Sunday, May 28, 2017

Arrow Season 5 Finale: Where Do We Go From Here?

Just finished reading Entertainment Weekly’s recap of the season finale of Arrow, and though I enjoyed it, there were a few things about the show that I’m not sure EW’s reviewer thought all the way through.  Thus, my thoughts own thoughts on the finale are below, for whatever they’re worth.
Ahoy!  Spoilers Ahead!
Let me start with this: I don’t know if Arrow is necessarily my favorite TV show, but I’ve made an effort to keep up with it throughout this past season, and this comes at a time when the only other things I’ve watched consistently are professional and college sports and Syfy’s The Magicians.  This puts Arrow into roughly the same league as Army Lacrosse and Yankee baseball in terms of my personal viewing habits.  I won’t rearrange my schedule to necessarily watch it live or anything, but I’ve not missed an episode nor had to binge-watch to stay current, either.
Most scripted TV is either boring or insulting to the intelligence.  Arrow rarely is, despite being a comic book show on the CW.  Because of its CW budget, it occasionally looks a little cheesy from cheap CGI, but even there, the show generally relies more on practical effects and a series of oft-repeated fight sequences that its stunt actors must surely have down cold after five seasons.  Beyond that, the show is exactly what it purports to be, a comic book on weekly television.  I like it because it’s generally not an adaptation of original source material; in fact, it’s been distinct from and actually better than the comics themselves in many cases, granted with a few notable exceptions.
Arrow’s first three seasons were excellent.  I’m not sure if the show was pitched originally with a three-season concept—as is typical for something like this—or if they started with just two seasons mapped out and adapted what worked from that second season to create their very successful third.  Whatever the case, the show itself was very, very good for its first three years.  In that time, we saw Oliver Queen go from vigilante murderer to comic-style superhero, all while battling Russian mobsters, Count Vertigo, Deathstroke and his mutant army, and finally Ras Al Ghul and the League of Assassins.  At the same time, the CW slowly built out its superhero universe.  
There is plenty of historic precedent for an armored
archery-type Fighter, but no one ever really goes
that way with it because it just isn't cool.
Season Four, unfortunately, took a giant step backwards.  What began as a gritty and relatively grounded crime drama became weighted down with magic and metahumans, and yeah, I’ll agree that your party’s Ranger ought to be able to keep up with the Party’s Wizard in terms of both useful skills contributions and damage output in a session of Dungeons and Dragons.  However, it’s not always easy to make this look good on television.   Also, I would personally argue that Olly is more like a Fighter with a specialization in Archery, a combination that almost no one plays because why give up your Ranger’s hunting, tracking, and stealth training just for the—very occasional—opportunity to go toe-to-toe with a bugbear in melee combat?  Most people don’t do that, and Season Four showed us why this is.  Speaking tactically, Fighters are the fixing element of the party.  By definition, this means that they have to be able to fight an enemy’s Big Bad head-on, allowing their Striker companions—the party’s Ranger, Thief, and/or Warlock—to maneuver for a kill-shot.  In Season Four, however, Oliver got his ass kicked every time he closed with the enemy.  
This was really annoying.
