Arrow: The Complete Fourth Season
Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey
(Warner Home Video)
US DVD: 30 Aug 2016
UK DVD: 5 Sep 2016
When you read comic books, you see that story arcs often cross over with other series, which can occasionally make for gaps when a comic is read sequentially, by the issue numbers. Say you’re really enjoying an issue or five of Green Arrow and you come across a sequential issue whose story actually started in a completely separate issue of The Flash. So you head back to the comic shop and pick up that issue of The Flash and you get interested in that comic, too. That’s good marketing for DC Comics and good for the fans who love a good superhero story, and that’s the beauty of a shared universe.
Then, of course, you have trade paperbacks that collect the issues of some of the best stories out there. Once in a while when we’re really lucky the editors are cool enough to include the crossover issues in said trade paperbacks so when you buy a book, you’re getting the whole story.
Up until the “Arrowverse”, television shows were largely self-contained. Sure you’ve got the occasional crossover (Detective Munch from Homicide: Life on the Street went on to appear in Law & Order, The Wire and even The X-Files; Buffy appeared on Angel) but generally a show was its own universe. So far, the “Arrowverse” is the closest thing to a comic book-style shared universe. From Arrow to The Flash to Vixen to Legends of Tomorrow and beyond (crossovers with Supergirl and Constantine are also included), the shared universe is both continuity sound and cohesive and the stories are the closest to a true comic book in motion picture format as we have yet seen.
If the individual shows like Arrow and The Flash equate to the comic book series (with each episode an issue) the Blu-ray complete seasons are the equivalent to the trade paperbacks collecting the stories. Lucky for us when a fourth season Arrow crossover episode called “Legends of Yesterday” is included, the makers are cool enough to include The Flash’s episode that started the story, “Legends of Today”. In turn, both episodes serve as prequels to the spinoff series DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
Need to catch up on an individual episode or two? Head on over to Hulu or Netflix (instead of the comic shop) and fill in the blanks.
Of course, the whole thing is moot unless the shows are good. Arrow, as the first of the bunch, is and has to be. Arrow started out playing it safe, being more of a dark, violent action show with shadows of LOST and a vague DC Comics basis, it slowly turned on the superhero element until, by the fourth season, we’re actually seeing a full blown superhero series surrounding a character named “Green Arrow”.
Yes, Green Arrow, as the comic book calls him, at last. With the vigilante known as “The Arrow” dead (though not really) Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and his fiancée Felicity Smoak (Emily Brett Rickards) have retired to the suburbs and are living the happy life again away from the recently rechristened “Star City”. While heroes like Black Canary (Katie Cassidy), Speedy (Willa Holland), Spartan (David Ramsey) and police Captain Lance (Paul Blackthorne) attempt to protect the city from crime a new and more dangerous crime boss rises in the form of Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough, credited as a “special appearance” in spite of the fact that he’s in every episode).
After three complete seasons, the serialized fourth season has to find a way to make Darhk and his minions in H.I.V.E. as compelling and dangerous a force as those faced previously while still developing Oliver and leading to his emergence as Green Arrow (not The Arrow or The Hood). The storyline set in the present day manages to make that work. Darhk and his army are supernatural and terrifying as well as full of surprises. There’s no predicting the way the story arc goes from episode to episode and even in the weaker entries the overarching saga remains strong. Further, villainous Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) is more powerful than ever and where exactly he lies on the spectrum is as unpredictable as the rest of the show.
However, the flashbacks, though still necessary, have begun to feel tacked on and much less believable. The idea that Oliver had been trapped on the island of Lian Yu for five years was proven false in previous seasons, and the truth was more akin to a globetrotting assassin. This season he’s back on the island and evolving just as his character does in the present day making the first season feel increasingly improbable. Of course this next fifth season will constitute the final set of flashbacks so we will have to see where it goes. As it is the story is interesting but feels forced into a more compelling present day season.
Keeping an eye to the “Arrowverse” at large, the fourth season features not only The Flash and the aforementioned “Team Arrow” members but also The Atom (Brandon Routh), Anarky (Alexander Calvert), Mister Terrific (Echo Kellum), Hawkman (Falk Hentschel), Hawkgirl (Ciara Renee), White Canary (Caity Lotz), Arsenal (Colton Haynes) and Vixen (Megalyn E.K.). That may be a lot of costumes to keep track of, but overall the show remains consistent and truly Arrow while still helping to launch a wider DC Television Universe. This is even with Oliver’s surprise run for Mayor of Star City and the discovery that he might, in fact, have a son.
Standout episodes include “Green Arrow”, Oliver’s return to the costume, “Haunted”, the long awaited appearance of John Constantine (Matt Ryan) in both timelines and “Schism” when the shocking endgame takes place. Of course along the way we also get some strange episodes, like the return of the arrow-slinging villainess Cupid, the bee-controlling scientist “The Bug-Eyed Bandit” and an imposter Black Canary. Again, however, even in these strange ups and downs the season on the whole (when viewed as something of a 1,056-minute movie) remains cohesive, compelling and fascinating.
Special features on the Blu-ray continue the universe-wide viewpoint. Two featurettes focusing on Hawkman, Hawkgirl and Vandal Savage help to set up Legends of Tomorrow along with the Arrow and Flash episodes included. Extras also include a documentary about the Flash crossovers, the 2015 Comic Con panel, deleted scenes and a gag reel.
We have come a long way since the early ‘00s when movies like X-Men tried to play down its comic book origins by mocking “yellow spandex” and TV shows like Smallville adhered to a “no tights, no flights” rule. In 2012 Arrow took the chance of taking a superhero show slowly, carefully evolving from a costume-free action show into a series that is, by the fourth season, a very grownup tale that is actually about DC Comics’ Green Arrow. Arrow may not be a perfect show even (and sometimes even especially) for comic book purists, but from this foundation we now have a wider universe of shows that are not only not afraid to wear the costumes, but take great pride in their comic book origins.