After three episodes that ranged from absolutely brilliant to utterly bizarre, Arrow passed some points of no return with “Beyond Redemption” on Oct. 28. As always, there was good and bad alike to consider. So, here is a look at what worked and what didn’t after the fourth episode of Season 4 of Arrow.
What Worked: The performances were on point. Willa Holland as Thea has yet to fall short in Season 4, and it’s been wonderful to see what she is capable of when given real material to work with. The young woman in Thea shone through the haze of craze that’s been obscuring her since the season began. Her excited presumption that her brother had proposed to his girlfriend was an adorable little sister moment, and her support of him throughout was absolutely one of the strongest aspects of “Beyond Redemption.”
Emily Bett Rickards definitely sold Felicity’s confusion when Thea excitedly gestured to her ring finger and asked why she wasn’t wearing a certain something. There was, however, a flicker of willful ignorance to her expression when Laurel later asked about the confusion, which raises the question of just how surprised Felicity will be when Oliver finally pops the question. That, or even an actress as skilled as Emily Bett Rickards is incapable of playing a character who couldn’t take one look at Oliver’s expression around Felicity and immediately know that he’s probably already picking out their wedding colors.
Paul Blackthorne as Captain Lance turned in one of his best performances to date. Although Lance is still too much of a scene-to-scene weathercock about whether or not he hates Oliver, the standoff between the characters was masterfully handled by both actors. That said, Blackthorne was best in his scenes with his daughters. Lance trying work himself up to shooting Sara was some of the most affecting acting that any performer has yet brought to Arrow.
The MVP of “Beyond Redemption” goes to Stephen Amell. He brought an emotional range of everything from fury to despair to betrayal as Oliver finally called Lance out for his hypocrisy, and Oliver’s “this-is-no-big-deal-but-if-you-don’t-love-it-I-might-die” air as he presented the new lair was precious. Oliver is trying so hard this year, and Amell is so effortless at showing the journey. The plot of Oliver running for mayor was always going to rise or fall based on how it was sold, and Amell has brought enough earnestness to Oliver’s decision to run that the idea isn’t totally absurd.
Perhaps the best part of the plot of Oliver running for mayor is that the show is not trying to sell it as something that makes a ton of sense. Oliver’s best-ish friend, beloved sister, and ex-girlfriend all thought he was crazy for wanting to run. Lance thought he was crazy for wanting to run, then vowed to vote for him just in case he’s assassinated. Even Oliver’s big justification for actually running is that nobody else is willing to try. It’s working because everybody is pointing out that it shouldn’t work; Arrow calling shenanigans on itself and then working to overcome them is the perfect way to present this plot.
Arrow in Season 4 has managed to absolutely nail the kind of humor that works for the tone of the show, and Oliver has been able to be funny without cracking wise. One of the best moments of the episode came when Oliver decided that Lance’s code name would be “Detective.” It was funny without requiring a stop in the action to break for laughs or a quirky twang of the music to announce that there was a joke. Oliver is funniest when he’s either deadpan or telling bad dad jokes, and neither has felt unfitting to his character in Season 4. Way to be funny, Arrow. Way to be.
What Didn’t Work: Laurel’s behavior from the moment that she decided to use Thea to take Sara to Nanda Parbat has been morally reprehensible; Laurel’s behavior in “Beyond Redemption” was morally criminal. Laurel had no knowledge that Sara was without her soul; as far as she knew, Sara was a mentally disabled person incapable of controlling her own actions. Yet she chained Sara up and left her alone in a basement like a dog. In fact, Laurel’s treatment of Sara was comparable to a little girl who really, really, really wanted a dog but discovered after she picked one out and brought it home that she really didn’t want to have to take care of it.
The action scenes of “Beyond Redemption” were the most underwhelming of all of Season 4 thus far. Laurel opening her mouth like a python to activate her Canary Cry choker continues to be an embarrassment for poor Katie Cassidy, and the bad guys shooting a net out of a cannon like a free t-shirt at a local baseball game to subdue ex-Special Forces John Diggle was painful. Worst of all, however, was the fact that Oliver – defeater of criminals all by himself for the first season of the show, subduer of Slade Wilson, slayer of Ra’s al Ghul – was taken by surprise and nearly crippled by a tiny C-list villain du jour.
Reducing the main character’s hard-earned skills to clumsy attempts to land a few punches before being defeated is a disrespectful and embarrassing way to treat the hero. Fighting is the one thing that Oliver has always and unfailingly been good at in the present. It’s beginning to feel like the show will not allow him to be an emotionally healthy adult as well as the skilled crimefighter that he once was.
Sadly, there’s even more that doesn’t work on the action front than just Oliver losing to smaller and less skilled foes on a regular basis. With the expansion of Team Arrow, the show has taken the skills that make Oliver so remarkable and split them off to allot to other members of the crew. Digg brings in the size and the brute strength. Thea brings in the archery and unconventional methods. Laurel brings in the ability to flail around with blunt objects. Instead of Oliver being an exceptional warrior capable of just about every discipline, Arrow has turned him into a sort of generic muscle man whose abilities vary upon the dictates of the plot du jour. Oliver as a fighter right now is a Star Trek red shirt seemingly destined to be outlasted by his fellows, and that is not what should be happening on a show in which he is the titular character three years into his hero’s journey.