After two episodes that worked to set up the major plots for the fourth season, Arrow made some considerable progress with “Restoration” on Oct. 21.
“Restoration” sees the original trio of Team Arrow struggling to work together as new villain Double Down brings some bizarre metahuman powers to try to exterminate the vigilantes. In Nanda Parbat, Laurel encounters resistance to her plan to dunk her dead sister in the Lazarus Pit and Thea discovers that her post-Pit bloodlust cannot be cured.
The third episode of Season 4 was actually pretty great. It was helped by the clear separation of the A plot of Star City and the B plot in Nanda Parbat. While episodes usually benefit from some connections between arcs, the progression of the A plot was not tainted by the regression in the B plot and the B plot was not overwhelmed by the A plot. Overall, “Restoration” is delightfully rewatchable both for the relatively nuanced writing as well as for the fact that it’s super easy to fast-forward through any unfavorable segments. Still, no episode is ever perfect. So, here is a look at what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen next for Arrow after “Restoration.”
What Worked: The highlight of the A story was the focus on original Team Arrow. The bond between them was honored in the very best way. There was a depth to the writing that their interactions did not feel obligatory. Original Team Arrow was back together as a unit – even if not quite functional throughout the entire episode – and it was positively lovely. Season 4 has been so very different from previous seasons that it hasn’t felt entirely like Arrow, and the return to one of the most familiar facets of the series was remarkably comfortable. It was particularly great to see that each of the three relationships within the trio was given at least a moment or two in the spotlight.
The return to the warmth between big, strong, mid-to-late 30s former soldier and the tiny little mid-20s smartypants in particular was necessary. As well as Oliver and Felicity’s relationship has been handled thus far in Season 4, she has begun to feel isolated to interactions with him. It has felt as though she has been punished for Oliver’s Season 3 misbehavior, and it has neither been fair to her nor reflected well on the others. One of the most fun moments of “Restoration” came when Felicity casually reminded Diggle that he is supposed to be more evolved than Oliver…and did not take it back when Oliver made a noise of protest. It was a perfect little beat that showed that Felicity could still poke fun at Oliver’s bullheadedness even while they mooned over each other and Diggle could still laugh good-naturedly at Oliver.
Digg and Oliver had one of the most raw interactions of the episode when Oliver finally snapped and demanded to know why Digg wasn’t giving him the chance to rebuild the trust between them. That these two men heard each other out despite everything made it clearer than ever that the bond of brotherhood is still present between them. David Ramsey and Stephen Amell continue to pull wonderful performances from one another, and their characters’ showdown that should have been emotionally draining was a wonderful boost for both of their them.
That said, the final stunt sequence of Oliver and Digg vs. Double Down was…interesting. It didn’t entirely feel so much like a scene from Arrow as Oliver and Digg playing Riggs and Murtaugh in a low-budget version of a fifth Lethal Weapon movie. Seriously, Oliver heroically leaping in front of the playing card was so ridiculous that it would not have worked at all if Oliver had not exasperatedly noted afterward that it had been a Tattoo Playing Card of Doom to the chest rather than a good old-fashioned bullet. Still, it wouldn’t have come across as entirely unnatural if one of the guys had closed the scene with an “I’m too old for this…stuff.”
There may not have been any makeout scenes or flat surface calisthenics or super bad hiding of an engagement ring in this episode, but “Restoration” was everything that Oliver and Felicity should be on Arrow. They were quietly in love in the background as an enhanced version of what they had been at their best in earlier seasons. There was a more intimate significance in Felicity’s concern about Oliver in the field without her subsequently murmuring sweet nothings over the comms, and the urgency in Oliver after Felicity was attacked in the lair had an extra dose of panic without requiring him to feel her up for injuries. This is the kind of romance so perfectly and quietly epic that fans of the relationship can delight while the indifferent can be unbothered. If Arrow continues to handle the hero’s love story with as delicate and soft a touch as it has so far in Season 4, Oliver and Felicity may be a precedent to which other comic shows can aspire.
