This article contains spoilers up to, and including the season 4 finale.
Arrow is a show based on the DC comic book character, Green Arrow. It airs in the USA on The CW network and in the UK on Sky1. Starring Stephen Amell as the title character, it is set in the fictional Star City. As part of the DC TV Universe, it enjoys a shared universe with The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and (sort of) Supergirl. Created by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg, this WB TV show was, up until recently, one of my favourite shows. I started watching from the beginning in February of this year, feeling left out by missing the full effect of the crossover episodes. I watched season one and two in quick succession. I then slowed down a little for season three. By season four, I picked up watching The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow to keep the continuity. The other three kept me going through what, in my opinion, was a poor representation of what the show could be. Today we are going to look at the big question – What happened to Arrow?
To answer that question, we need to really look at what made the first two seasons (and most of season three) so great. Firstly, a few of the characters. The early days Oliver Queen was a ruthless vigilante who would do anything to save his city. Fresh from his torture on the island of Lian Yu, he brought back strength, agility, combat skills and a drive to repair what his family had damaged in the past. This drive pushed him to face anyone who he deemed had failed the city. He was skilled with a bow and hand to hand combat, preferring, however, to remain in the shadows. He knew that bloodshed was necessary, and although he did kill some people, it was always to the benefit of his city. His experiences on the island acted as training for his return to Starling (as it was called) city. The torture he experienced there steeled him for his battles to come. However, by the end of season four, we see a completely different Oliver. While he appears to outwardly want to protect his city, his motivations include revenge, love, hatred and sometimes “just because”. His experiences on Lian Yu move from tentatively believable (this is, after all, a comic book show) to completely ridiculous. The convoluted ways that the character was forced to grow at the hands of the writers made it difficult to watch.
Another character to look at is Felicity Smoak. She is a polarising character, as I will discuss later, but it cannot be denied that she is a characteristic feature of early and modern Arrow. She was introduced as an IT support worker working for Queen Consolidated, the family business of the Queen family. After being recruited for odd “Arrow-based” tasks, she eventually became a concrete member of Team Arrow, offering technical and strategic support. She was a fully fleshed out three-dimensional character. She sported a crush on Oliver, which also made her one of the funniest characters on the show. Her smart comments, nervous reactions and sarcastic responses all made her entertaining to watch. She was amazing at both of her jobs, achieving what the team usually believed impossible. Felicity had a history, which was drip fed to the viewer. The cheery blonde cup of sunlight and rainbows wasn’t always that, which made her all the more interesting. However, things changed. Most recently we have seen a different Felicity. Irresponsible, angry, sulky and impossible to understand, the writers have worked so hard to push the Oliver and Felicity relationship, that they have ruined what they had. To do this, the writers took the bold (but altogether poor) move of seemingly turning the show into something similar to “Felicity & Friends”. Arrow has never been shy to write out characters and bring in replacements. However, while characters who departed the show were taken across the whole spectrum of the show (family, antagonists, friends), the only replacement characters to enter the series in the later seasons were directly linked in some way to Felicity. These included Donna (her mother), The Calculator (her father) and Cooper (her ex-boyfriend). The writers forgot that the show was about The Arrow, they forgot that it was an ensemble. Their dedication to press Oliver to be more reliant on Felicity was so great that they ruined her character completely. The initial character showed promise, what we have ended season four with is something very different.
Next to review is the antagonists which The Arrow needed to face. Early doors, it was very close. Oliver battled against Starling City residents. These people had all “failed” the city in some moral way, and The Arrow was out for retribution. As season one progressed, the depth of the poison became more clear to Oliver. The season culminated in Oliver facing off against Malcolm Merlyn, his best friends father. Merlyn’s plans were against the city, in particular a specific portion which had caused him emotional distress. As much as Malcolm was twisted, and his method of solving problems was a little excessive, the viewer could recognise why he was doing it. Even the method of attack was out of this world, but forgivable. Even for a show so grounded in reality (comparatively), an earthquake generator could be overlooked as the rationale was so strong. Next up was one of Oliver’s companions from the island. Slade Wilson, later, Deathstroke, was a highly trained special secret forces operative who Oliver met on Lian Yu. This is when the supernatural really started making its presence known. Mirakuru was a substance which bestowed increased strength, agility and fortitude. At the same time, it slowly made the recipient more aggressive and susceptible to visions. The events which Oliver and Wilson experienced on Lian Yu came back to haunt Oliver, as Deathstroke declared war on Oliver’s beloved city. Similar to season one, this season we saw an emotional connection between The Arrow and the antagonist. The season pushed towards the final battle, which was personal to the characters. The stakes were realistically high, and Oliver and Deathstroke both had axes to grind in the fight. As a viewer, you felt invested in what happened.
