When Arrow started back in 2012, the superhero genre on TV was at a stalemate in a post-Smallville era. The show, through its darker depiction of the Green Arrow heavily inspired by Nolan's Dark Knight, reinvigorated the superhero genre on TV, paving the way for superhero shows who followed its lead, notably Netflix's Daredevil.
After two years that culminated in what can be considered one of the best season of a superhero to ever grace the small screen, #Arrow started to lose its way after lackluster third and fourth season, drowning in an ever-growing universe it had created and outshined by its sister show The Flash. It is with many apprehensions that I decided to watch Season 5, numbed by a Season 4 finale that had not lived up to expectations.
Even Arrow's lead actor #StephenAmell confessed in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly that he felt the show lost itself during its fourth season and needed to make a clean state of the past:
“I put my heart and soul into every day of work and every episode, but at the same time there is a lull in any relationship where you need to have a ‘come to Jesus’ moment, so to speak. That happened for me in the latter half of Season 4, where I feel like there were just a few things that got lost in the shuffle, so we needed to really refocus in Season 5.”
Arrow definitely needed to refocus going into Season 5 and prove that its remarkable Season 2 was not a lucky accident. For several reasons, Arrow seems to have found its footing this year and is so far advancing with an almost insolent confidence evocative of its glorious days.
Oliver Gets To Be Himself
One of the most startling things about Arrow these past couples of seasons has been the lack of storyline for Oliver outside of the costume. He indeed ran for mayor during Season 4, but it had little to no effect on the main storyline. Furthermore, the fact that everyone in his circle knows his secret identity did not force Oliver to fully explore his duality as Oliver Queen and The Green Arrow.
Season 5 seems to have, for now, understood that this complexity was one of the elements that made Oliver's journey so compelling and engaging in the early days. He is now the mayor of Star City, and he actually gets work done, but it also explores sides of his personality disconnected from his night job. The Green Arrow is not only a vigilante but also the man behind it. The show seems to acknowledge that fact, which can only be beneficial to the narrative.
A More Patient Storytelling
We know how intricate it can be to work around a season of 23 episodes. Arrow often finds itself stalling too much while filler episodes only manage to depreciate the quality of the season. This year, by using Chad Coleman's Tobias Church as a villain trying to unite the gangs of Star City, Arrow did not delve right away into its main storyline and created an arc of five episodes. Hence, the show is taking its time, patiently building momentum, as we know close to nothing about Prometheus seven episodes in. It makes for an intriguing story, and it is so far good storytelling.
The show already tried to do that back in Season 3, using Danny Brickwell as a recurring foe to explore the dynamic of an Oliver-less Team Arrow. I thought the story worked quite well and was one of the few highlights of the season. I also remember wondering why the writers would not use this technique more often, as Arrow usually experiences a drop in quality halfway through its seasons.
The Flashbacks Are Finally Engaging
These past two seasons the flashbacks have been one of the major letdowns of Arrow. From Hong-Kong to the Lian Yu storyline, the show never managed to make a story as compelling as Oliver and Slade's friendship and their inevitable falling out. This two-year storyline clearly showcased Oliver's evolution and had tight links with the present day, unlike Season 3 or 4.
The Bratva storyline was a part of Oliver's past known by viewers since Season 1. This final year of flashbacks will finally allow Arrow to come full circle and move away from a setup it used since it began. In the meantime, Oliver's time in Russia needs to be entertaining and bring something to the table. By casting Dolph Lundgren as Kovar, the writers made it clear that they would not take the flashbacks lightly this year.
Lundgren brings a magnetism to Kovar that we had not seen since Slade Wilson, and seeing Oliver work his way up the ranks of the Russian mob is more compelling than anything Arrow threw at us these past few years. Furthermore, the flashbacks might have a bigger impact than expected on the present-day storyline. That is all the show needs to end that final year of flashbacks on a high note.
The Drama Has Been Toned Down
It is an understatement that the drama has been a polarizing subject among the Arrow fandom. While I do think the romantic elements — namely "Olicity" — have not been adequately handled on the show, it was not particularly what burdened Arrow, but rather one of the consequences of the bad writing. In truth, the drama as a whole hurt Arrow during the second half of Season 4. The entire story with Oliver's son, Felicity walking out on Oliver or the side story with her parents all weakened Season 4. Moreover, while romance has always been part of Arrow's narrative, its negative impact has never been as blatant as it was last season.
The writers seem to have taken notice of that fact and drastically changed the tone of the show. Arrow is now playing on its strengths: the action, a fast-paced plot, and while a little bit of romance still exists, it does not take as much space as it used to and it fits smoothly in the story. The mystery surrounding Prometheus is engaging and while Arrow still has its flaws, it is easier to overlook them.
Innovative Fight Scenes
During Season 4, the fight scenes seemed uninspired and lacked the punch and confidence Arrow used to portray. Moreover, a fan pointed out to Stephen Amell how weird it was to see Oliver struggling against low-level street villains like Lady Cop or Anarchy while he, in all likelihood, beat Deathstroke and Ra's al Ghul. This comment led to a discussion between the star and the Executive Producers of the show, who seriously took into consideration this argument, as the show feels directly impacted by it. Oliver no longer struggles against the villains-of-the-week and finally lives up to his reputation.
This year, Arrow's fight scenes, particularly in the first two episodes of the season, were rather impressive. Part of the credits goes to James Bamford, who directed both episodes but also directed Season 4's "Brotherhood," which represents to many fans the best-choreographed episode of Season 4. Also, while I am not entirely sold on the Team Arrow 2.0, the new recruits have at least the merit of bringing something new and fresh to the table.
However, it is also in the little things that Arrow is finding that "second wind." The trick arrows, for example, are finally taking advantage of the tech Oliver has at his disposal. It is not much in itself, but it is a testimony to the writer's efforts who are trying to reinvent the show.
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We cannot say for certain that Arrow is "back" yet, but surprisingly, after seven episodes, the show rose from the ashes like a phoenix and (so far) managed to fix the major flaws that burdened its story this past two years. Coherent, patient and more focused on its main character, Arrow might be on the way of a grandiose comeback.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on the CW.
Are you enjoying 'Arrow' Season 5 so far?
(Sources: Entertainment Weekly)