In a matter of seconds, Arrow’s fourth-season premiere shows viewers all they need to know about the upcoming season: Everything and nothing is the same. At first glance, the opening scene — Oliver Queen, covered in a green hoodie (ha!), sprinting through shrubbery — should feel familiar. After all, each of the three prior season premieres began with Oliver making a mad dash either toward or away from something, be it a speeding truck or the memory of Tommy Merlyn.
But the similarity ends there: Oliver emerges from the woods, hoodie now down, and gently jogs down a perfectly manicured suburban street. It’s as picturesque as a pharmaceutical ad, and I almost expect to hear a voice-over warning me about abdominal pain and loss of bladder control. But what I really need is a warning about how cute it is to see Oliver and Felicity in domestic bliss. (“Call your doctor today to ask if Olicity is right for you.”)
Having retired from vigilante life at the end of season three, Felicity and Oliver have traded hacking and weaponry for a summer of traveling and farmers' markets. Of the two, you’d think that Oliver would be crawling out of his skin to get back to crime-fighting, but it’s Felicity who can barely make it through brunch with their basic neighbors without drowning her boredom in mimosas. Not that she’s bored with Oliver: The boy can’t even scramble a post-jog egg before she’s up on him. And he’s equally smitten — so much so that he plans to propose soon. His peace with their new life is palpable. Or, as he puts it more succinctly, “I’ll never get tired of making plans that don’t involve people shooting at me.”
Well, stay far away from Star (RIP -ling!) City, Oliver. While Oliver and Felicity have been playing house, a Blackwater-like armed militia, referred to as the “Ghosts,” have been wreaking havoc on Oliver’s hometown. Although the city is no stranger to bloodshed and terrorism, the Ghosts seem particularly dedicated and organized, right down to the cyanide pill they swallow if caught. So it’s not surprising that city leaders (including Captain Quentin Lance) are stumped on how to contain the damage.
But, hey, the city leaders don’t really have to worry about strategizing because the leader of the Ghosts, Mr. Season Four Big Bad himself, Damien Darhk, waltzes right into the city leaders’ meeting and tells them their plans to save the city are futile. Cities, he explained, are like puppies: “You see them writhing in agony in the street, you put them down.” In his role as Darhk, Neal McDonough manages to bring fun to an “evil” role without that fun making his character seem harmless.
Following this introduction, his Ghosts systematically assassinate all of the city leaders, except for Captain Lance, who — thanks to an appearance by Black Canary — escapes with only a bullet to the arm. (Laurel saved Quentin? I think I might just get to like you, season-four Laurel Lance!). But a one-leader-alive-out-of-four record does bring comfort to Team Arrowless, and Laurel decides it’s time to call Oliver back home to help fight the Ghosts, even if that means interrupting his plans to propose via soufflé. (Ugh, Laurel.)
So Oliver and Felicity find themselves back in Star City. Not surprisingly, it’s not a perfect reunion. Diggle still hasn’t forgiven him for kidnapping Lyla and putting their daughter in danger, even if Lyla has. Thea, relishing in her new adrenaline-rush vigilante life, is shutting Oliver out. Quentin, of course, can only see “the monster” that “inspired monsters.” When Oliver insists that he’s not a monster anymore, Quentin asks, “Then what are you?”
I found myself asking the same question throughout this episode. I’ve previously read that Stephen Amell would be bringing a lighter tone to how he portrayed Oliver Queen this year. After all, Oliver is unshackled from his Arrow persona and getting laid on the regular. But I wasn’t prepared for how different the character would really feel — his voice, his movements. I’ve admittedly waxed poetic before about Amell’s abilities to play Oliver at different levels, but all of the wax and poetry feels earned. It’s not easy to take the main character of a show that an audience has been getting to know each week for three years and then debut a different version of that character that also feels true and grounded. It was jarring at first, but I think it’ll be an interesting way for the show to keep fresh four years in.
The fun and playful side of New Oliver is most on display when he’s around Felicity. Even when they fight it’s more spirited and teasing than angry. For example, after Oliver discovers that Felicity was secretly helping the team track and fight the Ghosts all summer behind his back, there’s no knock-down, drag-out fight. There’s no alpha “Arrow” voice used. Instead, the discussion feels oddly cute and flirty, even if the takeaway is that Felicity lied to Oliver multiple times, food poisoning in Thailand excluded. Oliver’s not angry, but is feeling vulnerable. Felicity assures him of her love, but admits that she misses their vigilante work. Basic brunches are not enough for Felicity Smoak.
