Arrow 5×01 Review: Moving Forward

Heading into its season five premiere, Arrow has been touted as going “back to basics” in terms of tone. That was certainly evident in “Legacy,” which included direct callbacks to the pilot (including Oliver being tied up, casually untying himself, and then killing a guy), as well as a more street-level style of fighting that literally flew off the screen.

With a title like “Legacy,” this episode set up the season’s journey for everyone, which consists of thinking about your legacy. To quote Hamilton, “What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” So this season isn’t so much about the end product – the legacy they leave behind – so much as it’s about them laying the groundwork for the legacy they would like to leave behind one day.

But another prevalent theme of the premiere was moving forward. With the number of times someone told Oliver to “move forward” this was as in-your-face with a theme as one can get. So many things were different than they were one year ago: Team Arrow was down Diggle, Thea, and Laurel; Laurel was alive; Oliver and Felicity were practically engaged (then engaged three months later).

The struggle for Oliver in this episode consisted of him clinging to the past with ungodly stubbornness until – with the help of his light, Felicity Smoak, and John Diggle – he realized that he had to start moving forward. There’s only so long you can live in the past before the present catches up to you.

While Arrow’s season five premiere wasn’t perfect, there were certain aspects of it that were sensational. Oliver and Felicity, while taking a break on the romantic end of things, were at their best bickering like an old married couple and flirty as hell in what brought a sense of levity to a dark hour. James Bamford upped the production quality of the fight sequences that were compelling and jaw dropping with every scene. And for the first time since season two, I actually gave a damn about the flashbacks.

Arrow’s season five premiere introduced several storylines that we can expect throughout this “back to basics year.” It promised us a compelling year of flashbacks, kickass action sequences, and it showed us that there is more than hope for Oliver and Felicity this season. All in all, a solid season premiere.

Oliver Kills Again

I’m not going to lie, watching Oliver kill again in the same nature he did in the pilot when he was a ruthless killer was not something that sat well with me. One of the amazing things about Oliver Queen’s characterization over the past four years has been that he’s progressed throughout each season. He’s far from perfect, yes, but he would learn from his mistakes and grow as a person. It was his journey to becoming the Green Arrow.

Thea voiced my concern exactly when she told Oliver that putting killing back on the table was a step backward. There it is. My least favorite thing (other than Lauriver): character regression. Come on, Arrow, you’re usually better than this. Leave it to The Flash to do character regression.

Obviously something has snapped inside of Oliver. And I’m not convinced it has to do with just Laurel’s death. One of the things that Lance told Oliver really struck a chord with me. After revealing that his relationship with Donna couldn’t withstand his trauma, Lance said it was easy for him to fall off the wagon when he didn’t have anyone there to stay sober for. And the same can be said for Oliver. While Quentin struggles with booze, Oliver struggles with killing.

In a way, Oliver and Quentin are experiencing paralleling unhealthy emotional responses. While Quentin is grieving about Laurel and losing Donna, Oliver is struggling handling the losses of Diggle and Thea from the team, Laurel, and the loss of Felicity as his romantic partner. Quentin admitted that he needed someone to stay sober for, but Oliver hasn’t really acknowledged the parallel of his situation to Quentin’s. In time, my love.

In the flashbacks we’re just beginning to see how dark of a descent Oliver is about to make with the Bratva. With flashbacks typically mirroring the present, no doubt Oliver’s struggle this season is going to be finding the balance between restrant and killing when necessary. He’s not there yet.

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Since season two, Oliver has taken on a no-kill vow; a vow he only broke when the Count threatened Felicity’s life in season two. And that’s just it. That’s an example of killing when necessary and not just because. That’s the balance that Oliver is going to have to find this season in the present. While Flashback Oliver is busy spiraling into a deep hole of darkness where killing is the only way to survive, present Oliver is going to learn to find that balance.

Oliver and Felicity’s Future is Alive and Well

No doubt one of the prominent questions heading into Arrow’s fifth season has centered around the future of Oliver and Felicity. Since the fan-favorite, endgame couple broke up last season it appears as if these past five months have been spent working through that tension off screen to come to a professional understanding. But that doesn’t mean this is the end of Olicity as a romantic couple. Not even close. In fact, it’s just the beginning of their reunion.