Unfortunately, around season three the show began a downward motion. The introduction of Ra’s al Ghul should have been something for fans to rejoice over. However, the general weak performance combined with weak writing meant that the head of the league of assassins was represented as a confused old man. Lacking in emotion and motivation, Ra’s apparently identified Oliver as his successor, and made it his life’s work to push this agenda. Disregarding all else, and apparently common sense, Ra’s pressed Oliver into training with the League and was, for some reason, surprised when it became clear that Oliver was betraying him. All of the above notwithstanding, the introduction of Ra’s and the League brought with it a new dimension for the show, allowed for some interesting plot points (such as resurrection) to evolve, and added some spectacular one-on-one fight scenes. If season three was a downward motion, unfortunately, season four was a crash. This most recent season brought the character of Damien Darhk to the fore. Again, the promise of some amazing storytelling was great. Darhk had been mentioned before as a lapsed member of the League of Assassins. Expecting a return of the bow drawing, sword swinging, shadow dodging Oliver Queen, we were disappointed to see the start of the season taken up with Oliver avoiding any sort of fighting. Not to worry, this was a long season and The Arrow would need to return to form to fight this villain. Unfortunately not. The majority of the season may as well have been sat behind a desk. The machinations of politics were an important part of this season, with Darhk and Queen vying for power. It was only in the final quarter where Oliver actually made strides towards victory. This season was focused heavily on magic. An excessively convoluted back story from Lian Yu combined with an incredibly dull present day story to leave the viewer wondering what had happened. In an apparent attempt to draw viewers back with some jeopardy, Damien Darhk unleashed 15,000 nuclear missiles on the world. Yes, 15,000. Not 1 (that would be enough death for one day), not 15. Words cannot really describe how ridiculous that number is. Before this season, I wouldn’t have thought that there was a law of diminishing returns when it came to fear of nuclear weapons, but I was proved wrong. With today’s technology combined with the tight packing of population, one or two nuclear missiles would have been a believable, and yet shocking threat. 15,000 makes it seem like someone is compensating for something. The number was too high. The safeguards in place were too strong. It was a completely unbelievable situation. For a season bedded so heavily in magic, it was the number of missiles which were the final straw. Then there was the issue of Felicity being the only one to stop it, but that doesn’t need looking at any more. However, the pain was not over. The final fight between Darhk’s Hive and Team Arrow ended up being a pantomime of sorts, with the two highly trained fighters trading punches like a slapstick comedy. It was not enjoyable.
Sadly, Arrow has taken a drastic downward turn since the end of season two. People have varying opinions what the root cause of this is. A large proportion of the viewers believe it is down to the push of the “Olicity” relationship. Making everything about Felicity made it impossible to keep the standard of the show where it was. Other groups believe that as the show diverges further from the source material, it is impossible to keep running at full steam. Others believe that the loss of characters such as the Suicide Squad, Black Canary, Arsenal and Sara Lance is to blame. Other groups believe that the show is just right as it is. The polarising nature of the conversation has led to actor Manu Bennet looking unfavourably upon the series, and actress Katrina Law experiencing hate messages. Even the dedicated Reddit community turned their back on the show after the season finale, preferring instead to discuss Daredevil, a Marvel series, resembling the early days of Arrow somewhat. The pressure on the cast has previously even reached the point where Stephen Amell spoke out against the trolls publicly. It is clear that the show has its lovers and haters in all of it’s forms, and everyone has their own opinion what needs to happen to the show. The danger exists for the producers that at is core, Arrow is a cult show. It has a niche following, and if enough of those viewers are alienated, it may not see the end of season five. Right now, in this state, Arrow is at very real risk of cancellation.
The difficult question is whether I will personally continue watching Arrow. On the one hand, the series has taken such a dive off a cliff that it seems impossible to recover. On the other hand, in the early days, Arrow was my favourite show on TV. The production quality, the commitment from the cast, incredible storytelling and high quality effects and fight scenes were some of the finest television I have ever seen. I know in truth that Arrow can return to form. There is the potential to bring in a new show runner or a new writing team, or simply for the current team to revert their focus. Arrow has the capability to return to strength, and join The Flash with appointment-to-watch TV. Things need to change, focus needs to be regained, and I hope this happens soon, before it is too late.