Warning: Spoilers for Series 1-3!
Every TV show gets to a point where it’s beginning to waver or viewing figures are declining and the next season is arguably a crucial one. Game of Thrones Season 5 was one, because it was adapting the weakest parts of the books, and despite a few stumbles, it came through unscathed and as good as ever. Homeland redeemed a weak third season with an excellent fourth run. Doctor Who Series 8 proved Moffat wasn’t done as showrunner just yet after the fanbase was beginning to tire of him. And now Arrow faces a 4th Season which has to repair the damage of season 3.
What went wrong last season? Several things – the side-villains who only appeared in one or two episodes, just weren’t as good as in previous seasons. Olicity (i.e. fan pairing of Oliver and Felicity) was badly-mishandled (what is it with DC and rubbish love interest storylines?) and too much time was spent on characters we don’t care about (Laurel… why hasn’t she been killed off yet???). The flashbacks have always been a mixed feature – but this season they were simply abysmal until the final few episodes. And most annoyingly of all – the main storyline, with Ra’s al Ghul and the league of Assassins, got dragged out far too much – it had some great moments ‘The Magician’ ‘The Climb’, ‘Nanda Parbat’, ‘The Offer’, ‘Al-Saheem’ ‘This is Your Sword’ and ‘My Name is Oliver Queen’ were arguably the best episodes of the season – but everything else either felt like filler or a slow burner building up to these episodes – and when you’re talking 23 episode seasons, it’s a serious problem if 2/3 of them either aren’t addressing the main storyline or aren’t moving it forward enough.
Not to say the other episodes were bad – Arrow has never delivered an episode I’d give less than 3.5/5 to. But the problem was that not only were they a step back from the astronomic high of season 2 (where I’d give almost every episode 4.5 or 5/5) but that Flash did such a better job in it’s first season. For the first third of the seasons, the two shows were equal as Flash started to find it’s feet, but in the remainder Flash was better than Arrow almost every week without fail. Why? It’s more light-hearted tone was far less draining than Arrow’s most sombre season yet, with far more comedy moments to alleviate the tension. It also had better guest villains (helped by the fact most of them had super-powers, which makes even a bland villain watchable) and a more compelling main villain (which they integrated into the season far more effectively). Arrow Season 3 in many ways reminded me of Merlin‘s final season – the individual episode quality was high, but overall the season was too frustrating and drawn out to be satisfactory. So what should Arrow do in season 4?
1. Be less bleak: Arrow was simply too draining last season – from ‘the Climb’ onwards the tone was consistently dark and the characters rarely had a moment of relief. Killing one of the main characters in the opening episode, one of the most popular recurring villains late season, fake killing both the main character mid-season and his support team in the penultimate episode… plus killing and then resurrecting another one of the main characters… you get the idea – and while this gave us some great cliffhangers it was too emotionally draining to watch and set a too sombre tone for the entire season. Barring characters like Felicity’s Mum and villain Cupid there wasn’t a whole lot of comic relief either to alleviate the tension between the main characters. This needs fixing next season, and fortunately the showrunners have already indicated season 4 will have a somewhat lighter tone attached.
2. A more compelling main villain: Deathstroke and Malcolm Merlyn were great villains. Ra’s al Ghul was a good villain but lacked links to any characters save Nyssa and Malcolm, and hence wasn’t as effective as either of them. H.I.V.E. (the company that killed Diggle’s brother) and Ra’s old enemy, Damien Darhk, are being lined up for next season, but I’m hoping they have a more renowned supervillain tucked away – the season could use something that isn’t a faceless military group (like General Sharif’s men in the Hong Kong flashbacks…) or else it risks being a let-down.
3. Better Side-Villains: Can Flash lend Arrow some Meta-humans? (Ideally more interesting ones than Deadbolt). Flash’s rogues gallery was pretty impressive, and would certainly present a different kind of challenge to Oliver. I’ve got my fingers crossed the Trickster might make an appearance as well (just because it’s Mark Hamill – villain of the season on Flash? He came very close). Otherwise we could be relying on a returning villain: is it time for Huntress or the Clock King to return? Shame they killed off Count Vertigo (the replacement Vertigo was a real let-down) – but could Deadshot still be alive? Here’s hoping!
4. Kill Laurel: Seriously. It would solve an awful lot of problems and please 99% of the fanbase. Just do it!
5. No more crap romance plots: Let Olicity work – the two characters have enough chemistry not to need drama to be interesting. Diggle and Layla managed it. Don’t give Thea a new boyfriend – Thea is a good character but it would seriously lessen Roy’s exit if she immediately moves on.
6. Either Give Us Decent Flashbacks or Just Scrap them: Flashbacks worked well in Season 2 and the Second Half of Season 1. Because they were relevant to the main storyline. In season 3 the Hong Kong flashbacks were mostly irrelevant till the last 3 episodes where everything came together. However they were very good when Oliver wasn’t the focus – flashbacks into Deadshot’s past or showing us how Malcolm Merlyn joined the League of Assassins were interesting – so maybe limit it to flashbacks for villains or simply give Oliver something more interesting to do next season – maybe with the Russian Bratva? That’s the only part of his five years they haven’t shown yet that could be interesting…