After “Legacy” – yes, even after seeing Felicity’s temporary, generic-looking boyfriend – I’m more confident than ever that Oliver and Felicity will reunite by season’s end. Throughout the years, Arrow’s season premiere has mirrored the season finale in many ways. And this won’t be any different. “Legacy” showed us just how strong Oliver and Felicity have grown over these past five months as a team.

While Oliver and Felicity weren’t romantically involved they might as well have been given the extremely flirty nature on both ends. The reason why Olicity is even a thing is because of the organic chemistry between Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards. Throughout the years they’ve proven that even in instances with non-romantic implications that their chemistry cannot be matched. And sometimes it’s in those non-romantic moments where their chemistry truly shines. But then again, it’s the subtle nods from Amell and Rickards where they communicate their characters’ feelings in a moment that makes certain scenes stand out.

Just look at them…

And here…

Perfection and endgame embodied.

If we have to sit through a season of longing glances and extreme flirtation between Oliver and Felicity before they reunite in the season finale, then I’m game. Though our televisions might not survive that heat.

Of course one of the biggest factors in Oliver and Felicity’s break up was the lack of communication. This episode showed Oliver and Felicity disagree about something – the new vigilantes – and actually talk their way through it. They both voiced their concerns and worked through it like the mature adults we know them to be. That was everything. That’s the first step in getting back to where they were. No, not getting back. Getting somewhere even better.

Of course with the repetitive message of “move forward,” I can’t help but wonder if that’s something Oliver might consider in future episodes, especially if he gets wind of Felicity’s temporary, generic-looking boyfriend. But that’s just me putting the writers’ glasses on (and with hearing the rumors about Oliver possibly getting a love interest. I don’t advise reading the Internet and letting your mind reel. For all I know it’s nothing. Let’s face it, when Oliver has eyes for Felicity he doesn’t have eyes for anyone else.)

But with that said, I believe if Oliver does decide to “try” to move forward that his attempt will crash and burn, and he’ll realize that it’s only right to move on if it’s not worth fighting for. And he knows – he knows it in his bones – that Felicity will always be worth fighting for.

And the same will apply to Felicity. While she does have a temporary, generic-looking boyfriend at present, that doesn’t mean that she’s entirely satisfied or even in the right frame of mind. As we know, Felicity will soon have to relive the emotional trauma from Havenrock. That’s not something she can run from, even if she’s sprinting.

It bears repeating, but before Oliver and Felicity reunite romantically they need to both be in the right frame of mind. And both of them are far from it. Oliver is back to his killing ways. Felicity is trying so hard to force denial on the Havenrock fallout. They’ll both have to eventually confront their issues. And then they’ll both be one step closer to each other.

Perhaps one of the most important things for Olicity fans to keep in mind this season in terms of Olicity is: Pay attention to how Oliver and Felicity interact as partners on Team Arrow; pay attention to how they communicate; pay attention to how their relationship gets stronger with each passing week. That will be the key for them reuniting romantically.

Here’s the cold-hard truth: it’s not going to be an easy journey for Oliver and Felicity this season. If that were the case, they would’ve been married last season and probably thinking about kids. But the path to true love is never easy. Especially on superhero shows.

But that’s what we have to expect and accept with Olicity being endgame. The endgame couples are often those that have to go through hell and back before they’re finally together. Of course we’re all hoping that season five is the final year of this, and that Oliver and Felicity can function and exist as a healthy, couple that just happen to be saving their city. That’s the dream. Hopefully it’s closer than we believe.

P.S.: On the subject of Felicity’s temporary, generic-looking boyfriend: I’m not too worried. At all.

But seeing him in the loft where Oliver and Felicity lived — and would’ve and still might — share their future made me angry beyond belief.

Finally, the Flashbacks Resonate

In one episode of flashbacks, the storyline surrounding Oliver’s descent into the Bratva was more compelling than the entirety of season three and four’s flashbacks combined. It’s about damn time I cared about the flashbacks.

One of my complaints about last year’s flashbacks – especially at the end – was how Oliver lacked that darkness that he was supposed to take back with him to Starling City in the pilot. Of course we were still missing a year of flashbacks, but Flashback Oliver in season four was too light for my liking. It didn’t make sense. It even had me wondering if this year’s flashbacks could succeed in making it believable that Oliver was that dark killer we met in the pilot.

