As Arrow‘s fourth season came to a close with the team splintering apart, leaving only Oliver and Felicity behind to assess the wreckage and plot a hazy new political future with him as the Star City mayor, it occurred to me that there might have been a more fitting musical accompaniment to this closing montage. Blake Neely’s somber score certainly did the trick, but they could have also played Sheryl Crowe’s “A Change Would Do You Good” underneath it all.
Get on that, random YouTube people.
Actually, maybe hold off on that. I don’t actually think the sequence would have been improved by that song; I think the song communicates the perfect sentiment, not just for these characters but also the entire show.
Here’s the oddly celebrity-filled music video for “A Change Would Do You Good”:
After a season which began so promisingly before sputtering out in an oddly weightless doomsday scenario in “Schism” (S4:E23), a change will most certainly do Arrow good.
For example, the fight and stunt coordinators on this show just delivered what might be their personal masterpiece in the form of a Braveheart-esque final battle in which the entire city (in the form of literally hundreds of extras) rallied behind Oliver and took the fight to Damien Darhk and his ghosts. It was Oliver vs. Damien in the middle, Diggle and Lyla vs. the ghosts in the next layer around them and then a bunch of extras constantly running in the background. As far as network TV goes, it might have been the biggest fight scene of all time, or at least that’s what the stunt coordinator J.J. Makaro told The Hollywood Reporter.
But after all of that intense planning, coordination, wire-work and editing we are left with a scene which is ultimately just like something this show had already done before. This one was clearly bigger, but The Dark Knight Rises-esque moment of the city’s everday people rising up against the bad guy and helping the hero already happened halfway through season 3. There was also Sara and the League of Assassins vs. Slade and his super strong followers at the end of season 2, although at least there it was ultimately trained soldiers vs. trained soldiers
It’s an example of how this show’s admirable impulse to escalate in scale each season has ultimately resulted in repetitive drama which might have grown too large for them to properly corral. We’d previously encountered three big bads who ultimately aimed to destroy Star City (or at least a part of it), and season four’s attempt to break that cycle overcompensated exponentially, taking us all the way up to a villain who wanted to nuke the entire planet.
The stakes literally cannot get any higher than that, unless we start getting into Guardians of the Galaxy/Thanos territory (I know, I know, that’s Marvel, not DC). Plus, not surprisingly, the show proved incapable of properly handling a conflict of such immense magnitude anyway (although Lyla’s occasional references or calls to the President were appreciated).
In “Schism,” Damien and his hacker successfully took back control of the world’s launch codes, and initiated armageddon. By the time Felicity estimated Star City only had 27 minutes left before nuclear annihilation, people were panicking in the streets. “Cats and dogs living together. Mass hysteria,” and all that.
Up against such dire straits, Oliver regained his optimism after a “You’re the reason my husband I didn’t leave this city last year” speech from Curtis, and ventured out into the city streets to again emerge as a source of hope, this time as Oliver Queen, not the Green Arrow. He climbed a car and shouted out an uplifting speech, one which everyone instantly listened to because…
Felicity and the gang watched the speech from the Arrow Cave via TV coverage. Quentin and Mama Smoak listened over car radio while racing to some safehouse (though how exactly it was picked up so quickly by the radio is nitpick-bait).
It’s the key moment in the entire episode. The quality of his speech is repeatedly referred to by others as the reason they’ve decided to keep on fighting to the bitter end. It ties into Oliver’s ongoing journey from revenge-seeking vigilante to genuine hero. But it’s all total bullshit because the stakes are just too high.
Oliver’s actual speech is the superhero equivalent of when David Ortiz took the mic at a Boston Red Sox game after one of the Boston marathon bombers had been captured and defiantly proclaimed “This is our fucking city!” to thunderous applause. When Ortiz did that, though, there wasn’t a missile coming straight for the city. Oliver’s “we shall overcome” sentiment is welcome, but at that moment neither Oliver nor anyone in that crowd had any idea Felicity and Curtis figured out how to save them. As far as they knew, they were all, to echo Ortiz’ vocabulary, fucked. It shouldn’t have been “This too shall pass” but instead “Let’s go out with pride.”
