Saw this headline, read the ensuing article and found it to be a bit hilarious. Not because a show’s fandom has turned against it to the point they’re hyping up another show but because of the article’s last sentence: “If even these die-hard Arrow fans who made it through 4 seasons of camp can’t continue, it probably isn’t looking good for the show’s prospects.” Now there’s no point in arguing Arrow season 4 is any good because it isn’t (the penultimate episode of the season got the lowest rating in the show’s history) but we can take issue with a pessimistic take on the show’s future. We can also argue whether Arrow’s camp or not (it isn’t).
“It probably isn’t looking good for the show’s prospects.” Well, Arrow just got renewed for a 5th season. Obviously, The CW isn’t going to hold shows to the same standards as FOX or CBS would…but a renewal (especially after 5 seasons) is pretty good for what a network thinks about a show’s prospects. Having a full season order to turn possibly turn things around is a lot more than the majority of TV shows get.
The above paragraph is only taking issue with half the quote, the other half labeling Arrow as “camp.” Considering that using the word “camp” to describe a superhero TV show brings to mind the 1960’s Batman series, it’s absolutely hilarious to imply Arrow‘s in the same league. In fact, the majority of complaints about the show are that it’s “too dark/serious/brooding, especially when compared to more ‘fun’ shows like The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow.” It’s actually quite nice that Arrow stands out in that regard and gives people who prefer grittier, street-level heroes a watchable option.
So, if Arrow‘s not campy and the show’s prospects look good, what the hell went wrong the past two seasons? Well, look at the correlation. Most people enjoyed the pilot but the show didn’t really take off until The Odyssey episode, where Slade and Oliver develop an unlikely friendship in the flashback. Sara Lance and her mother’s search for her also becomes a plot point around this time and Sara eventually appears. From that episode on until the end of season 2 is considered the pinnacle of the show.
Season 2 bears some more mentioning because of how fucking awesome it is! Slade basically gets injected with a drug that gives him superpowers (strength and accelerated healing) as well as making him crazy. Events on the island cause Slade to lose his grip on reality and his friendship with Oliver disintegrates. Things go south on the island, to the point where Oliver has to kill Slade…except he didn’t. Slade survived and now wants revenge on Oliver, planning to achieve this by murdering everyone he lives (the entirety of Star City). Sara reappears and some plot is devoted to figuring out how she’ll go about rekindling her relationships with various loved one while being pursued by the League of Assassins. There’s also various other excellent subplots (Oliver training a sidekick, what happens when a rich idiot doesn’t do his day job, to name two).
Season 2 ends with the Slade plot being resolved and the third season opens with Sara being killed by a mystery assailant. In two episodes, the show had neutralized one of its best villains and killed off one of its strongest characters. This results in two of the show’s best actors (Manu Bennett and Caity Lotz) no longer being on the show. There’s an episode of season 3 that encapsulates the decline; the episode where Slade escapes from his prison on the island and Oliver has to team with/protect his sister. Now, Slade as a villain had a season and a half’s worth of focus so he’d be worthy of a multi-episode arc, right? Wouldn’t it have been awesome to see how Ra’s al-Guhl figures Slade into his plans to make Oliver his successor (or how Slade would interact with the League)? Instead, the issue’s resolved at the end of a single episode.
As for Caity Lotz’s Sara, she’s eventually revived via the Lazarus Pit so she can have a lead role on Legends of Tomorrow. Unlike Slade, she at least gets some focus. She’ll be missed on Arrow full-time, however, because of the talent and intensity she brought to the show (watch her fight scenes and compare them to anyone else’s).
Arrow has a future and it could be a good one. Bringing back Slade or Sara would be a cheap fix but a better way would be to look at that stretch of episodes from The Odyssey to the season 2 finale; all the while taking notes on what worked. Strong characters, drama between them, a competent villain, more science and street-level heroics than magic nonsense…these are the elements that made Arrow a great show. Re-implementing them will give the show an excellent shot at returning to its season 2 form.