‘Arrow’ Season 5 Review: Even Adrian Chase Couldn’t Save This Disaster

Nothing could’ve prepared me for Arrow’s fifth season.

Arrow has always been that one show I never have to worry about. Even in its imperfections, Arrow has always managed to deliver on what its promised; to do right by its characters; to do right by its fans.

But I didn’t recognize Arrow in season 5. It felt like a stranger. It was a strange feeling…being disappointed by a show that had always been so good to me. Part of me was hoping it was just a couple of episodes of mis-stepping. But 16 episodes isn’t a misstep. It’s a miss altogether.

I wasn’t expecting what I got. I was expecting Arrow and instead I got some alternate version of Arrow that felt like it belonged with the Invaders instead of on my screen.

While Arrow managed to redeem itself in the final seven episodes of the season, it doesn’t erase the mess that was the first half of season 5. Life’s all about learning experiences. Well, here’s a huge learning experience. Stick to what works. Don’t fix what’s not broken. Do right by your characters. Do right by your fans.

Overall Impression

Arrow’s fifth season was surprising. Surprising in how much of an overall disappointment it was. And that pains me to type those words, but I’m not going to lie. It was a huge letdown for a show that typically tends to be the one constant for me. There was so much momentum heading into Arrow’s fifth season as Oliver was poised to take his bow as far as the five-year journey was concerned. There was the promise of “back to basics” and an Olicity reunion. But all we got was a new take on Arrow that was less than satisfactory. While the final seven episodes of the season were enough to give me a sliver of hope moving forward, the first 16 episodes felt more like a nightmare. Even a sensational villain like Adrian Chase wasn’t enough to save Arrow from itself in season 5.

What Worked

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The Final 7 Episodes | I spent the majority of Arrow season 5 feeling like the Invaders had kidnapped me aboard their spaceship and forced me to watch an alternate, nightmarish version of Arrow. So when Arrow finally started to improve, I felt cautiously optimistic. Basically, when Arrow introduced Adrian Chase as Prometheus, that’s when things finally seemed to pick up. That’s when everything fell into place. It was like Arrow season 5 had finally started. The key elements that had been missing were starting to return (well, except Thea), and it was enough to make me wonder, What the hell took so long?! Honestly, I’m not a fan of this 23-episode season. Too much time, too much time to drag out storylines. But the final seven episodes were like a mini-season that was non-stop action and thrill that showed us the brilliance that is Josh Segarra. I can’t believe we had to wait so long for him to shine. Not only did we get the brilliant dynamic between Oliver and Adrian, we saw a return to Olicity, we got more Diggle, the new team members finally started to fit, and it just felt like the nightmare was over. Not that things were perfect. They weren’t. But Arrow had finally started to resemble itself again. And it was all I wanted all season long. Here’s to hoping that season 6 brings us a more complete season.

Josh Segarra as Adrian Chase | I didn’t think a villain would come close to topping Slade Wilson yet alone surpassing him as my favorite villain. But that’s what Josh Segarra managed to accomplish as Adrian Chase/Prometheus in season 5. Perhaps the one constant in a season that was up-and-down. Josh was truly being underutilized leading up to the big reveal. Honestly, I was underwhelmed by the reveal. But it was Josh’s performance as Adrian that captivated me. Here was this villain I’m supposed to hate, and yet I can’t help but love him because he’s just so damn good. He really dug into the emotional aspects of being a villain, which is perhaps the most important thing. It’s what made Slade a success. It was personal. Adrian wasn’t the most personal as far as Oliver’s concerned, but Adrian made it personal. And once it was personal, there was no going back. Week after week, we got to see this brilliant chemistry between Josh and Stephen Amell as they played so wonderfully off each other and truly brought out the best in each other. Josh embodied this emotionally disturbed villain in such a brilliant way that even left me guessing, which isn’t something that’s easy to do. Josh put all of himself into this character – he dug deep into who this guy really was; why he was doing what he was doing. I was beyond impressed. But also sad. Why did Adrian have to kill himself? I’d always hoped we’d get more of him down the road. He’s just that damn good.

