Arrow Season 4 Review: Far From Perfect, But Still Pretty Solid

Following a season that was rocky across the board, Arrow’s fourth season looked to reinvent itself as it began a new chapter in Oliver Queen’s story. While Arrow set out to begin that new chapter somewhere along the way the show became something that it’s not; a world with mysticism and superpowers that have never belonged. Granted, a portion of that had to do with Arrow being the show that has shepherded each of the DC spinoffs on The CW, but Arrow got too far away from what made it the success in the first place.

While Arrow’s fourth season was far from perfect, be it with useless drama or unnecessary story elements, overall it was still a solid season that didn’t disappoint. Where it faltered with the overall tone of the show it made up for with certain character arcs, including Oliver’s continued growth as the Green Arrow, Diggle’s storyline with his brother, and Felicity finally getting a storyline of her outside of her romantic involvement with Oliver, which was also a solid storyline.

While there was controversy over Black Canary’s death, Arrow managed to wrap its fourth season on a high note setting the stage for what appears to be a season five where Arrow will return to its grounded roots.

Overall Impression

While Arrow was far from perfect in its fourth season the thing is that it was a pretty solid season across the board. While the first half of the season was stronger than the middle, as is per usual, the final run of episodes got Arrow back to where it needed to be as it heads into season five. The main issue of season four rested in the fact that Arrow tried to be something it’s not; something that dabbled in mysticism and superpowers. That’s just never been what the show is. The show has been about the grounded reality that these characters we love fight for. While issues like the mysticism, Laurel’s death, and the baby mama drama were sore spots in season four, there were some high moments for the show, including exploring Oliver and Felicity as a couple, John Diggle’s arc with his brother, Felicity’s storyline, and an impressive midseason finale that broke all of our hearts. The most encouraging thing to come out of season four was the final run of episodes that showcased that Arrow is headed back in the direction for which it was first established.

What Worked

Arrow -- "Unchained" -- Image AR412B_0044b.jpg -- Pictured: Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak -- Photo: Liane Hentscher/ The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
The CW
Oliver’s Progression

While some angered fans claim that Arrow isn’t about Oliver Queen (ludicrous, I know), the season’s central storyline centered around the masked hero that now goes by Green Arrow as he progressed from a hopeless hero living only in the darkness to a hopeful hero in the light. One of the more intriguing parts about Arrow has always been Oliver’s journey from that man we met in the pilot – a cold killer immersed in darkness – and how he ultimately evolves into a full-fledged hero that embraces the light – a hero we haven’t yet met but are in the process of seeing develop. This season we got to see Oliver struggle with being a hero in the light as well as the dark, something that was challenged by the emotional hardships he faced, including his split with Felicity and Laurel’s death.

Oliver has always been a character that has not only lived in the darkness but believes that’s what he deserves. That rests in Oliver’s mindset, which is something that he’s needed to work on. He needs to understand that happiness is not only attainable but something he deserves. But people can change if they’re willing to, and that’s exactly the growth we saw from him: Oliver wanted to change, so he did change. It’s hard to inspire hope within your city if you don’t possess hope yourself. But Oliver learned the power of hope when combatting the evils of darkness, and was able to use it as a weapon against Damien Darhk.

Oliver and Felicity’s Relationship

Something that Arrow has almost always done right has been Oliver and Felicity’s relationship. There was never really an urgency to get them to hook up. There was development of their partnership, their friendship, and finally that exploration of their romantic feelings that made for a satisfying payoff when the two rode off into the sunset in season 3’s final moments. One of season 4’s strengths was the exploration of Oliver and Felicity as a couple in the first half of the season. We got to see them thrive in bliss in Ivy Town and later challenged with tests that couples face in a relationship when they returned to Star City. While Oliver and Felicity may be perfect for each other, they’re not perfect. Which is a great thing.