Season Five worked not only because it took the show back to its gritty, noir-story roots, but also because it gave Oliver things to do that more closely fit both his would-be Ranger’s skillset and his role as the show’s Hero.  Which is to say that I was really annoyed when Olly decided to recruit a new team following Laurel’s death and Thea’s defection, but the overall effect was decidedly positive.  It makes sense, for example, that Curtis (Mr. Terrific) became the team’s Wizard, and having a guy like Rene (Wild Dog) in the role of team Fighter gives Olly the freedom to maneuver for the kill, thus making Oliver the Hero of his own show in terms of the show’s tactics.  It is probably not a coincidence that John Diggle (Spartan) also slides into the role of Fighter (and is therefore rarely the Hero) while Dinah (the new Black Canary) typically follows Olly onto the flanks, making kill-shots and playing Hero herself more often than not.  To put this another way, Season Five saw a lot of Oliver saying, “You guys fight all these mooks, and I’ll go get the leader!”  This was an obvious improvement over Season Four, where Olly himself was too often stuck fighting mooks by way of trying to keep his sister or Laurel safe before Damian Darhk came in to deliver an unsatisfyingly villainous coup de grace.  That dynamic would’ve played fine once or twice, but Season Four showed us this same scene a half-dozen times!
Mr. Terrific makes sense as a super-team's techno-mage.
There was a lot to like about Season Five’s finale.  In the sense that Season Five itself wrapped up everything that had come before, this finale hearkened back to all the best moments of the last five seasons as a whole.  It bookended everything we’ve seen to this point.  I loved that they brought back Deathstroke and Captain Boomerang.  I also loved that the League of Assassins is back in play and that they built a scene specifically to pass the Black Canary’s mantle from Katie Cassidy’s Laurel Lance to Juliana Harkavy’s Dinah Drake.  Even Oliver’s son William came into play, setting up Oliver’s parental responsibilities as a major plot point going forward.  Finally!
I liked Caity Lotz as Black Canary, and I like Harkavy in the role as well, but Cassidy was ill-cast.  She and Stephen Amell have chemistry for shit, and anyway, she’s way too thin to be a superhero.  Cassidy has been much better as Black Siren, but there’s a reason why ‎Emily Bett Rickards’s Felicity Smoak went from would-be temporary expositionary character to main-story love interest.  It’s not because this was the way the show was planned.  Team Arrow has been really good about keeping Oliver and Dinah apart by way of keeping his relationship with Felicity alive for fans’ hopes this past season, but I’m still not convinced that Felicity is here to stay.  Amell and Harkavy were great together whenever they shared scenes in Season Five, and their characters have so much in common that there’s an obvious love story there that’s just waiting to happen.  For this reason, I expect that Felicity is either gonna die soon or, more likely, turn heel.
The Comics: Green Arrow & Black Canary
Amell & Lotz in Arrow, Season Two
This brings us to the end of Season Five and to the Big Bang.  Which annoyed me because, honestly, where does a wanted felon like Adrian Chase get enough C4 to actually blow up an entire island?  Also, did he have a full year or more to plant all those charges?  How did neither Oliver nor A.R.G.U.S. notice what was happening on literally every square foot of Lian Yu?
But okay.  The big cliffhanger is not bad, exactly.  It’s overwrought plot manipulation, but “Who survives into next season?” is a classic for good reason.
For better or worse, we already have some casting news to help us narrow our list of victims.
  • Cassidy is back as Black Siren.
  • Rick Gonzalez is back as Rene (Wild Dog). 
  • Harkavy is back as Black Canary.