Olicity | The one thing that’ll always work no matter how much the writers try to interfere with is Oliver and Felicity’s relationship. Whether it’s as friends or significant others, Olicity has and will always be a significant part of Arrow. While Olicity wasn’t handled well at all in season 5, there were still moments where Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards managed to create moments out of nothing. There’s so much chemistry there all it takes are the two of them standing beside each other to cause the feels. I felt like there was some encouragement at the end of the season as far as Olicity goes. “Underneath” was the game-changer, where we finally got closure about their season 4 breakup and where the door was thrown open for their eventual reunion. And in case you needed it thrown up there in big, bold letters, the writers threw in a season finale kiss to seal the deal. Olicity’s journey wasn’t perfect. But then again nothing is. Olicity, even in its imperfections, is still magic.

The New Canary | When there was news of a new Black Canary coming to Arrow, I was beyond annoyed. How many versions of this character have we had now? This would be the third. It just felt repetitive, as well as disrespectful to Canaries of the past. But then we got to know Dinah Drake, a badass ex-detective with superior combat skills and intriguing personality, and suddenly I liked the new Canary. This was the first Black Canary that we got that was a metahuman that possessed the Canary Cry, which is both something that Laurel and Sara had technological versions of in the past. I think part of the reason I really crew to like Dinah was because of how she was introduced. She wasn’t thrown in immediately like Rene. We got to see her be on the sideline for a little bit and get her moments to shine. It felt organic. I really like what Dinah represents as a character. She’s a strong woman that is equally strong physically as she is strong in her beliefs. She doesn’t take crap from anyone, she’s a supportive teammate, and she’s someone that I can root for. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Dinah next season, especially now that she’s officially taken on the Black Canary mantle at the suggestion of Quentin.

What Didn’t Work

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The First 16 Episodes | Basically. There might’ve been one or two or three episodes that were actually decent (like “Bratva” and “Invasion!”), but the first half of Arrow’s fifth season was a complete mess. Arrow has always been that show I could rely on for good television (unlike The Flash that had been disappointing me with Barry’s journey), but it just lost sight of itself in season 5. It pained me to write harsh reviews about Arrow, which had garnered nothing but positive reviews in the past. But as a fan of Arrow – the show that has existed for four years – I felt betrayed. This wasn’t Arrow anymore. Sure, it called itself Arrow and had my favorite characters, but everything seemed off. As if the first 16 episodes existed on board the Invaders spacecraft. It was a never-ending nightmare. The most disappointing aspect of Arrow in the first half of season 5 was the disservice to Oliver’s character. This is a guy we meant in the pilot episode as a ruthless killer. Throughout the following four seasons, we watched as he evolved into a hero – not perfect, not by any means, but he was a respectable hero that was doing more progressing than regressing. Until season 5. Oliver was someone else entirely for most of the season. He lost his edge – that instinct that has always guided him. But he wasn’t the only character that felt out of character. Felicity, Diggle, Thea, even Quentin felt OOC at times. I didn’t know what was happening. It was frustrating because after four years with these characters, I’d like to think I know them pretty well. If I could erase the first half of season 5 from my mind and cling to the final 6 episodes, I would every time.

The Balance of New Characters | I understand that a show like Arrow headed into its fifth season was going to introduce new faces, but the way that it went about it just didn’t sit right with me. When you’re introducing significant new characters into the fold, it’s important to do so with balance and intent. Rene, especially, was just thrust into the spotlight as a newbie while established characters were pushed to the back. It just wasn’t handled right. Even Felicity wasn’t a major presence into 12 episodes after her introduction in season 1. We got bits and pieces of her and watched as she organically became a part of the fold. Obviously with Oliver and Felicity looking for a new team early on in season 5, we were going to meet Rene, Evelyn, and Rory. But Rene was just thrown in our faces repeatedly to the point where anytime he was on screen I’d roll my eyes. And that’s not fair to his character. Especially when characters that have earned their place for four seasons were sidelined as a result. It’s possible to balance characters. But Arrow just wasn’t able to last season.

