A promising start to the season, that seems set on returning to the glory of earlier times.
Arrow is a show with a significant legacy. As the launchpad for the ‘Arrowverse’, DC’s televisual shared universe, it has been responsible for the successful sister superhero shows The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow; but such responsibility comes with a cost, and in recent years, its attempts to match the fantastical and fun tone consistently displayed by its stablemates have led Arrow from its original theme of gritty, street-level heroics. In a sense, it has lost sight of its own legacy.
With this in mind, it is fitting that the fifth series of the show is concerning itself with that very theme: legacy. After the defeat of magical menace Damien Darhk – a victory that came at a cost, as the show is keen to remind us throughout this initial hour – the original Team Arrow has fractured, leaving the door open for the formation of a new team inspired by the heroics of their predecessors. With Oliver (Stephen Amell) now sworn in as mayor of Star City, we see him struggling to divide his time between his parallel responsibilities to his city – as its daytime leader, and night-time protector. Although we check in with other principle characters such as Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Lance (Paul Blackthorne, who once again excels as a man who has been broken so many times that there’s very little left to repair), this is very much Amell’s episode, and he does a stellar job of conveying the weariness and reluctance that comes with his responsibilities. Everytime he mentions waiting for the old team to come back together, you can practically feel his desperation – it’s particularly rare for the character to seem so dejected, and it provides a solid core for the show to build upon. Moreover, the death of Laurel (Katie Cassidy) in the previous season continues to be treated with respect here, serving as an inspiration for all of our main heroes on their journeys, and just about treading the line between resonance and overuse in this first episode.
With the focus returning to a more-grounded approach to super-heroics this season, the show takes time to introduce its two newest Big Bads. First up is aspiring crime boss Tobias Church, played by The Walking Dead alum Chad L. Coleman. He plays the character with a swaggering confidence and brutal physicality that is a far cry from reluctant killer Tyreese (side note: does anyone else believe that his ‘duck, duck, goose’ scene with the baseball bat was a simple coincidence, considering the proximity to The Walking Dead‘s brutal premiere?). Unfortunately, the show does little to convince you that the character could prove a match for the Green Arrow, especially considering Oliver’s takedown of super-human Damien Darhk last series. Although satisfyingly visceral, the throwdown between the two at the climax of the episode suffers from a necessary suspension of disbelief. A later scene serves to set up Church as a recurring baddie, but there was very little in the episode to suggest that Oliver should lose any sleep over the prospect of this new villain. In the closing moments of the episode, we are also introduced to Prometheus, a comic book foe of the Green Arrow – albeit one who has undergone a significant transformation from page to screen. His costume is clearly meant to evoke Oliver’s original Arrow suit, and his disdainful remark – “No, I’m not Green Arrow” – suggests we may see some call-backs to those earlier series. Time, and development in future episodes, will tell if he is set to be a fitting adversary, but he certainly makes a memorable first impression here.
This year’s flashbacks, a central aspect to the show since the very first series, focus in on Oliver’s stint with the Bratva in Russia (and feature the return of Oliver’s long-forgotten Russian bro, Anatoly Knyazev (David Nykl)). After two seasons of meandering, uninteresting story threads, one cannot escape the feeling that the show would benefit from altogether excising these scenes, although as Slade Wilson in Season 2 proved, the showrunners are capable of threading the past and present together in a way that feels enriching to the story, rather than intrusive. With future episodes promising the training of a new vigilante team, the parallels between pupil and teacher Oliver (in past and present, respectively) could make for a intriguing watch.
There are equally-troubling and promising aspects to this first episode, but on the whole, you get the sense that the showrunners have finally caught onto what made the first two seasons so successful. Whilst The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow tail off adventures with time paradoxes and parallel universes, Arrow is committed to telling a grounded story this year. By staying on that path, it may yet pay respect to its own legacy.
Arrow airs on Sky1 on Wednesdays at 8pm.