‘Arrow’ Season 4: The Strain of Outside Influences

There’s a common opinion on the internet that what allows Arrow and its related spin-offs to work so well is that, unlike Agents of SHIELD, there’s no larger cinematic universe that these shows have to bow down to. For the most part, this has been true; with the exception of the Batman and Superman families, the CW shows have had free reign to introduce characters and concepts from all corners of the DC Universe. This is a show that has creators who moved heaven and earth for a one-off Constantine cameo earlier this very season.

Still, the fact is that the show has never been as free as it seems; it’s just never been felt as strongly as it’s begun to this season. Sure, the show had to replace Ted Kord/Blue Beetle with Ray Palmer last year due to a mandate from on high, but that sort of behind-the-scenes issue hasn’t really bled into the show itself in a major way. However, those influences have grown, both with the rapid development of the DC film slate and the growth of the Arrowverse itself.

Looking to the films, there’s definitely a pattern of effect that actually stretches back a few seasons. In particular, the Suicide Squad and ARGUS have served as a major part of Diggle’s ongoing storyline, but the upcoming movie has had obvious effects on the show’s ability to explore this story.

First, it was simply a matter of Harley Quinn’s planned appearance being cut to a mere vocal cameo. In a lot of ways, this worked fine, given the series’ general tendency to butt right up against the Batman mythos without ever fully piercing it (Nanda Parbat and Laazarus Pits aside). Heck, even last season killing off Deadshot managed to feel like a decent enough end to the character’s arc.

But last night’s killing of Amanda Waller was so sudden and underwhelming, it’s hard to imagine it as anything other than a corporate mandate to clear the way for Viola Davis’ interpretation of the character. In general, the ARGUS storyline has felt downplayed recently, and one can’t help but wonder if this was a way to just fully eliminate the organization as a major player entirely.

Meanwhile, though it serves as the parent show from which the rest of the universe has sprung, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the fantastic nature of The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow have heightened Arrow to the point that even its own characters don’t know how to properly react at times. Laurel tries to comfort Oliver and get him to realize Felicity’s accident wasn’t his fault, but she doesn’t have the first clue how to react when she learns that Barry travelling through time may have led to the accident in the first place. It takes some air out of the show’s tires, given that it’s supposed to be the most grounded of all three, that Oliver feels so confident they’ll find some form of mystical cure for Felicity’s paralysis.

And I’m not even condemning all of these issues. I love that Arrow is part of a larger universe of shows, so these moments of stretching and reforming the boundaries of its world are worth the growing pains to me. Worse are the corporate mandates that have muddled with the storytelling from time to time, but even that will hopefully settle down soon.