Arrow: 5.01 Legacy
Arrow season four may have had a great villain in Damien Darhk, but like the brilliant Zoom over in sister show The Flash, Darhk's story felt a little dragged out by the season's end. Personally I liked some of the creative choices taken last season as it went bigger and bolder with the introduction of magic to the 'Arrowverse', but it did feel like it strayed a lot from what made the first two seasons such great TV. Controversial decisions such as the loss of Laurel Lance left fans frustrated and the island-based flashbacks grew tired. Arrow needed a jump start going into its fifth season; with a promised back to basics approach can the show recaptures the highs of season two?
It was certainly a back to basics approach as the season opener tried to capture its gritty, urban, violent roots. There was no sign of magic, no shadowy league of assassins or super powers; this was Arrow very much stripping away a lot of what had put fans off over the last couple of years and trying to find what made it so good in those first couple of seasons.
Let's start rather surprisingly with the flashbacks. After becoming such a chore in the last two years, they felt very much invigorated here. Travelling to Russia, this was Oliver about to gain his street level fighting skills courtesy of the Bratva. It was a little uncomfortable to watch at times, particularly that final beating / initiation but it was certainly engaging, much more than the magic-based island shenanigans of last season or the drawn out Hong Kong affair of the year earlier. And the welcome arrival of David Nykl's Anatoly Knyazev from season two certainly lifted the spirits, tying the flashbacks to the far superior Add to dictionary story of season two. It also gave Oliver and the audience a familiar face as the show kicked off its final arc before he headed back to Lian Yu to be rescued in the pilot.
Even in the present day, events were stripped back. Chad L Coleman's villain Tobias Church is so far removed from Damien Darhk, Ra's Al Ghul, even Slade Wilson but still brutal in his own right. He's a thug who in the space of one episode took over every major crime gang, beat his way through cop and criminal alike and even kidnapped the mayor.
Okay, so as mayor, Oliver let himself be taken in public, to protect his identity, his legacy as Green Arrow. It led to some amusing banter between Oliver and Tobias ("The Green Arrow is tied up at the moment.") and the poor unsuspecting thug who had his neck broken by Oliver as he attempted to interrogate him.
The level of violence was startling, particularly contrasted against this week's earlier Supergirl and The Flash but it was not delivered in a wholly gratuitous way. Oliver killing his way through the criminal population shocked Thea, who took on the Speedy mantle one last time to 'rescue' her brother before hanging up the red mantle for good. But that was part of the full circle aspect of Legacy. This was Oliver Queen, back as a lone vigilante on the streets if the city, coming up against thugs and corrupt cops. Killing was back on the table and even the fun double act of Felicity (with no romantic angst in sight) and Curtis Holt couldn't prevent that. Even the reveal of the second villain, the mysterious evil archer killing one of Oliver's elite cops, felt like a throwback to the early reveals of Malcolm Merlyn's Dark Arrow from season one.
Though it wasn't just a rehash of the show's early days. The surviving characters had moved on, for better or worse; Thea now enjoying a very human life serving as a key member of Oliver's mayoral staff, Diggle back in the military, while Quentin was truly at rock bottom, delving into the bottle after his break up with Donna in the gap between seasons. The legacy of Laurel Lance was a key theme too, the statue commemorating her heroism and Katie Cassidy reprising her role as it was finally revealed what she told Oliver on her deathbed last season. Make sure she was not the last Black Canary. That reveal was a little flat after the build up, but it was in keeping with the theme of the episode and this season - the legacy of Green Arrow and his allies. With characters like Wild Dog ready to step up and join his team and Curtis willing to take on an expanded role from the comics, we really are seeing both a return to form and a fresh take on Arrow.
It wasn't a brilliant episode but it was a strong one, just for its mission statement alone. The makers of Arrow seem to have listened to the dissatisfaction of fans over the last two years; it hasn't got that wow moment yet and Church is very low key compared to previous villains but there is the possibility of the show finding its feet again. Even the flashbacks are interesting, something that couldn't be said last season. It certainly is the season by which Arrow lives or dies; if the more grounded, gritty take on the Arrowverse fails to succeed, where is there for the show to go? Like many fans I am apprehensive but hopeful that we're at the start of the strongest year since season two.