Season 4 of Arrow came to a close this week with an episode that was mediocre at its best moments, and downright bad at its worst. It capped off a season that was also marred by some missteps along the way.
I was late to the party for Arrow. Not sure why, but I missed the show’s first two seasons, but then caught up by binge watching 46 episodes over the course of a month in the summer before season 3. I was hooked. season 4 didn’t capture the same enthusiasm, as the first two.
The latest season wasn’t without some interesting story lines, and I absolutely think Neal McDonough was a fantastic actor for the role of the season’s big bad, Damien Darhk. I like McDonough in these roles where he gets to play the supremely confident character. He was great as Dum Dum Dugan in Captain America: The First Avenger and in Agent Carter. He was also excellent as Sean Cahill, in the USA original series Suits. I think it is his voice that makes McDonough so good at these roles.
I read an article somewhere that posited that the only really great villain in Arrow’s four year run was Manu Bennett as season 2’s Deathstroke/Slade Wilson. I would disagree. I think all of the season big bads were well cast, and well played. Of the four (John Barrowman in season 1 as Malcolm Merlyn, Bennett as Deathstroke, Matthew Nable as Ra’s al Ghul in the third season and then McDonough) I think the only actor that came up short was Nable. It was instead the scripts and story that missed the mark in season 4, and not all of it, only the large story arc.
There were some really great things in season 4. I loved that Darhk was so powerful that he commanded good people to do bad things. It made him seem totally unbeatable. I enjoyed the story arc that that Quentin Lance, played by Paul Blackthorne, was conscripted to do bad things with Darhk’s threat of harm to Laurel. Diggle’s brother Andy, and even Felicity’s old beau, Cooper, all turned to the Darhk side. (See what I did there?) Of the four villains, Darhk was absolutely the most powerful, and he knew it, and McDonough is perfect for a role like that.
The season had some other great elements to it, as well. The revelation that Oliver had a tryst that produced a son while he was with Laurel. The fact the Moira had paid of Samantha, the boy’s mother to leave Star City, and that she never cashed the million dollar check, was a nice tie into season 1. We also saw Samantha and William in an episode at the end of Season 3, in a Flash/Arrow crossover, as she had created a new life for herself in Central City. Finally, that Malcolm Merlyn gave the boy’s identity to Damien Darhk, was another nice twist. Once Oliver discovered he had a son, he hid that information from his team, at Samanatha’s insistence, and that ended up fueling Felicity’s mistrust for Oliver which caused their eventual split. They had to split, of course, because of the tired old trope that superheroes are dark and can’t have love. The revelation about William also allowed for Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance to show some nice acting moments as she realized that Oliver had the affair while they were together.
The story line that put Felicity in a wheel chair was also a good one, although it ended sort of abruptly, it was interesting and added to the growing tension of the season. The bio chip that allowed for Felicity to walk again also was fuel for another episode featuring the Bug-Eyed Bandit, played by Brie Larson, who also starred in a Season 1 episode of The Flash.
In a season about magic, it was also a nice treat for the fans to get an episode with John Constantine, played by Matt Ryan, of the short lived NBC series. The series might have done better on The CW or on Syfy than on NBC. Overall, I was OK with the series being about magic. There was some really great backstory about how Darhk’s magic was fueled. This year’s flashback arc supported that as Oliver encounter Darhk’s magical idol back on Lin Yu as he fought against Baron Reiter, played by Jimmy Akingbola, and eventually had to kill his friend Tiana, who had been taken over by the magic, played by Elysia Rotaru.
When Oliver couldn’t possibly defeat Darhk alone, season 4 was also able to introduce the very cool character Vixen, played by Megalyn Echikunwoke, also a magic user. I’ll say this for DC, they have great female characters, and they aren’t afraid to use them.
Season 4 held lots of other deep emotional moments. Diggle, spends a good chunk of the season conflicted over brother, Andy, who has turned to join the criminal organization HIVE, which Damien Darhk commands. In the end, John kills his own brother, who had just threatened his wife and kids. To add to the conflict, Diggle lies to his wife Layla about how it went down, saying it was self-defense, when, in fact, John let his rage get the best of him and just shot him.
