The season three finale of Arrow ended with a whimper; Oliver Queen drove into the sunset with Felicity Smoke, leaving the life of a superhero behind him. It could have been the end of the series, but no, the fourth season has commenced, and in much the same vein as the last.
The opening scene shows a hooded man running through the woods. The camera focuses on him, brushing past trees and bushes, the hood remaining up at all times, but the audience know it is Oliver. Without a view of who’s giving chase, tension is quickly built and the runner bursts out into…a peaceful suburban cul-de-sac. Oliver removes his hood, confirming his identity and enters a modest house where Felicity is cooking omelet’s for breakfast. One taste from Oliver and he states she has “failed this omelet”. Clearly domesticity is suiting Oliver more than Felicity, as the bin reveals her previous burnt efforts.
In contrast to the light, airy bliss of suburbia, Starling (or now Star) City, is once again in trouble. It is night time and the girls are on a motorbike, chasing a truck. Thea is dressed like the Arrow and is full of infantile delight at the thrill of the chase. With the Black Canary AKA Laurel Lance aiding from the bike, the girls seem to have the bad guys under control. Except they don’t, and John Diggle, complete with a disguising helmet, saves the day. It is good to know the gang are still fighting evil, but surely the girls could have won? Maybe it’s punishment for Thea acting like a child in her excitement, illustrated by insisting on the pseudonym of Red Arrow, rather than Speedy, Oliver’s nickname for her. Diggle quite rightly points out that red arrow means you can’t make a left turn.
The predictable then happens throughout the rest of the episode. The domestic bliss in suburbia doesn’t last, even with Oliver’s desire to propose by hiding an engagement ring in Felicity’s dessert. The doorbell sounds and they’re called back to Star City. Oliver is reluctant to leave, however Felicity has been secretly aiding the team. In his weakened domestic state, Oliver asks Felicity what they should do. Previous seasons have overtly shown how selfish he is, usually through conversations with Diggle. This is a different type of Oliver; selfish for not wanting to help his friends but hesitant to be drawn back into a life of darkness.
So of course they return and last season’s tension between Diggle and Oliver remains. Laurel is still distanced from her father and there is yet another villain who wants to destroy the city. Damian Darhk has super powers, an army of soldiers and somehow Detective Lance is involved. The team are reluctantly back together and Oliver is refusing to wear his old uniform of the Arrow. Instead he has a balaclava, and is of course, instantly recognised by Police Chief Lance. Oliver has an internal struggle ongoing, one which he verbalises to both the Lance and Felicity. He fears that as the Arrow, he embodies darkness and therefore brings the darkness and evil with him.
More character affirmations about Oliver’s trust issues are thrown up just before he confronts Darhk on a train laden with explosives. His enemy’s superpowers are revealed first-hand, and of course Diggle saves him from certain death.
Flashbacks again, form part of the episode, and as per last season, attempt to through confusion to the narrative structure. A flashback shows an earlier version of the Arrow; it is the long haired and slightly inept Oliver, that gives it away – just. In two other flashback scenes, Amanda Waller drugs him in a bar and then he is pushed out of military type plane-back to that Island. It seems that all roads (or flights) lead back the Island – always.
There are a few areas of intrigue, why is Lance working with Darhk? Why is Thea acting slightly out of character? The former means that Laurel and Arrow will have to save him later as he gets in too deep with Darhk. The latter could well be side effects from the Lazarus Pit.
The closing scenes sees Oliver trying to distance himself from the darkness he believes is synonymous with his alter ego, Arrow. Felicity has created a new superhero outfit, and Oliver declares that he will now be known as (wait for it), the Green Arrow. More worrying is the unusual flash forward to six month later, which has Oliver standing over a grave with the Flash, who apologises for not being able to make the funeral. The scene immediately preceding was of Oliver and Felicity in their new apartment with Oliver placing the as yet un-given engagement ring in a bowl of ice. The Pavlovian response is this is Felicity’s grave, and hooks the audience into next week’s episode, and indeed for the remainder of the seaon.
Finally though, nothing about this episode felt fresh. The formulaic structure is still in place, providing familiarity and comfort, but there is no movement of character or plot, it just seems to be a rehash of other seasons.