Even though I’m a big fan of Arrow, I’ve gotten exasperated with the series’ trope that each season finale must have the main villain trying to destroy Star City. First it was Malcolm Merlyn and his Undertaking, and then it was Slade Wilson and his Siege. Last season, when Ra’s al Ghul revealed his intent to use the Omega virus to level Star City (then Starling City), I felt myself rolling my eyes. At least this time around, the entire world was at stake, and not just Star City.
There is a cost to every war, and that holds true for Team Arrow‘s crusade against crime. Arrow‘s season four finale, entitled “Schism,” focused on examining the consequences of our heroes’ season-long battle against Damien Darhk and his Ghosts from H.I.V.E. On the whole, “Schism” was significantly grittier and less hopeful than the finales for the past two seasons, and it also offered a convoluted and disheartening answer to the question of whether Oliver Queen is a hero.
As always, spoilers follow, so keep on reading only if you’re up to date on Arrow!
The entirety of Arrow‘s fourth season has been centered on the theme of hope. Past seasons have tackled similar questions: Season one focused largely on legacies; season two, on whether Oliver could become a hero without killing; season three, on identity. It thus felt fitting, in a way, that the cast of Arrow entered “Schism” with little to no hope at all. The episode opened with a bang, with Darhk confronting Felicity Smoak, Donna (Mama Smoak), and Curtis Holt after their takedown of Rubicon, the A.R.G.U.S. protocol that would have allowed Darhk to unleash nuclear hell on the world. The only way that Oliver, John Diggle, and Thea Queen, a.k.a. Speedy, managed to defeat Darhk was when Thea threatened to kill his daughter, Nora.
Darhk is a very conflicted character who has a surprising ounce of humanity. He’s a father, and while the show never took the time to explore the paradox of him having a daughter while trying to destroy the world, it was important to see that he does, in fact, care for Nora to some degree. Especially now that H.I.V.E. wannabe Lonnie Machim previously killed Darhk’s wife, Ruvé Adams, in “Lost in the Flood.”
Once Darhk escaped with both Nora and Felicity’s laptop, which would allow him to reactivate Rubicon, everyone tried to cope with the impending nuke-apocalypse in different ways. Diggle and Lyla grimly prepared to join their daughter, Sara, to be together as the world ended. Even Felicity, the resident optimist, had lost all hope about Team Arrow’s ability to defeat Darhk, who was being powered by the destruction of Monument Point. It fell to the new guy — Curtis — to re-inspire Oliver and remind him of what the Green Arrow stood for.
It was touching to see Curtis take on Felicity’s usual role of being Oliver’s beacon of hope. Obviously, Curtis has barely seen any action with Team Arrow, so he’s a slight cross between idealism and naiveté at this point. Yet, I still appreciated his revelation to Oliver that the Green Arrow was the reason that Curtis and his husband, Paul, decided to stay in Star City. Arrow‘s Star City has become the new Gotham, and you have to wonder why people choose to stay when there’s a terrorist attack every May. (I’m surprised that more people don’t choose to vacation outside of Star City each May.) As Curtis said, “Living in Star City requires a special kind of tenacity.”
Curtis reminded Oliver that the core of the Green Arrow is hope, which is something that Oliver sorely needed to hear. It was therefore interesting that when Oliver took to the streets to speak out against the fear and anarchy that the city’s residents were descending into, he spoke out as Oliver Queen, and not as the Green Arrow. I guess it’s easier to calm down others if you’re not wearing a tacky mask.
In the comics, Green Arrow is an inspirational hero, whether by being the wisecracking Justice Leaguer or the mayor of Star City, which is what inspired the Arrow story line of Oliver’s mayoral campaign earlier this season. His speech in “Schism” was a welcome return to that capacity, and it suggests that Oliver Queen can continue to be an inspiring public figure, even beyond the Green Arrow. Still, I was disappointed with the answer that “Schism” provided to the question of whether Oliver is a true hero.
The Darhk-ness Within
The final showdown with Darhk took cues from “Uprising,” an episode from the middle of season three. In “Uprising,” Diggle, Laurel Lance, and Roy Harper galvanized the citizens of the Glades to rise up against Danny Brickwell‘s takeover of the Glades. “Schism” had a similar plot point, with the residents of Star City taking up arms to help Oliver battle Darhk, which became a source for Oliver to magically counteract Darhk’s powers. Yet, it was a let-down to see Darhk loose his magical abilities so quickly, especially since this season has devoted so much time to Oliver’s struggle with magic, both in the present and in the flashbacks. Still, I guess it had to happen sometime.
With Darhk now magic-less, we got a good old-fashioned showdown between the Green Arrow and his (current) Big Bad. Did you remember that Darhk used to be a member of the League of Assassins? I admittedly forgot about that, so I appreciated that Darhk reminded viewers of that fact. Oliver, of course, also had a long stint with the League during the tail end of season three, so Oliver’s showdown with Darhk turned into a grudge match between former assassins. And then…it became a brawl. Seeing Oliver and Darhk punch each other instead of utilizing more refined choreography left me wondering what happened to the quality of stunts with this episode. Arrow‘s stunt department usually sets a high bar for itself, but this time it seemed to fall short.
It’s worth noting how twisted Darhk’s logic has become. He told Oliver that his continuation of Genesis was “a mercy killing on a global scale,” meant to save his daughter the pain of growing up without her mother — and, similarly, to end Quentin‘s pain with losing Laurel. Darhk seemed to be far beyond any sort of redemption or mercy, but it was still shocking to see Oliver kill the defeated Darhk — with an arrow, no less, in a symbolic inversion of Darhk’s murder of Laurel. It’s evident that Oliver Queen is definitely not Barry Allen, who spared Zoom‘s life (kind of) in The Flash‘s season finale, which you can read more about here.
