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Friday, 11 December 2015

Arrow S4 (First Half)

Series 4 (First Half)

You know, I had - and still do have - very high hopes that this series of Arrow will be better than series three, not least because you can really only improve from the series where the main villain was a somewhat alarmed Australian fellow whose main superpower was that he owned a nice sword, and also because with Roy squarely out of the picture (although not necessarily forever), you have your superteam nicely set up.

Not that this series hasn't had its problems. Damien Darhk, set up in series three and now stepping into the limelight as the main villain, is a step up from Ra's, but doesn't have the villain chops of either Merlyn or Slade (or Wells, or Zoom, since the Arrow's villains now have The Flash to contend with); an ominous flash forward raises the unpleasant problem of a possible refrigerator moment; and the addition of magic to the show is not nearly as stakes-raising as it could be.

Anyway, this series opens with Ollie and Felicity living the domestic dream, with Ollie preparing to propose when Laurel and Thea show up on their doorstep. Darhk and his Ghosts, a ruthless and well-armed paramilitary, have been besieging Star City for months, and the team needs Ollie to return to help. Reluctantly agreeing, Ollie takes on the identity of the Green Arrow, and enters into a secret war against Darhk - along with running for mayor of Star City.

Darhk is the most scenery-chewing Arrow villain, and yes, I am including Malcolm
in that.

So, it took me a while to warm to this series of the show, because in a way, it felt a bit like it was circling the same storylines as Arrow always does - that's a problem not unique to series four, either, because Arrow always struggles in its first halves. It is not, really, a show built for twenty-four episodes, which is why the first ten episodes always tend to involve dredging through the same few themes, and mostly coming across more as filler than anything.

Filler and, in this case, Legends of Tomorrow set-up. Legends really is the bane of the shows it's spinning off from, taking up several episodes in this last ten - a few for resurrecting Sara so that she can become the White Canary, and one for the crossover with The Flash - but unlike with The Flash, these are some of the more enjoyable episodes of the lot. Constantine's brief appearance is glorious, breathing some fresh life into the show - which, in a way, gives us a roadmap for how Arrow can remain fresh. 

As a character focused show, Arrow needs to add new characters to the mix from time to time, characters that come into conflict with and challenge the team. This series hasn't really had that (the biggest new addition to the cast, apart from Darhk, is Curtis, who is wonderful but doesn't really present any kind of conflict), and neither did series three, to be honest. Compare and contrast with The Flash, also a very character driven show, which has added Patty, Harrison Wells Mk. 2, and Wally to its roster, each of whom play off the regular cast in interesting ways and present new conflicts.

I mean, there's Curtis, who is very tall, I guess.

As it is, however, the biggest change that Arrow has made is Ollie's mayoral campaign. I wasn't keen on that idea at first, but it grew on me, not least because it led to the midseason finale, which is without a doubt the best and most innovative episode of series four so far. Barely involving Ollie doing any arrow-ing at all (Malcolm Merlyn spends more time in the Green Arrow suit than he does), it instead focuses on the conflict between Darhk and Ollie-as-mayor, and manages to give us a genuinely new direction for the show, forcing Ollie to fight Darhk in the arena of public opinion, rather than with a bow and arrow.

That was genuinely fascinating to watch, and it also let the threat from Darhk be ramped up - previously, the threat from him had mostly been that he himself presents a physical threat, but not one that could actually go after Ollie. With Ollie publicly opposing him, though, we now have an interesting situation in which Darhk can and will target Ollie and his friends and family (along with random civilians) at any time, in any context. The scene in which Darhk crashes Ollie's party is one of the most tense of the series so far, because there's no guarantee that he won't just slaughter everybody there.

No, I don't know either.

That midseason finale also has one of the worst moments of the - well, actually, the entire show, as Felicity gets riddled with bullets. I don't think she'll actually die: Darhk has Lazarus waters, after all, and it'd be suicide for the show to get rid of their most popular character (and one half of an enormously popular pairing), especially when she's midway through several different plotlines. No, I very much doubt she is the Future Dead Person seen in flash-forwards, but if she is, I will be very annoyed. That will be the purest example of a woman-in-refrigerator moment I've seen in a while.

Still, a solid, but not exactly inspiring first part to the fourth series. I have high hopes for the show when it resumes in March, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes.

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