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Adams' Analysis - Arrow Season 6 Is In A Rut

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Welcome to Adams' Analysis, a new column written by me, Bradley Adams, about something within the TV or film world. Sometimes it will be comment on a particular show or film, sometimes it will be comment on a major piece of news, sometimes it will be comment on an observation within TV or film. This will be published on Thursdays, either every week or every other week (I've yet to decide).

You’d be hard-pressed to find a fan of Arrow who didn’t approach season five with complete trepidation. Indeed, just over a third of people you could survey who watched season four when it began wouldn’t have watched last October, such was the dire trainwreck nature of season four - especially its back half.

Season five, for all that it was not infallible, marked a turn for the better. The show never returned to the highs of its second year - the run from mid-season one to season two’s finale will likely never be eclipsed as the series’ best - but any expectations that it might were both unfounded and unrealistic; that Arrow was once again watchable without a nagging sensation from the brain to cower behind a pillow in embarrassment was an achievement in and of itself.

Once Josh Segarra’s character was revealed as Prometheus, the season hit a high gear and once again became a show worthy of fixation. “Lian Yu”, the final episode, was arguably the strongest since that second season.

It is such a shame, then, that in its four episodes since returning this fall, Arrow has once again fallen into a rut, showcasing many similar mistakes to that of its excruciatingly bad period. Last week’s outing, “Reversal”, was one of the weakest hours in quite some time, and already it’s easy to envisage a sense of exhaustion come May, should this continue.


There was a time when Arrow, for any and all faults, could churn out interesting stories week on week and do it in a way that was not only actively engaging but often took surprising turns - or, at least, did not fall into the same pattern. Season six is struggling with that so far.

It isn’t that the structure of each episode is the same. But the way each case has developed have felt horribly predictable and formulaic. There’s no innovation in these four episodes, none of the clever thinking displayed in Arrow's heyday.

“Reversal” typified this problem, and no scene better illustrated it than Cayden James’ (Michael Emerson, the only good thing from that hour) attack at Helix. It fell into a set of suspense traps no show should ever go near: lead character’s location is the obvious target for the villain, but the good guys don’t realise until it happens; villain orders lead character’s death only for good guys to save the day at the last second; disposable individual is injured because otherwise it cheapens the scene and the show doesn’t want to hurt one of its main characters.

It was like a checklist of items the writers followed, and it not only makes for a bad scene, it makes for a boring scene. The only surprise was that Alena didn’t die. Arrow's action fell drastically by the wayside quite some time ago, so where a fight could once be thin on story and be carried by the stunt work, the decline in skill execution (largely, I think, because of the increase of participants) means the narrative behind it must be strong. That was not the case here, and it might well have been preferable to just skip to the following scene once Diggle and co. showed up.


Speaking of Diggle, let’s discuss secrets. Perhaps the Arrow writers have, like most of us who made it through with our sanities even remotely intact, purged season four from their memories. That’s the best option because the alternative would be that they genuinely thought Oliver keeping William secret was the highlight of that disaster.

Either way, season six looks like it could be running into a similar problem, only on a far more idiotic level. To begin with, Diggle’s tremors and subsequent inability to fire his gun was wonky, but generally worked - and it was interesting. At times, he’s been reduced to little more than a background figure and so it’s always appreciated for him to be given his own story. That appreciation died come the ending of “Tribute”.

It was like one writer penned the first 52 pages of the episode’s script and another writer, with no knowledge of anything written before it in either of the first two outings, wrote the final two pages, leaving some unlucky person to salvage the failure in the following episodes. Diggle’s decision not to tell Oliver about his nerve damage isn’t inherently nonsensical. But combined with him having agreed that he would and then accepting taking the Green Arrow mantle instead? Get the men in white lab coats.

There are so many problems with this, even aside from the nerve damage issue (more on that in a moment). If Oliver’s logic behind it was in part because he’s now a single dad, perhaps someone should have reminded him at the time about Lyla and JJ. Mentioning them to Diggle an episode later is not good enough. Pushing him to don the suit with no plan of how he could fire arrows was both ridiculous and reckless, particularly given that it was that same episode in which the FBI opened an investigation into Oliver and the Green Arrow. Might they notice if the hooded hero stops firing arrows?

