as a semi-reboot to fix the many problems that plagued a very promising season the year before.
Overall, Arrow season 4 was a vast improvement from season 3 – we got a dynamic villain, improved fight choreography, and better costumes. But sadly, with the good came a lot of bad, and as good as Arrow tries to be it suffers from wanting to take risks while being too afraid to actually take them. So let’s look at four elements of Arrow season 4 to discuss what worked and what did not.
A good example of Arrow‘s writers being afraid to take risks is in Oliver and Felicity’s relationship. There are two camps of fans – those who want Felicity to move on and those who want her to be with Oliver forever. The show, however, is unwilling to make a firm decision in regards to the dilemma, leaving Arrow stuck in a kind of limbo where Oliver and Felicity are no longer together yet the show continues teasing the possibility of them reconciling. This is frustrating to the fans and disrupting to the plot. The showrunners should choose a path and stick with it come hell or high water. The writing and narrative would be better for it, as this kind of indecision is hampering any character progression.
What Arrow does well is spectacle, and the conclusion of this season showcased a massive brawl between the citizens of Star City and Damian Darhk’s men. The fight was very well done and had hundreds of extras involved. Throughout this season, Arrow has done a good job at creating engaging stories that showcased fun and entertaining villains and situations. But for every step Arrow takes in the right direction, the show takes two steps back.
While the season had some very memorable episodes, it also suffered from the writers attempting to move the show away from being a superhero procedural and into a sterilized drama. Previous seasons would not reveal the main storyline until almost half way through the season, where as season 4 began by introducing the main villain and having a big throw down between him and Oliver. This in and of itself is not a problem, but what became the issue over the course of the season was the writers trying to find ways to work the main villain into every storyline throughout the season. This caused a fatigue in seeing Team Arrow fight the Damian Darhk’s “ghosts” every episode.
Damian Darhk’s Plan
This is where Arrow both shined the brightest and fell the hardest this season. Comic books are all about their villains – without bad guys, who would be the ones to hold our heroes to a higher standard? Arrow has, over the years, had some very memorable villains: Malcom Merlyn (John Barrowman), Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable), and most recently, Damian Dahrk (Neal McDonough). While some have been better than others, they have all been the lynch pins for their respective seasons.
When it comes to McDonough, there have been no better on Arrow; he simply chews the scenery for every scene he is in. His character is all at once psychopathic and hilarious, killing someone one second and cracking a joke the next. He gets great lines and even better fight choreography. Overall, he was a fantastic villain.
Sadly, this wonderful interpretation of a bad guy had to make due with a perfectly horrible villain plot, which involved Darhk obliterating the world in a nuclear holocaust, preserving only himself and his followers in an “Ark” under Star City. And Arrow has always had season finales which involve some city leveling event, but this season simply went too far. A nuclear apocalypse is too big for a “street level” show like Arrow, more appropriate for a Legends of Tomorrow team adventure than a a solo Green Arrow season. Arrow needs to go back to its roots of being a crime show that features superheroes and villains.
The writers should also realize that smaller finales, where the threat is only on our heroes, can be high stakes enough without threatening the end of the world. The season 4 finale of Arrow would have been a more powerful ending with only the street brawl between Arrow and Darhk, leaving out all the missiles. For next season, it’d be nice to see a smaller, more grounded threat. Perhaps a one involving Count Vertigo or, heck, even The Riddler would make for a great Arrow villain.
Arrow ran into many problems with its team dynamic this year, but thankfully there were steps taken to fix it. This series started as a relatively simple concept: a lone man returns, having been missing for five years, and becomes a vigilante determined to save his city. The first season was great, with a small and intimate team of only Oliver Queen, Felicity, and Diggle. Over the course of the next few seasons, however, Team Arrow was expanded to include his sister Thea (Willa Holland), Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), and Detective Lance (Paul Blackthorne). There were others who came and went as well.
And all of these characters were cool, and at first helped to take some of the burden from Oliver, allow for further development. But then season 4 really began to suffer under having such a large team, and instead of having the secondary characters come and go, they were shoehorned into every action sequence and every storyline. This caused problems where every hero needed to be weakened in order for it to make any sense for a single villain to take them all on at once. This caused confusing scenes were Oliver would fight off a League of Assassin’s member, only to later get pummeled by a street thug.
Not to suggest Arrow needs to do without a team, but the team needs to be the backup for Oliver and not steal the spotlight from Green Arrow. Season 5 would do better to give Oliver a team that would pop in and out every few episodes. Green Arrow should not be going out on missions with more than one back up character at most. Thankfully, Team Arrow was disbanded this season, leaving it up in the air who will return. Hopefully this change is permanent and not a gimmick that only lasts a few episodes. It would be refreshing to see Green Arrow have to rely on only himself for once.
Lastly, season 4 was a step in the right direction for the tone of the show. The first 3 seasons of Arrow were rightfully dark, as Oliver was still discovering who he was. But it’s time for that to end. Green Arrow is a cavalier swashbuckler like Errol Flynn. He is light hearted and fun, and it’s time we saw that side of Oliver begin to manifest. We saw elements of that begin to show throughout season 4, with Oliver seeking to bring hope to his city, and in the upcoming season there needs to be more of a transition from the dark brooding hero to the light and fun one.
This is not to say that Arrow needs to be like The Flash or Supergirl, the show has been crafted as a crime thriller and needs to remain that way. That is not to say, though, that it cannot be more lighthearted.
Overall, season 4 of Arrow was more hit than miss. It fixed some issues from season 3 and teased an exciting and fresh format for season 5, but there still remain many problems that have yet to be addressed. If Arrow wishes to become the next Smallville and run for a decade, they need to listen to the fans and fix the issues that are plaguing the show. Arrows needs to take a cue from its opening monologue:
“My old approach wasn’t enough, I had to become someone else. I had to become something else… I had to become the Green Arrow.”
Arrow returns Wednesdays this fall on the CW.