After the previous night’s Flash finale, does any of this even matter? God only knows, or in this case Greg Berlanti. Arrow has taken a bit of a backseat to the scarlet speedster’s adventures, but it’s a lot easier to make a great Season 2 than a great Season 4. If we compare just the Season 2’s, they’re equally strong. Arrow may even have a slight edge. Regardless of the series’ place in the greater CW universe, Arrow Season 4 has come to a close. And it gave us plenty to talk about.
It’s important to acknowledge this season’s handicap before judging the 23-episode stretch on its own. Season 3, for lack of a shorter way to phrase it, was not good at all. The concept itself was flawed, as the Batman-inspired show descended into a blatant Batman rip-off. The League of Assassins is simply out of the Green Arrow’s league. I appreciate the show’s ability to enhance Oliver Queen’s significance and abilities, but Season 3 took one giant leap over the line. The Green Arrow shouldn’t be the greatest swordsman alive. Lazarus Pits don’t belong on this show. Oliver, Sara, Thea, Diggle and Roy are each shown getting killed and none of them actually die/stay dead. That is an absurd amount of fake-outs for a show that executed real and powerful deaths in its first two seasons.
This isn’t about Season 3, and I won’t waste a Season 4 review picking on it. But it’s important to understand that Season 4 had a tremendous amount of slack to pick up and fan wounds to mend. And this season actually crossed a few names off their list of sins. The Lazarus Pits and League plot were bad ideas. So they essentially destroy both pretty early on. Merlyn is now Ra’s? Not anymore, and Nyssa quietly became this season’s hero by ending those mistakes altogether. This also means no more mulligans (let’s hope) for characters who get killed. Unfortunately, they replaced an ill-advised League storyline with an equally ill-advised magic storyline. Damien was a quality villain, played by a quality Neil McDonough who brought a fun attitude to the devious role. But there was no reason to take Darhk in a mystical direction. I enjoyed the Constantine crossover, but that bit could’ve been achieved in a number of ways. By all means, hint towards Constantine’s powers, but keep them far away from our emerald archer and Star City. Hive forces and Darhk’s savvy would’ve combined into a believable enough threat, one that could’ve devised a better plan than blowing up the entire world. And let’s just pretend the ridiculous Truman Show sequel starring Thea Queen and Tim Tebow never happened.
Fans were promised a more light-hearted, enjoyable Ollie this time around. And for the most part, I think we got one. Stephen Amell was allowed to showcase a very small fraction of his fantastic personality. I’ve always said Amell is more like Oliver Queen than Arrow’s Oliver Queen is. Season 4 focused on Ollie’s duality, fighting between Season 3’s darkness and Season 4’s (comparative) light. At times, that theme is a little too bluntly slapped over your head with the constant repetition of the works “darkness” and “light” as if that’s a thing people address so directly in real life. I personally would’ve accepted a complete personality makeover with little explanation. Just say he had an epiphany. But I respect the show’s attempt to transform our protagonist without completely disregarding the previous season.
Another positive this season is their bold decision to carry out a major death that appears to be permanent, barring any Flashpoint ripple effect that I won’t even get into. Much of the Twitterverse was angry because no Black Canary means no classic Green Arrow-Black Canary power couple. But let’s be honest, that ship sailed a long time ago. We at least get her final love confession to him, despite everything they went through, and then a touching departure. I didn’t care who it was, but I wanted someone on Team Arrow dead this season to restore all the tension the show had lost. And Arrow delivered. I miss Tommy, and I even miss Moira despite her many evils. That’s what a good death does for a character. With some time, I think I’ll miss Laurel too.
John Barrowman plays a great Merlyn, one that helped carry a great Season 1. But the show never should’ve brought him back if they had no idea what to do with him. He opened the door to a bad League storyline that never should’ve happened. His role as the part time anti-hero could’ve been more effectively filled by another DC character like Jonah Hex, Lobo or any Bat-character that Warner Brothers will let them use between Jason Todd, Talia, Azrael or Catwoman. In Season 4, Merlyn uncharacteristically becomes a blind follower of Damien Darhk after previously floating around to do nothing in particular. His Season 1 arc was complete, well executed and satisfying. Now, at best, he’s just Thea’s foil. Oliver could’ve very easily trained her himself to create Speedy’s origin, which would spare us Merlyn’s tiresome “I hurt you to protect you” act.
Arrow suffers from fleshing out certain storylines and cutting others short. Merlyn sticks around forever, but we never saw a proper return from Deathstroke. The angry, vengeful Oliver was neutered after just one season to fall in line with the “superheroes can’t kill” trope that plagues this genre. Yet I’m supposed to believe he’s at his darkest in Season 3? My ideal Oliver is one with Season 1’s method and real-life Stephen Amell’s personality. Let him kill people when he deems it necessary, and let him do it with a witty smile on his face. Then, seasons later, dive into how he might be a deranged sociopath and let the character evolve into one who only kills when absolutely necessary. There’s some character development.
In my perfect world, Season 3 never happens the way it did. After the war with Deathstroke, Oliver runs away with Felicity. Arsenal leads Team Arrow with Speedy, so the plot develops two relationships at once. Then, maybe four episodes in, the team runs into a challenge too great (a depowered but dangerous Damien Darhk) and The Arrow makes a triumphant return to Star City for the rest of the season. He comes back with the attitude you know and love from the comics. His relationship with Felicity erodes over time, realizing they can’t have their perfect suburban life and the superhero crusade at the same time. Roy and Thea stay together until Roy is forced to leave the city after revealing himself as The Arrow to protect Oliver in the season’s finale. He then leaves the city, similar to how it actually happened but without the cheap death fake-out. Oliver then enters my Season 4 as the Green Arrow, again similar to what actually happened. Basically, the best elements of Seasons 3 and 4 can be pieced together to make a great third installment. Instead, both are inconsistent and make a large handful of mistakes that make these Green Arrow stories much bigger than they need to be. We don’t need magic, resurrection or anything more than the occasional meta-human spillover from Central City crossovers. We just need a charismatic vigilante struggling with how the people view him and his methods while displaying some absurdly good archery.
This did end up reading more like a revision than a review, but much of Arrow’s Season 4 was ultimately just that. There are some knee-jerk reactions to the Season 3 backlash, some good ideas, and a few powerful moments scattered throughout a season that didn’t need totems and telekinesis. I love the season culminating with the city’s people literally rallying behind Ollie as they take the fight to Hive. Why doesn’t Hive use their machine-guns and just mow everyone down? Let’s not nitpick; it was cool in Rises too. The city coming to the vigilante’s aid harkened back to the train scene from Spider-Man 2. Corny in spots, but it provided a much-needed message. Also, major credit to the show for pulling the proverbial trigger on Damien. I was shocked and actually yelled when Oliver just gutted him without hesitation. He felt he didn’t have a choice, which is exactly where I wanted the Green Arrow’s moral compass to end up. We certainly took a long and winding road to get to this point, one that wasn’t always a great time. But if they continue to nudge Ollie’s attitude in the right direction and bring us back down to Earth for a grounded Season 5 conflict, Arrow definitely has the potential to recapture the magic of those first two seasons. Given the fact that the CW now has a Flash, Supergirl or Legend of Tomorrow around every corner, a proper Oliver Queen story might be exactly what we need.