After a dire and depressing fourth season many fans, including myself, were bracing themselves for another relentlessly monotonous fifth season. Thankfully the substantial outcry calling for the writers to step up their game, no matter how stupendous the apologists can be, forced the show into a second wind.
The writers were forced to do away with the comfortable rot they had fashioned into a home and instead venture deep into the woods, discovering stories and characters of texture, emotion and sense.
Felicity, a rightful figure of derision in season four alone, has finally returned to the heights of her character, working both emotionally in the background and providing awkward comedic relief in the foreground.
Diggle, whose arc this season began rocky and misshapen, has settled into the role he should always occupy: the sensible mentor and advisory partner.
Even Thea who operated as a so-so character jumping from underdeveloped subplot to subplot is finding her own groove in the political game.
Arrow is pushing Stephen Amell, not even Oliver, after forgetting how good Amell is as a lead for much of the previous season. As a result Oliver’s character decisions and moments feel wholeheartedly believable, tangible and raw as opposed to contrived in order to satisfy a particular corner of the Arrow fan base.
These characters, and indeed more like Prometheus and Church, are proof that Arrow is on the rise once again. But before the aforementioned cogs in the show, the new recruits show that Arrow has learnt from its mistakes more than anything.
The basic structure of the Arrow team, and any superhero team in general, is to have conflict within the base. In the past Arrow has done this incredibly successfully with the likes of Roy, Thea, Diggle and Sara, with Sara giving us the most visceral response. That conflict and enjoyable melodrama took a turn last season as the focus shifted from equal distribution into one alley that failed to provide anything new, entertaining or even wanted.
With new fresh faces Arrow instantly rids itself of any established and inherent past melodrama and gives itself a clean slate. The new recruits are an admission of failure by the writers but also an olive branch to the audience. They know they messed up and with these new recruits they want to reboot the story.
It is no surprise that with the new recruits the show all but resets Oliver’s vigilante tactics to that of the first two seasons but supplements it with new onlookers. Felicity and Diggle will of course comment on his turn but with Rene you get an almost reluctant acceptance, with Curtis you get defensive comedy, with Evelyn you get emotional disbelief and with Rory you get general disagreement. You instantly allow the show to explore a wide array of opinions, responses and reactions and we saw that in the most recent episode ‘So It Begins’.
Instead of wasting run time on relationship drama week after week and long arduous gazes towards each other, Arrow pits characters morals against each other. And when morals conflict it can be as explosive as a choreographed action sequence.
But perhaps the best aspect of the new recruits is how they differ from Laurel. Laurel is, and always will be, one of the worst characters ever to appear on Arrow. It isn’t Katie Cassidy’s fault but rather the writing team’s fault. When Laurel first appeared in season one she appeared as a long term romantic interest and a decent enough character to be used for melodrama. Unfortunately the show didn’t know how to get from Point A to Point B. Along the way Laurel experienced a bafflingly inconsistent drug addiction sub-plot, increasingly whiny and unlikeable scenes and a ridiculous and frankly infuriating turn from helpless District Attorny (D)A into a crime fighting vigilante. How did she ascend to hero, you ask? She took some lessons with a washed up has-been of a boxer, bought an outfit from the sex shop, threw on a wig and decided that she was good enough to jump from rooftop to rooftop. It was the ultimate middle finger from the Arrow writing team and showed they didn’t respect the audience’s perception of narrative progression and that they were willing to jump a gigantic shark when they found themselves up against the wall.
Thankfully the show found a way to kill her off, the highlight of last season, despite spending hollow episodes mourning her ‘loss’. She will, inevitably, return in some shape or form (this is The CW after all) but until then Arrow has taken a different route with its new recruits.
Laurel went from taking shots at the bar to dodging shots on the streets with relative ease. The show didn’t put enough focus on her training and progression. Not here. Arrow’s fifth season has made a point of showing how naïve and inept the new recruits are and detailing the long road ahead. Rene has been beaten to a pulp and captured, Curtis was stabbed in the back, Prometheus destroyed Evelyn and Rory failed to keep his emotions out of the arena. Their transformation from wannabe vigilantes to fully-fledged heroes hasn’t even been completed and that’s why it has worked. Part of the fun is seeing them fail and stumble but get back up and succeed. We missed that with Laurel but we’re getting it with focus and abundance with the new recruits.
The show completely disregarded the high stature the audience held Sara in by throwing the Black Canary name onto Laurel before she had earned it. It felt like Laurel was wearing the suit and fighting crime before Sara’s body had even hit the ground. It was ludicrous and hilariously misinformed. Truthfully Arrow could have made the same mistake again this season by transforming Evelyn Sharp into another Black Canary. But they avoided it. These new recruits come into the story as fresh characters with their own names and costumes, absent of prejudice.
And you won’t see the show allowing the new recruits to work through substantial threats with ease, as was the case with Laurel. Oliver, smartly written, is holding them back and being intelligent with their training. They handle the grunt work and progress through the team. They gain privileges and better roles once they have earned it not because the writers deem it right to do it now for narrative sense.
If we’re being perfectly honest with ourselves, this season of Arrow has matched the level of enjoyment its shared universe peers churn out on a weekly basis. I have enjoyed watching Arrow just as much as Flash and Legends of Tomorrow … Supergirl has a long way to go yet. Part of the reason Arrow has come back from the dead is the new recruits. They are a fresh set of eyes and a clean slate slotted into a show that was turning stale and becoming a cannibalistic mess. They are proof that the show has learnt from its god-awful mistakes.