Again, a fix came about in the crossbow. Great. But given that Oliver has used a longbow, recurve bow, and compound bow - all pretty similar to the untrained eye - during his five years under the hood, this change is a notable one. What would happen if a witness reported the Green Arrow using a crossbow? Might FBI Agent Watson (Sydelle Noel) be suspicious (more so) of the fact that he stopped using a recurve just as she began an investigation?

We can circle back to the predictability thing here, too. Could it be that Diggle has magically overcome his degenerative nerve damage in the space of a week just through sheer willpower, and can now fire a crossbow (and probably his gun) perfectly? Of course not! He’s taking black market drugs, secretly from Team Arrow, to deal with it. This stems directly from his decision to take the mantle, and it weakens Diggle as a character. Yes, he’s a fighter, but it lessens him to be this much of a stickler at his own risk.

There is so little thinking involved in all of this, and it’s difficult to discern whether this is just incompetent writing or writing intended to make all of its characters look stupid. It’s even harder to work out which is the worst option.


“Reversal” uncovered another major issue, too: the show is directionless in Oliver’s absence.

Back in season three, when he was ‘dead’ for three episodes, Arrow managed to bind the rest of the team together and make their continuation of helping the city work. At the time, it worked largely because the characters had to fight against Brick’s (Vinnie Jones) imminent threat with no alternative of waiting for Oliver to come back.

Now, with him there and in Star City, there’s an aimlessness about how it balances both his arcs and those involving Team Arrow. It’s ironic, in a way: everyone seems baffled how Oliver handled being mayor and Green Arrow at the same time, and yet it was easier to do that from a writing standpoint than it is doing now.

This was a Felicity-centric episode and so expecting Oliver to have a prominent role would probably be foolish, despite how tied to him her plots have been since they first became a couple. But in a 20-minute window during “Reversal”, Oliver appeared in two scenes. That’s an odd thing to do to your main character, but it’s a symptom of how things are with him having only a day job - and especially in an episode without William.

Part of what worked with the combination of Oliver, Mayor of Star City and Oliver, Green Arrow was how the two jobs often conflicted with one another, both in terms of time and how being a vigilante goes against basically everything a mayor should be doing. And it meant that whenever there wasn’t a storyline to tell inside City Hall, Oliver still had something to do. Now, though, it would seem Arrow essentially needs to become a partly politically oriented show in order to give him substantial material on the regular.

Back when he was elected, I felt that the show needed to utilise that avenue in order to make it worth it. And it did. But now it cannot sustain that as his only story - Arrow isn’t capable of making it interesting enough. Yes, Oliver has William, and that side of things works. But there’s only so much to be explored in both, and passable, unmemorable filler won’t cut it here as it would with him in a green costume.


One more thing that has resurfaced this season is the tech gobbledegook being spouted by Felicity and Curtis at all times, only for someone to retort along the lines of: “English, please?”

It was chuckle-worthy the first time. A hundred times later and it is one of the dullest, most frustrating minor things Arrow has ever done.

It fits, too, into a much larger category of an issue. Sometimes, it’s very difficult to remember that a case began with someone being murdered - or whatever the villain has done - because of how not-so-seriously it is taken by Curtis, Felicity, and Rene.

There’s a time for humour, certainly; although this needs to remain a much darker, less joke-heavy show than The Flash (where its entire set up is based on levity), a dour episode devoid of humour is not much good. But the occasional reminder from either Diggle or Dinah to take things seriously should surely be a wakeup call to cut back on the ‘humorous’ remarks (*). It cheapens the plot of an episode and makes the character seem unsympathetic towards anything.

(*) It’s very rare that any of these comments are funny. They usually end up just being eye-roll-worthy. If they were funny, it could be justified at least a little.


Arrow, right now, isn’t as catastrophically, seemingly irreparably broken as it looked in May 2016, but it remains broken nonetheless. There’s still plenty of time to fix it and deliver a strong sixth season, showing us that last year’s success was not actually just a lucky blip in a series that has gone off the rails. But those fixes need to start now, because the longer it takes, the more damage that will occur, and the less likely things can be salvaged.

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