Arrow: 4.23 Schism
If you look online for a review of the Arrow season four finale or check out its rating on IMDB, you'll probably hear that Schism is the worst episode the show has ever done. In my opinion, it was an episode with some faults, many of which have been evident since early season three as the show has tried to outdo what has come before, but here's something rather controversial; I rather liked it.
In fact I'm struggling to find why this finale got such a bad press. It had a great final performance from Neal McDonough, a dramatic climatic battle, some bold choices in the directions of Thea and Diggle and a bittersweet ending that suggested that the show was about to take a back to basics direction. More importantly, it resolved the threat of Darhk and global armageddon, making this finale feel, just like last season's final episode, very much like a proper conclusion.
At the same time, I get some of the backlash - particularly when it came to the threat of a global nuclear holocaust. Darhk's motivation to burn the world was a plot contrivance; I might had believed it if his daughter had died along with his wife but she was there at his side for the majority of the episode. And the way it ended seemed rather quick, almost glossed over. Not taking into account that I didn't believe Noah would leave for a second given the stakes involved, it seemed like one minute Felicity and Curtis were at their keyboard, thinking about how to reprogram the missiles and the next minute, the threat was over. It was almost a 'blink and you'll miss it; moment. Perhaps the episode had dealt with the one nuclear weapon heading for Star City rather than the LITERALLY THOUSANDS of missiles, it may have made the conclusion less anti-climatic.
Though if there was the feeling that the threat was resolved via a keyboard, then at least Oliver Queen got some big moments too; his rousing speech to the public had perhaps a whiff of cheese but it certainly cemented him as a leader outside the hood, leading to his interim appointment as mayor by the episode's end. And the final showdown between Darhk and Oliver as Green Arrow was a lot of fun, the villain reminding Oliver that he was a member of the League of Shadows long before he was a megalomaniac magician with delusions of global genocide. The destruction of the Arrow cave earlier in the episode was another thrilling moment and a tragic one. I've rather liked the new set and there was something rather bittersweet about Oliver and Felicity standing in the ruins, staring at the costumes of Speedy, Spartan, Green Arrow and Black Canary.
Diggle's decision to leave, rejoining the army to find direction after killing his brother Andy opens up an interesting direction for Oliver. Diggle has always been the voice of reason; just how he copes without his friend and ally will be an intriguing story for season five. And after threatening to kill Darhk's daughter, Thea realised just how consumed by the darkness she still was, giving up the mantle of Speedy too. Will both rejoin team Arrow in season five? I quite like the back to basics approach Arrow seems to be going next year. After the OTT shenanigans of the last two years it will be quite refreshing and mark a return to the magic of the show's second season - without 'magic'.
Once again the flashbacks served little to no purpose. What became a gripping story in its own right during the first two seasons (Slade, Shado, the Mirakuru) became something of a drag last season, but even then the outbreak and the emotional connections to Maseo and Tatsu bore some relevance to the present day events. Sadly, despite a welcome return to the island, this year gave us nothing. As I mentioned in previous reviews, the flashbacks should provide a fresh perspective on current day events but the appearance of John Constantine aside, it became an unnecessary distraction to what was happening in the war against HIVE and Damien Darhk. I didn't even care about the final showdown against Baron Reiter (though his offhand destruction of the plane was rather cool) and the death of Taiana at Oliver's hands. There was a brief but welcome return of Cynthia Addai-Robinson as Amanda Waller though in what I suspect will be her last ever appearance in the show given Waller's big screen appearance in Suicide Squad in a few month's time.
Schism was an apt title, not just because it represented the struggle of Oliver to balance the darkness with the light but because it represented the wider struggles of the show. The balance between present day and flashback, the conflict between Arrow's core premise and the OTT world-ending drama of the second half of season four. The show has likely lost some fans and I admit that between this, The Flash and the other DC superhero shows I am suffering a little with superhero fatigue. But I suspect the return to the central premise of Oliver saving Star City at night - and as mayor by day - will offer the breath of fresh air the series needs. There is already talk of a very human antagonist next season and after Damien Darhk (as brilliant as he was) I think that is exactly where Arrow needs to go next.
And on a final side note - spoilers for The Flash season two finale below...
Zoom wanted to destroy all the other multiverses and conquer this Earth. Damien Darhk wanted to obliterate this world in a nuclear holocaust. As I my wife pointed out to me when we watched Arrow, how pissed would Zoom be if he had won, only for Darhk's plan to succeed? Can the makers of both shows both make an alternate mini-episode where both villains succeed, because that would be hilarious to watch!