Arrow Season 4 Finale Review: Schism
The Arrow season 4 finale delivers on the action, but it's not enough to overcome an uneven season defined by underdeveloped character arcs.
This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 4, Episode 23
The stakes were high in the Arrowseason 4 finale and, though this show was never quite able to sell the urgency of a nuclear apocalypse (would people really be looting TVs when the world is about to end?), it tried so damn hard — and there was something successful about that earnestness. There was something distracting about Team Arrow’s banter and the episode’s impressive action sequences that distracted from the larger absurdity of this plot.
Unfortunately, that earnestness could not overcome the larger unevenness of this entire season. Like The Flash, Arrowsuffered from an underdeveloped villain this season — one whose motivations were never outlined past a general desire to see the world burn. It was never clear why Damien Darhk hated humanity so much. He seemed to have a nice enough life. A lovely wife with similar interests (villainous scheming), a daughter who seemed pleasant enough, and enough money to buy a nice house (albeit one in the crumbling ruins of Star City).
Ultimately, Darhk’s role in this season was to die by Oliver’s hand. You might not have guessed this from the thematic inconsistencies of this season, but season 4 was, apparently, all about getting Oliver (and the audience) to a point where we understood that, sometimes, you have to take a life. Sometimes, it’s the only way.
Darhk bringing the world to the brink of nuclear apocalypse seemed like overkill to get Oliver to that point. It was almost as if the show was afraid that having Oliver murder the season’s supervillain would only be understandable if literally the entirety of humanity was at stake. As if we didn’t watch this guy indiscriminately kill pretty much anyone who looked at him the wrong way in season 1. As if we didn’t see Diggle murder his unarmed brother just a few episodes ago. As if we haven’t been calling out this show for the illogicality of Team Arrow letting Merlyn live after all that he has done and continues to do for a few seasons now.
Like last night’s finale of The Flash, Arrow‘s best moments came in its set-up for next season — probably because it is much easier to set up a premise than it is to follow-through with it. Arrowhas always been pretty good at beginnings. It’s the middles and endings it tends to have trouble with. But there’s much to potentially look forward to about next season. Oliver is interim mayor of Star City, a move this show has been flirting with the entire season.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think one of Arrow‘s major weaknesses in the past two seasons has been the lack of grounding elements, especially in terms of setting. Since we stopped spending time at the Queen mansion, Big Belly Burger, and, you know, in the sunlight, it has been harder to understand Star City as a place, and that tension between classes in season 1 was one of the elements that made this show great. Since season 2, it’s been all lairs and, occasionally, city institutions.
One of the more promising aspects of the Oliver Queen character as this show has presented him (aka as Bruce Wayne from Batman Begins) is the tension between Oliver Queen the playboy and Oliver Queen the secret hero. Arrowhasn’t tried to explore that dichotomy since season 2 and, with that rousing speech on the top of that car, it doesn’t necessarily seem interested in doing it moving forward. But I can still hold out hope, right?
But can we talk about that rousing speech? I love a good Spider-Man 2The Masses Back Up the Hero move as much as the next person, but you can’t hope away a nuclear bomb. You can’t teamwork away radioactive fallout. The fact that Arrowtried to convince us that Oliver’s car-top speech would be enough to convince the panicked masses that everything would be OK as a nuclear missile (one of more than 15,000 in the air) zeroed in on their location is laughable.
Same goes for the general calm, optimistic manner much of Team Arrow had leading up to the potential nuclear apocalypse. I’m not sure why Arrowhad to make the stakes so damn high — especially since it didn’t actually show us how the rest of the world was reacting to what would have been a major, global event. The show would have been much better served grounding the stakes in this city itself, and in Oliver’s life, rather than making the stakes so high that they didn’t even feel tangible (a feeling that was reinforced by the ease with which Team Arrow stopped more than 15,000 bombs).
I continued to be weirded out by Cooper’s random involvement in this season-ending story arc. Much like Anarky, Cooper hadn’t been seen since the beginning of the season. He was poorly characterized. How did he go from being Felicity’s college sweetheart to a cold-hearted killer? The worst part of his character, is that we could have cared about him. We could have believed that Felicity once cared about him. Instead, he was a stock character at the intersection of ex-boyfriend and hacker villain. You can do better, show.
Ultimately, “Schism” was a fitting end for a season that never quite knew what it wanted to be. When season 4 started, it was all about Oliver trying to stay grounded and happy while also fighting the dar(h)kness of the world. It was about Oliver’s secret child, a corporeal representation of his inability to be honest with the people he loved. And, least effectively, it was about the intangible power of magic in a world that was once all about grit and sweat and salmon ladders.
