This review contains spoilers.
I’m going to start this review by saying that Arrow’s season premieres are usually great, and it’s in the execution of their ideas across the season that oftentimes causes the show to lose its way. This episode is particularly good and, while there’s every chance that its promise will be utterly squashed by mid-season, I choose optimism.
A couple of issues remain – the flashbacks are still there for some reason – but this really felt like a throwback to the show’s first season in the best ways. We’re focused on Oliver (not Oliver’s love life), most of the supporting characters get moments of their own, and Star City feels like a real place again.
As we found out in last season’s finale, Oliver is mayor now, and he’s predictably doing a crappy job. With Thea filling in while her brother focuses on being ‘the other guy’, we learn that he simply views this as a means to an end. Being mayor allows him access to information that he can use to fight crime as Green Arrow, and it doesn’t matter that he learned all of his political knowledge by binge-watching The West Wing.
Felicity is the sole remaining member of Team Arrow, with Oliver adamant that it won’t be long before John and Thea both see sense and return to the fold. Of course by the end of the episode he realises that he has to move on, and it’s a nice moment of character development for him.
Wilddog is mentioned a lot and Curtis asks to join by the end, but we’ll have to wait until next week before we get a real look at the new team of recruits.
But for now Oliver’s spread too thin. There’s a neat little parallel between Oliver and Quentin here when the latter, who’s fallen off the wagon, points out that drunks often need a reason to stay sober. Oliver is killing his targets again in a kind of non-big deal way, and we’re led to believe that the loss of his team is partially responsible for this moral shift.
The government stuff, if not abandoned by episode three, promises to be particularly fascinating this year. There’s the corrupt police force and Quentin’s role within it, the problem of leading a double life as a superhero and a political figure, and something for Thea to do that doesn’t necessarily involve donning the leather.
The villain – Tobias Church – also ties into this nicely. He has a presence and a physicality that we haven’t really seen since Slade, and that’s really evident in his showdown with Oliver in the episode. He’s all knuckle-dusters and confidence, rather than vague magic or rituals. He’s also a black man, which does and doesn’t matter at the same time.
This is what Arrow should always have been – the slightly grimy street level counterpart to the ever-expanding roster of cheesier, brighter series like Supergirl or Legends Of Tomorrow. It should be the Batman to your Superman. The third season did its fair share of killing my love for the show, but last season’s greatest sin was its apparent commitment to matching the tone of The Flash while still dealing with the same subject matter.
It’s hard to explore themes like ‘is murder ever okay?’ or ‘can I be a vigilante hero and still maintain relationships’ when you’re also hanging out with NBC’s version of Constantine, or setting up time-travel capers for Legends Of Tomorrow, or throwing a fake wedding with your estranged girlfriend for the benefit of Cupid.
All of this pays off for both the action (more on that in a sec) and the emotional beats. The bromantic Skype call between Oliver and Diggle was my favourite moment of the episode because we were made to wait just long enough for it. Arrow has never been very good at showing convincing romance, but it has always done a damn good job of portraying that these two guys rely on each other in ways they’re far too ‘manly’ to admit.
The action is outstanding, possibly the best the show has done (which is saying something). Daredevil can have its one-shot hallway sequences, Arrow has helicopters and mid-fall action all on a CW budget.
For fans of Arrow, it’s often a stressful show to watch. It has too many masters to please, too much pressure to change and the responsibility of being the father to the network’s all-consuming roster of heroes. Here, with torches passing (we finally know what Laurel made Oliver promise) and a massive 100th episode crossover coming up, I’m finally excited for what that actually means. Arrow feels like Arrow again, and all we can do is pray that it doesn’t screw that up.
Read Caroline’s review of the season four finale, here.