Welcome to the new and improved Arrow season four! Where as with last night’s The Flash, you could chill out and get right back into the Central City adventures like a warm bath, there’s a lot of hesitation about getting back into the waters of Starling City. Oh, sorry, I meant Star City. That little detail was only one of a myriad of changes for Team Arrow’s fourth year in business that also included new costumes, new villains and new flashbacks, as well as some strange new alliances, and a flash-forward that portends the shiny happy Oliver Queen that we see throughout the hour won’t be so shiny happy for long. Six months tops.
To begin with, lets just say that it seems that Arrow’s writers learned the lessons of season three well. At least that’s what it looks like from one episode’s worth of evidence. For instance, there’s the arrival of new big bad Damien Darhk. As opposed to Ra’s al Ghul, who spent most of the season lurking in the background and out of site as everyone talked about how fearsome he was, Darhk proves it immediately by offing what little leadership is left in Star City, and he told them in advanced he was going to do it! That, my friends, is real villainy.
Neal McDonough makes an immediate splash as Darhk, a gregarious, confident, and sociopathic bad guy that says cities are like puppies, if you see one in the gutter struggling to live, you put it out of its misery. Poetic, in an evil kind of way. Darhk and his “Ghosts” are expert operatives, ultra-violent, and dedicated to keeping the authorities from finding out why they’re stealing all kinds of weapons – from Kord Industires of all places. In fact, they make the League of Assassins look quaint by comparison. They are a H.I.V.E. of perfect criminals, in other words. The perfect job for the Arrow.
Except Arrow is playing house with one of his old sidekicks, greeting his neighbors with a hardy and sincere “How ya doin’?” and perfecting his recipes. You can tell it was something of a delightful shift change for Stephen Amell to not have to play so dark and broody, but didn’t the conversion from stoic crime-fighter to sunny Master Chef seem a little to easy? Especially when we learn later that Felicity’s been helping Team Diggle on the sly? It seems weird that six months is all it takes for Oliver to forget everything his life had became about for almost a decade, but there it is.
Speaking of strange developments, won’t the people of Star City think it’s weird that there’s a Green Arrow now, who kind of looks, sounds, and dresses almost exactly the same as the supposedly dead Arrow. They both wear green for crying out loud, and honestly, aside from the short sleeves is there that much of an immediately discernible difference between Arrow and Green Arrow costumes? I suppose questions like that are best meant to be disposed of by all the action in the premiere, there were no less than three separate fight scenes, including one on a moving train.
If the action doesn’t get you then the new inter-team dynamics of Team Arrow will. Yup, Thea is showing some aggressive tendencies, almost skewering one of the H.I.V.E. guys till Oliver stops her, but Speedy – sorry, Red Arrow – still hasto go a ways to sound like she has any authority. When she ordered the citizens of Star to get out of the targeted train station she sounded more annoyed than anything. Diggle, meanwhile, seems content to stay pissed at Oliver, even to the point that he won’t share a vital clue about the bad guys the team is facing. Is Diggle trying to give Oliver a taste of his own medicine, or does he think vengeance is his because of what H.I.V.E. did to his brother? Either way, I think it’s a dumb move. And the Digneto helmet still isn’t working.
On the plus side, Lauren and Quentin have managed to work through their issues over the summer enough that he seems pretty cool with a little back and forth between the police and Team Diggle. That changes somewhat when Oliver comes back in town and Captain Lance is one of the few people privy to the knowledge that the Arrow didn’t “die” with Roy Harper. I understand that Oliver has some share of responsibility for some of the drama in Star City, but the originating event, “The Undertaking” wasn’t one of them. The problem with the argument that Oliver is the root of all evil is that no one asks the question: What if he didn’t Arrow up in the first place? Maybe that’s being saved for a It’s a Wonderful Life-like Christmas episode.
While the main Arrow story about Darhk and the ongoing fall of Star City had plenty of angles to take in, the flashbacks also had new energy. Yes, Oliver did make his way to Coast City five years ago, yes we get a Green Lantern Easter egg in the form of a flight jacket with the name “Jordan” upon it, but it seems the point of the flashbacks this year is not to follow a neophyte vigilante Arrow in Green Lantern’s backyard. Nope, Oliver meets up with Waller, and she sends him back to, you guessed it, Lian Yu. Apparently there’s a threat there that requires someone that knows the terrain, but sadly that threat looks like another group of army guys in camouflage. Bor-ring.
On the other hand, that may be a hasty diagnosis. We learn that Darhk, in contrast to his comic book origin and for lack of a better word, is a wizard. He can stop arrows in mid-air and can literally suck the life out of a lackey. Oliver pegs his powers as more supernatural than meta-human, so does that mean that this year’s flashback will explore something mystical? Here’s hopin’.
In the meantime, the episode leaves us with a couple of big twists to ponder. First of all, how did Captain Lance get involved with Darhk? And was he officially on Team Darhk when Damien had the city’s leadership council eliminated and leaving Lance, suspiciously, the only one to survive? The more important question though, with Darhk wanting the identity of Green Arrow and his helpers, why didn’t Captain Lance just sell out Oliver Queen if the Arrow’s such a pain in his butt? This should be interesting to watch.
And lastly, we see Oliver at the grave of someone six months from now. The implication being – between Oliver delaying his proposal to Felicity and the fact it’s them sucking face in the last scene before the graveyard – that Felicity is the one to die. Barry Allen being there to pay his respects, albeit belatedly thanks to some Zoom action, further makes that suggestion. But wait, why isn’t Diggle there? For that matter, where was Thea? It looks like someone is going to be joining Tommy and Moira in the afterlife sometime around the end February sweeps, now the question is who.
So much for happier times in Star