Arrow S04E01 “Green Arrow” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky One, Weds 8pm
Writer: Mark Guggenheim & Wendy Mericle
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Essential plot points:
- Oliver and Felicity have settled into domestic suburban life – although one of them’s more comfortable with being out of trouble than the other.
- Thea, Laurel and Dig have been taking on the criminals of the newly renamed Star City in their absence, but a new, very well armed gang of “ghosts” which has stolen powerful military-grade explosives have left the trio out of their depth.
- The leader of the ghosts is the mystical Damien Darhk, formerly mentioned rival to Ra’s Al Ghul, who assassinates most of the city’s leadership and can kill people with just a simple touch.
- The constant attacks and trouble on Star City have left the place run down and impoverished, and now in the shadow of Central City.
- Oliver and Felicity are brought back into action to help stop Darhk’s men from destroying the city’s new rail terminal, although both Dig and Captain Lance are far from pleased to see Oliver back.
- Oliver’s attempts to propose to Felicity keep getting stimied.
- Captain Lance looks to have made some kind of deal with Darhk, although he’s reluctant to give up Team Arrow yet.
- The flashback sees Oliver abducted by Amanda Waller and forced to parachute back onto Lian Yu to investigate a new threat.
- And a flash (!) forward six months sees Oliver and Barry Allen standing beside a mysterious gravestone, as a grieving Oliver vows to kill “him”.
- Oh, and Felicity is a dreadful cook.
With the DC TV universe expanding again this year to include animated companion Vixen, live action spin-off Legends Of Tomorrow and – superficially, at least, Supergirl – on top of sophomore year spin-off The Flash, the fear is that last year’s patchy third season for Team Arrow was the start of a slide for the parent programme, with the already stretched creative and production team having to take their eyes off the ball to handle all these new shows.
Thankfully any fears that Arrow’s the forgotten old hand among all the shiny new toys are dispelled by a quietly confident opener that sets out not only the new principles of the emerald archer, but also the big bad from the opening moments. Indeed, there’s so much talk about Oliver leaving behind the darkness of his character that it almost feels like the producers are making as much manifesto announcement on the show’s u-turn from last season’s storyline as they are about the character’s personal development.
Four years in and everyone knows their role well on Arrow. The cast are all uniformly good, the stunt work is impressive and the show, by and large, looks its money on screen. Director Thor Freudenthal, who directed two of last year’s key episodes – “The Climb” and “Al Sah-him” – gets the best out of the domestic bliss scenes, which are largely shot outdoors in beautiful summer light, heightening the contrast between the suburban good life and the increasingly desperate, grim urban decay of Star City.
In a ballsy move, the script throws away what previously would have felt like a tense season finale moment – a train full of high explosives headed into the heart of the city – as its opener, with the emphasis instead being on setting up übervillain Damien Darhk and his relationship with the show’s various characters – with hints of involvements in storylines right through the show’s history, not just the cough and spit mention of last year.
Interestingly, while the comic version of Damien Darhk is largely about misdirection and trickery that make it appear like he has mystical powers, the TV version’s going in with that supernatural ability right off the bat; a move, presumably, designed to set up the presence of Vandal Savage in the Legends spin-off, and indeed the impending appearance by everyone’s favourite walking advert for Regal King Size, John Constantine.
It represents another slight shift in the world of the Arrowverse, which has gone from its Nolan-esque grounded-in-reality-and -cience first season to the metahuman and magical immortality backdrop it now exists within. About the only thing missing now is aliens, although with Supergirl and all the Green Lantern injokes, you sense that can’t be far behind.
If there’s anything disappointing about the episode, it’s that it’s slightly too quick to get Oliver and Felicity away from their domestic happiness and back into the thick of trouble. It’s six months for the characters, but only a couple of scenes for us. I appreciate this is an action show and as such getting back into the action is key, but after making such a big deal about walking away from the lifestyle last season, it just feels a big rushed. Besides, the potential for an Olly and Flick do The Good Life-style sitcom was huge…
There’s nothing particularly mindblowing about “Green Arrow” as an episode in itself but nor is there much to criticise. It does its job well: setting up the rest of the season, advancing the five-year flashbacks, reconnecting the ties with the rest of the show’s increasingly widening universe, and all the while managing to chuck in a couple of impressive set piece fight sequences and explosions. It comes with the confidence of a show that knows how to assemble all its components with a minimum of fuss. Whether it can maintain that confidence with everything else going on in the Arrowverse now remains to be seen.