It’s a good thing that Felicity wants to stay in Star City, because it doesn’t seem like the Ghost problem is going to go away very easily. While casing a potential Ghost hideout, Team Arrow witnesses Darhk kill a man by simply putting his hand to the man’s chest. Speedy is rightfully weirded out by this development. But Oliver is not. He’s seen this sort of “mysticism” before. Given Darhk’s involvement and the fact that he is some sort of warlock or whatever, Oliver’s fate in Star City is sealed. I, for one, am glad that the writers did not make Oliver fight or debate this decision further. Oliver’s choice to stay needed to feel like one he made on his own, in order to avoid repeating some of the more naval-gazing aspects of season three.
As if New Oliver was not enough, he’s also got a new Arrow suit, which he wears on a mission to stop Darhk from sending a train full of cluster bombs into the new Star City train station. Captain Lance, Laurel, and Speedy execute the world’s worst emergency evacuation of the train station, consisting of Speedy yelling for everyone to immediately leave or else while Captain Lance simultaneously announces that everyone should just calmly exit; don’t even get me started on what Laurel does. Meanwhile, Dig and Oliver put their differences behind enough to work together to destroy the bomb train before it arrives at the station. But not before Darhk escapes.
The city, having been saved, learns through a hacked broadcast signal (hat tip, F Society!) that their new protector is not the Arrow … but the Green Arrow. Quentin watches from the police station, squinting in disappointment. (Let’s hope he’s not squinting because he’s trying to figure out who this new Green Arrow fella is.)
Darhk, post-train-explosion, is seen doing the usual post-train-explosion things, like cutting into your skin to make a blood sacrifice to some mystical statute. His sacrifice is interrupted (and he despises interruptions) by an unseen co-conspirator: Quentin Lance! Darhk wants Lance, who’s helping him under duress, to find out everything he can about the Green Arrow, including who he loves.
Speaking of love, Oliver and Felicity move into Thea’s sweet loft. Thea moved out since that’s where Ra’s stabbed her to death last year. (“We can get a rug,” Oliver deadpans.) While they’re moving boxes, he sets aside the ring he was going to propose with earlier. He’s tabling that idea. But all is right in the world because he still has her and they start to make out in the living room, and I’m enjoying the sexy-sexy time and thinking about how this episode really feels lighter than last season despite all of the death …
Cut to a graveyard six months in the future. A devastated Oliver is being comforted by Felicity’s friend, Barry Allen a.k.a. the Flash, but Felicity is nowhere to be found. Oliver is so distraught he wants to be alone. The name of the buried is not revealed.
New Oliver is so six months ago.
Oliver is trying out his vigilante shtick in Coast City, when Amanda Waller offers to assist him. She takes him to a bar and although I desperately wish out loud that they start doing bar karaoke, they do not. Instead, she drugs him and has A.R.G.U.S. agents put him on a plane for an unknown mission. The cargo door hatch opens. It’s Lian Yu. Everything and nothing is the same.
- Who’s in the grave? Felicity? Thea?
- “I used to think that yelling Oliver was scary, but now I’m thinking silent Oliver is a lot worse.”
- “You’ve managed to be back 24 hours before giving me a lecture. I think I owe Laurel 50 bucks,” a sassy post-Laz Thea to Oliver.
- Lyla! Always more Lyla!
- I’m guessing the preschool-waiting-list dialogue is a nod to Oliver’s secret Central City love child.
- I like that they’re setting up Dig and Quentin with their own secrets. There’s a lot to play with this season.
- The hive-shaped tile in Darhk’s house is a nice touch.
- I would have not guessed boxers, but it makes a certain amount of sense.
MISSING THE MARK
- The city-leader assassination sequence brought a lot of momentum and frenetic energy to the first part of the episode, but some of the dialogue in those scenes felt crammed to match the pacing.
- What in the sweet world was the scene where Laurel picked up the kid in the train station and he told her how strong she was? Is that just random, or will that play out somehow later?
NUMBER OF SHIRTLESS STEPHEN AMELL SCENES: 1 (now with bonus pantless scene!)
Come find me on Twitter and tell me what duet Oliver and Waller should perform at karaoke.