While I wasn’t a fan of the way the writers handled their relationship with the baby mama drama of it all – there were better ways to test their relationship – there’s no denying that the first half of the season showed exactly why Olicity is so important to this show, regardless of what some haters might believe. Oliver and Felicity were a team within a team as they faced the struggles thrown at them by Damien Darhk and such, as well as faced the challenges that their relationship and own insecurities threw at them. There was a levity to Oliver Queen in that first half of the season that we hadn’t seen on the show before, and it was something truly wonderful. Felicity is Oliver’s heart, as he is hers. Not to mention getting to watch the natural chemistry between Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards as they breathed life into this relationship that fans had been dying so long to see. It was satisfying, and I look forward to seeing continued exploration – and reconciliation – next season.

John and Andy Diggle

For far too long John Diggle has been sidelined in favor of other characters or new characters being introduced as a means to shepherd them into “superherodom.” But season four finally focused on Diggle’s story, which included his relationship with his not-so-dead brother Andy. This arc proved to be quite consistent and satisfying as we saw Diggle start off not-so-trusting, considering Andy was working for Darhk, only to grow to trust Andy again, and finally find himself betrayed by his double-agent brother. That betrayal prompted the darkest material we’ve seen from Diggle to this point, which was equally intriguing as it was painful to those of us that love Diggle.

John Diggle’s relationship with his brother was something that drove his character from the start of Arrow. In the beginning it was about getting justice for his brother’s death, but it unexpectedly became about getting justice for his brother’s betrayal. Getting to see two different aspects to Diggle’s relationship with his brother was quite satisfying as a viewer. It took the character to two completely different mindsets and challenged him with both. Of course after Andy’s betrayal led to Laurel’s death, Diggle began down a dark path, which was something we’ve never seen of his character. That prompted John to take a step back and work on finding his way back on the right path, which was the man we met in the pilot. This storyline was great because it’s not just a singular storyline. It’s something that will continue to impact Diggle’s character as we head into a new season.

Focus on Felicity’s Story

For a character that has been on Arrow since the show’s third episode, heading into season four we hadn’t gotten much story with Felicity outside her romantic involvement with Oliver. As Felicity stepped into the leading lady role, we got to delve into not only pieces of her past with her father but also her professional life outside of Team Arrow. Felicity’s story served not only as a means to explore Felicity’s life but also to introduce Curtis Holt, who along with Felicity have become this incredibly charismatic, comedic duo. Felicity’s role as CEO of Palmer Tech and badass tech of Team Arrow served as a nice parallel to Oliver’s time as CEO of Queen Consolidated right down to the ousting by the board. It was nice to see Felicity thrive in that leadership role, as well as struggle and persevere in her personal life.

One of the more inspiring storylines of the season came with Felicity’s paralysis following Damien Darhk’s attack on Oliver and Felicity’s limo in the midseason finale. The way with which Emily Bett Rickards played Felicity’s internal struggle was both moving and painful with its honesty. Getting to watch Felicity struggle and then overcome that emotional adversity and then struggle with preconceptions back at Palmer Tech was inspirational.

Introduction of Curtis Holt

Much like Felicity Smoak enchanted audiences when she made her debut back in early season one, Curtis Holt was a new face that just stole the hearts of the audience almost flawlessly. His effortless comedic timing along with his pure heart was a recipe for success. But Arrow didn’t just use Curtis as the comedic relief. We got to see the beginnings of his character going down the Mr. Terrific path, as we met his husband and got to see his love for technology flourish. We even got to see Curtis become an honorary member of Team Arrow, which is setting up Curtis joining the team next season, as well. When it comes to introducing new characters sometimes it doesn’t feel as seamless a transition into the preexisting cast, but Curtis’ introduction felt genuine.

What Didn’t Work

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Baby Mama Drama

Never has a storyline irked me like this one, and that includes those certain storylines with Laurel. This “baby mama drama,” to which it’s referred, was the most unnecessary and useless form of useless drama that I’ve ever seen on this show. The way that Oliver’s son storyline was played out was in order to set the stage for an obstacle for Oliver and Felicity more than anything. It was cheap, senseless drama. It was drama for the sake of drama.

