After an overall underwhelming 3rd season, Arrow Season 4 kicks things off with an entirely fresh take. Oliver and Felicity have settled in to a suburban lifestyle, and are trying to live a domesticated life, having brunch with neighbors, and learning to become better cooks. Oliver still wears a green hoodie from time to time, but he’s gotten the dragon tattoo that memorialized Shado removed as he tries to move beyond his past life, and he’s even preparing to propose to Felicity.
Unfortunately, the fresh take stops there. Things are not so different in the city formerly known as Starling city. Some things have changed. Ray Palmer is presumed dead after an accident during research on the A.T.O.M. project, and the city is renamed Star city in his honor. Other than that, things are just as they’ve always been, as evidenced by Team Arrow–sans their namesake vigilante– chasing down yet another nondescript semi truck crawling with men in masks with guns.
The team has been unable to get a leg up on crime ever since Oliver left, and things are continually getting worse. Due to the untimely demise of the past several Mayors, nobody wants to stand up as a leader in the city, due to fear of being targeted by the “ghosts” that are running guns through the city.
Captain Lance is working with city leaders to try to hold things together, but their efforts are unsuccessful. Our new villain, the cold and calculating Damien Darhk walks into one of their meetings to taunt them with their imminent deaths. It’s safe to say things aren’t good.
Once Darhk pulls the trigger and his agents start killing off the city officials, Laurel and Thea feel they have no choice but to bring Oliver back, arriving just in time to interrupt his proposal to Felicity before he even pops the question.
Oliver is reluctant to return to Star city, and Diggle is even more reluctant to have him back, since it was only a few months prior that he had kidnapped Diggle’s wife and child as a part of his long con against Ra’s al Ghul.
It’s a good thing the team is back together, though, because it turns out there’s more than bad guys with guns. Damien Darhk possesses some mystic abilities–abilities that appear to be familiar to Oliver–and can heal himself of injuries, stop arrows in mid-air, and even suck the life right out of his enemies.
Team Arrow manages to block his attempt to destroy the station for the new high speed rail between Star City and Central City, but Dahrk escapes, and the city is far from saved.
Since the city believes The Arrow to be dead, Oliver re-emerges as a new rebranded Green Arrow. An attempt to instill hope, instead of becoming darkness to fight darkness as he has had to do in the past.
Unbeknownst to Team Arrow, Captain Lance is working with Damien Darhk. Likely he’s been conned into thinking it’s the only way to help the city, but it’s definitely bad news.
In another crazy twist of events, we see a flash forward of several months that show Oliver and Barry Allen standing over the fresh grave of a loved on. We don’t see the grave and no-one else is in frame, so we can’t know who it is, but definitely a dark foreshadowing of the season to come.
Altogether, there are some exciting and promising elements on the way. Unfortunately, the episode as a whole is a bit of a mess. For all intents and purposes, it ends up right where season 3 left off.
We only see a couple of minutes of Oliver and Felicity living a domesticated life, and a few minutes of Team Arrow getting beaten in Star City. Both elements needed far more time. It would have been great to actually see a full episode of both sides before sticking everyone right where we left them.
Team Arrow is completely useless without Oliver around, but that doesn’t have to be the case. They could have been getting the upper hand against the ghosts until Damien Dahrk finally arrives in Star City, upping the stakes so they have to call in the big guns, er, Arrows.
The same goes for Oliver and Felicity. They left to get away from all of that, but once they’re confronted with the needs of their friends, they immediately agree to go back, with Felicity saying “Our friends need our help. We should already be in the car.” Except there was never a time that their friends didn’t need their help. This really undermines the premise, especially considering they’ve basically only been gone for a long enough time to consider it an extended vacation.
Then, of course, there’s the flashbacks. There was right about 3 minutes of flashbacks in this episode, split into 4 parts, the longest of which was 1:30, and the shortest–and final– flashback was only 15 seconds long. This time was used basically for Amanda Waller to send Oliver back to Lian Yu. Again.
The flashbacks have been a major problem for the show since the beginning of last season. If they’re going to exist at all, they need more dedicated time in larger chunks (or even a single chunk at the beginning or end of an episode. The short length and sudden pacing serves almost exclusively to throw off any pacing the show might have been able to establish in the first place.
The biggest failing is the fact that this was all supposed to be different this season. The one bright spot about the ending of Season 3 was the fact that the the show was in a place to evolve and become something entirely different than it had been the first few seasons, only to reassemble Team Arrow reassembled less than 20 minutes into the episode.
With so much time to prepare for this episode, one would hope that the production team would get off to more of a solid start. With a little bit better pacing a little more concise editing if basically the same footage that made up this episode, it would have been a solid start.
Fortunately, the mysterious flash forward and other teases at the end (maybe not so much the return to Lian Yu), there are definitely things to look forward to, it just may not be as much of a departure from the disappointing Season 3 as was promised.