Arrow: The Complete Fourth Season
Out tomorrow is Arrow: The Complete Fourth Season, collecting the latest season of the granddaddy of the current DC TV universe. When the show started, I found it new and fresh, even if it was a bit too dark compared to my preferred superhero approach.
Now, though… The Flash is more fun, Supergirl more hopeful and inspiring, Legends of Tomorrow more adventurous and imaginative, and Lucifer sexier, so I’m not as driven to watch Arrow any more. That’s a good thing, that there are so many superhero comic TV options that they all don’t have to have the same tone or approach (one I sometimes wonder if, in this case, was too closely influenced by the popular Batman movies).
The thing that most annoys me about Arrow are the flashbacks. In the first season, they kind of made sense, in showing us how young playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) became a hardened super-archer bent on cleaning up his city. Now, though, it’s as though they feel they have to have some kind of jumping back and forth every season, no matter how little sense it makes. This time, he’s back on the island once again, only this time as a soldier in some kind of quasi-military conspiracy group… I don’t know, I don’t care, and I don’t want to see it any more. I wish this set had the ability to watch the episodes sans flashbacks. That would be a really cool add-on feature (but it would require paying someone to program it).
There is a high point of this set, though, and that’s that it contains both episodes of the crossover with The Flash that created Legends of Tomorrow, as well as two “Star Crossed Hawks” featurettes. The first (11 minutes) is about the characters, their visual design, and their comic-book history, while “The Hunt for Vandal Savage” (11 minutes) talks more about the crossovers and the villain.
Otherwise, the main plotline of this season was stopping Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), continuing from the last few episodes of the previous season. He was a mystically powered criminal mastermind, which means this season had more magic throughout. That allowed for the more arcane characters of the Hawks to make more sense in Arrow’s world, what with their immortal villain and their history of reincarnation. And one of the best guest-stars, Matt Ryan as John Constantine, helped handle the results of throwing various female characters into the Lazarus Pit in episode 5. We also get to see Vixen (Megalyn Echikunwoke), another mystically powered superhero, introduced later in the season.
Otherwise, various people got killed or maimed, although some of them recovered, including Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), and Diggle’s brother (Eugene Byrd, that guy from Bones). This show relies a lot on traumatizing its cast, which is another thing that makes it not to my taste. Certainly, that keeps raising the stakes for the drama — although it also leads to some goofy dialogue, since it becomes difficult to convince some of the characters that others are permanently dead when so many have already come back or been revealed to not have really died.
The show also doesn’t seem to believe in letting anyone be happy, finding more and more elaborate reasons to have the characters lie to each other. The culmination for me was giving Oliver a previously unknown son whom he promptly hid the existence of from his fiancee.
As with other recent DC TV box sets, the extras are standard and minimal: deleted scenes (more substantial than in other sets), a gag reel (6 minutes), the two promotional featurettes I’ve mentioned, another one titled “Smooth Criminal: The Damien Darhk Story” (15 minutes, and I had no idea that he started in the comics), and 23 minutes of the 2015 Comic-Con panel.
Those panel clips are fun, just to see what people chose to wear to meet the fans. For this one, the women look like they’re going clubbing in sparkly or lace dresses, while the guy actors are in T-shirts, although Amell does do a bit in costume. Another source of entertainment is comparing what they hint is going to happen (since these panels took place before the episodes on the set aired) to what we now know they were referring to. (The studio provided a review copy.)
I see the fourth season as a real missed opportunity for Arrow. With the introduction of both magic and H.I.V.E. it could have been an opportunity to retool the show into something more fun – as well as to let Oliver mature as a character. Instead they managed to make a show about a super-conspiracy to destroy the world led by an evil super-magician into something that was irritating to watch as the season progressed.
finding more and more elaborate reasons to have the characters lie to each other
This drives me nuts about both Arrow and Flash. Why do they have to lie to each other all of the time? Over irritatingly stupid things too. The “Oliver lies to Felicity about his son” thing was so damn stupid – even as ridiculously contrived as the setup was, nobody would react the way Oliver and Felicity did. It made the rest of the season even worse than it had to be.