Is this what justice looks like for Oliver now? Killing a man in cold blood to avenge the deaths of thousands, including Laurel? I’m not saying that Darhk didn’t deserve to die, because he certainly did. The problem was that Oliver’s lack of restraint diverged from “Sins of the Father,” one of this season’s best episodes. “Sins of the Father” forced Oliver to make the impossible choice of whether to spare or kill Malcolm Merlyn in order to save Thea’s life. When faced with that impossible choice, Oliver sought out a third, non-lethal option. That certainly wasn’t the case in “Schism.”
Right before he killed Darhk, Oliver told him, “With Slade Wilson, I had a choice. This time I don’t.” Consequently, Oliver’s murder of Darhk felt like ten steps backward for the character. Oliver isn’t the hero he’s tried so hard to be — he’s still a killer. When Oliver claimed that he didn’t have a choice about killing Darhk, I didn’t believe it. In the flashbacks, Amanda Waller (in what will likely be one of the last times we see her on Arrow, since the character is dead in the present) told Oliver that sometimes killing is the only path to justice, and that Oliver’s darkness will always be part of him.
Oddly, it was Felicity who revealed what the episode’s title, “Schism,” really meant. In the wake of Darhk’s murder, Felicity told Oliver, “What you’re feeling isn’t darkness, it’s a schism. You’re at war with two sides of yourself.” It seems that Oliver still can’t bring himself to renounce the darkness that he’s struggled with since season one. While I appreciate the show’s complex exploration of vigilantism, it nevertheless feels like Arrow is caught in a loop, unable to decide where it wants to go next.
The Finale In Which Everyone Leaves
Even though Oliver’s schism between hope and darkness dominated most of the finale, the episode also showed that darkness is all-consuming. It soon became clear that Team Arrow’s victory over Darhk was anything but. After Darhk’s death, “Schism” was remarkably downbeat, with Quentin and Donna leaving Star City, Thea deciding that she needed a sabbatical from the vigilante life, and Diggle similarly taking some time off from Team Arrow. I appreciate that Thea is haunted by the fact that she threatened to kill Darhk’s daughter, but with her departure alongside Diggle’s re-enlistment in the military, it felt like the show was trying too hard to change its status quo.
The one character who didn’t have a worthwhile story line, or send-off, was Felicity. Two episodes ago, in “Monument Point,” it looked like the show would be exploring the fallout of Felicity’s failure to prevent Darhk’s opening genocide at Monument Point. Yet, that didn’t happen. Even the most recent plot twist, with Donna learning that Felicity had been hiding her collaboration with the Green Arrow all this time, didn’t pan out.
I guess Felicity has now joined Oliver’s “I Failed To Save A City” Club. (Too soon?)
Felicity had an interesting moment when she convinced her hacker ex-boyfriend, Cooper Seldon, to stop aiding Darhk, which cost Cooper his life. But since Felicity didn’t majorly react to yet another death in which she was complicit, the inclusion of that scene felt random and clunky. I appreciated that the writers resisted having Felicity get back together with Oliver, even though they’re now the only two members of Team Arrow (at least until Curtis joins up). Yet, it still felt like Felicity got the short shrift.
In any case, “Schism” reminded us that Felicity and Curtis make a great team, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of Echo Kellum (Curtis), who has joined the main cast.
It’s also worth noting that unlike season three, this season of Arrow didn’t provide any setup for next season’s Big Bad. Toward the end of season three, Ra’s al Ghul was responsible for familiarizing viewers with the name Damien Darhk, but season four didn’t provide any similar framework. Still, various websites have reported that Arrow has put out a casting call for a character codenamed as “James,” who might be the main villain for season five. Learn more about him here.
Flashbacks and Looking Ahead
Finally, I’d better make sure to talk about the flashbacks this season. Putting it bluntly, they sucked. To perhaps say that more eloquently, the entirety of this season’s flashbacks could be summed up by simply saying that Oliver had encountered Darhk’s magical idol before. Aside from a pair of bookending appearances by Cynthia Addai-Robinson‘s Amanda Waller, this season’s flashbacks didn’t have much to offer, with both Baron Reiter and Taiana coming across as rather flat characters.
Ever since season two’s memorably relevant flashbacks involving Deathstroke and Sara Lance, the flashbacks in seasons three and four have meandered at a sluggish pace. The show’s producers have promised that season five’s flashbacks will be more integrated and engrossing, especially as they collide with the “present” of season one. It looks like we’ll be off to Russia with Oliver, who will seek out Taiana’s parents and forge his ties to the Bratva. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of Anatoly Knyazev, one of my favorite recurring characters, who hasn’t been on Arrow since season two.
We do know a few other things about season five. We’ll finally learn about Laurel’s last words to Oliver, which were hinted at in “Eleven-Fifty-Nine.” Colton Haynes will also be back as Roy Harper for multiple episodes. And then there’s the four-part crossover between Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl. Stephen Amell (Oliver) has pointed out that next season of Arrow won’t have to worry about setting up a new TV series, so season five will be going “back to basics.”
I’ve been a fan of Arrow since its outset, and season two still stands out in my mind as the series’ best season, which is when the show wholeheartedly embraced the soap opera at its core. However, in my mind, nothing since has measured up to season two. Season four had some spectacular episodes, such as “Unchained” and “Sins of the Father,” but the overall arc wasn’t that satisfying. No TV series lasts forever, and most drama series like Arrow don’t make it far past their fifth season. If season five of Arrow is to be one of its final seasons, then I hope the writers figure out how to provide a fresh, fulfilling, and worthwhile way to conclude the story of Oliver Queen.