Here’s the thing, if this storyline had been handled the right way it could’ve been something special. There were different directions this show could’ve taken with Oliver’s son with a focus on Oliver and Felicity’s relationship, including using Felicity being abandoned by her father when she was young as a

The Magic

Arrow has always thrived in its groundedness while always walking the fine line between realism and the supernatural. But with it ushering in new shows it’s had to cross that line time and again. While I admire Arrow wanting to try something different in season four, I don’t know if magic was really the way to go. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Damien Darhk as a villain, but Arrow kind of lost a bit of itself in the magic. Arrow has always been believable, but the significance and scale of the magic in season four felt like it hindered the show more than helped it. It would’ve been one thing for it to be a small part of the season’s storyline, but there was too much magic both in the present and the flashbacks that made a usually believable show not-so-believable.

The Flashbacks

While Arrow’s initial concept relied on this five-year flashback system to explain how Oliver Queen went from spoiled playboy billionaire to the killer we met in season one, the flashbacks have never been the strongest part of the show. But this season was as frustrating as ever with the lone bright spot coming from John Constantine’s cameo, which was the most fluid the flashbacks felt this season.

While it was nice to see Oliver return to Lian Yu after spending season three’s flashbacks in Hong Kong, the storyline felt ludicrous (especially with the mystical) and took me out of that story. The pointless introduction of Flashback Girl, whose name I still can’t remember, had no purpose whatsoever other than to send Oliver to Russia in his final flashback year, although there are plenty of other ways they could’ve had Oliver go to Russia. The simple fact of the matter is that a good portion of Arrow’s audience doesn’t care about the flashbacks, which is unfortunate because they had a personal element in seasons one and two that made them sort of interesting.

Laurel’s Death

While Laurel’s death made sense in the grand scheme of things – knowing that a major character death was coming – the way that they handled her death after that fateful 18th episode felt less than satisfying for the character. In that succeeding episode it became more about Laurel’s supposed “love” for Oliver more than Laurel’s four-year journey on this show. Laurel has never been defined by her love life; none of these characters have been. Laurel’s story has always been about getting justice for those that couldn’t get it.

The frustrating thing about “Canary Cry” was that the episode failed to capitalize on what defined Laurel. In a way, bringing this “love” for Oliver into this episode was more of a way to keep Oliver a part of this storyline when it was never about him. Laurel deserved her own episode apart from Oliver to wrap up her story.

Getting to explore emotional connections between characters has always been one of Arrow’s strengths, but it failed Laurel in her final episode. When it came to the people Laurel loved most in her life it was hands down her sister Sara and her father, not Oliver. That was more for the fans of the pair than anything (you know, that bad word: fanservice). When it comes to wrapping up Laurel’s journey – essentially her superhero journey – it should’ve been Sara that was that emotional tether. Sara has been integral in Laurel’s Black Canary storyline, as has Laurel’s father. We deserved some Lance resolution from this storyline.

The Grave Tease

One of the things that Arrow established in its season four premiere was that there was a major death that would be coming to the show. While it made a fantastic impact in the premiere, as time wore on the grave storyline became a tad annoying as fans were constantly speculating about who was in the grave. Not that the speculation wasn’t good – cause boy we sure had fun with it. But when it came time for the death – with all of the teasing and advertising that it was coming – it took away from the emotional impact that the death could’ve had because we were expecting it. Look at Moira’s death in season two. That was an example of a death done right – not that I will ever get over that death – as it was such a shock and all you could do was watch and just react. I always hate it when shows tease deaths because it does lose that shock value that they’re going for. If anything, tease that something game-changing is going down.

What We Wanted to See More Of

Arrow -- "Restoration" -- Image AR403A_0217b.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Steven Amell as Oliver Queen, Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak and David Ramsey as John Diggle -- Photo: Diyah Pera /The CW -- © 2015 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
The CW
Gritty, Grounded Reality

While it’s great that Arrow has been responsible for the superhero renaissance on television, one of the downsides to that has been the show’s redirection where it essentially had to be something it wasn’t. Arrow has always been the superhero show without superpowers, but that’s always worked. It’s always been a dark take on the superhero genre where hero Oliver Queen’s only “superpower” was his superskill with a bow. There’s always been something so relatable about Arrow in that at its core it’s a show where a masked hero and his team and fighting crime and protecting their city from the annual terrorist attacks that come their way (“Must be May.”) It may be a show about a superhero, but it’s the most realistic one on television due to a certain gritty nature that put it on the map.

