Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Executive Stage Editor
Arrow’s fifth season has been a mixed bag. After a solid premiere back in October, episodes have slowly started to become more about plot and less about characters. Last week’s episode fell flat and this week doesn’t feel much better. Arrow’s latest episode “So It Begins” introduces a threatening big bad, but has some characters taking major steps backwards.
Somewhere along the way, Arrow forgot we tune in for characters. Of course we’ve enjoyed the grandiose plot lines of past seasons, but our characters always came first. Take the season two finale. Even in the midst of fighting Deathstroke, Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) had the time to give an empowering speech to Oliver (Stephen Amell). Even in season three when Oliver was “killed” by Ra’s al Ghul, he saw flashes of those he loves: his parents, Thea (Willa Holland) and Felicity. Characters always, always came first. Now well into Arrow’s fifth season, the plot lines are coming before characters.
Last season, Arrow lost itself. In order to keep up with the growing DCTV universe, Arrow incorporated magic and shifted away from grounded reality. We moved away from “The Hood” and towards the Green Arrow, a mystical crime fighter. Even with season four being our least favorite, characters still mattered. Oliver and Felicity grew and thrived, Thea tossed aside her teenage past and became a hero, Diggle (David Ramsey) struggled, but ultimately grew stronger, and Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) learned to work with Team Arrow. It was a beautiful thing to witness. The characters kept pieces of their former selves and expanded on the qualities that made them unique.
The new recruits have breathed new life into Arrow. After losing Roy (Colton Haynes) and Laurel (Katie Cassidy), new blood needed to join the team. These new recruits have potential. Rene (Rick Gonzalez) has the ability to be a great leader. Rory (Joe Dinicol) and Curtis (Echo Kellum) have the brains to take this team far. Meanwhile, Evelyn (Madison McLaughlin) has enough heart for the entire team. So, why aren’t these characters soaring? For starters, they’re being treated like a group. Throughout these six episodes we’ve only gotten snippets of their lives. It hasn’t allowed us to form a coherent pictures of who they are.
On the subject of the new recruits, they suffer a major setback this week in terms of character development. When Prometheus begins murdering people that relate to Oliver’s original hit list. Oliver must face his past and tell the new recruits about dropping bodies when he first got back to Star City. They do not handle the news well and decide to leave the Arrow Bunker. The new recruits commiserate and say they don’t see how they can follow Oliver’s lead now knowing he’s a killer. We find it hard to believe they didn’t think Oliver killed people considering in the beginning of the season he was back to killing people left and right. How did the new recruits not see this coming? Also, Oliver is so much more than the Green Arrow and the fact that they can’t see that makes it all the more disappointing.
All the new recruits are taking the news hard and we are annoyed, however we are most disappointed in Curtis. He’s been with this team since the end of the last season and with one sign of struggle he turns his back on Oliver. Although characterization has been all over the place, this is the most jarring thing to happen. Kellum has consistently been a great addition to the cast. He adds to the humor and has begun to build a great character and superhero. This week’s episode is almost a backstep for him. Curtis gave Oliver the strength to carry on and defeat Damien Darhk, now he’s seemingly forgotten the man Oliver has become.
Another character development issue for us involves Felicity Smoak. This week, we finally see her and Detective Malone (Tyler Ritter) interacting. Malone is on the SCPD side of investigating Prometheus’ killing spree. After dodging his questions and stealing evidence from him, Felicity decides to tell him about her day job. Although a minor moment within the episode, Felicity tells Malone that she works FOR the Green Arrow. Last time we checked, Felicity works WITH the Green Arrow.
Again, a minor detail within the larger Arrow episode, but it’s a massive step backwards for Felicity’s character development. After Laurel’s death last season, Felicity became the leading female on Arrow. There’s no denying that, so why is Arrow trying to undermine this? Rickards is the strongest actress on Arrow. She’s built this character from the ground up and it’s time she receives the leading female status she so clearly deserves.
Before getting to the positives in this episode of Arrow, we have to address Thea and Quentin. For two characters that have gone through so much growth, they’ve essential been tossed into the background. When season five began, we dreamt of the scenes where Thea would be a high-power executive working for Mayor Oliver Queen. We also yearned for the monumental, heartbreaking moments of Quentin getting over Laurel. It all seemed so exciting. What we’ve gotten is essentially Arrow having too many characters and not knowing what to do with them. It’s simply sloppy writing.
Thea’s storyline involves clashing with news reporter Susan Williams (Carly Pope) while trying to keep Quentin sober. For being the top billed actress, Holland is being underutilized way too much. She’s barely in episodes and her scenes don’t hold any weight. Although we miss Speedy, we understand she needs to grow as Thea, but we aren’t seeing that growth. Even moments that could be wonderful for character dynamics are happening off screen. In this episode, Felicity mentions talking to Thea about Oliver’s new “girlfriend” Susan. A moment that would’ve been great to see, but we can assume was cut for bigger plot lines.
On the Quentin front, his storyline maybe the most disappointing. At the end of last season, he rode off into the sunset with Donna Smoak (Charlotte Ross) and appeared to be moving forward. This season, he returns to Star City without Donna and a drinking problem. Honestly, we would’ve preferred to see him deal with Laurel’s death with Donna. She could’ve been his rock while he strayed from his sobriety and learned to live in a world without Laurel.
Instead, Donna’s gone and Thea is being attached to his storyline, which is fine but if it’s going to happen utilize her. We start to get hints of this in this episode when Thea tells Quentin, “I am not giving up on you.” Even with Thea involved, Quentin is very much a bystander until the final moments of the episode where he’s made to look like Prometheus. Blackthorne is a very strong, dramatic actor, but like Holland, he’s fading into the background of Arrow.
The one massive plus for Arrow this season is John Diggle. After a season of dealing with his brother, Diggle has the best storyline thus far. Ramsey shines week after week as he essential tries to “rebuild” Diggle. After killing Andy and losing Laurel, Diggle is a broken man. He can’t see past the hurt he’s caused. Now that he’s back in Star City as Spartan, he’s working through the pain and becoming a stronger man. We’ve been waiting a long time for Ramsey to take center stage on Arrow and it’s finally happening.
Ramsey’s best moment of the night comes when he gives Oliver a pep talk. After Oliver tells the recruits about his past, Diggle assures him he’s become a better man. He tells Oliver, “You killed Damien Darhk because you had to, the list was different, you were killing as a first resort, not a last.” Amell and Ramsey always work very well with each other and this scene solidifies this. Diggle’s character development is front and center here and we wish every character can have one of these moments.
Lastly, the flashbacks are a plus in Arrow’s corner for the first time since season two. Bratva Oliver has proven to be a success. This week, we finally come face to face with Konstantin Kovar (Dolph Lundgren), the man Oliver is in Russia to stop. Lundgren brings this villain to life beautifully and helps set up a bigger storyline within the flashbacks. The Bratva storyline has been paced very well and continues to add to Oliver’s character overall. If you had told us last season we would like the flashbacks again, we would’ve laughed. Bratva Oliver is proving us wrong.
Overall, Arrow has to overcome its characterization problems. By introducing too many characters, staple character are getting lost in the background. Some character’s are moving forward while others take steps back. Let’s hope episode seven will be less plot and more character driven.