But somehow the season five premiere managed to do just that in some seven minutes of focus. Not only was this a storyline that has been five years in the making, but this was a storyline that promised a darkness that Stephen Amell manages to make sexy as hell.

For once, I sat up straighter when the flashbacks came on and cursed the Hurricane Warning banner at the bottom of my television for blocking the subtitles. But these flashbacks gave us a tease of the goodness we can expect this season. Let’s just hope that it keeps the momentum going in the final year of flashbacks.

Thea Puts Herself First

Following Thea’s decision to leave Team Arrow at the end of season four, we were left wondering how Thea would respond to her becoming someone she didn’t recognize. While Thea did a lot of good as Speedy, she also did some questionable things, which in the final hour of Arrow season four prompted her to step back and examine herself. And that ended up being the best thing she could’ve done.

When we find Thea in season five, she’s taken on a new role as Oliver’s mayoral council as she’s basically running Star City as Oliver struggled as a one-man-in-the-field unit. But this was a new version of Thea; passionate, confident, powerful. So much like her mother. Thea had found herself.

It was no surprise when Oliver repeatedly tried to get her to rejoin the team because of his own selfish need to have things be like they used to. What he failed to see was how the vigilante, crime fighting life didn’t bring out the best in her. And she was doing what was right for her in stepping back. There is more than one way to help save a city, and Thea was helping in her own way.

What I absolutely loved was how Thea put herself first in the decision. This wasn’t about being a badass superhero with a cool costume and shooting arrows like a videogame. No, this was Thea’s livelihood. This wasn’t a lifestyle that was healthy for her. So she stepped away. Even when she went out to help Oliver in the premiere, she stepped back again because she caught a glimpse of what was becoming of Oliver as he turned to killing again. And she was not about to let that happen to her again.

The Retconning of Laurel Lance

While Laurel Lance was never my favorite character on Arrow, it was nice to see the show pay tribute to her in dedicating a Black Canary statue (which could’ve been better, I’ll admit). But there’s something about the characterization of Laurel since her death that has rubbed me the wrong way. In death, the Arrow writers are choosing to rewrite the character in a more positive light.

Here’s the thing, when you choose to do that you forget that there are four previous seasons from which to draw from. In seasons 1-3, Laurel wasn’t this martyr that the show has tried to make her. She’s had her vices; she’s killed; she’s encouraged dark behavior. Just because she died and you need someone to be a symbol of all that is good and holy doesn’t mean you can rewrite a character that has a well-established story where we already know who she is. Especially since TNT just re-aired the first two seasons of Arrow this week.

And every time Oliver killed someone he used her death as a means to justify it. I’m sorry, Laurel’s death is no excuse. For anybody.

But more than anything there was an extreme over-focus on Laurel in the premiere. Her name was mentioned too many times. I’m not sure how many, I just know it was too many. While the episode was titled “Legacy,” there was a lack of focus on some of the core characters that are still alive. Laurel’s mark on the episode didn’t have as significant an impact as it could’ve had it been more subtle and meaningful.

Some Observations…

  • Felicity’s temporary boyfriend is so generic looking.
  • Diggle sporting scruff needs to be permanent when he returns to Team Arrow.
  • Snarky Oliver was so delightful (“But that’s because I think you’re stupid.”)
  • The action sequences were PHENOMENAL. This is what we’ve been missing with the supernatural overtaking last season.
  • Oliver and Diggle skyping hit me in an emotional place I wasn’t prepared for.
  • How did Laurel’s statue get more airtime than John Diggle?
  • Laurel’s name was said too many times. I’m not sure how many, but I know it was far too many.
  • Um, please tell me Quentin is going to fight to get Donna back once he cleans up?
  • No, but seriously how generic looking is Felicity’s temporary boyfriend? The cop at the end looked just like him.
  • Tobias Church’s swagger and ruthlessness was brilliantly compelling and concerning.
  • Also, Chad Coleman was totally channeling Negan from Walking Dead with the baseball bat, right? Right?
  • Thea and Quentin’s heart-to-heart…um, I’m going to need more of that.
  • “I used to ditch John Diggle” was my favorite callback of the night.
  • This was the first season opener that didn’t involve Oliver running in the opening scene.
  • I’m already intrigued with Prometheus. Tell me more.

Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on The CW.

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