For better or worse, season four of The CW’s Arrow chose to introduce magical abilities into a mythology that has been largely practical, grounded, and hard-hitting. The decision to do so was likely done in light of the more super-powered series out there like fellow DC Comics shows The Flash, Supergirl, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. How could Arrow be expected to not only partially help set up these new series but also co-exist alongside them without diluting the core team with new superhero sidekicks? The answer: magic!
In theory, this probably sounded like a good idea. The Lazarus pit had already introduced magical concepts into the world, wicked sorcerer Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) proved to be an inspired bit of casting, and the door was now open to bringing in Constantine (Matt Ryan). But somewhere along the way, in this season and the last, Arrow lost its identity and forgot that it’s supposed to be the dark, gritty, grounded superhero show in a world of over-powered heroes and villains. (Imagine if Batman suddenly had magic that enabled him to deal with his problems; it’s that level of sea change.) The bad news is that the season four finale ran out of magical mojo rather than ending with a bang; the good news is that the whole Arrow-verse might be reset next season, whether thanks to time-traveling shenanigans or more organic means.
Throughout this season, I tried to remain optimistic that the flashback sequences to Lian Yu would be worthwhile in the end. They weren’t. They only served to introduce Baron Reiter, the magical idol, Constantine (arguably the best addition to Season 4), and pave the way for Oliver to possibly venture to Russia in next season’s flashbacks. The finale featured a showdown between Taiana and Reiter, which ended with both of them dying … more or less thanks to Oliver. Our hero, who’s been experiencing internal conflict over whether his dark side or light side was winning, murdered a good amount of people in this episode, but as Amanda Waller reminds him, sometimes that’s just the path to justice.
I’m torn on this outlook. In real life, sure, often times the good guys have to kill the bad guys for the greater good, but this is a superhero show we’re talking about, one with a staff of writers tasked with getting the hero out of sticky situations in interesting ways. Did Damien Darhk deserve to die at Oliver’s hands? Absolutely. Could Ollie have used his super-powered contacts to find another way to neutralize him? Definitely. With Constantine’s conjurings and knowledge of the arcane, S.T.A.R. Labs’ technology and fairly effective imprisonment system, or even A.R.G.U.S. super-max facilities, there were other choices. Oliver wasn’t being completely honest when he said he didn’t have a choice; he just chose execution.
But let’s back up a bit and keep in mind that, after Darhk got his hands on the Rubicon software again, there were 15,000 nukes poised to destroy the world. That’s a threat worth killing over. And yet Darhk’s damage was already done by the time Oliver got to him, and Felicity was the only hope to diverting the missiles bringing death from above. (I’m assuming she just deflected them into space but didn’t detonate them, right? Because that would have been bad…) Darhk himself, previously powered by the souls of tens of thousands of sacrificial lambs, then inexplicably lost all that power. Why? Because the citizens of Star City stood up to his tyranny, like New Yorkers rooting for Spider-Man or the Ghostbusters. Oh, and because Oliver’s ever-so-brief moment of mystical training and Constantine’s runic ward tattoos were enough to tip the balance in the favor of the light side, apparently.
Look, if you’re going to introduce magic into the world, at least establish rules and stick to them. This finale occurred at the end of a season’s worth of build-up, not only of the magical prowess of Darhk but of the world-changing destruction his Genesis project would bring about. Both fizzled and collapsed easier than a fallout shelter made of highly explosive dwarf star alloy.
After an all-out brawl between Oliver, Team Arrow, and the citizens of Star City against Darhk and the Ghosts, and some quick hacking from Felicity, nuclear winter is averted. Time to celebrate! Oh, wait, everyone is quitting Team Arrow except for the one person who really should retire from the group: fickle Felicity herself. Thea needs some time away to think, and Diggle is reeling from (justifiably) murdering of his brother. But it’s fine because Oliver is Mayor now! Yes, Thomas Kent was so impressed with Oliver’s impromptu taxi-rooftop speech to the city that he’s been made mayor after some positive poll responses. Sure, why not.
This finale left me with more questions than answers, and not in a cliffhanger-y way but more of a WTF kind of way:
- What happened to Darhk’s daughter after she was orphaned?
- Where did Oliver’s kid and ex-girlfriend end up?
- Why are Donna and Quentin headed to Coast City?
- What’s Diggle doing, re-enlisting in the service? And why’s he leaving his wife and daughter behind?
- What’s Thea up to other than staring at her knees on her couch that’s dangerously close to a fireplace packed full of lit candles?
- Did anyone take Curtis to the hospital?
- Why is everyone cool with Malcolm Merlyn again?!
Tonally, this episode was much closer to what I expected to see after the nuke destroyed Havenrock, but it was too little too late, and lacked both magical moments and the gritty realism to make the stakes worthwhile. Look, the Green Arrow has been getting along just fine alongside the likes of Green Lantern, The Flash, and Superman for decades; there’s no reason Arrow can’t do the same. I’d love to see a fifth season go back to their grounded and gritty roots with an overhaul on how they approach fight scenes (see: Marvel’s Daredevil) and with an emphasis on cutting-edge technology to level the playing field against those with superpowers. I’d also be thrilled if The CW superhero showrunners envisioned each season as two smaller seasons of 11-12 episodes each so that they’d have a more focused approach. Is that too much to ask?
Episode Rating: ★ Poor
Season Rating: ★★ Fair
Darhk: “Dying instantaneously in nuclear fire: rather painless. And then there’s having your life force slowly sucked out of you…like this.”
Darhk: “I know you don’t live here anymore, but those were nice windows.”
Taiana: “You are a murderer! You killed my brother! You are darkness!” Oliver: “I am, but you don’t have to be.”
Curtis: “Living in Star City takes a certain kind of tenacity. It’s not exactly sane to live here, a fact that Paul reminds me of constantly.”
Curtis: “Working with you has been the highlight of my professional career and my entire life.”
Malcolm: “Nice speech, Oliver. Made me long for a voting booth.”
Diggle: “What are the chances of us stopping all 15,000 nukes?” Curtis: “1 in 375 million.” Guys, that’s worse than Powerball odds.
Diggle: “You must think I’m a monster.” Lyla: “Fog of war, Johnny. You did what you had to do. It’s that simple.” Diggle: “Lyla, there’s nothing simple about this.”
Green Arrow: “Darhk!” Darhk: “What does a guy have to do to end the world in peace…”
Darhk: “This heartwarming display would mean a whole lot more had I not just seen you all tearing yourselves and the city apart.”
Darhk: “Mr. Seldon, you weak-willed dust mite.”
Green Arrow: “You killed a friend of mine. You killed tens of thousands of innocent people. With Slade Wilson, I had a choice. This time, I don’t.”
Waller: “You saved a lot of lives.” Oliver: “Took some, too.”
Felicity: “You thought I was leaving, too? Not a chance.” Well, that’s a shame.