Oliver’s Character Regression | Usually I reserve this whole character regression thing for Barry Allen, who has been regressing since season 2. But Oliver Queen certainly gave him a run for his money in season 5. For most of the season, Oliver Queen wasn’t the Oliver Queen we had grown to know to this point. He wasn’t attentive to his surroundings, he didn’t put his love for the people he’s known for years above the trust of someone he’d known all of five minutes. You could say Prometheus abducting and torturing Oliver was the best thing that could’ve happened for Oliver’s journey. Don’t get me wrong, it was far from enjoyable watching Adrian put Oliver through that kind of emotional and physical torture. But Oliver, while he emerged brainwashed by Adrian, he also reemerged a better version of himself than when he went into it. Thankfully, Oliver progressed after a season filled with mostly regression. Here’s to praying that Oliver can be allowed to grow instead of retreat back into his old habits next season.

The Gun Issue | I can understand what Arrow was trying to do with “Spectre of the Gun,” but this wasn’t the show for this kind of issue. Arrow is a show that has always condoned violence as a means to solve a problem. I love Oliver, but he typically uses violence to get what he wants as Green Arrow. Whether it’s a bow and arrow, a bomb, a knife, or a gun, Arrow has glorified violence throughout its existence. Arrow has always been the darker show because that’s the kind of person Oliver was when we met him. He was created in darkness through those five years on the “island,” so we saw that reflected in his present. I’m all for television shows shining a light on an important issue, but Arrow was not the show to do it as far as gun violence or any violence for that matter is concerned. Not to mention the one character that actually had a significant experience with gun violence was silenced in the episode. That was just the icing on the cake for how terrible that was. 

What We Wanted More Of

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Arrow as Arrow | It sounds so simple, but it was something that Arrow struggled immensely with. Throughout the first 17 episodes, all I preached for was Arrow to be Arrow. The show that had been presented to us for four years. That is what your audience came to expect. So when you stray from that direction into something completely new that you dub “back to basics,” it doesn’t work. It feels foreign. It makes us angry. The core elements that have made Arrow a success and a show that has resonated with the audience were sidelined in a season that felt more like a revival than a continuation. While the final six episodes were a significant improvement, all is not forgiven. My trust has been lost. It can be earned back, of course, but with time and dedication. I understand that a show needs to evolve as it progresses, but it doesn’t need a complete overhaul when the elements that made it a success in the first place are still alive and well.

Thea Queen | Of all of the things that were sidelined in season 5, the one that angered me the most was the uncharacteristic and ridiculous sidelining of Thea Queen. Thea is a character that has been essential to Arrow since its first season, and her sidelining was both uncalled for and infuriating. We were promised so much with her character in the fifth season, but as new character after new character after new character was introduced, it was clear that someone had to take the blow. But why the hell was it Thea? Better yet, why was an established character that’s so important to Oliver’s journey wrongfully sidelined for newbies that felt unwelcome? Honestly, it felt like the writers were so focused on bringing in new characters that they completely just forgot what to do with Thea’s character. They decided to find some way, any way to send her away for a little bit before bringing her back for the finale. I hated it. She deserves better. I pray she gets better in season 6.

Original Team Arrow | Say what you want, but the trio of Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity are the heart of Arrow. They have been since season 1. It was the element of this small yet experienced team that was so efficient and so dynamic that it breathed life into what could’ve been a hollow, dark show. OTA has always been the heart of Arrow. But since season 3, we’ve seen a move away from it, which continues to baffle me. I’m not asking for Team Arrow to go back to just Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity. All I’m asking is for those moments between the three of them that reaffirms the faith that these three have a unique and beautiful dynamic. Like “Bratva,” which sent Team Arrow to Russia and allowed for some really organic moments between Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity that reinforced that bond. It’s those moments – and going out of your way to create those moments – that really provide the feels. Arrow has literal magic with OTA. I’m shocked they continue to underutilize it.

