Arrow Season Five: It’s Synergy…Mostly

Arrow is about half way through its season, and I stopped to consider whether I’m enjoying it. The answer is…mostly. There are quite a few elements that have come together and improved significantly over the course of the last couple of seasons. And overall, there are individual elements that I’m really liking about this season. But I’m still not completely sure whether the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Let’s start with something I like. I really appreciate the fact that the show has scaled back a bit with the threats. Oliver constantly facing down metahumans, psycho immortal assassins, and sorcerers stretched credulity a bit far. Damien Darhk especially was a massive misstep for the series for many reasons. I’m not familiar with the Arrow comic books, so I don’t know what the relationship between The Green Arrow and Damien Darhk is in that realm, but in the realm of the Arrow tv series, Oliver was ridiculously outmatched. He was also stuck on his ‘no kill’ policy, so every fight between them ended with Darhk monologing while tossing Oliver and crew around the room. It got pretty old pretty quickly. With the exception of the 100th episode crossover, Arrow has mostly stuck with adversaries that are reasonable for Oliver to take on. Even though Oliver may be more highly trained than some of the villains we’ve seen thus far, that’s not been the case with all the villains. Knowing that Oliver is more evenly matched has made the fight sequences much more interesting to watch because the outcomes are much less predetermined. Especially in the instance of Prometheus. The show has taken a long, slow road to revealing who he is and what he has planned for Oliver. But now that they’ve done that, I’m anxious for the show to spend more time building the adversarial relationship between Oliver and Prometheus. Especially since Prometheus seems to know so much more about Oliver than Oliver does about him.

The story is also more focused this season than it has been. One of Arrow’s problems is the fact that it was such a success for The CW. Why is that a problem? Because once The CW decided they wanted to be the television home for DC characters, they also decided to use Arrow’s success to springboard their other shows. In some cases, that worked out ok. They did a good job laying out the groundwork for The Flash on Arrow. The Flash storyline grew out of the story they were already telling on Arrow, and it never felt like Arrow shoehorned anything in just to set up The Flash. However, as some of the other DC shows took off and The CW attempted to keep Arrow included in the larger DC universe, Arrow seemed to lose its voice. The stories were all over the place, and it made getting invested in the character outcomes a bit harder. This season is focused mostly on rebuilding Team Arrow and getting back to Oliver’s original mission of trying to save Starling City. That was a good choice. Oliver’s team and Oliver’s city are personal to him, and because it’s so personal to him, it’s more personal to me and makes getting invested in those outcomes much easier.

The flashbacks are also much better this season. SO much better. Under normal circumstances, I’m not a fan of multiple flashbacks. At least not within an episode. They’re fine at the beginning or at the end, but it’s kind of difficult to find the right balance when jumping around within an episode. For the first two seasons, Arrow found the right balance and did a really good job with the flashbacks. Each time jump showed the progression of Oliver from rich, spoiled brat to highly trained killer and also provided context for much of the present day action and character relationships. Then season three happened, and by about halfway through the season, I was very much over the flashbacks. I know they probably served some purpose, but they always felt forced into the story. And even worse, they were mostly boring. Thankfully, the show seems to have recognized the error of its ways this season because the Russia flashbacks, much like the flashbacks of seasons one and two, fit well into the story. They’re much more relevant to the present day story, they give us more insight into Oliver’s involvement with the Bratva, and they explain more about how Oliver became The Arrow. Plus, I just really enjoy Anatoly.

But the Russia flashbacks also lead to what I consider one of the season’s weaker elements. Oliver’s brooding. To be clear, I don’t think there will ever be a time when Oliver isn’t a dark, brooding hero. That’s the very nature of this character. It would be weird for him not to brood. My primary issue with Oliver’s brooding is how repetitive it’s become. One universal truth is that as soon as you conquer one fear or overcome one obstacle, there is another waiting in the wings to take its place. Oliver has overcome many obstacles to get where he is, but for the last three seasons we’ve been listening to him bemoan the fact that he’s a killer and that he’s got so much darkness in him. Given everything he’s been through and the things he’s done, those are issues I imagine he’s going to struggle with forever. However, it would be a nice change to see Oliver accept the darkness in himself and then see how he chooses to deal with it. I think we might be getting there, but I’ve been fooled before.

The weakest element of this season for me has been rebuilding Team Arrow. Part of the reason the original Team Arrow clicked so well is that they were individually interesting characters. I care about what happens to John because the show spent time developing John as an individual and not just as a character in relation to Oliver. The same is true of Felicity. She’s an interesting character even without Oliver which is why her delving into darkness matters. I cannot say the same for Curtis, Rene, and Rory. Curtis has been developed somewhat, but that’s mostly building upon what we learned about him last season. The show hasn’t really spent any time developing any of the new team members they’ve introduced this season, and what they’ve shown us has only been moderately interesting at best. Rene is an unpleasant, arrogant, thick-headed jerk who perpetually puts the team at risk. I suppose he’s intended to be the maverick, but I find him more annoying than endearing. The last few episodes have tried to give him some depth and soften his edges somewhat, but it’s not really working for me. Rory has an interesting backstory, but the show barely touched on it before they decided to move on. I get that he’s supposed to be a religious type, but the fact that he so quickly got over Felicity being responsible for his entire family’s death is a bit much. Then there’s Evelyn. Remember her? She’s the Black Canary wannabe who betrayed Team Arrow in the worse kind of way and has just sort of disappeared. I honestly don’t understand why the team isn’t more concerned about it. She knows all of their secret identities. She knows the location of the Not So Secret Hideout. Also, I think she’s probably a bit crazy too. Or at least bent on vengeance. But then no one seems bothered by her betrayal, so I guess it’s all good. All of this is problematic because the primary focus of this season has the formation of Team Arrow 2.0. They’ve done a little better since the mid-season finale, but Team Arrow is still not gelling and that’s disappointing.