Given the fact that I wasn't even really a fan of Arrow, throughout much of its first season, I can't honestly say that I was all that enthusiastic about this fifth season's promise to return to that original 'gritty and grounded' tone. In part, that is because I always found the idea of a version of the DC Universe stripped of all of its wonderfully outlandish elements (no superpowers, no aliens, no magic) to be kind of dull. In part, it was because I could never quite shake the feeling that what they really wanted was to make a series about Batman, but were forced to settle for Green Arrow (an impression which only seem to grow stronger, over time. In part, too, it was because I never found the overly grim and gritty tone of the first season to be done all that well.
I may be in the minority on that point, of course (and, in fact, I'm sure that I am) – but, the fact remains that an entire season based around Oliver Queen murdering people based on a list of names that his father gave him did not make for particularly compelling viewing. Oliver Queen wasn't a hero in that first season. He was a violent anti-hero, in the same vein as the Punisher – except for the fact that his actions weren't treated with anywhere near the same degree of seriousness. In fact, Oliver still hasn't faced any type of consequences for his early exploits – and, it has become fairly obvious that he never will. The only way in which I have ever been able to like this version of Oliver Queen, as a character, has been to mentally push aside that first season, and to think of the second as the series' true starting point.
Finding himself without the support of much of his former team, Oliver is now forced to divide his time between his nightly exploits, alone, as the Green Arrow and his duties as the Mayor of Star City – and, it is clear that the strain is beginning to take a heavy toll on him. Despite the clear enthusiasm the he showed, throughout the previous season, for the idea of becoming a public force for hope and change in the troubled city, it seems as though Oliver's priorities have shifted once more. He has now come to see his role as Mayor as simply a means to an end – something which provides him with access to the sort of information he needs to become more effective as the Green Arrow.
Given how tense the situation already is, this is also the obvious moment for a new villain to emerge – with Tobias Church (Chad L. Coleman) arriving in Star City intent on eliminating any potential rivals and taking over the city's criminal elements. Of course, as any new aspiring 'crime lord' in a place like Star City probably should, Church sees his main potential rival as the Green Arrow, himself – and so, he immediately settles on a plan to draw out the Green Arrow and take him out of the picture, as well. Through a stroke of genuinely amusing dramatic irony, though, it turns out that Church's plan to draw out the city's primary vigilante is to kidnap its Mayor – Oliver Queen.
With the season only just beginning, it is obviously too early to tell, for certain – but, already, there is a strong sense that this new season intends to distance itself from the previous one, in a variety of ways. Casting a character like Tobias Church as the season's first villain is clearly intended to be an indication of that. Lacking in any superpowers, or access to magic (or, even, the sort of eccentric personality that we have seen with some past villains), Church is really little more than a violent thug with aspirations of ruling the criminal underworld of Star City – which is, really, exactly the sort of character we would have met in the first season of Arrow. He is a violent, and very dangerous, criminal, though – and, Chad L. Coleman gives a great performance in the role. He is intimidating, and very effective, in his time on-screen, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing more of him.
Honestly, the only potential problem I can foresee, with Tobias Church as a villainous character, is that the threat that he poses to Oliver Queen does not seem to measure up to what he has already faced, in the past. But, then, that is probably why the episode also comes to an end with the introduction of yet another mysterious archer.
Elsewhere, the episode met with somewhat mixed success as it sought to introduce the audience to the season's new status quo. It was nice to see Laurel Lance continue to influence the lives of those who knew her (It's certainly a level of respect that the character never received when she was actually alive) – but, that statue of her that was unveiled during the episode was truly terrible. The less we see of that, over the rest of the season, the better, I think.
Also, the idea that Quentin Lance's fleeting moments of potential happiness with Donna Smoak should come to a sudden end off-camera, between seasons, was a little disappointing (honestly, it had the feel of a character being hastily written out of the series, to me) – as was the fact that it seems to have resulted in Quentin 'falling off the wagon', once more. Despite that, though, the episode still featured a handful of very strong scenes between Quentin and Oliver, which seemed to hint at the possibility of the former detective becoming more directly involved in the action than he has been, previously – which is something that I would definitely like to see.
On a more positive note, with Oliver seemingly quite happy to abandon his previous rule against killing in the aftermath of Laurel's death, it was very interesting to see Thea be the one that would call him out on his recent behaviour (Felicity, of course, remains as willing to overlook Oliver's murderous tendencies as she was in the first season). While it does feel a little heavy-handed, here, the fact that these fairly significant moral issues are actually being addressed so directly does give me some hope for the course of the rest of the season.
Of course, along with setting the new season's tone and establishing its first new villain, this episode was also intended to introduce the greatest new challenge that Oliver is likely to face – that being, whether he can truly bring himself to accept the aid of any of the new vigilantes that his actions seem to have inspired. With the formation of a new team, presumably, set to be so important for the course of this season, I do have to admit that it was a little disappointing that we didn't actually get to properly meet any of the list of names that Felicity has been gathering on Oliver's behalf (although, we did get a brief glimpse at 'Wild Dog' – right before Oliver attempted to dissuade him from his vigilante activities by putting an arrow through his leg). But, with Curtis Holt set to join the team we do, at least, have one already familiar, and well-established, character to serve as an entry-point.
Based on this first episode, at least, there does seem to be potential for Arrow to return to that 'gritty and grounded' tone of the first season in a way that doesn't disappoint me in the same way that the actual first season did. All I can really do, now, is wait and see how things develop over the course of the rest of the season.