Olicity | Another core element of Arrow has been the romance between Oliver and Felicity. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that it’s been a focal point of Oliver’s journey in this series. It felt like the beginning of season 5 was all about Arrow steering away from what had worked for the previous four years, which included Olicity. There were moments that it was clear they were trying to under-emphasize Olicity in order to play out their mayor-reporter love disaster storyline. But even the writers couldn’t overcome Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards’ chemistry that created moments even when there weren’t scripted moments. Perhaps it was Arrow’s insistence that they had put Olicity too soon (*eye roll*) or that they wanted to truly separate them only to bring them back together later in the season. But it didn’t work. It made their relationship so uncharacteristic at times. It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey. The journey is the most important part. And Arrow just didn’t handle Olicity right in season 5.

Rory | Remember him? My favorite newbie that had such a strong introduction and significance, as well as a connection with Felicity, which was given and then snatched away from us. I’m still angry about that. Rory was the kind of character that reminded me of Felicity’s introduction or Dinah’s introduction as it was progressive and not immediate and in your face. There was so much potential with Rory, and it was just wasted. Sure, they left the door open for his return, but I don’t have a lot of faith these days.

What We Wanted Less Of

The CW

Susan Williams | Has there ever been a more useless character than Susan Williams? She literally contributed nothing to this season. If you take out all of her scenes it would affect literally nothing. Everything would be the same. The producers basically confirmed they wanted to do the mayor dating a reporter storyline. So apparently it was okay to jeopardize a relationship for a comic book storyline for a show that doesn’t really follow the comics. Okay… Let’s be honest, Susan never really stood a chance. The Olicity fandom was always going to not be a fan of hers. But it was the way her character was written that made it so much worse. She was a reporter dating Oliver in order to get a story. She was a reporter being unprofessional and unethical. She was someone that was manipulative and deceitful. And she still contributed nothing but migraines and hatred.

The Newbies | Honestly, Dinah is my favorite of the new characters introduced this season – and she didn’t even show up until the midseason premiere. But early on in the first part of the season especially, the newbies outweighed the established characters in terms of focus and significance. I understand bringing in new characters. But it’s something that takes time. Even Felicity wasn’t thrust directly into the story back in early season 1. Her character slowly became part of the larger narrative. That’s all I wanted with these newbies. But this goes back to the lack of focus of characters like Thea and Quentin, who saw significant declines in their storylines. While Dinah was introduced immediately, I thought her transition into the team and the show was more progressive like the writers learned from throwing Rene immediately into the fire. New characters are great. But it’s all about the execution. Don’t overwhelm the audience and take away the characters they already love and wave these newbies in front of their faces. It causes resentment.

“Back to Basics” | So this whole “back to basics” thing is enough to annoy the hell out of me. I’ll never be able to hear those words the same again. By definition, “back to basics” implies that you’re returning to something you’ve done previously. You know, not introducing something new and passing it off as classic. That’s what Arrow did early on in season 5. There was this promise of returning to some key elements that made Arrow a success in season 1 and the like. But all we got was a new feel that they kept telling us was “back to basics.” While it certainly hit on some elements from season 1, like Oliver being a killer (which made no sense for Oliver’s progression), for the most part it was a complete rehash of Oliver’s journey from killer to hero mixed with a whole lot of new aspects that felt overwhelming and out of place.

