SUMMARY: A muted return sets a new, if somewhat mundane, normal for Team Arrow before a final button customarily pulls the rug out to really kick off the season.
If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!
Stephen Amell has mentioned in the press onslaught leading up to the start of this new season that the sixth year sees a more mature Oliver and storytelling. This opening chapter speaks to that as Oliver is left to parent his son, long out of his life, alone. Sure, he has help from Raisa, the former Queen family maid who watches over young William as Oliver tends to both his mayoral and derring-duties. He also has Felicity’s support, though the uncertainty of their relationship makes introducing her in a family capacity fairly awkward. And he’s got his Dad-Bro Quentin to ping pong Worst Father of the Year sentiments off of.
Oliver’s primary focus, even more than running and/or protecting the city, seems to be making sure he’s caring for William. It lends a somewhat different vibe to the series, and judging by this first chapter, it’s unclear if that’s a good thing or not. Oliver’s never been the best with emotional relationships and his approach to life as Single Dad is very methodical and externally focused. I’m sure, for all the world, Oliver cares for his son, but his interactions with the boy feel like someone knowing they should care but working through a transparent barrier. Think plastic containment tent as shield.
That sense of distance is supposed to be intentional, giving Oliver some room to grow as he learns how to be a parent, particularly to a child bordering on teenagedom. There’s also the fact the William just months ago learned that this man, who had spent some time with him in a friendly capacity before he and his mom unceremoniously fled to parts unknown to protect them from Oliver’s troubles, is not only a vigilante but his birth father. Feeling like his mother got traded for a father who seemed to have no use for him in his life is enough to make any boy mad, but knowing it was Oliver’s actions as Green Arrow that led to it salts the wound in immeasurable ways.
That distance is more or less played well, but it’s often hard to get consistent and compelling performances out of child actors. That’s why the rare ones stand out to us as an audience so much. Here, some of the sullen work is a bit too one-note, and it makes for seeming chemistry issues with Amell that make investing in the story tough at points throughout the hour. Finding common ground in baseball and opening up their relationship should help, but here’s hoping they can find layers to play this considering it’ll be such a major focus of the season.
The focus of this hour, of course, were the repercussions of Adrian Chase unleashing hell on Lian Yu. For the most part, they waste little time in revealing who survived. In the months since, Team Arrow is back and functioning smoothly, almost perfunctorily. Their opening mission seems to go almost too smoothly. Green Arrow borrows some of his Justin Hartley counterpart’s Aquaman skills to board the boat from underwater. Dinah and Rene are both sporting new gear, with Dinah stepping fully into Black Canary mode and Wild Dog looking less like a 1980’s G.I. Joe mail-order figure. (Appreciated the comic accuracy last season, but the new look works for this iteration.) Diggle and Curtis join in to take out a guy trying to ransom the city by missile. Felicity is back in her perch as Overwatch.
They effectively tease for a bit that we may have lost Quentin, but he shows up soon enough, leaving us to toss coins over whether Thea or Samantha moved on from purgatory. Samantha seemed the most obvious, given the story they want to tell with Oliver this year, so it was a nice surprise to have her stumble into the scorched island lands as Oliver and Slade go looking for people. It was short-lived, of course, allowing her to charge Oliver with raising their son and not just turn him over to foster care or anyone else. That’s not to say Oliver would, but nothing pulls his strings more than someone insisting on something from him. Play to his world-bearing shoulders!
Even more effective was the misdirect with Thea. They sold what appeared to be her death very well, so that while seeing in her a coma back in Star City later on wasn’t necessarily shocking, it was a well-done surprise. It’ll be curious to see which way but wherever they take Thea’s story this year. A coma could merely be a sideliner, or it could offer a wealth of possibility as Thea looks to recover.
Having Slade and Oliver team up to find Thea on Lian Yu was quite touching, and it was nice to see a further deepening of their relationship. It’s always a bit hard to trust Slade now given experience, but the shared history between these two men puts them in a unique position. A lovely scene in Thea’s hospital room — is it weird to anyone else how people always seem to show up at the right time when it comes to TV hospitals? — sets up Slade’s two-episode arc a few weeks from now. Having the mentor offer the “kid” more pointers on being a father and insight into the men they’ve become was quiet, affecting, and even earned.