- The opening scene with Oliver, in a green hood, sprinting through undergrowth and forest, before pulling out to reveal he’s just taken a short cut for his morning jog, is an obvious but nicely done reveal.
- There are lots of little nods to the Nolan Batman trilogy in the episode but especially the killing off of the city leadership, which draws heavily from the Joker pulling a similar stunt in The Dark Knight; the idea that the presence of the vigilantes protecting the city has only made things worse; the villains using the railway to wreak havoc on an impoverished, run-down city; and Amanda Waller nicking Ra’s Al Ghul’s, “The world’s too small for someone like Bruce Wayne to disappear” when she finds Oliver.
- In the “five years ago” flashbacks, Olly’s been hanging out practicing (badly) his hooded vigilante antics in Coast City, home in the comics of the Green Lantern. There’s even an advertising poster with the slogan, “In brightest day, in blackest night, come to Coast City when money’s tight”.
- Damien Darhk’s villainy is revealed from the off. No mucking about, no false trails. Within the first ten minutes we know he’s the bad guy. Neal McDonough’s confident portrayal is brilliant too – helped by the fact he’s got some of the creepiest serial-killer eyes in Hollywood. Seriously, even all the way back to Star Trek First Contact (he was Lt Hawk) his eyes have creeped me out.
- The repercussions of last year are still being felt. Thea’s a bit unhinged and blood thirsty, Dig can’t forgive Oliver yet, and the Arrow is still dead, as far as the world’s concerned. It’s nice to see the reset button isn’t hit at the start of the season, as happens all too often elsewhere.
- The domestic bliss stuff at the start is great. Really, genuinely great, to the extent that another episode of the two of them in suburbia, having dinner parties and generally behaving like a loved-up couple wouldn’t have gone amiss. It helps that Amell and Emily Bett Rickards have great chemistry together, and both have good enough comic timing to pull off the silly stuff.
- Oliver’s supposedly rousing, bring-everyone-together-and-inspire-the-city speech is actually pretty rubbish. His big declaration that “I AM THE GREEN ARROW” falls very flat: a rare moment of shoddy line reading from Stephen Amell.
- We don’t see much of just how much Dig, Speedy and Canary are struggling. They manage to half-stop a heist, but everything else is off screen and suddenly they’re dragging Oliver back from domestic bliss to help out.
- Felicity ends up being the catalyst to drag Oliver back to Star City as it turns out she’s been secretly helping the team out behind his back. It’s a weird u-turn given she’s always been the one who seemed most ready to put the superhero world behind her. Although the couple’s domestic about it is admittedly very cute.
- The “death” of Ray Palmer seems largely forgotten, apart from a sign at the city limits saying that Star City’s rebranding is in tribute to him. Given he and Felicity were so close, and she’s inherited his company, you’d think folk would be a bit more bothered.
- Dig’s new faceplate, to help conceal his identity, is halfway between a welder’s mask and Boba Fett’s helmet. It really doesn’t work as a visual.
- You’d think a train filled with cluster bombs so powerful they’re almost nuclear, as Felicity claims, that gets blown up by Team Arrow, might make a bigger explosion. Given the hype around the bombs, you’d expect basically a recreation of Threads rather than the standard pyro we get.
- There is some truly, and in this day and age unforgivably, bad rear projection going on out the windows in the limo scenes. Seriously, there are ITC dramas from the ’60s that would look at that scene and tut.
And the Random:
- No Barrowman, despite appearing in the opening list of credits.
- Continuity ties with The Flash are as tight as ever: as well as Barry showing up at the end, we’ve got Sisco having designed the new Arrow costume, and a reference to the Flash Day celebrations from that show’s opening episode.
- This year’s opening/closing credits arrowhead under the show’s logo is bright green, to reflect the character’s new identity (and lurid weaponry. Even Hawkeye didn’t go for dayglo purple arrowheads…)
- Have we been told the location of the new Arrow-cave yet? Obviously they can’t use Palmer Technologies’ lab any more (not least because Ray blew it up), and the old base under the club was turned over by SCPD. The new HQ is a bit more sparse – no Salmon Leap bars, for starters.
- While the show’s been off the air, Stephen Amell’s been a busy lad, filming the Ninja Turtles sequel, and scoring a win at WWE’s Summerslam show tagging with British wrestler Neville against Stardust and Wade Barrett. He didn’t look that bad in the ring either…
Review by Iain Hepburn