There is a moment in the lifetime of certain shows where you can feel it taking a long sigh of relief, practically proclaiming, “Thank God we don’t have to keep doing that same old crap anymore. Now we can have some real fun.” That’s Arrow season 4 right now.
There’s no one in the dark on Arrow, anymore. All the major players on this show know what Oliver does, and other than Captain Lance they actively work alongside him. We’ve long since moved past the days of Oliver having to dispatch Diggle to monitor Laurel or Thea or Moira or straight up lying to Thea’s face on a weekly basis. No, now we’re in the Bat Family phase of Oliver’s career where he leads his own team, and like Batman to one of his Robins he can school Thea on the proper number of maneuvers it should take to disarm a bad guy versus intentionally hurting them. By season 4 of your superhero show, that’s a far more enjoyable scene to watch than a repeat of the same damn “Oliver lies to protect his big secret” scene we’ve seen over and over again.
You could say the same thing about Oliver and Felicity. Whether you’re an Olicity person or not, it’s hard to deny how much looser Arrow seems now that it no longer has to drag us through any more will they/won’t they machinations.
- Oliver and Felicity are a couple now.
- Everyone knows Oliver’s secret, and they’ve all come to terms with it, ultimately joining his cause. Felicity even wants her own code name (It’s totally going to be Oracle, right?).
That’s the new normal on Arrow, and it has given the show an almost rebirth.
Of course, I say all of that as my way of rationalizing why I am so on board with season 4 to this point, yet “The Candidate” is a somewhat familiar-seeming episode in that a female mayoral candidate’s daughter is kidnapped and Oliver has to save her. It’s not Moira this time, though (well, duh, what with her being Deathstroke shish kabob and all). It’s a longtime Queen family friend played by Jeri Ryan (I’m just going to keep calling her Jeri Ryan because it amuses me to do so).
Sure, we’ve never heard of this family before, and as a result it feels inherently strange to see Ryan and her daughter at a dinner table with Oliver and Thea, cutting up about old times and eulogizing Moira. But, eh, you just go with it and marvel at how gorgeous Jeri Ryan still is, long after Star Trek: Voyager ended its run and forever retired Seven of Nine’s skintight jumpsuits.
Oh, what’s that Jeri Ryan? You’re running for mayor to honor Moira’s memory? That’s adorable.
Obviously, you won’t even make it to the end of your first public speech before an assassin takes aim at you, but, still, adorable.
That is more or less the basic plot of “The Candidate.” An old Queen family friend decides to run for mayor, despite Oliver and Thea’s concerns, and a villain (Anarky from the Batman comics) being controlled by Damien Darhk stages an assassination attempt as a cover for kidnapping the aspiring mayoral candidate’s daughter. Since this is most personal to Oliver and Thea they have to be ones to ultimately save the day, and placing them together highlights just how much Thea loses control in the field, giving in to a newly hyper-violent side since she has a mad case of the Lazarus Pit crazies. They save the girl after Thea literally sets the bad guy on fire (in a controlled burn situation which must have been that stuntman’s personal career highlight), and Jeri Ryan is so relived yet traumatized that she immediately withdraws her candidacy for mayor. Captain Lance rightfully calls bullshit on Oliver claims about changing his ways (Um, remember when you burned someone alive like 6 minutes ago?), and Oliver figures the only person in Star City who could run for mayor and actually survive the campaign is him.
There is one sequence during that portion of the episode which highlights my point about the show operating at a clearly relieved level this season. Once the bullets start flying at the campaign speech, Oliver chases after Jeri Ryan and her security detail to ensure her safety while Thea heads up a flight of stairs to check on the gunman, which turns out to be a decoy. It might not seem like it, but that’s a big change. There’s no shot of Thea looking scared and then confused when she turns to find Oliver mysteriously missing. There’s no moment of Oliver ordering Diggle as his bodybuard to protect his baby sister. More to the point, there’s no delay in the action. There is a simple, “Thea, you go that way, I’ll go this way” because those two are on the same team now. It is a cleaner and more straightforward.
The potential downside to that is whether or not you truly buy Thea as a vigilante. The same was true for most of last season with Laurel as Black Canary. Your mileage may vary on both fronts, but at this point I’ve simply accepted both of them. Willa Holland has made Thea’s turn into unhinged, Jason Todd territory believable, and Katie Cassidy’s Black Canary seems to work really well now as a member of Team Arrow. Furthermore, are you willing to just to accept the fact that we’ll apparently rarely see Thea or Laurel at their day jobs anymore? Either way, seeing the two of them paired up by the end of “The Candidate,” all set up for a road trip to League of Assassins-land (sidenote: worst theme park name ever) is intriguing, even if the moral logic behind Laurel being asked to look after Thea but instead using the opportunity to potentially revive her sister is pretty shaky.
The other part of the episode involved Felicity’s first couple of days on the job as the head of Ray Palmer’s company. It mostly entailed her being forced to fire people to cut costs before re-hiring all of them, justifying this to the board by making them an empty promise about a business-saving tech idea she’s cooked up. Of course, has no such idea, but she’s sure that given 6 months she’ll think of something (or she’ll be dead, if she’s the person in that “6 months later” grave from the season premiere). It’s a perfectly enjoyable story and speaks to her youthful optimism, as further highlighted by the contrast of seeing the very young Emily Bett Rickards at the head of a boardroom table with a bunch of grey-haired executives. What makes it really work, though, is the way it introduces Felicity’s new assistant, Mr. Terrific, a tech analyst who created a bit of software which the company used for its own purposes, i.e., identifying who should be fired. Ironically, his own name ended up on that list.
They have tried to give Rickards her own Felicity to play off of, and it’s not the first time. Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen was described as the male version of Felicity. Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer was supposed to be a more manic male version of Felicity. And Echo Kellum’s Mr. Terrific is the same way. What the producers mean when they use that kind of description is they want someone with a similar comedic timing to give Rickards a different kind of energy to play off than she gets from Amell or anyone else in the cast. Luckily, Echo is up to the task, and you already want to declare that Felicity and her assistant are BFFs without it seemingly overly forced.
Oh, yeah, also Oliver cut off that wig in the flashback because he….honestly, I barely pay attention to the flashbacks anymore. There’s some kind of opium thing going on the island, and Oliver has infiltrated the group by claiming to be, well, Oliver Queen. Now he’s a gun-carrying guard. Huh. Good for him.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Oh, what a relief. The good version of Arrow is back, with multiple interesting story arcs set up and a tantalizing season-long mystery hanging over our heads. Who’s in that grave 6 months from now? Keep watching episodes like this one to gather the evidence.
1. I have no idea what’s going on with Anarky. Was the guy they burned not the real Anarky? Did he survive? Is this a Gotham situation? Was that just proto-Anarky?
2. And the fern is back.
3. Didn’t realize/forgot about Laurel being in the dark about Thea’s death/resurrection last season.
4. Total bullshit: Oliver’s explanation for why Thea’s side effects hadn’t manifested before now. The real explanation is simply that the show didn’t have time to deal with it last season.
5. Sidenote: If Oliver knew Thea might go south on everyone but kept that to himself does that mean he was recklessly endangering his friends for all those months he was gone and letting them work with Thea?
6. Felicity Smoak, the big breadwinner in the Smoak/Queen household. He’s her kept man…or at least he was until deciding to run for mayor.
7. A friend of mine met Stephen Amell at a convention, and during a panel appearance when someone asked him about the flashback wig he reportedly sighed and muttered, “The wig, well, it is what is is.” Sigh no more, Mr. Amell. Ding dong, the wig is gone.
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