Thursday, 26 May 2016

Review - 'Arrow', S04E23 - 'Schism'





Warning: Spoilers Below.

With HIVE's underground sanctuary destroyed, and Damian Darhk's access to the world's nuclear stock-piles cut off, it feels as though it should all be over. Without the underground sanctuary to hide out in, HIVE's plan to wipe out all life on Earth, and start over, has become entirely unfeasible (for, at least, as long as it takes them to build a new sanctuary, anyway). So, it seems as though 'Team Arrow' has already won.

But, of course, we know that can't be the case. With his wife dead, and his daughter missing, Damian Darhk seems determined to go ahead with his insane plan, anyway. At this point, Darhk isn't interested in any horribly misguided plan to 'start over' – now, it seems as though he just wants to watch the world burn. With this new-found focus, it doesn't take long, at all, for Darhk to go back on the offensive – re-acquiring the means of accessing Rubicon from Felicity, and not wasting any time in launching as many nuclear warheads as he can access (which is, basically, all of them).

So, now, 'Team Arrow' find that they have only two hours to save the entire world – which feels like a formidable enough task. But, beyond that, there is also the small matter of another nuclear missile headed directly to Star City, which is due to arrive in less than an hour. On top of that, whatever ability Oliver had acquired to resist Damian Darhk's magic no longer seems to work, now that Darhk has received a significant power-boost. So, clearly, the stakes are high.

Things get off to a promising start with the season's final episode. Damian Darhk feels more unhinged, and dangerous, than at any previous point in the season – and, Neal McDonough is as impressive as he has ever been in the role.

I do have to admit, though, that it feels as though the scale of this finale might have been a little too big for an episode of Arrow. In order to build on the threat that 'Team Arrow' faced on the previous episode, the writer's felt the need to have Damian Darhk launch all of the world's nuclear missiles, before our heroes even had a chance to stop him. It added a genuinely effective element of a race agaisnt time, sure – but, it also created a problem that simply felt too big for 'Team Arrow' to plausibly resolve.

With 15,000 nuclear missiles making their way toward different targets, all around the world, it essentially fell to Felicity to save the world by hacking the missiles into space – or, something. It was nonsense, really. It was the sort of situation where I found myself wishing that the writer's had been a little more willing to restrain themselves. But, unfortunately, they weren't – and, so, we ended up with one of the most absurd plot developments we have had in four seasons.

Elsewhere, at least, the episode provide to be a little more successful.

While the vaguely defined rules of magic we have had, here, have (much like the vaguely defined rules of time travel we have had on both The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow) been a source of occasional frustration, for me, the inclusion of magic has also provided an entertaining way to distinguish Arrow from the increasingly outlandish super-heroics of those other shows.

With Oliver and Damian Darhk set to have their final confrontation in this episode, the inclusion of magic proved to be a very interesting component to their final battle. It wasn't perfect, of course – but, the idea that Oliver could find a way to draw on the feeling of hope he had been able to inspire in in the citizens of Star City in order to resist Darhk's magic still felt like a very fitting way to place them on an equal footing, at the end. Given the importance of 'hope' throughout the season, it just felt thematically appropriate to end things in this way – so, I was willing to set aside any issues I may have had with the whole idea.

I do have to admit, though, that I'm still not sure what to make of Oliver's decision to kill Damian Darhk, at the end. With Oliver, essentially, having Darhk at his mercy, at that point, his claim that he had no choice in the matter didn't strike me as entirely plausible. It was the sort of coldly calculated decision that we have seen Oliver make many times before, in the various flash-backs (and, in the first season) – but, it's also the sort of decision that he was supposed to have moved beyond. Having a situation where Oliver seemed determined to justify what appeared to be a regression just felt a bit odd, to me.

Moving on, though. Unfortunately, the final installment of this season's 'flash-back' story-line remained as underwhelming, and as unconnected to anything occurring in the 'present day', as it has always been.

Here, we see Baron Reiter and Taiana engaged in a brief struggle, as each draws mystical power from the idol that Reiter had invested so much time and effort into acquiring. Reiter, it seems, is able to control the mystical powers that he has prepared for – while, as we have already seen, these same powers are taken a heavy toll on Taiana's sanity. It was an interesting idea, certainly – but, unfortunately, the execution of this entire sequence just felt a bit off. For one thing, just as with so much of this arc over the season, it just felt like an unnecessary distraction from a much important plot-line. Beyond that, though, Elysia Rotaru still just doesn't seem capable of keeping up with the odd direction her character's arc has suddenly taken. Her performance, at this point, was so over-the-top that it became unintentionally funny – which is a shame, since it was clearly intended to be a dramatic development.

Much like with the season finale of The Flash, though, it seems as though the most interesting developments were saved until after the final conflict was resolved. With Thea and Diggle (and, even Quentin Lance) each ended the episode announcing their need to leave the city, at least for the moment, things ended on a surprisingly sombre note, in spite of the team's victory over Damian Darhk. Also, with Oliver Queen finding himself in the position of Star City's new mayor, after all (even if it was only because there was no other candidate for the role), there is definite promise for interesting new developments when Arrow returns for its fifth season.

Overall, though, while the final episode for the fourth season had its share of great moments, the impression I was left with is one of 'adequacy'. It did benefit from a much clearer sense of focus than what we had with the season finale of The Flash, at least – so, there is that.

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