The end of season four showed signs of Arrow getting back to that grounded nature as Oliver, Diggle, Felicity, and team took the battle to the streets as opposed to relying on the super nature of this vastly expanding universe. It showed in the action sequences, it showed in the performances, and it showed in the overall execution of the storyline. Sure, the mystical element couldn’t be ignored, but the way that Team Arrow worked together – each with a distinct purpose – reminded me of that very grounded way that they used to handle those that threatened their city on a weekly basis. One of the more encouraging aspects of the end of season four was a certain clear intention that season five should see Arrow return to its true nature. And the desire from the actors, including Stephen Amell, to bring back those aspects that made Arrow, well, Arrow certainly helps matters.

Original Team Arrow

There’s no denying that the heart of Arrow has always been and will always be the trio of Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity. Back when the show was finding its legs, Original Team Arrow brought a genuineness to the show that really hooked audiences. Superhero shows aren’t just about the big action and stunt sequences or the big-name heroes or villains, it’s about the characters that inhabit this world and keep us coming back week after week. Arrow captured lightning in a bottle with Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity, as their natural chemistry and teamwork brought something unique and needed to a show whose hero was doused in darkness. So it’s so no wonder why fans – including this one – want to see more of that interaction, which has since been sidelined due to new members on the team.

When I say I wanted more Original Team Arrow, I’m not just talking in a physical means where it’s just Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity on the team. What I mean is more moments between the three of them where they’re just talking or providing those words of wisdom and encouragement or just having a laugh. It’s those small moments that remind us that the true heart of a superhero show rests with its characters. There were definitely opportunities for more of these moments in season four, but they were often delegated to other characters. Whenever I see the three of them together it reminds me why I fell in love with this show in the firstplace.

Lyla Michaels

One of the unsung heroes of Arrow who hasn’t gotten her due credit is Lyla Michaels, who has been a significant part of this show for three seasons now. In a way Lyla is an honorary member of Original Team Arrow in that she’s been there since season two. She’s earned her place as a member of this team and has helped on numerous occasions, including most recently with employing A.R.G.U.S. to help fend off Damien Darhk’s nuclear attack. Lyla embodies everything you’d expect from a strong female on Arrow: she’s strong (and not just physically), intelligent, caring, and badass in every way possible. She’s one of those ordinary heroes that doesn’t wear a costume that is out there saving this world every day. While Lyla was most recently a significant part of the close of season four, it’s hard to believe that she isn’t present as often as a character of her caliber should be. Given Lyla’s connection with A.R.G.U.S., which she’s now the director, as well as her being married to Diggle, Arrow should utilize her more from a storypoint. Especially if it’s headed back to that gritty, groundedness we know Arrow to be.

What We Wanted to See Less Of

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The Flashbacks

I feel like a broken record at this point, but the flashbacks are becoming more of an inconvenience than anything at this point. I understand what Arrow is trying to do with the flashbacks – connect Oliver’s past to the man we met in the pilot – but its execution has been far from impressive or even decent in these past two seasons. This season had its high points – mainly John Constantine’s connection with Oliver – but it most had its low points, which included flashback girl (whose name I still don’t know to this point) and this mystical element that always felt off for a show that has never been about that kind of stuff. Arrow’s flashbacks have traditionally been the time when the audience uses the bathroom (truth), but I miss the time when the flashbacks were interesting in seasons one and two.

Propping of Other Superheroes

One of the good things about being the show responsible for the existence of spinoffs is the lead status. But one of the bad things is that when it comes to introducing new heroes or shows to this DC universe that it’s often at the expense of your own show. That has always been one of the problems for Arrow in expanding this DC universe on The CW, as Arrow has basically had to shepherd these other shows by being something it’s not. Arrow has never been a show about superpowers, yet when it has to introduce these new heroes it’s forced to adapt to this new surroundings. Arrow has always spent more time than it should propping other heroes at the expense of the core cast of characters that often get sidelined. It happened in season three; and it happened in season four; and each season it’s incredibly agitating and disrespectful to the characters that don’t get enough time on their own show.