Flashbacks | With this season being the final year of Oliver’s island flashbacks, we were promised the best. After a couple of seasons of disappointment on the flashback front, we were hoping for a return to season 2-esque flashbacks. And while it certainly looked promising there in the beginning of the season, once again the flashbacks just seemed to stall midway through the season. I know the flashbacks are a big part of this five-year storyline as we see how Oliver became the person we met in the pilot, but these long seasons just seem to hurt the flashbacks in the long run. I liked the early stuff of seeing how Oliver was initiated into the Bratva and seeing how he became this ruthless killer, but there was a lot of filler in between that I could’ve done without, which once again is due to the 23-episode season. Though I will say, that season finale and the sequence where we see how Oliver got rescued was almost worth all the flashback pain over the years.

Favorite Episode

“Underneath” (Episode 5×20) | Say what you want, but it was the anticipation leading up to this episode and the execution that made this my favorite episode of the season. But seriously, “Lian Yu” was a very close second. “Underneath” wasn’t a huge episode in the grand scheme of things. It mostly took place in the bunker and provided some really amazing character moments for Oliver, Felicity, Diggle, and Lyla. I’m always a fan of the episodes where the characters and their emotions are the focal point. It’s why I care about television shows in the first place. It’s where the characters feel at their most real. “Underneath” was also the turning point for Olicity, which finally gave us some resolution to the shit show that was season 4’s baby mama drama. The message rang loud and clear with this episode: Olicity is back.

Least Favorite Episode

“Spectre of the Gun” (Episode 5×13) | This is truly a hard one, because I disliked so many episodes in season 5 (the first 17, anyway.) But I guess I have to go with “Spectre of the Gun” because it just upset me so much with the issue at hand and the way it was handled. 

Season Finale Impression

The CW

“Lian Yu” was honestly the best season finale since the season 2 finale, which was equally satisfying and surprising considering the mess that season 5 was. Given this was the final hour in the original five-year journey, there were a lot of expectations riding on this episode. They had to not only resolve this Adrian Chase storyline, but they also had to resolve Oliver’s five-year journey. And remarkably, Arrow was able to do both. And well. Considering how many people were in this finale (which had me concerned it would take away from it), Arrow managed to balance all of those storylines well while also providing closure for one chapter (Oliver’s five-year journey) and delivering one hell of an explosive cliffhanger, which in the moment left my jaw on the ground, as we head into the next chapter. There were some great character moments in this episode, as well as some interactions that were really great to behold. While it was action-packed and worthy of an Arrow season finale, there were some great emotional moments that made me happy as a viewer. For the first time in a long time, I’m actually looking forward to seeing what happens next. Consider that a good thing.

Season 6 Speculation

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Obviously, Lian Yu blew up. Obviously, the Arrow writers want us to believe everyone but Oliver and his son died. Obviously, everyone is not dead. We’re not stupid. Arrow isn’t going to be just about Oliver and his son. Somehow, some way, our favorites made it either underground to the ARGUS bunker or found a way off the island via the ARGUS boat. But our core group of characters certainly survived. Now, that’s not to say that there probably weren’t a couple of casualties in the process, but it’s highly unlikely that it involves our faves like Felicity, Diggle, and Thea. Assuming Arrow continues its tradition of keeping up with real time, five months will have passed since that explosion. So, it makes sense to pick up in the present and flashback to the island and what happened. Given what we were shown in the finale, it also looks as if we’ll finally get to see the Olicity reunion. Hopefully the writers can leave them alone and just let them be a couple on this show and let storylines happen organically. As for what happens after that, we’d like to be optimistic. But we’re just going to wait and see if this turns out good or bad.

What were your thoughts on Arrow season 5? Sound off in the comments!

Arrow returns for season 6 Thursdays this fall at 9/8c on The CW.

Alyssa Barbieri

Senior Managing Editor

Teacher by day, writer by every other free moment. Obsessed with sports, TV, books, movies, and superheroes. Proud shipper and supporter of strong female characters. TV Editor and Sports Editor. I write about DCTV, This Is Us and so much more. Contact: alyssa@fangirlish.com.

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