I want to start this article with a big, bold disclaimer: I love Arrow. To this day, I haven’t missed an episode. Granted it wasn’t the first DC television show ever created, it was definitely the most influential in terms of universe expansion, as it’s success led to The Flash and (probably) Gotham, who’s success in turn led to Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl. Even Marvel’s Netflix series Daredevil seems to have taken some inspiration from the dark, grounded drama.
With that being said, I sadly have to admit that after season two, Arrow‘s quality has declined significantly; and it’s not just my opinion, it seems to be the general consensus among Arrow fans over the age of 13. I still watch on a regular basis, and while season four has seen a slight improvement over its horrendous season three, it still is not living up to the standards it set for itself in seasons one and two, and unfortunately it probably never will. Check out my top six gripes with Arrow, and why I believe it isn’t as good as it used to be:
6. Season 2 Set The Bar Way Too High
I still get goosebumps when I think back to season 2 and the build up of the climactic battle between Slade and Oliver. Since the pilot episode of the series, fans knew we were going to eventually be getting the classic DC villain Deathstroke, and not only was Deathstroke an A list DC villain that even casual mainstream viewers were familiar with, but they got a real life Slade Wilson to play him with Manu Bennett. He undoubtedly knocked the role out of the park. In addition to Deathstroke, we also got Brother Blood, who was creepy and sinister in his own right, the introduction of Barry Allen and Black Canary (making Laurel Black Canary after already introducing Sara was a terrible move, by the way), the freaking Suicide Squad, and a bunch of awesome villains like Soloman Grundy, the Dollmaker, Professor Ivo, and even our first Ra’s al-Ghul namedrop that came out of nowhere.
The transformation from a CW drama to a DC super hero show between seasons one and two definitely added to the reason I loved the second season so much, and the way they handled the transition was masterful. It maintained it’s dark, dramatic tone while introducing new DC element after new DC element, episode after episode. At one point during season two, right around the Suicide Squad episode, I remember thinking to myself there was no way they would be able to top what they were already giving us, and sadly I still think I was right. Season 2 was the perfect combination of action and drama, and gave viewers a satisfying story-arc that built itself around two seasons of Oliver and Slade’s evolving relationship and character development. If they want to ever top what they did in season 2, they need to find another villain with a personal connection to Oliver, introduce them now, give them a couple seasons to develop, and then maybe we might get something close. Until that happens, Arrow is always going to be compared to what it once was.
5. DC’s Movie Universe
Arrow will unfortunately never be able to give fans the DC lore it once did with Deathstroke or Ra’s al-Ghul because DC’s upcoming movie slate is hogging all the good characters for itself. Hell, Arrow can’t even use Deathstroke anymore! Deadshot, Amanda Waller, Harley Quinn, and the rest of the Suicide Squad were either killed off or never even allowed to have a true version on the show in the first place, leaving Arrow with a shallow pool of C and D list villains to choose from moving forward. Don’t get my words twisted, I like what they’re doing with Damien Darhk this year, but I didn’t even know the guy existed prior to this season.
The movie’s limitations aren’t just about the villains, but extends to the heroes as well. One of the tent pole moments of season two was the introduction of Barry Allen, but unfortunately we will never see anything like that in Arrow again considering the movies are now home to all the heroes anyone truly cares about. Sure, The Atom was okay, and we got an introduction to Mr. Terrific this season, but it doesn’t look like we will ever be getting the long rumored and anticipated Hal Jordan, or anyone else even near equal in caliber. Earlier in Arrow‘s run, half the fun was wondering what big name DC hero we were going to meet next, but now, that feeling of excitement is completely gone.
4. The Internet
My favorite memory from Arrow season two was the revelation that the assumed big bad from season two, Brother Blood, was actually working for Oliver’s soon to be revealed arch nemesis, Deathstroke. That revelation scene alone turned me from a casual fan into a ‘super-fan’, right then and there. Arrow used to surprise me, week after week, with new characters, superb writing, unexpected deaths, and unpredictable story and plot elements that kept fans (see: me) on the edge of their (see: my) seat. Remember when Deathstroke nailed the Queen’s limo completely out of nowhere at the end of “Seeing Red”, which led into arguably the darkest scene in the series where Oliver was forced to choose between his sisters and his mothers life? I still remember where I was and how I reacted when that happened, and I sadly don’t think anything the show has given us since has made me sit on the edge of my seat quite like that scene did. And why was that? Because there were no websites to inform me it was going to happen months in advance (yes, like ours, before anyone says it).
Now, if anyone is going to die, if there is going to be a new character, or even if Oliver is going to change his facial hair for a couple minutes in one episode, it’s all over my Facebook months in advance. In part it’s my fault for following comic websites and Facebook pages, but the show’s actors and producers are so heavily involved in social media (which is great for the show’s publicity, don’t get me wrong), but it’s gotten to the point where fans always know what is going to happen well before it actually happens, which defeats the purpose of a television show in the first place. If we stopped reporting this stuff, there would still be 500 other websites out there doing it with new ones springing up everyday, so unfortunately we will never be able to go back to the days where the show actually surprised us. Even the death from the graveyard scene from this season was ruined last week with pictures from the set! And no, I won’t spoil that one for you though. I’ll let every other website do that.
