Arrow Season 4 Review

arrow season 4 review cw oliver queen felicity smoak paralysis olicity marc guggenheim hd image poster

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.

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Arrow, and the Disturbing Trend of Fridging Female Characters

arrow laurel lance black canary fridging female character death sara lance white canary moira queen shado marc guggenheim wendy mericle review criticism katie cassidy felicity smoak bye bye birdie emily bett rickards

“Fridging” is a term which is used to describe the death of a female character to further the development of and advance the plot for a male character. It is typically the bastion of the lazy screenwriter, given that it is a tired and overused cliché. You need only take a quick perusal of this TV Tropes page, or indeed the Women in Refrigerators website where the concept was first defined, to appreciate quite how proliferated our media has become with this hackneyed trope.

More to the point, though, there is often an inherent misogyny and sexism to this trope. That’s very much self evident, really; when a writer kills off a female character to further develop a male one, then the implicit suggestion is that her story is one not worth telling. 

Arrow has engaged in this not once, not twice, but at least five times – this is in a show which hasn’t even begun its fifth season yet. For obvious reasons, that’s not really something to be proud of.

So, my most recent article for Yahoo is about Arrow, and their habit of fridging female characters. For obvious reasons, regularly fridging female characters isn’t a particularly good thing, so the article takes something of a critical tone.

I would really appreciate it if people were to share this article. I’m quite pleased with it, as it goes; I think I make a fairly important point, and that it’s reasonably well articulated. It’s something I’d like to reach a fairly wide audience, so please do share this article if you can.

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Defined by an Absence

arrow the grave season 4 laurel lance katie cassidy fridging marc guggenheim oliver queen stephen amell six months later defined by an absence

It is difficult for me to put into words quite how much it offended me – because it didn’t just offend me. It made me angry.

I knew it was coming, of course, because I watch the show in the UK, so that means I’m always a couple of weeks behind. It’s difficult to avoid spoilers at the best of times in that position, but this caused enough outrage across the pond that UK newspapers were reporting on it, just under a month before the episode was set to air here.

Even then, though. The death had been… not telegraphed, obviously. That implies a degree of foreshadowing had gone into it. That it had been planned out, considered, evaluated. That any degree of thought had gone into it.

It hadn’t. This death was not planned. The grave was empty when it was first shown to us – little more than a promise of angst, and darkness. Not an inspiring promise at the best of times, really. But the Powers That Be had decided it was a good way to get ratings. To inspire a buzz. Make headlines.

Shortly afterwards, they realised they would need to actually follow up on that promise. It was, it seems, a relatively easy decision for them to make, albeit one made very late in the day. The actress in question was informed, at most, just a few short weeks before the episode was to be filmed that she was to depart the series.

Organic storytelling at it’s finest, evidently.

Like I said, though. While it hadn’t been telegraphed, it had been eminently predictable. The character who was dispatched hadn’t exactly been getting much of a focus in recent episodes. Season four had seen her increasingly sidelined, with more and more focus diverted to another.

There was something cruel, then, in the way the episode was structured. After denying this character any real plotlines of her own for so long, the prospect of her receiving a greater focus was a welcome one. The suggestion of an ongoing character arc was dangled before us tantalisingly, with the implication of a greater role to come.

In some ways, then, it feels a mockery. Someone, somewhere, no doubt thinks they are very clever. They are wrong.

“Look,” they say, “we fooled them completely. What an intelligent twist! There was no way this death would be predicted, after we teased their future plotlines.”

It was a hollow plot twist. A hollow victory for a programme long since past its prime, with writers who have done better work, and actors who have long been denied material that befits their talents.

The death is self was far more egregious still. In some ways, it’s an achievement; the programme could well go down in history as having provided the most emphatic instance of callously stuffing a woman in a refrigerator ever.

Perhaps that was the aim. After all, it was at least the fourth time the show had engaged in such an offensive trope.

And yet, something felt different this time.

Certainly, it was compounded by the allure of change, the allusion to future character development, the promise of greater focus; all brutally cut down and dispatched. But the nature of the death itself. It was almost symbolic, really, in terms of how it was structured.

This character had come so far. Been there since the start. Developed, changed, progressed. (Up until the point she did not, of course; but then, no one did, bar one.) She had dealt with alcoholism. Built relationships with her father, her friends, her lovers.

She had become a hero.

And then she was stabbed to death. A simple act, which really has no reason to kill at this stage; it’s a program which has, after all, brought its entire cast back from the dead at least once.

Prior to that, though, she was restricted. The villain used his ill defined yet cheap magical powers to freeze the character in place.

To strip her of all agency. To strip her of all autonomy. To take away any control she had, to take away the development she was promised, and brutally cut her aside.

