The third season of Arrow was widely considered to be the weakest yet. Season 1 was an exciting introduction to Oliver Queen/The Arrow and the pesky villains populating Starling City, whilst season 2 continued that successful vigilante formula, bolstered by a fearsome baddie in the form of the vengeful Slade Wilson. After two good seasons, it was a shame to see Arrow lose its way somewhat, focusing too much on the mythological Nanda Parbat and the League of Assassins. Season 3 wasn’t terrible by any means, but it felt erratic, drifting in too many directions. The copious flashbacks have always been to blame for this inconsistent episode quality but it was the supposedly deadly Ra’s al Ghul that, for me at least, was the biggest disappointment. The show’s future depended on The Arrow’s next foe being truly diabolical, and boy did season 4 deliver.
Starting with Ollie and Felicity trying to live a ‘normal’ life away from Starling, Diggle, Thea and Laurel were left to pick up the vigilante slack in their absence. With this, season 4 immediately raised the bar; the plot felt re-energized and exciting again, the initial lightness a breath of fresh air post Ra’s drama. Of course it wasn’t long before Olicity were dragged back to the city and Ollie was donning his leather again, calling himself Green Arrow. With Malcolm Merlyn now commanding the League, Team Arrow was faced with a new super-villain, the aptly named Damien Darhk (a suitably charismatic Neal McDonough) and his team of criminal ‘Ghosts’. This was the real threat we’d been waiting for.If the first few episodes brought Ollie and his team back together, the rest of the season would see them torn apart, multiple times and in many ways. Darhk proved to be the most formidable opponent Green Arrow had come up against, an apparent metahuman, later revealed to be using a magical artifact to give himself powers including telekinesis. It was crushing to see Darhk constantly bettering Team Arrow, as they tried to thwart his end game of destroying the city – then the world – in order to rebuild it anew. The harder Ollie tried, the more Darhk fought back, proving that the hero doesn’t always win.
Sara’s death was a massive blow last season but this season would see an even bigger loss. In earlier episodes it was hinted that one of the team would die, with Ollie vowing to get retribution, but we were never shown whose name was on the gravestone. By hinting at a heartbreaking death but keeping Darhk’s victim a secret until much later in the season, the writers made the audience genuinely concerned for every good character’s survival. Each member of the team faced a moment of uncertainty, and the tension was drawn out perfectly, culminating with the superb ‘Eleven-Fifty-Nine’, an episode that was gut-wrenching to watch and impossible to forget.Not only did this season improve upon its villain and the general quality of the script, it allowed each character to undergo their own individual arc. Felicity was badly injured and had to struggle to mend herself physically and emotionally; Dig travelled down a darker path as he wrestled with his brother being a turncoat, whilst Thea battled with the effects of the Lazarus Pit and Laurel finally stepped into her own as the Black Canary. It inevitably always came back to Ollie though, who realised that he couldn’t be the superhero the world needs without allowing some of the darkness in (courtesy of Mr. Darhk himself).
Like spin-off show The Flash, Arrow is held together by the light and shade, the darker moments of grief and pain offset by the comedy gold delivered by the likes of Felicity or Barry Allen. Season 4 provided more Barry magic, with a superb crossover episode involving Legends of Tomorrow’s Hawkman and Hawkgirl, but it also introduced a new geek to the squad, Curtis, whose nerdy banter with Felicity was one of the highlights of the season. It’s so enjoyable when The CW shows come together, that you’ll wish there are more occasions for a superhero team-up.
As we wait for season 5 to arrive on our screens next month, the future of Team Arrow looks bleak. It’s now down to two members – Ollie and Felicity – but will they be able to entice anyone, new or old, into the vigilante business? As the show has proved before, it’s not so easy retiring from being a hero, especially when a new villain pops up every week, so let’s hope the team of two doesn’t stay that way for very long.
The Complete Fourth Season of Arrow is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now. Watch all 23 episodes before the all-new fifth season starts on 26 October.