Inconsistent Fight Sequences

Arrow has always been known for its sensational, Emmy-worthy stunts, and Oliver Queen has always been someone known to easily take on multiple opponents at once almost effortlessly. But something that Arrow has struggled with since the expansion of Team Arrow has been an inconsistency with its fight execution. When it was just Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity, Oliver and Diggle were each delegated in their roles in the field taking on the baddies. But with new additions on the team throughout the past few seasons there have been times when there are too many fighters out in the field and not enough opposition, which has often resulted in ridiculous fights where it’s three, sometimes four members of the team fighting against one foe. In a way Oliver’s fighting skills have been dumbed down to accommodate the expanded team. Then other times, when it’s just Oliver, we’ve seen traces of that old Oliver that can handle himself against a hallway full of fighters and emerge victorious. Obviously that inconsistency was because of the new fighters in the field, but Arrow failed to acclimate to this new environment. But when Arrow focused on those badass stunt sequences, especially when James Bamford at the helm, it reminded me just how much I missed those beautifully crafted fight sequences.

Favorite Episodes

“Dark Waters” (Episode 4×09) – The midseason finale was one of the most impressive hours of the season as Damien Darhk became a legitimate threat, Oliver and Felicity got engaged, and Felicity’s life hung in the balance in the most mean cliffhanger ever.

“A.W.O.L.” (Episode 4×11) – This episode featured incredible storylines for both Felicity and Diggle, as Felicity struggled with her newfound paralysis and we got a glimpse into John Diggle’s past and present with his brother Andy.

“Green Arrow” (Episode 4×01) – The season premiere was a solid start to a new chapter of Oliver Queen’s journey as we followed his journey from suburban bliss with Felicity back to Star City where a new threat awaited him.

Least Favorite Episodes

“Legends of Yesterday” (Episode 4×08) – The unnecessary baby mama drama basically ruined the second half of this Arrow/Flash crossover event.

“Taken” (Episode 4×15) – Despite the satisfaction with Vixen’s introduction, this episode brought that baby mama drama back to the show.

“Canary Cry” (Episode 4×19) – This episode had the potential to be great, but it ultimately failed Laurel’s character as it focused more on Oliver than Laurel.

Season Finale Impression

While it wasn’t necessarily a shocking finale with a signature cliffhanger, “Schism” was a satisfying close to Arrow’s fourth season. Following last season’s finale that felt like a series finale in how it wrapped things up, this year’s finale felt like an actual season finale. The Damien Darhk arc was wrapped up, as was hopefully that mystical element that never felt like a genuine part of Arrow. The finale was far from perfect, which included Darhk’s demise which felt too convenient. We also wrapped Oliver’s arc of learning to be a hero both in the dark and in the light, which will continue to be built on come season five. But not everything was wrapped up in a neat little bow, which is what a season finale should do. “Schism” set up several significant storylines for next season just short of the big bad that will make his introduction. This finale managed to do what Arrow of season’s past was known for: bring the emotion and heart in as grounded a way as you can when magic and nuclear missiles are involved.

Next Season Speculation

While last year’s finale left the door literally wide open for anything and everything, this season’s final hour teased what storylines we can expect for season five. Season four began with Oliver and Felicity away from Star City while Diggle, Thea, and Laurel remained to defend the city. But following the schism of Team Arrow, which found Diggle returning to the military and Thea and Quentin each taking some personal time, season five will likely find Oliver and Felicity working together to watch over Star City. Perhaps Curtis Holt, who will be a regular face next season, will assist.

Then of course on the Oliver and Felicity front we’ll find these two ex-lovers working to rebuild that trusting foundation that has always been key in their relationship before working their way back to each other in that romantic aspect. Hopefully that’s something we’ll get to see onscreen rather than off-screen. Season five also marks the final year of Oliver’s “island” flashbacks, which will bring Mr. Queen to Russia and will get to explore his dealings with the Bratva, which might just end up being the most intriguing year of flashbacks yet. And don’t forget the season’s big bad, who just might have a connection to Oliver’s Bratva past. If he turns out to be like that description teased on TVLine then this definitely has the potential to be a fantastic storyline.

What were your thoughts on Arrow season four?

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