I’m not sure how to feel about “Schism” on the whole, and I’m not sure exactly how to feel about the fourth season of Arrow in its entirety. On the one hand, this season finale was probably the best it could have been given the various developments built into the story arc over the last year, but on the other hand, the ending left me kind of empty. The very ending that is, as the writers seemed to be contorting the characters to seem even more conflicted than they have to be rather than just accepting that they were able to achieve the impossible and defeated the most powerful bad guy they’ve faced yet. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves….
The best way I can think of to do this is break it down by character, so lets begin with Malcolm Merlyn who seems to back on the side of the angels this week by helping Team Arrow stop Damien Darhk’s nuclear apocalypse. I guess the Dark Archer had no back-up fallout shelter. I was hoping that the finale would either find some compelling new direction for Malcolm or just kill him off entirely, because this yo-yoing back and forth between his being a maniacal villain and reluctant anti-hero has not only run it’s course, but it seems to have no logical flow; Malcolm’s decisions seem based entirely on his mood as if to say, “Today, I’ll be evil.” The show is now actively wasting John Barrowman.
By comparison, seeing the effect of the last several weeks on Diggle was both compelling and understandable, thanks in no small way to the always understated work of David Ramsey. I’m still not sure how Diggle cold bloodedly shot Andy, because that’s not how it looked like it played out on screen. Still, Arrow ran with it, which is fine for the way it muddied up the typically Swiss clock-like moral compass of Diggle; that scene where he hesitated when attacked by the Ghost had real gravitas and subtext to it and was a small, but effective touch. Diggle’s return to the military in the end made a lot of sense, he has to readjust his metrics for what’s good and what’s evil, and that means going back to what he knows. Still, I think the show is painting itself into a corner because a military career isn’t something you can leave willy nilly.
Thea also left Team Arrow at the end of the hour although her reasons are somewhat more nebulous. She says she jumped from the Lazarus Pit into crime fighting without thinking, but I believe that was Roy’s idea in the first place. Thea is also upset because she threatened to kill Darhk’s daughter (who incidentally is now an orphan, and that little piece of emotional baggage is never dealt with in the end) but I didn’t believe that she would legitimately kill an innocent little girl. Speedy, I don’t think, was ever that far gone. The show’s got to figure out new things for Thea to do aside from being worried about being homicidal and falling for vacuous pretty boys that get killed.
For people less than pleased with the emphasis on Felicity, they were surely upset to know that she wasn’t leaving town and/or Team Arrow, in fact her line to Oliver that she wasn’t going anywhere seemed like a backhanded slap to the Olicity haters. Although Felicity had a fairly eventful year, getting her back broken, getting a magic computer chip cure; becoming CEO of Palmer Tech, getting $#!%canned as CEO of Palmer Tech, and yet none of this was addressed at all in the finale. Even watching her old boyfriend Brother Eye die seems to have no effect. It seemed like the show was purposefully burying Felicity in this one, as if they were seemingly keeping her to the side in consideration of all those people that blame Felicity’s ascension to prominence on the show as the reason for Laurel’s death. Still, it felt like there was no pay-off for Ms. Smoak this season.
Speaking of Laurel, she was name dropped a couple of times in this one as the inspiration for certain members of Team Arrow for knowing when to walk away, and when they were getting too close to walking down a dark path. That’s nice. I didn’t realize that Black Canary had the inspirational powers of a Ghandi or a Churchill. Combined with Caitlin saying that Team Flash loved Black Canary on last week’s penultimate The Flash, it seems like there’s some creative re-writing of history so far as Laurel’s concerned.
That brings us to Oliver, who had a very busy episode as both Oliver Queen and the Green Arrow. Oliver dug down and found his inner Jed Bartlett by standing on top of a car and getting Star City to stop their looting and find that hope they can believe in again. Yeah, it was cheesy, and more than a little corny, but Stephen Amell pretty much sold it. On top of that, when later the people of Star City come out to give the Green Arrow hope in his final showdown with Darhk, the cheesiness factor to about 11. It’s been done to death, the hero inspiring the ordinary people to stand up for themselves, in Spider-Man, in The Dark Knight Rises, and even on Arrow last year, but the size and scope of seeing it here was surprisingly effective.
In the end, Oliver ends up killing Darhk, which seems like a violation of his sunny ways prerogative even though the show dresses it up by making the choice simple, Darhk’s body count and his megalomania make him too dangerous to be allowed to live. Still, we know that destroying Darhk’s idol mitigates his magic, so why not lay waste to it – break it apart, smash it to pieces, burn the pieces, then put the pieces in a box and set the box on fire? I suppose leaving Darhk alive would also leave the door open to him coming back, and while Neal McDonough‘s been good this season with some truly stellar scenery chewing, I’ve definitely had a sense of Darhk fatigue these last couple of episodes. Thematically, it may not have made sense for Oliver to kill Darhk, but if, as Waller said in the flashback, the only way out was through, then so be it. At least Darhk’s gone and not coming back.
So let’s look ahead to next season, and although I know it’s not likely to happen, I hope they forget the flashbacks. I can’t help but feel those flashbacks served absolutely no purpose after the Constantine episode. That’s a pity because there could have been a way to use them to enhance the magic mythology, and instead, the island stuff felt like a tired retread of what was going on in Star City in the present. The other thing is Olicity. Arrow’s got it out of its system now, so perhaps it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. On a positive note, the finale made no attempt to reunite the couple in a romantic way, and given the clumsy way the writers handled the break up, that’s probably for the best.
Having Oliver as the Mayor of Star City opens up a number of interesting possibilities, especially in how Oliver might balance his new day job with his night job. Or can he even be Green Arrow while being mayor? We know that Echo Kellum will be coming onboard full time as Curtis Holt, which is a great move because of how much energy he brings to a scene he’s in, but how might Curtis be integrated into Team Arrow, and does that mean we’re going to get Mr. Terrific sometime soon? There’s also the question of what impact Flash’s “Flashpoint” might have on the show, although I do find it interesting that Arrow ended its season with hopefulness while Flash ended its year with Barry giving into pessimism.
Arrow still has a ways to go to capture its season two highs, but at least the second half of season four seemed to have re-captured for the most part a lot of that energy and character work that the show seemed lacking in season three. The arc all year long also had a much more logical progression over the last year, which constantly seemed to be taking one step forward and two steps back, and although season four would stumble, it did feel more often that there was always a forward momentum. Hopefully Arrow can keep that up in season five and continue to strive towards its best self. There’s still a lot of life left in the show, we saw that this year, and I’m at least interested in seeing where Arrow goes next.