Warning: This contains spoilers.
Let’s be honest, the new season of Arrow has a lot of making up to do, after the crushing disappointment of the Season 4 finale. Don’t get us wrong – Season 4 as a whole was a definite improvement over Season 3 (largely because Neal McDonough was always good value as Damien Darhk), but the show got horribly bogged down in mystical mumbo-jumbo and made a series of poor character decisions, while the flashbacks were among the worst Arrow has done.
Still, as has been well-established, Arrow is a show that’s willing to learn from its mistakes, so in the break between seasons, there’s been a lot of talk from the showrunners about getting back to basics this year. And, on the evidence of the Season 5 premiere, things are looking very promising indeed.
The set-up is established very quickly. Oliver is now pulling double duty when it comes to saving his city – by day, he’s Star City’s Mayor (although his approval ratings have dropped and he’s been nicknamed “Mayor Handsome” in the press) and by night, he’s fighting crime as Green Arrow. Thea has hung up her Red Arrow costume, but is still helping Oliver in her new position as the Mayor’s chief assistant. Diggle has re-joined the army, because of the guilt he feels after killing his no-good brother last season. Laurel is still dead (and the show quickly reveals what she said to him last season – something about how he must always carry on the fight – which puts that little mystery to rest pretty sharpish). Which just leaves Felicity on Team Arrow as Overwatch, with Curtis popping into the Arrow Cave every so often for kicks.
We’re also quickly introduced to this season’s Big Bad, or at least, the Big Bad until a Bigger Bad comes along (more on that later). Step forward crime lord Tobias Church (played by The Wire / The Walking Dead’s Chad L. Coleman), who makes his presence felt with a pair of knuckle-dusters, a preference for beating people to death rather than shooting them, and a penchant for putting coins over their eyes once he’s done.
The main plot involves Church and his goons kidnapping a bunch of city council people in order to draw out the Green Arrow. The only problem is that one of the city council people they kidnap IS the Green Arrow, so Thea ends up coming out of retirement to save the day. At the same time, Oliver manages to escape captivity, but he kills a few people in the process, indicating that his previous no-kill rule is out the window this season. He has an argument with Thea about that – his position is that Laurel would still be alive, if he had taken out Damien Darhk when he had the chance, hers is that Oliver killing again sullies her memory – and Thea makes it clear that she’s not coming back to the team any time soon.
The issue of Oliver abandoning his no-kill rule is a potentially interesting one, but it feels like something the show should have built up to rather than jumped straight into and the impact of the decision is considerably lessened as a result. Still, let’s see where they’re going with it.
Anyway, the upshot of Thea’s decision (coupled with a quick Skype call to a fighting-overseas Diggle – the only time we see John Ramsay this episode) is that Oliver decides it’s time to move on and recruit a new Team Arrow. There’s a new, hockey-mask-wearing vigilante in town (set to be Wild Dog, a character from the comics) and he’s first on Oliver’s list, plus Curtis suddenly decides he wants in after getting beaten up, but we’ll have to wait until next week to find out who else ends up on the team.
And speaking of the team, there is, of course, one member we haven’t touched upon yet and that’s Quentin Lance, last seen driving off with Felicity’s mum (aka Mama Smoak), having quit the police force. Lance turns up looking very much the worse for wear, having split up with Donna and fallen off the wagon. He tells Oliver that an alcoholic needs a reason to stop drinking and, let’s not forget, Quentin is a man who’s had to bury two daughters a total of three times and one of them is still alive. (There’s an interesting parallel here, in that Oliver has also fallen off the wagon, in a way, now that he’s killing again, but that goes largely under-explored.)
Anyway, in the Mayoral Subplot, Oliver tries to persuade Quentin to get sober enough to show up to the unveiling of a statue of Laurel as the Black Canary. Quentin duly does so and, inspired by Oliver’s moving dedication speech, declares that he’ll help Oliver root out the corruption in the Star City Police Department by identifying a handful of trusted cops that Oliver can turn into a special task force. It looks very much as though Quentin and Thea will be working together on the Mayoral side of things this season, which is an extremely promising development, not least because Paul Blackthorne and Willa Holland are the two strongest actors on the show and it will be fun to see them sharing more scenes.
One area where the show makes a definite improvement is the flashbacks. We’re now entering the fifth and final year of the five years Oliver spent away from Star City, and, as promised, the sequences will deal with Oliver becoming a member of the Russian Mafia (the Bratva), under the tutelage of his friend, Anatoly (David Nykl, already excellent). The best flashback sequences often find a way to inform the present-day action and this week manages that nicely, with Anatoly telling Oliver how to break free of a zip-tie in the flashback and him using that knowledge in the present. So, yes, on the strength of what we see here, the weekly trips to Flashback City are looking very promising.
Oh. Right. Felicity. For the majority of the episode, things are pretty great in the Felicity department – Oliver and Felicity are very clearly back to being close friends and neither of them so much as mentions their relationship. There’s not even one of those shots where it’s clear one of them is still mooning over the other. And then the show goes and ruins it all by revealing that – gasp! – Felicity has a secret boyfriend (who’s also one of the cops) and deeming that fact important enough to serve as the episode’s cliffhanger ending. Argh. One can only imagine what tedious relationship-related shenanigans they have in mind for this season. Let’s hope they see sense and nip that plotline in the bud.
Actually, that isn’t the only cliff-hanger ending – it turns out there’s also an all-new Dark Archer in town, but we learn next to nothing about him this episode, so let’s leave that for another time.
All in all, this is a very decent season opener that delivers on its promise to get back to basics, putting the emphasis on vigilantes and gang lords, rather than meta-humans, mystical mumbo-jumbo and superpowers. We also get some very promising plot direction (both in the present-day and the flashbacks), as well as some thrilling action sequences, courtesy of director James Bamford (one of the show’s stuntmasters) – most notably the sequence with Church escaping in the helicopter. Oh, and someone in the production department has finally received the memo about including more of Oliver’s gadget arrows, because we got a bunch of them this week, including – YES – a parachute arrow. More gadget arrows please, show, and while we’re at it, let’s see the boxing glove arrow again too.
Arrow Season 5 is available to buy and download on pay-per-view VOD.