Another pair with an interesting connection, Dinah and Quentin share a secret over Lian Yu. Thankfully, it wasn’t dragged out beyond the episode, as it was the kind of melodramatic secret that seemed to fuel Seasons 3 and 4 to little gain. The concept of Quentin feeling guilt over shooting Earth-2 Laurel as if he murdered his own daughter has merit. Blackthorne does a pretty good job selling it, though Quentin projecting his feelings onto this Laurel is a slippery slope. It doesn’t seem all that rational, even if Black Siren keeps intentionally referring to him as “daddy.” Yes, grief can do drastic things to people, but this seems like perhaps a stretch too far.
What’s to like is the furthering connection between Dinah and Quentin. They’re both cops, and Dinah is stepping into his daughter’s legacy, so tying them together works. They graciously avoid a parental dynamic, which would ring false and further serve to underline the already odd circumstances of Dinah’s outright replacement of original recipe Laurel. That in addition to Thea somewhat assuming that role ad hoc last year to help dry papa Lance out. They’re friends and colleagues watching each other’s backs, and it really helps to ground both well in Team Arrow. One hopes they avoid any potential romantic exploration implied by their comic book inspirations, Dinah Drake and Larry Lance, but story always comes down to how well they execute.
Execution is going to tell how well this new Diggle storyline plays. It seems a bit odd that Diggle has been back and operating as Spartan just fine for months up until the moment he tries to take a shot at Black Siren’s hired goon to save Rene. The scar on his shoulder, that only now seems to be affecting him, seems rather large to have taken this long to offer an impact. It could be argued that this has been going on for months, but even Diggle seemed fully surprised by his miss. If he and the team are just now seeing these signs, what has shifted? As for the scar itself, it would appear to be from the moment Diggle gets Felicity to safety after she fell and he’s engulfed by the burst of one of the explosions on the island. He seems to be hiding it from Dinah, despite the fact that the team would’ve all been aware of Diggle’s condition when they all actually got off of the island. Is something more sinister at play? Taking John’s physicality from him, though, could bear great fruit. Pulling the body from the soldier could give David Ramsey some welcome matrial to play this season.
Technically, the episode looked great and moved along at a fair clip. It might have just been coincidence, but James Bamford’s direction served as a nice complement to Glen Winter’s work on The Flash‘s Season 4 premiere. Both were full of moving cameras wanting to take the audience on a ride. That can feel gimmicky or amateurish, but both directors avoid the negative. It was hard not to feel like Oliver’s new apartment was but a redress of Felicity’s loft, but that might just take some time getting used to it.
Overall, the hour felt muted and a bit hum drum. There was nothing essentially wrong with it, but it felt more like an episode midseason than necessarily a premiere. It’s nice to see Katie Cassidy return in full evil grin mode, and the Black Siren plot serviced the story well enough. Everyone else seemed to be in mostly good spaces, Thea on a ventilator aside. It was an enjoyable chapter to give us a few tastes of character motivations for the new year, as well as introduce Laurel as a hired gun to Mr. Helicopter Man and his criminal organization we should learn more about. It was the button at the end of the episode, though, that managed to kick the season off right. Putting the calm to bed and bringing the storm.
By having Oliver step into the political arena to become mayor, a move that echoed the source material, it felt only a matter of time that they would play out the further part of that comic story arc: the discovery of Oliver Queen as Green Arrow. Given the times that Oliver’s already been linked to his hooded alter-ego, it might not be too surprising to Star Citizens. Though certainly after the events of last season, one has to imagine this news isn’t going to go down well. But who leaked it? Was it Laurel and the secret cabal? Is this a residual of Chase’s plans? Did Susan Williams accidentally reveal something of her research into Oliver to her former station? Maybe Anatoly tossed back some voddie and outed his former friend. The ending served the one thing a twist should do well. It brought on new questions, and we have a season ahead to answer them.