Maybe I’m just nitpicking. Maybe the grand scale of the situation doesn’t have to undercut the speech. But when you go as big as end of the world you can’t fall back on your old “let’s save the city” bag of narrative tricks and except all audiences to go along with it without asking the inevitable “yeah, but…”. It’s also a trap they fall into, though, through thinking they have to continually top themselves in scale.
That’s a huge reason why a change would do them good. After all, where can you possibly go, dramatically, after the end of the world? That’s a perfect time to blow everything up, re-focus on the characters and put at least one foot down in something closer to reality.
I hate to again use this as my Arrow reference point, but it’s exactly what Angel did in-between its fourth and fifth seasons. A big bad sought to mind control the entire world, and Angel stopped her. End season four. Then season five took a huge left into a new legal procedural format (the exact reasons for which are too complicated to get into here). It didn’t exactly turn Angel into Law & Order. There were, in fact, very few actual court scenes. The procedural element, though, provided a much-needed new story structure for the writers to play with.
Oliver being Star City’s interim mayor obviously doesn’t mean Arrow is about to become Veep. But it will provide the writers an opportunity to devise new conflicts, settings and drama, even as we suspect this won’t last long and will ultimately be another arena where Oliver struggles to balance his public and private lives. Functionally, Oliver’s time as mayor could be as insignificant and ignored on-screen as his time as Queen Consolidated CEO in the second season. Still, it’s something different at a time when I really needed this show to change things up.
Similarly, I feel as if I have lost a sense of who these characters are as people away from Team Arrow. There are seemingly minor, nitpicky little details which have completely fallen away and add up over time. For example, do we even know where these people live these days? Obviously, Diggle and Lyla have that apartment together. “Schism” ended with a despondent Thea sitting in what looked like Laurel’s apartment, but I’m blanking on whether or not we already knew she lived there (if, indeed, I’m reading the scene correctly).
Elsewhere, Damien made a joke about Oliver no longer living in that kickass loft. That would certainly explain why Donna and Quentin were hanging out there a couple of episodes ago, but didn’t they make a big deal about Felicity moving out. When did she suddenly move back in and Oliver move out?
Those types of details have never exactly been high on Arrow‘s list of concerns. I remember there being several season 2 episodes where we had no idea where Oliver was living after leaving Queen Manor for good. As far as season 4 was concerned, everyone’s home was the Arrow Cave, and everyone was either a costumed vigilante or stayed back at a base and had their own codename. His mission animates their actions, but wouldn’t it be nice to get back to a time when not everything on the show centers around Oliver. For example, if Thea doesn’t even know if she wants to be Speedy, let’s get into that next season, look more at who she is independent of her brother.
A change would do all of them good. After elevating the stakes so high in these last couple of episodes the show needs to honor the inevitable emotional fallout, and seeing Diggle and Thea walk away from the team to re-find their purpose was the most interesting thing to happen to either character in quite a while.
It’s odd the way this all played out in Berlanti superhero TV universe. This week, between The Flash and Arrow we had two season finales and two twist endings promising very different futures. Only one of those futures seems worth exploring though. Barry Allen made a choice to save someone, consequences be damned, a full season after it would have actually made sense dramatically, and now The Flash looks like a little lost at the moment. Arrow, meanwhile, delivered an overly familiar finale which ended in such a way that it’s made me optimistic, if just barely, about season 5.
Now watch Oliver get voted out of office by like the second episode when he never shows up for meetings due to being the only vigilante left in town.
1. Final Update from Pointless Island: Guy dead. Girl dead. Oliver off to Russia. Has that crate we saw in season 1. Got it from Amanda Waller. Good for him.
2. Season MVP: Neal McDonough
3. So, is..: Malcolm a good guy again?
4. Scary Thought: Do you think they only picked Damien Darhk as the villain because his last name is pretty much “Dark” and they wanted that to reflect Oliver’s struggle with his inner darkness?
5. Olicity: I’m glad they resisted the urge to have those two reunite romantically, but I could see some arguing there was no better time for these two to make up than the end of the world.