Arrow – A shadow of itself?

I decided to take a trip down memory lane and go bring out my Arrow season two DVDs, before having a watch of the mid-season finale, ‘Three Ghosts’.

It honestly felt like watching a different show. In the words of Emperor Palpatine, “One younger and far more powerful.” – no, that’s not an excuse to get a random Star Wars reference in there, it’s the honest truth. Arrow was a far more powerful show back then, it had far more going for it and was a show which felt enthusiastic about the story it’s telling. Today, Arrow is a show smitten with its many flaws and for me personally, I believe it’s a show at a crossroads.

Season three was a disappointing season of Arrow. Season four was simply poor television for the most part. The first question is, how did we get here? In truth, it’s a combination of elements that have twisted together to turn what was a very good superhero show into a shadow of its former self and other shows out there.

Nowadays, everyone on Arrow either wears a mask, is involved in the vigilante business, at very least knows Oliver’s secret or is Donna Smoak. In seasons one and two, there was plenty going on outside of all that. This grounded the show somewhat. It gave it charm. It gave weight to the vigilante side of it. We had Roy, Thea and Sin running about, getting up to all sorts of mischief. We had Laurel carrying out her duties as a lawyer. We had plenty of the brother and sister dynamic between Oliver and Thea. We had Tommy! Good ol’ Tommy. These characters had a life outside of Team Arrow, these characters had storylines which were well crafted for them, we could engage with them and feel for them. With seasons three and four? I just don’t engage with these characters. Every now and then we get a Diggle-centric episode with his family, most of the time we get unnecessary Olicity drama or cheesy engagement party preparations – if we get the human factor, it feels more soap than superhero. It’s not the sort of drama needed to ground this show and give it heart. You can’t engage with it. You can’t get behind it. It’s tedious. It’s poorly written. It’s just not there. Not anymore.

Another factor quite obviously has been the flashbacks, with season four a bewildering slog which I doubt anybody is in a hurry to relive. In seasons one and two, they were terrific. We had the strong dynamics of Oliver and Slade; Oliver, Shado and Slade; before Oliver, Sara and Slade. But perhaps most of all, we had Oliver Queen developing into the man we met in the pilot of season one. Where is he now? It feels as if it’s going to take a colossal effort to get him to season one Oliver if the flashbacks are to be tied up next season. The most damning aspect of the flashbacks this season is that it just felt like the writers weren’t interested in the story they were telling. It felt as if it’d been made up script to script, rather than carefully plotted out.

Speaking of Slade, the Arrow writers should absolutely grovel at Manu Bennett’s feet for the rubbish they served up for him in season three. Despite Neal McDonough’s efforts, Damien Darkh’s early season promise fizzled out and although better than Ra’s al Ghul, he still didn’t really feel the gaping big bad void that’s been left vacated by Slade. Simply, Slade remains the best villain the show has done. His motivations may have been sketchy at best in season two, though Bennett was such a force of nature that he made it work superbly. In season five, we need one hell of a villain. We don’t need the villain and Oliver facing off every few episodes – the frequent Darkh v Arrow face-offs really ate away at the impact of these confrontations. When Oliver had continued to defeat Darkh or escape, there’s no tension left when the last big fight comes. In season two, Slade v Oliver was used sparingly and very effectively. You felt Slade was dangerous. You knew their confrontations were big, bad and brilliant. I just didn’t get that with Darkh as the season drew to a close.

There’s one aspect I’ve not covered yet and unfortunately I’ve got to go there. The exasperation obsession with Felicity Smoak. Olicity shippers may well possibly lynch me for it, but hear me out. I liked Felicity in seasons one and two – I’d stick my neck out and say it’s a nearly universal opinion that she was great back then. I liked it when she joined the team. Considering all the things I’ve said about Oliver and Felicity as a couple, it may stagger you to hear that I really wasn’t against them getting together at the end of season two. Therefore, it speaks volumes that nowadays I really just do not like Felicity Smoak while Olicity is a dreadfully written relationship. In past episodes, Felicity wasn’t thrust into everything, she wasn’t shoved down our throats, she was well handled, she was likeable and a good character. Today? I just do not understand what they’re trying to do with her. She’s not the great, amazing, fantastic character that everyone in Star City, their dog, hamster, and shadow tell us she is. Her development has been all over the place. Perhaps the cap for this is Felicity diverting a nuke to cause the deaths of tens of thousands of people, then being completely fine around twenty minutes afterwards, still fine about a day afterwards and showing no hint she’s affected whatsoever. If she’s going to be one of your main characters, develop her well, don’t turn her into a parody of herself as I feel she’s become and for the love of god tone down the relationship drama! Relationship drama can be done well if it’s believable, not if you’ve taken points A through Z out of the guide to cliche soap relationship drama as it often seems to be. It’s not the only problem, as points 1-3 show, but it’s a factor in how the show has faded from its former glory.

One final error with Arrow I’ll discuss is the death of Laurel Lance. This was both frustratingly predictable and a ridiculously stupid decision as well. There is no way Laurel’s story was done. She’s the Black Canary. There’s a wealth of comic book history to sift through. Guggenheim and co. simply appear too lazy to put effort into anyone’s story who doesn’t have ‘Smoak’ as a last name. Apparently, three people were off the table for this terrible grave storyline at the start of the season. Oliver. Barry. Felicity. If I look at the cast, Felicity, Diggle and Quentin’s storylines are done for me. There’s very little wriggle room for them to progress with now. Felicity’s death would have had the most impact going forwards, yet the writers didn’t have the balls to go there. Diggle’s death again would have had a sizeable impact going forwards. Quentin’s not even a cop anymore so where else does he have to go now? I don’t think anyone wants to see the adventures of Donna and Quentin on their travels – Paul Blackthorne really deserves more than that.

The Arrow writers killed off the Black Canary on a show allegedly about the Green Arrow. You don’t have to adapt comic books to perfection, you don’t need to directly retell storylines but you should at least respect the source material if nothing else. Those at the helm of Arrow clearly don’t.

We had two seasons of fast paced, interesting storytelling. Arrow, now, just feels like a show going through the motions and not really going anywhere. It’s a show in love with its flaws and it’s difficult to see it escaping them.

It’s a shame. This show could have been so much more.

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