3. The Lighter Tone
Tommy Merlyn, Moira Queen, Shado, Lance’s partner that was forced to shoot himself in the face by Soloman Grundy – what do they all have in common? They were all killed before every single character in the show was given a free pass at life. Once Ra’s al-Ghul and the Lazarus Pit were introduced into the show, death literally had no meaning anymore. In fact, no main characters (besides Deadshot and Amanda Waller; please refer back to item #5 from this list) have been permanently killed since Slade drove a sword through Oliver’s mother while he was forced to watch. Season three’s mid season finale tried to be dramatic by killing Oliver himself, but I mean, what did the producers want us to think? That Oliver was dead and the show was just over with Ra’s as the winner? Yeah, right. Sara Lance and Thea were both given free passes with death, and now in season four we are being teased with a gravestone as the big season mystery like it’s some big deal all of a sudden to kill off a character. In season two, death wasn’t just part of the show, it was readily expected, and it gave the stories and the characters real consequences to their actions. You could have an episode completely about Roy end with the death of a totally unrelated main character, and it was normal. It kept the shows interesting and intriguing, not predictable the way it is today.
Fans went into season four with the knowledge, thanks to the good old internet, that it would be noticeably lighter in tone than it had been previously. I’m not sure why though, as that was never the problem in season three to begin with. Season three’s issues were primarily in it’s focus on Felicity and her crying about something in every god damn episode, not the shows dark tone. My favorite scene from season three is still the final scene where Ra’s shows up in Thea’s apartment and kills her out of nowhere. I had season 2 PTSD when that happened and couldn’t believe they did that after the crap they fed us up until that point, and for a brief half an hour I had hope that Arrow may have began to identify and address it’s own problems. That was until I realized the Lazarus Pit was going to completely negate out any point of that scene at all.
Sure, I actually like the fact Oliver is a little more witty this season since it fits with his comic version, but the fact that one single death is the looming mystery over the entire fourth season just puts a bad taste in my mouth when in season two a character like Shado was shot in the head with the blink of an eye. If you got up to take a piss during the episode you could have missed it entirely.. which of course I didn’t because I was glued to my couch! The emotional impact on something like that is so much higher than a a single heavily teased death that fans have an entire season to speculate about, and if Arrow can’t go back to putting it’s characters in true life or death situations, which sometimes work out for the latter, it will never have the same impact on fans that it once did.
Season three could have has the subtitle Arrow: The Tale of Felicity Smoak and it would have been completely accurate. I won’t sit here and argue that a certain percentage of Arrow fans are 13 year old girls thanks to the fact that it is on the CW, but as soon as Marc Guggenheim took the reins of the show he seemed to totally forget he was trying to appeal to anyone but the pre-pubescent. The season’s villain was RA’S FREAKING AL-GHUL and he was only in like seven episodes the entire season. ARE YOU SERIOUS, GUGGENHEIM? There is no Earth in the DC multiverse where it would make any sense to give Ra’s al-Ghul a backseat to Felicity Smoak. I’m sorry, I still have a lot of pent up anger from season three. Matt Nable’s portrayal of Ra’s was up there with Manu’s portrayal of Deathstroke, but it was totally wasted so Felicity could be in stupid love triangles with Ray and Oliver and then cry about it. Every episode. For like a half an hour at a time.
There was one time where I almost stopped watching Arrow entirely, and that was when Felicity ended up saving Oliver wearing Ray’s Atom suit during the season three finale. The amount of dry heaving I was subject to during that was almost life threatening. Season four has been somewhat better, but it still is too heavily focused on Felicity and Oliver instead OIiver and Darhk’s story and rivalry. If Guggenheim keeps it up, he will no longer have a DC fanbase at all and then he can pander to the 13 year old Tumblr demographic as much as he’d like, because nobody else will care anymore. The best part of season four so far was when Felicity was shot in the limo. Not because I want to see her die, but because it provided her with some actual trauma and character development. That is, until the last episode that ended with Felicity crying about something again and then getting up from her wheelchair and magically walking away like she was never shot in the first place. It looks like the show can still find a way to prevent fans from investing any emotion into the the show anymore, even without the Lazarus Pit.
1. The Flash
When fans were given The Flash, it was like Christmas. Everything that Arrow wasn’t giving us in terms of DC lore, The Flash had covered. The shows were as opposite as Batman and Superman; one was grounded and dark, the other was super powered and more light hearted, and my thought process was that they would make a great dichotomy. But then it happened – The Flash got too good too quick, and Arrow season three was misguided (See: bad). So, in response, now Arrow is doing everything it can to keep up with The Flash, except what needs to be done – and that is to be the Arrow fans first fell in love with. Arrow has began adding metahumans, magic, and other fantastical elements to the show to make it more “Flash-esque”, but it’s having the opposite effect and it’s still not providing the real magic that Arrow once gave episode after episode, minus the spells. Give us the grounded heroes, give us the ninjas, the warriors, and the gangsters. We don’t need super powers to like Arrow, and we definitely don’t need stupid internet suggested names like Overwatch or Spartan, or witty team banter over the microphones during every mission the way Team Flash does. It works for Cisco, Barry, and Caitlin, but it just feels forced and out of place with Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle.
The Flash should never be Arrow, and Arrow should never be The Flash, and that is okay. Arrow has fallen into the trap of constantly playing catch up, though. The Flash has successful elements, and Arrow had successful elements, but instead of focusing on what once made Arrow great, it’s trying to shift focus to make it more like The Flash and the result is a show that is unfocused and confused. It still has trace elements of season three Olicity, but instead of fixing the other issues to balance it out, it’s trying too hard to be The Flash at the same time and it’s starting to come off as desperate. Just because characters don’t ever truly die on The Flash doesn’t mean characters should be given the same free pass on Arrow. The Flash has elements of time travel and parallel universes so it makes sense and fits with the story being told. On the other hand, Oliver is just a man, that’s it, and he was doing just fine before Barry Allen came into his life. The fact he has no real powers is what made the show so great in the first place, because villains posed an actual threat. Bringing in elements of the DC mythos, and the occasional metahuman to give Oliver a run for his money is totally fine, but anything more than that and Arrow will continue to lose what made it great in the first place.
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