There’s not a lot to be said here, really.
In my previous season retrospective of The Flash, I commented on how much I enjoyed last year’s season. Arguably, that’s true of Arrow as well; I’ve written before about how Season 3, though much maligned, doesn’t quite deserve the reputation it got. There was a lot of good material there, and some great concepts, that were ultimately let down by the execution. In theory, then, so long as they managed to put their ideas into practice a little better, this season would be able to reach the same heights as the first and second years, with S3 remembered as little more than a slightly awkward but forgivable misstep.
That didn’t happen.
It’s not like there weren’t good ideas! On paper, this could well have been the best season of Arrow yet. Plenty of fantastic concepts to play around with. Oliver’s mayoral race should have been fantastic. Felicity dealing with paralysis should have been genuinely compelling drama. Diggle facing the return of his brother should have been cataclysmic. Oliver getting to know his son should have been brilliant. Felicity meeting her father for the first time should have been wonderful. Lance’s struggle with HIVE should have been tense and exciting.
None of them were, obviously.
You’ll notice, I imagine, that in the above I didn’t mention Laurel or Thea. Did they have anything resembling a plot arc this series? An emotional arc? Any sort of character development? You can perhaps make the argument that during the first 9 episodes they were given things to do – Laurel resurrecting Sara, Thea dealing with bloodlust – but it’s not like they actually went anywhere. Certainly, by the 15th episode or so, they had essentially finished their “arc”, as it were, and they ended up with little to do apart from stand around.
That, I think, was an ongoing problem – as it was increasingly emphasised that the characters would each go out into the field, so they all became increasingly indistinct from one another. As Thea’s only plot function became fighting, there was nothing to set her apart from Laurel, or from Diggle, or indeed particularly from Oliver, and so on and so forth. This season lost sight of the character’s other lives, and thus, in turn, lost sight of them as characters. One of Laurel’s best episodes this season was when she was allowed to be a lawyer again. In any given episode, where was this side of their characters? What gave them each different perspectives?
Also, Diggle’s helmet looks ridiculous, and I cannot abide it.
(Certainly, if you make a very forensic reading of the text, you can arguably find more in there regarding different plot arcs. I’m inclined towards a redemptive reading, certainly, because I want to be positive – but I think if you have to actively work to find something, to the point at which it’s not even really subtext, you have to step back and say “actually, this is coming more from me than from the text”. And, you know, fine – death of the author and all that – but don’t credit Guggenheim and co with your headcanon. That aspect of the writing was yours; be proud of it, and don’t attribute it to someone else.)
Something that does stand out at me is the nuclear weapons threat; I’d like to take a moment to talk about that here, because I’m not sure if I’ll mention it elsewhere. It was, of course, awful; one of the most tone deaf moments of the season. (Alongside it as similarly tone deaf, but awful for other reasons, is Felicity’s disability arc and Laurel’s fridging.) Primarily, it’s predicated on a fundamental misunderstanding of the scale of a threat compared to the impact of the threat; the writers seem to believe that a nuclear armageddon is impressive and scary because of how big it is, without actually considering that what matters is, always, the characters and how they react on a personal level. After all, when no one really gives a damn about the Havenrock disaster that kills ten thousand people, it’s hard to be particularly invested in the rest of it.
It became quite quickly apparent that the writers just didn’t really understand how nuclear weapons work. Like, at all. And while I wouldn’t claim to be an expert, I do know that a nuclear attack on an American city from a Russian missile would not be forgotten just a few days later. Havenrock wouldn’t be an “oh, that’s sad”, it’d be synonymous with “twin towers” and “Chernobyl” and “Hiroshima”. This is the sort of thing that would change the world Arrow is in forever – and, frankly, it’s far more of a stretch to believe people would just forget about a massive great big nuclear explosion than it is to believe in magic or superpowers.
I don’t want to get too bogged down in this, because I am just trying to give something of a general overview. More to the point, though, I’ve already written a lot about Arrow, and I’m in the middle of writing more. So far I’ve written one article about Felicity’s characterisation, another about Marc Guggenheim, a more conceptual piece about Laurel’s death, and a fourth about fridging; I’m currently in the middle of a further four articles comparing Arrow to Agents of SHIELD, and I’ve already done nearly 6000 words trying to ‘fix’ and rewrite S4. (I got a little carried away with that last one. It’s not even finished yet. It’ll probably end up being five different posts. No idea if anyone will even be interested in that.)
So, anyway. My feelings of general disappointment towards Arrow this year are astonishingly well documented – probably the most well documented of all the television shows I’ve been watching in 2016.
I’m not really sure what to think, or what to expect, about Season 5. My hopes are low. I’ll watch it, don’t get me wrong – even for all of this, I still care, because I used to enjoy it, and there’s a degree of loyalty there. On a more cynical level, I know it’ll give me inspiration to write these sorts of articles, and also I think help me to realise what not to do in my own work.
Normally I like to end these articles with a joke about how I want Arrow to become “something else”, in a ‘clever’ reference to the opening titles.
This time, I think I’ll simply say that it’s been a hellish season, and I can’t wait to return home, to proper Arrow, be it with season 5, or a rewatch of the first few years.