The moment in the season I am most conflicted on is the death of Laurel Lance/Black Canary. While I think it provided some much needed fuel to get to carry the show to the end of the season, there are a few things that bothered me. Kudos the creative staff, as I don’t think anyone saw it coming. Rumor has it that early in the season they teased the empty grave without actually knowing who was going to be in it, and when the time came, Laurel was the only expendable character. I actually was pretty certain that it would be Quentin Lance, who would die in some redemption act for turning to Darhk. You got me. The two most tragic characters in Arrow are Oliver and Quentin. Oliver has lost every one of his family members at least once. Thea’s resurrection gives us a second shot at that. Quentin is in the same boat. Lost his wife to divorce and then both of his daughters once. The Lazarus Pit gave us Sara back so that he has potential to lose her again. This part is a plot hole, clumsily filled last season when Nyssa al Ghul, played by Katrina Law says she destroyed those pits after Thea was brought back from the dead. So, we could resurrect Sara and we could resurrect Thea, but no Laurel. Even in the crossover episode of Arrow and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, when we spent the entire season trying to go back and stop Vandal Savage from killing Rip Hunter’s family, the former Time Master makes an excuse for why they can’t go back in time and save Laurel. Clumsy, both justifications for leaving Laurel dead.
The other really poor decision on the part of the creative team was project Genesis, a scheme that would culminate with the end of the world but for a few loyal HIVE, Darhk supporters living in some faux subdivision below ground. I am certain that was a budget decision, but if I was starting the world over again, I probably wouldn’t do it with McMansions. The trouble was that there was only way this story arc could end. Team Arrow would avert nuclear annihilation, probably with seconds to spare, right? Right. Not one ounce of suspense there. At least in season 1 with Malcolm Merlyn only working to destroy the Glades section of then Starling City, it could have still ended in disaster. This was the element that troubled me most about the season. Ended just like every other potential Armageddon story line.
Finally, the season finale “Schism” episode was as anticlimactic an ending as there ever was. It was pretty poorly conceived and executed. When the people of Star City rose up to help Oliver, who, as usual was getting his ass kicked by Darhk, they ended up facing off against a unit of heavily armed HIVE soldiers, called ghosts. When it came time to fight, instead of pulling the trigger the ghosts charged into hand to hand combat. What? Dumb bad guys there.
Earlier, as chaos was ensuing in the doomed city, Curtis gave Oliver a pick me up speech, so, Oliver ran out and jumped up on a car to deliver the same hokey speech. It wasn’t a strong finish, mostly because the premise it was built on…Genesis…was weak.
Even the finale showdown between Darhk and a conflicted Oliver fell short. Was it supposed to show Oliver returning to the darkness on which the Arrow season was born? Was he willing to kill again to further justice? Drawn out too long and predictable in every way. Too bad. Could have been a nice finish.
The aftermath of the saving of the world was equally as predictable. Team Arrow returns the Arrow Cave and then breaks up. Quentin, recently fired from his job for his corruption, drives off into the sunset with Felicity’s mom, Donna, played by Charlotte Ross. Thea, who found love in this episode and then lost it, decides to go find herself (THEORY: and maybe Roy?). Diggle decides to re-enlist in the military. Huh? His wife is the director of ARGUS and they have a daughter. Patooey. And, in the final moments, after the death of the evil mayor Ruve Adams, Oliver is sworn in as mayor of Star City. As hokey (and probably against any city charter in the world) that is, it offers some potential for the beginning of next season.
And then there is Felicity. A few episodes earlier she was ousted as the CEO of Palmer Technologies, and when Oliver returns to the completed destroyed Arrow Cave, he finds Felicity there. “You thought I’d leave too?” she asks him, as they stare at the wreckage, “Not a chance”. Is there hope for them in season 5? Who knows? Comically, at the end of season 3, Oliver and Felicity hang up their crime fighting gear and leave the team, who carries on. At the end of season 4, the team all goes away, leaving Oli and Felicity to keep up the good fight.
A mix of some really good small story arcs, attached to a poor full season arc, season 4 had some enjoyable moments, but ended in a largely unsatisfying way.
Arrow Season 4 Final Score – 7.5/10
+ Neal McDonough as Damien Darhk
+ Introduction of Vixen
+ Oliver has a son, and that had consequences
+ Lots of good emotional short arcs
+ Quentin’s corruption arc
+ Magic is hard to fight
+ Better integration of flashbacks
– Genesis world destruction plan was pretty awful
– Laurel’s death looked like death of convenience “Well, someone has to die” and explanations for not resurrecting her are pretty terrible.
– That someone hasn’t killed Malcolm Merlyn yet is a gross injustice
– Final episode was hokey, predictable, and not well written
– Are we seeing Oliver return to the darkness of season 1?
What did you think of Arrow Season 4 or of the final episode “Schism” ? Leave us a comment below.
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Pete Herr is the author of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. He is the oldest geek in the Geekiverse by a factor of two.