Friday, 9 October 2015

Review - 'Arrow', S04E01 - 'Green Arrow'

Personal opinions are likely to vary, of course - but, for me, Arrow has only really had one truly great season. The third season had its share of great moments, sure - but, it was also a season of wildly inconsistent quality. And, I didn't care for the first season, at all - to the extent that I'd probably recommend skipping it entirely, if it wasn't for the important plot-points it covered. I didn't actually become a fan of Arrow until the second season - it was at this point that Arrow became a genuinely great show. While the third season wasn't quite able to maintain that same level of quality, it was still perfectly acceptable entertainment, over all - so, I have to admit that my hopes for the fourth season are fairly high.

Of course, the third season ended with some fairly significant changes. Most of the city believe that the Arrow is dead, which has given Oliver the opportunity to walk away from his life of vigilante crime-fighting - an opportunity which, after his experiences with Ra's al-Ghul and the League of Assassins, he seems perfectly willing to take. So, the third season ended with Oliver and Felicity leaving the city to start new lives - with crime-fighting duties being taken over by Diggle, Laurel, and Thea.

This is where the fourth season picks up - with Oliver and Felicity fully immersed in their new mundane suburban lives and, seemingly, perfectly happy. Now that they have been able to move passed the angst-fuelled uncertainty that took up so much of the previous season, Oliver and Felicity actually make a genuinely entertaining couple - with Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards easily able to portray two people who not only love each other, but seem to genuinely enjoy each others company. It's only the first episode, of course - but, it already feels like a significant improvement over what we were forced to endure last season. For me, at least - I'm sure there are plenty of viewers who enjoy angst. It was also definitely an entertaining little twist to have it be Felicity, rather than Oliver, be the one who is struggling most to adapt to their new lives - going as far as secretly lending her expertise to their former team-mates back in the newly renamed Star City (renamed in honour of the apparent death of Ray Palmer)

Stephen Amell has always done an impressive job of portraying variations on Oliver Queen, with the flash-back story-lines that have always run alongside the main story each season showing us the same character at different stages of his life and development. And, here, we get yet another variation with a new Oliver who is finally genuinely happy and relaxed. Oliver, it seems, would be perfectly content with never touching a bow again - finding a much more mundane hobby in his newly discovered love of cooking.

Of course, it can't last. Back in Star City, the Arrow's former team-mates find themselves increasingly overwhelmed by a new, almost militaristic, criminal force who seem determined to destroy Star City entirely - and, in desperation, Laural and Thea reach out to Oliver for help. Diggle, of course, obviously isn't on board with the idea of Oliver coming back, though - clearly the unresolved tension between them is going to be a factor for now (which is a good thing, really - it would have been too easy to simply gloss over it).

Oliver might be perfectly happy with his new life, but he also isn't going to ignore the people he cares for when they need his help - so, he agrees to help them. But, even when he finds himself drawn back to Star City, he is still adamant that things need to be different, this time - believing that it would be better to be a simple of hope for the people who wants to protect (like the Flash), rather than a symbol of fear for his enemies (like Batman, I suppose - there's a reason why the 'Batman-lite' argument keeps getting brought up). In order to do this, Oliver takes on a new crime-fighting persona - and, four seasons into the series, we finally our first mention of the name 'Green Arrow'. It feels like as significant a transition as the time he decided to stop ruthlessly murdering people back at the end of the first season (seriously, I didn't like the first season, at all).

It's also great to see the supporting cast given more opportunities to grow in their own roles, here - with Diggle, Laural, and Thea proving to be an effective team, even if they do find themselves in need of a little extra help, now. Diggle finally getting on board with the idea of disguising himself while he is out fighting crime is also an idea I can get behind - but, unfortunately, that helmet just doesn't work. It didn't look right in the publicity photo released a while ago, and it still doesn't look right now that I've seen it in action, here. Hopefully it's just a work in progress - because, Diggle deserves better.

Thanks to Neal McDonough's performance, Damian Darhk, meanwhile (whose eventual arrival was, of course, foreshadowed in the previous season), makes his presence as the season's new villain felt almost immediately, as he leads his militaristic organisation toward an unknown goal. In his first appearance, Darhk manages to come across as a great mix of charismatic, dangerous, and not entirely sane - and, he also brings a new element along with him with his display of mystical abilities. It was definitely entertaining to see our heroes assume that Darhk must be a meta-human, only for them to almost immediately have to wrap their heads around the fact that magic is also a thing, now. Any little moment like that which acknowledges exactly how strange the world these characters live in has become is definitely appreciated. At the same time, though, the idea that Oliver already knows that magic and mysticism exist based on previous experience (which we're likely to see played out through this season's flash-back story-line) does feel a bit convenient. I think I would have preferred to see Oliver caught by surprise and forced to adapt, also.

In all, Green Arrow was a fantastic opening to the new season. It promises a more focused story-line, as our heroes go up against Damian Darhk - and, it also gives us a great new villain with Darhk, himself. I have to admit, though, that I'm not entirely sure what to make of the episode's final scene, which suddenly jumps forward six months ahead to give us a glimpse of Oliver standing over an unidentified grave. I honestly have no idea what purpose this scene was meant to serve. It's possible that this unexpected glimpse of the future will eventually build into something interesting, of course - but, for the moment, I'm not entirely convinced that it was necessary. It just felt strange to go to the effort of given the audience a new, calm and happy, Oliver (one who, it should be said, is finally starting to drift toward the way that Green Arrow is usually portrayed) only to then go ahead and imply that it probably isn't going to last. But, since the episode seems to get so much right, I'm willing to give Arrow the benefit of the doubt on that point, for now.

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