The Candidate review – Back on track

It’s been a rare occurrence that I’ve been impressed by an Arrow episode over the past year. However, The Candidate is one that I can safely say I thoroughly enjoyed. The episode suggested a lot of positive change from a year ago that the premiere was unable to convey, and it has somewhat restored my faith in the show as we move into the rest of the season.

Last week, it was easy to pick out Damien’s introductory plot as the highlight of the episode. Here, it’s much more difficult as no point in the episode really stood out among the rest. Yet, this probably worked in its favour. As a result, the episode flowed much more nicely, everything was cohesive. The show benefits when each of its plots are as strong as the other, rather than trying to build an episode with a strong A plot and weak sub-plots, which often leads to weaker episodes.

Thea’s story is as good a place to start as any. She’s gone completely off the deep end, something that has been building inside of her finally came to the forefront here. In some respect, I’m a little frustrated that we didn’t get to see it build up more, especially given that she was fine at the end of last season. On the other hand, getting her to this point so early opens up several different potential arcs for her this season, and I’ve grown to accept the fact that much of Arrow’s character development takes place off-screen.

The fight between her and Oliver in the lair was perhaps the best, and only way to effectively show her decline. Fighting with Oliver showed exactly how much the Pit has changed her – that animal-like look she gave him was like something out of a horror film. Still, it worked perfectly, much like her breaking that homeless guy’s arm and setting Anarky on fire did. Sure, Anarky did kind of deserve it, and I don’t think Thea was trying to set him on fire, but that was pretty brutal.

I enjoyed Oliver’s reaction to this change as well – it did a good job of showing how his progression from the ‘monster’ that he was to him doing things differently this year. Keeping the events of The Fallen from her and attempting to prove his point physically showed glimpses of the old Oliver. Sitting down with her and talking her through it, along with a promise to help her get through things, is the new Oliver.

Of course, the way Thea will be dealing with her transformation in the immediate future is without Oliver’s help. Instead, she and Laurel are heading to Nanda Parbat. Returning to where this all started and going to see Malcolm, who will undoubtedly give her some very dark advice, is probably not a good idea, but I’m excited to see it happen.

What’s not a good idea on this trip, however, is Laurel taking Sara along to be resurrected. The Candidate saw her learn, and ponder over, what happened to Thea and it resulted in a decision to exhume her long-dead sister and take her to Nanda Parbat. While I can understand why Laurel has chosen to do this – she isn’t thinking with her head, rather her heart – it’s still a ridiculous idea. Still, I prefer ridiculous idea to ‘blatant set-up so that The CW can milk more money from their DC franchises by creating Legends of Tomorrow’. To quote Curtis Holt, it “has a nicer sound to it. It just kind of rolls off the tongue.”

Which brings us to Echo Kellum’s Holt, who was introduced in this episode. His character parallels the Felicity of old quite nicely. He even speaks in sentence fragments when nervous. It’s the quirky fun that Arrow has needed since Felicity’s character suffered an obliteration last season. Speaking of whom, she was back to her best this week. One-liners, an actual plot not motivated by relationships. It was pretty much everything I’ve been wanting for over a year now. While watching her have to fire a bunch of people perhaps wasn’t the most interesting of plots, it did wonders for her character. Gone is the shadow of Felicity Smoak that was willing to let the city die so Oliver might live, and back is the real Felicity Smoak, who cares about people and would do her utmost to help them. To do this, she rehired all those whom she fired and lied to the board of directors about Holt’s “revolutionary technology”. Again, this was a pretty bad plan, given that she was banking on Holt having an idea for said technology with zero foreknowledge, but that’s what I love about Felicity here. She’s willing to take that chance to give those she’d have put out of a job a better life.

The villain-of-the-week plot was much better than we’re used to. Lonnie Machin, aka Anarky (Alexander Calvert), was one of the better one-off villains we’ve had, certainly in recent memory, simply because of the fun factor that he brought to the table. He was crazy and sadistic, but relatively together. Throw in a couple of excellent scenes with Damien, and we were in for a good ride. He even had a motivation for his crimes – impressing Damien enough to join H.I.V.E.! Also, he’s on the loose once again, so I’m sure he’ll crop up again this season.

Neal McDonough, meanwhile, continues to be utterly magnificent and Damien is very quickly becoming the best villain the show has had. He’s calm, composed, considered. The way he stands, walks, talks – all present him as immensely powerful and dangerous. He has a presence that no Arrow villain has had before. Every scene with him is a joy to watch.

One of the things that intrigued me in this episode is that Damien was completely against the kidnapping of Jessica Danforth’s daughter, yet continues to threaten Laurel. For a second there, I thought Damien had morals, but it appears they only extend so far. His suggestion that the kidnapping lacked taste was a very wishy-washy way of explaining it, but it’s probably the best one we’re ever going to get. Aside from that, however, his interactions with both Anarky and Quentin made for excellent viewing, and after the calamity of Ra’s last season, Arrow has shown that it is back on the right path with their latest big bad.

Jessica Danforth’s bid to run for mayor was probably the least interesting story this week, partly because I knew on some level that she wouldn’t actually run and partly because we didn’t really get enough time to care about her. Oliver deciding to run was the only notable thing to come from this story, and I’m still not yet sure whether I like it or hate it. The one benefit Oliver now has is that, unlike when he was in charge of Queen Consolidated, he now has a team of heroes around him, meaning he can rely on them to handle things while he does the fun mayoral stuff. On the other hand, Arrow has shown us that Oliver has no real idea on how to run a company, so running a city is surely beyond him. Also, his decision now puts everyone close to him in danger (again), because the show’s title character isn’t going to suffer the same fate as those who came before him. Could this be related to the grave we saw in the premiere?

Part of Oliver’s vow to be different this year is not allowing the darkness inside of him to fester or be displayed. He tried in the premiere, we saw glimpses, but ultimately he failed. The Candidate was a different story, and there was a level of fun to Oliver that we’ve seldom seen on the show. He made sarcastic comments, didn’t mope around anywhere near as much as usual and actually looked to be enjoying his life, despite what happened with Thea and Danforth. I know that this Oliver is going to be crushed like a piece of paper when we reach that death in April, so if Arrow could provide us with more of this Oliver between now and then, that’d be great.

The flashbacks this week saw us lose… well, I’ll let Stephen Amell explain it.

Yes, the flashback hair is gone. Which begs the question, how does Oliver end up looking like a homeless person in the pilot? This is the kind of important information that Arrow needs to be providing us. Oh, and Oliver infiltrated the enemy group on the island, who appear to be forcing slaves to do something involving gardening, or so it looks like. The loss of the flashback hair is clearly more important.

Overall, The Candidate was a good episode – the first in quite a while. It was still unspectacular, though, and, aside from Damien Darkh, season four has yet to really blow me away. Still, more episodes consistently as good as this one is certainly a step in the right direction.


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