It is notable that the new and improved Oliver of Season 4 began to show more of his Seasons 1 – 3 colors as he regained the comfort of original Team Arrow. The slight reversion gave the sense that he was actively on his best behavior to fit into Team Arrow 3.0 but still the formidable man who started and maintained the hero biz in Starling City. He’s the same difficult, frustrating, complex man that he was before, but he’s grown to first try things another way. He didn’t fuss at Felicity for being in the line of fire. He didn’t snap at Digg for keeping his HIVE knowledge to himself. He kept his work on a new lair quiet for the sake of a surprise rather than a secret. He’s even warming up to the name of “Team Arrow,” and apparently not just because his lady love coined it. Digg may be the more evolved of the men of Original Team Arrow, but Oliver is at least in the process of evolving. By the looks of things, he’s not losing himself in the process.
There really is a magical chemistry between the members of Original Team Arrow. They’re different ages with different experiences and at different points in their lives, but they somehow work as one of the most effective grounding elements to keep the show feeling real even as it delves more and more into the fantastical.
The new dynamic between Felicity and Curtis Holt has its own brand of magic. On paper, Curtis is a combination between Barry Allen and Ray Palmer who the show has taken out of the running as love interest. On screen, he is a charming and appealing character that helps give Felicity somebody to work with rather than work under in her own plot as CEO at Palmer Tech. His lightheartedness is more adult than Barry and less manic than Ray, and his interactions feel more about Felicity than about him.
It’s truly a mark of how well the A story worked in “Restoration” that Villain of the Week Double Down wasn’t totally unbelievable and absurd. Some of the credit certainly goes to J. R. Bourne for bringing some serious menace to a mostly ludicrous character, but Double Down was integrated into the episode as a player rather than cartoonish antagonist so seamlessly that he fit in on a show designed for adults. Honestly, a bad guy who kills via flinging playing cards drawn from tattoos is one who might have looked silly even on the more outlandish Flash, but Arrow made him work.
Damien Darhk continues to menace in the most terrifyingly fabulous way. His interactions with his colleague gave some more exposition about HIVE that revealed him to be part of a leadership rather than the absolute head honcho, and he showed that his magic is not respected for its true power amongst his fellows.
The B story was not without merit. In fact, as excellent as the members of Team Arrow and Damien Darhk were in “Restoration,” the MVP of this episode is Nyssa al Ghul.
Katrina Law was as impressive as ever as Nyssa. She showed a Nyssa who remains deeply, desperately, devastatingly in love with Sara so much so that she would not risk resurrecting her to become a monstrous shade of her former self. She refused to be convinced that Sara truly should be brought back and chose to sever her friendship with Laurel rather than compromise her beliefs. Best of all, Nyssa brought an end to the Lazarus Pit.
The Lazarus Pit has been a narrative device practically designed to destroy any sense of danger or suspense on the show, and removing it as a possibility for bringing characters back from the dead is one of the best moves that Arrow has ever made. The Pit has served its purpose, and the League of Assassins plot may now be far more interesting for introducing mortality to Malcolm Merlyn and Co.
Thea continues to compel as she deals with the side effects of her dip in the Lazarus Pit. She may have been in Nanda Parbat as the daughter of Malcolm Merlyn, but she proved herself the sister of Oliver Queen more than ever. Watching her discover that her training has made it much easier to kill than to hold back was heartbreraking, and that she made the active choice to take the tough road of mercy proves that the Queen kids got their mettle from their shared mother instead of their disparate fathers.
Caity Lotz as crazy Sara was definitely a highlight of the B story. Sara was just not there, and the absence of identity helped to sell the plot.
Laurel being totally singleminded and unbalanced in “Restoration” was actually one of the best aspects of the B story. With morally grey assassin Nyssa opposing the use of the Lazarus Pit, supervillain Malcolm Merlyn opposing the use of the Lazarus Pit, sufferer of post-Pit traumatic stress syndrome Thea opposing the use of the Pit, and the army of League minions probably gossiping amongst themselves about the crazy blonde lady who flew commercial with a coffin while opposing the use of the Lazarus Pit, the B story needed a narrative antagonist. In that sense, Laurel in Nanda Parbat really worked.