All three characters have been promoted to series regular, so they’re not going anywhere.  I also very much doubt that Malcolm Merlyn died after the show went to such trouble to show his presumed “death” earlier in the episode while keeping it so deliberately off-panel.  Ditto for Captain Boomerang, Deathstroke, and both Al Ghul sisters, none of whom would you revive for exactly one episode only to destroy them emotionlessly off-panel later in that same hour.  A show like this needs a well-stocked stable of villains, and all of these characters potentially fit the bill.  Moreover, they teased Deathstroke’s son Jericho in the finale’s first scene.  That opening actually had me wondering if we might see Terra and/or Nightwing by the end of Season Six, as has occasionally been rumored.  All things considered, a run at some kind of Teen Titans / Young Justice / Batman & the Outsiders vibe is a real possibility from where Season Five ended.  I could even see these guys running some version of “A Kid’s Game.”

Deathstroke and his son have a complicated relationship in the comics.
So who died?
Quentin Lance, Thea Queen, and William’s mother are the three most likely suspects, especially since Thea was barely on the show this past season.  My guess is that actress Willa Holland would rather do something else with her time, though she was happy enough to come back for occasional cameo work in Season Five.  This may still be true, even if she dies.  But with Quentin and Laurel dead and Oliver seemingly ready to move forward with a new life and a new supporting cast, what is there for his sister to do?  Answer: she can die, to provide guilt and motivation as we head in a completely new, as-yet-undecided direction.  And yeah, Quentin’s death also serves this same end, as does the death of William’s mother.  My guess is that Season Six opens with at least one of these characters’ final moments, if not more.
Oliver Queen: mayor, vigilante superhero, single father.  
Yup, I could totally see that.  
In comics, fatherhood is a frequent theme for Batman.
In comics, fatherhood is a frequent theme for Green Arrow as well.
Perhaps we’ll even see William slip into the role of Speedy ala Dick Grayson or Damian Wayne.  That would make sense on a lot of levels, not least because Season Five ended by repeatedly teasing both Oliver’s and Rene’s fitness—or lack thereof—for fatherhood.  This sets Fatherhood itself up as the major theme for Season Six, with either Quentin or his memory serving as something of a mentor to both Olly and Rene as they grow into their new roles.  Add in a bit with Deathstroke and Jericho (and Terra?), and we have a legitimate base from which to head in a whole different, also emotionally impactful direction.
I’m also guessing that the explosion is at least the beginning of what finally pushes Felicity over to the dark side full-time.  She broke her back before.  This time, I think she’s wounded enough such that her appearance is destroyed, and maybe she’s back in the wheelchair.  So maybe it’s her father who finally helps her rediscover her purpose, thus staying with the theme.  Or maybe she turns into Two Face.  Either way, Felicity has been building a red lightsaber since at least the middle of Season Five, and I think this is the year that she finally ignites it.
That leaves just Diggle, Artemis, and Mr. Terrific.  Terrific is safe because 1) the team needs a hardware guy, 2) his gadget-based fighting-style makes him such a useful physical foil for the other team members, all of whom are very different kinds of vigilantes, 3) he’s a named superhero in the DC Universe, and 4) if they wanted him off the show, it’d make more sense to move him to Legends of Tomorrow.  Why waste an asset?  Of the current cast, Curtis is the one who could legitimately get a new job in another town, leaving him off the show but alive for future storytelling purposes.  His death here would be worse than meaningless; it would be counterproductive.
I’m tempted to say that Artemis will live for the same reasons that I said Deathstroke and Captain Boomerang would live, except that I don’t think anyone cares what happens to Artemis.  Despite a multi-episode introduction, she did jack shit all season long.  Really, it makes me wonder if maybe the show’s producers had a falling out with the actress.  If we have to have an Artemis-like character, I would much rather see a return of either Jessica de Gouw’s Huntress or Amy Gumenick’s Cupid.  As it is, my best guess is that the current Artemis is toast, but that we may well see a new Artemis if/when they introduce Sportsmaster.  Again, this stays with the theme of Fatherhood.
Sportmaster and "Tigress" from TV's Young Justice.
Tigress turned out to be Artemis, Sportsmaster's daughter & Green Arrow's apprentice.
By the way, am I the only one who noticed that Oliver looked exactly like Sportsmaster when he was in vigilante mode wearing the black hockey mask this past season?
John Diggle
Alas, John Diggle.  It’s hard to believe that Olly’s bestie might actually die, especially since actor David Ramsey seems so high on the show, but there it is.  His death would serve a decidedly useful purpose, putting Oliver squarely on his own at a time when he would desperately need a friend and mentor.  It would also crush both Oliver and Dinah, making it harder for either to connect emotionally in future relationships, thereby creating an obstacle for their impending love story to overcome.  Plus, it would highlight the responsibilities of vigilante fatherhood, given that Diggle was himself a father and Oliver is going to have to learn to be one.  Diggle’s death might even put Oliver on the wrong side of A.R.G.U.S. again—a useful plot point—and perhaps become the proximate cause for what has to be a hard, painful, permanent split with Felicity.
Also, it would shock the shit out of the fanbase.
But.  Diggle is such a good foil.  He’s good with Dinah, he’s obviously good with Oliver, and he’s good with Rene, and if next season really is about fatherhood, it may well make more sense to bring him back and show his struggles in parallel with those of Oliver, Rene, and even Slade Wilson.  Laid out that way, it makes much more sense to have Diggle wounded but alive, ready to serve as Mentor in Season Six’s Hero’s Journey towards fatherhood.  Which, if you follow the formula, this still means that Diggle might die.  However, his death would make more sense at the mid-season break, again as the proximate cause of a hard split with Felicity, who to this point would have been struggling to stay on the side of Right and Good.

The Hero's Journey serves as the basis for Myth Structure.
We see it constantly in Sci Fi, Fantasy, & Superhero show.
But what do I know?
I feel pretty good about saying that William’s mother is toast, but everyone else has a potential role in Season Six.  Even Quentin Lance might make sense in the Mentor role for a season about fatherhood, especially with Black Siren back full-time.  However, I think somebody dies, and I think it has to be somebody important, and I don’t think they trash Ollicity without a lot more payoff than what we’ve seen to this point.  Maybe it’s just Thea who bites it, but really… it could seriously be John Diggle, too.  That could totally happen.

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