It was a death framed explicitly in terms of the male characters. The male villain wanted to get revenge on the character’s father, and this of course has the added benefit of providing that cheap, boring, generic angst that we were promised so many episodes ago.

Lovely.

Further still, the character was not allowed to have any real final words. Not for herself, of course; she was reduced to a soapbox, for the writers to speak through. An organ for their agenda. Denying this character a moment in character.

I was not sad. I was not surprised. I was angry.

For obvious reasons.

The sadness came later, though, because there was sadness. Not of the type that the writers had intended to elicit, naturally, but sadness all the same.

It was as early as the next episode. Not a bad one, as they go, but not a good one. A particular scene stood out. Two talented actors, working through their tragedy. Impressive. A tour de force in terms of their performance, undoubtedly.

But not a scene worth what we lost. Not a patch on all the impressive scenes we could, and should, have been allowed.

The sadness hit in the morgue, as is perhaps appropriate following a death. The programme felt the need to show us the lifeless, pallid corpse of the recently deceased. A questionable decision, certainly, but they felt the need to drive home the point.

It made me sad because that was when I realised, really realised, what we’d lost. Of course that was when I realised – that was when we saw her, quite literally, stuffed into a fridge. (Well, a freezer, which is perhaps worse, but at least serves to emphasise the point further.)

That was when I realised that the show – like this post – will now always be defined by an absence. By her absence. Not because she was the best character, nor because she was my favourite – because she was neither.

The show will be defined by her absence because of the shitty and offensive way in which it wrote her out. The way in which casually, brutally, tossed this character aside without a second thought, without any care or consideration, because the show did not care.

It did not care about how it treated a key female character.

It was cruel. It was poor writing. It was pathetic.

And it can never be forgiven.

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On Canon

arrow black canary laurel lance katie cassidy caity lotz superhero fight club cw canon killed marc guggenheim felicity smoak dinah drake juliana harkavy cw arrowverse

Just something I’ve been thinking about recently, what with the whole Arrow fiasco; for those of who aren’t in the know, the show has recently departed fairly significantly from comics canon, and then earlier today Marc Guggenheim tweeted an article about how we should all just forget about canon. As with most things Arrow related these days, people are angry, as ever.

So anyway, it’s kinda got me thinking about canon.

Part of me loves canon, and always will. I genuinely find it fun – the mental arithmetic of trying to keep everything in track, squaring away any inconsistencies, resolving plot holes – all of that is the sort of thing my nebbish fan side gets a great deal of enjoyment from.

(Incidentally, one of my favourite attempts to make everything canon is the idea that the Peter Cushing Doctor, who’s a human inventor literally named Dr. Who, came from Pete’s World, which was the parallel universe where the New Who Cybermen came from.)

But I’ll freely acknowledge that is as restrictive as hell; to adhere to canon is to impose an extreme number of limitations upon a story. It’d be awful if Doctor Who threw out a great idea for a story, because it would contradict one line from the 80s. That’s just not worth it.

So, really I tend to just dismiss it entirely. They’re all stories, in the end – just make it a good one! Yes, it’s fun to try and match it up, but that doesn’t make it anywhere near a priority. Typically, my approach to canon is well articulated here, in this particular article; it sums up quite well how we all need to just relax and focus on more important things, and certainly shouldn’t be focused on limits and constraints and suchlike.

But! That’s Doctor Who canon, which is one thing. The issue with Arrow is that of comics canon, and that’s… something else entirely.

Arrow is functioning as an adaptation of another story, the same way the Harry Potter movies were adaptations of books and suchlike. There’s a source material here, and people are angry at the manner in which it’s been diverted from.

And I dismiss those concerns! I dismiss them entirely. Arrow doesn’t need to be a slavish adaptation of the comics; it never has been. The Flash isn’t a slavish adaptation of the comics; it never has been. Very, very few of the mainstream superhero movies adapt single comic storylines – the upcoming Civil War movie, which I’m really looking forward to, is very clearly taking the Civil War comic as an inspiration and a starting point, rather than the be all and end all of the movie.

I’ve written before about the benefits of adapting source material, rather than translating it straight to the screen; the comics act as an inspiration, and something to build from, rather than being the purest form of the story than we have to adhere to. (Though it is worth noting that the question of the spirit of the source material is something entirely different, and presents some unique concerns of its own.)

To make the complaint that something isn’t respecting the canon is… often missing the point, I feel. It obscures the real issues, and makes it very easy to dismiss complaints.

There isn’t a problem, in theory, with killing the Black Canary. There is a problem with Arrow fridging a female character, again, and that needs to be the focus of our ire.

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