What Didn’t Work: What didn’t work with Laurel in Nanda Parbat was how the episode seemed determined to write Laurel’s plan to resurrect Sara as one honoring her sister’s life and spirit rather than mostly just crazy. Laurel’s unwavering faith that she was doing what Sara deserved gave the sense that the show was telling that she was doing the right thing while showing that she was doing something heinous.
Oliver’s suit as the Green Arrow is not working as well as it should. By allowing one of Double Down’s tattoo cards to actually wound Oliver on his exposed arm, Arrow made the impracticality of the upper half of the suit a canonically legitimate issue in-universe. Similar to the joke about Felicity and Diggle needing code names in the previous episode, acknowledging the vulnerability made it officially problematic when nothing is being done to remedy the situation.
The Green Arrow suit really just doesn’t look all that great on Oliver. The more armored look with the shoulder pads combined with the bare arms and cap sleeves make him appear heavier and older. The sleeker look of his original suit gave him a more mysterious edge that was frankly much more intimidating and unnerving than his current getup. He looks clunky now when he takes his hits and clumsy when gravity gets the best of him. It’s counterproductive for the hero of the show in his prime to look like a middle-aged guy who stole a set of laser tag gear from the local arcade.
The flashbacks are pretty dull so far. There have been some redeeming moments, but the new woman with her “Listen to me! I have an accent that shall make me relevant!” line deliveries and the ease with which Oliver seems to be getting his way have made it difficult to get invested, especially when the present shenanigans are so interesting. Setting humdrum flashbacks on the island that has seen Yao Fei and mercenaries and Slade Wilson does the plot no favors.
The biggest problem of the flashbacks is that Oliver is just too good a person in them. The Oliver on Lian Yu in the flashbacks this year does not seem like the same guy who recently tortured a man to the point that even Amanda Waller was shocked or the guy who wouldn’t return to his family because of his violence or even the guy who instinctively murdered a drug dealer in the middle of a party. Save for pretty much one major scene, Flashback Oliver in “Restoration” was basically interchangeable with Present Oliver. He is in his fourth year of the journey meant to transform him into the murderous Hood of Season 1; he’s being far too altruistic and squeamish in the flashbacks.
Of course, Flashback Oliver having the same haircut as Present Oliver makes the comparisons unavoidable. However, Stephen Amell proved that he is perfectly capable of selling Oliver as effectively as a vaguely villainous soldier using a fieldhand as a pincushion as he is a hero in Star City. Amell can differentiate between the two Olivers; the writers need to give him the material to do so and spice things up in the flashbacks.
Finally, “Restoration” went too heavy on the mentions of Team Arrow. Felicity’s first “Original gangstas” quip was cute, but repeating how much she loves the three of them together felt gratuitous on the part of the writers. Felicity has been used as an audience surrogate in the past, but the audience did not need her explicitly extolling the virtues of Team Arrow over and over again to get the point across. Arrow put in the work to really show off the natural chemistry between the characters in this episode; telling was overkill and felt far too meta. The bond needed to be honored, not announced.
What Needs To Happen Next: The dynamic between Original Team Arrow needs to continue to exist within Team Arrow 3.0. Arrow has already proved capable of honoring smaller bonds within the larger team with Oliver and Felicity; there’s no reason why the original trio cannot maintain their status quo even as the team as a whole develops a new one.
Everything needs to not be resolved quickly for Laurel Lance when she returns to Star City. She betrayed the members of Team Arrow 3.0 – especially Oliver – and she did something that even the bad guys of the show couldn’t condone. She needs to face consequences that extend farther than Sara’s arc of being crazy. The show must acknowledge that Laurel has inflicted suffering on others than just herself and her father if she is going to feel like a real person rather than a caricature of comic convenience. All of the other characters have had to face the repercussions for their actions and misdeeds; Laurel must as well.
Thea needs to stay slightly crazy. Willa Holland has been able to show off her acting chops now that she is being dealt meaty material to work with, and she deserves an arc that is actually about Thea instead of one that only uses Thea as a plot point.
Felicity needs to contract Curtis to design a special shock bracelet for Laurel to zap her every time she makes a decision without truly considering the repercussions and/or her own motivations first. Or maybe Sara could just bite her a bunch of times before being cured and shipped off to her spinoff.