That last theme was where Arrowseason 4 went wrong, especially because it tied us to nonsensical flashbacks where the stakes couldn’t have been lower. We knew Oliver would survive and we cared nothing for any one else stuck on Lian Yu this time. I’m not sure how Taiana became such a void of a character, but not once did she ever seem human or relatable. This is probably why, when she turned into a zombie, it wasn’t too much of a change.
Ultimately, the sacrifice, asking Oliver to kill her, elicited no emotional reaction. More than anything, it was nice to know that we wouldn’t have to spend any more time on Lian Yu in this deadend plot. Arrowis going to have to seriously think about its flashback structure moving into season 5. It hasn’t been successful since season 2 and, even then, had its frustrating moments.
Surprisingly, it was the (flashback) return of Amanda Waller that elicited more emotion that anything that happened on Lian Yu previously. Waller’s character was criminally underused by this show, but she still had a character. In this episode, she also swooped in to literally deliver the thematic moral of the episode: “Sometimes killing is the only path to justice.” Coming from notoriously cold decision-maker Amanda Waller, this isn’t exactly comforting, but, in the context of this episode, it makes total sense.
So where do we leave our heroes? Thea’s heading out of town, finally taking the post-Lazarus Pit vacation she deserves (and, hopefully, not actually heading to a secret underground dome where she will be brainwashed into trying to kill her brother). Lance is as commited to Star City and its people as ever, and pledges never to forget the justice Oliver got against Laurel’s killer. Diggle is apparently abandoning his family to re-enlist in the army. OK, maybe I’m being a little harsh here, but — if Diggle wants to serve — there’s plenty to do in his hometown. Instead, he is taking off to the other side of the world and leaving Lyla and toddler Sara behind. Not cool, Dig.
Well, that’s all they wrote (about season 4), folks. Ultimately, I think this season was better than the last, but only barely. I would love to see Arrowreturn to its focus on class dynamics, character-driven villains, and the failure of institutions in season 5 on a more tangible level. I’m not ready to give up on this show, the episode’s ending gave me hope for a return to simpler vigilante times, but I’m sad to see a show that was once so good descend into this nonsense.
From the quiver:
“You OK?” “When did this become your life?” Um, this has been Felicity’s life for a few years now, Donna, and if Team Arrow didn’t have her, the world would literally have exploded by now. Think about that.
“Wait, I thought he was the cynic.”
“The world is gonna end in two hours. I need you to talk my mom there. Can you do that?” The shared little moment between Felicity and Lance was pretty adorable. I’d like to see their relationship developed more in season 5.
“If your team goes down there, they will all die.” I’m not sure why Team Arrow was worried about Lyla’s team. Yeah, they were probably going to be defeated by Darhk, but what’s the alternate choice: not confronting him, and dying in 30 minutes anyway?
“Living in Star City takes a specilal kind of tenacity.” Um, yep.
“Curtis, as sweet as this is, the talking’s really not helping.” So happy to have Curtis as a series regular in season 5.
“That was quite a speech, Oliver. It would me long for a voting booth.” How is Malcolm Merlyn still a character on this show? I love you, John Barrowman, but this is getting ridiculous.
“If the world’s gonna end, then let’s at least go out being honest with each other.” Let’s be real: Lyla is the most level-headed character on this show.
“Fog of war, Johnny. You did what you had to do. It’s that simple.”
“What does a guy have to do to end the world in peace?” Oh, Darhk. Your supervillain quips got old about a half-season ago.
“Thanks. Unless you were aiming at me.” “At this point, I can’t even tell.”
“With Slade Wilson, I had a choice. This time, I don’t.” I miss Slade Wilson.
“I jumped straight out of the Lazarus Pit and straight into this.” Thea really did jump right out of the Lazarus Pit. She channeled Spider-Man in that moment. Still kind of upset she doesn’t have superpowers.
“Well, it looks like it’s just the three of us. Team Arrow. The original gangstas. Up top.”
“John, I have never done this wihtout you. You’re the one who keeps me in line.” “Oliver, I don’t know if you’ve been watching lately, but it’s been the other way around.” I’m not crying, you’re crying. So much Arrowseason 1 nostalgia.
“They’re leaving because of their own personal darkness. I can’t help but think that they were infected by mine.” That’s not how these things work, Oliver.
“What you’re feeling isn’t a darkness, it’s a schism. You’re at war with two sides of yourself.”
“You thought I was leaving, too? Not a chance.” Aww. And then there were two…