The last time Oliver Queen asked for a helping hand from one of his old acquaintances, Arrow brought John Constantine back from the nebulous realm of canceled television programs. It was as much a testament to the growing power of Greg Berlanti’s Arrowverse, as it was to the increasingly pervasive idea that no television show is ever truly canceled – it’s just on indefinite hiatus until a network or bright-eyed producer finds the right angle from which to approach the property all over again. While the hour didn’t quite resurrect Constantine, as no doubt many fans of the show had hoped, it did prove that The CW’s shows could dig into the DC character archives and center an episode on them.
This time around, Arrow has decided to tackle ‘Human Target’ all over again. In some ways, it’s a reboot of the short-lived FOX TV series of the same name, starting Mark Valley, Chi McBride, and Jackie Earle Haley. The show only lasted for two seasons – which means it has that to lord over Constantine – and one can’t help but wonder whether or not it would have found greater success had it been born just a few years later, and under the Berlanti umbrella. Nevertheless, Human Target Christopher Chance is back, but instead of Valley, The CW has brought on Jessica Jones actor Wil Traval to play Oliver’s buddy with what will no doubt feature a similarly retro-engineered backstory of the time they first met.
But ‘Human Target’ has more on its plate than introducing yet another DC Comics character to the expanding Arrowverse, it’s also dealing with last week’s abduction and subsequent torture of Wild Dog by Big Bad Tobias Church, and the threat of assassination against Star City’s mayor, Oliver Queen. While bringing in a specific comic book guest star in an episode where a member of Team Arrow is in peril smacks mightily of last season’s ‘Haunted‘ – in which Constantine was brought in to help save Sarah’s soul from the magic hot tub purgatory it was trapped in – the additional element of a threat against Ollie’s life gives the hour more to do than play “look at the guest star!” with the audience. Additionally, bringing Chance on to flush out a potential assassin continues to demonstrate the series’ reconstituted focus on delivering storylines more in keeping with the kind of hero Green Arrow is. In other words, dealing with political assassins and crime bosses with a penchant for roughing up vigilantes is one hundred percent in the Arrow wheelhouse, whereas traveling to the netherworld to rescue the soul of a formerly dead woman is perhaps best suited for other heroes.
Another mark in the plus column for ‘Human Target’ would be that the episode itself plays like an hour of Arrow, as opposed to a second chance for a character who was given short shrift on another network. While the hour presents plenty for fans of the previous Human Target show to lament its passing, the episode is much more focused on the ongoing narrative, making it feel less like a one-off installment and more like an integral part of season 5. That’s not to say it comes of as the most streamlined operation, as the character of Christopher Chance does feel a little shoehorned in at times, but ‘Human Target’ feels as though it learned how to better introduce a guest star like Chance from the failings of last year’s appearance by John Constantine.
Perhaps the biggest turn of events to come from ‘Human Target’ isn’t the by now blasé fake assassination attempt of Star City’s mayor – the explanation for which is treated like just another simple press briefing by the weary people and political journalists of the city – but rather that Arrow has officially traded in its fun, sometimes over-the-top Big Bad Tobias Church for the mysterious Prometheus. So far, the villain has been lurking behind the scenes, quietly threatening everyone but Oliver, so now is as good a time as any for him to emerge from the shadows to make Oliver his next… uh, human target.
The changing of the Big Bad guard came at the right time for the show, as Church had pretty much played all of his cards. He’d busted up some rival criminal organizations, gotten his hands dirty fighting the Green Arrow once before, and his final trick was to learn the vigilante’s true identity by torturing Rene. That’s not to say the villain was completely played out just five episodes in, but after last season’s lengthy relationship with Damien Darhk, it’s best for the show not to commit to a single baddie too early. There are still a lot of episodes left this season, and there’s no telling whether or not Prometheus will be the primary antagonist from now until the finale. So a handover this early deserves a little healthy skepticism, but as Arrow endeavors to rehabilitate its reputation amongst Arrowverse viewers, committing to the progression of the story is the right call for the show to make.
The shift to making Prometheus the focus of the show – for the time being, anyway – coincides nicely with the return of Diggle (complete with new helmet) and the greater coalescence of Team Arrow 2.0. Director Laura Belsey’s emphasis on Diggle and Rene’s chemistry proved that Spartan’s return to the lineup wouldn’t result in an overcrowded Arrow bunker but rather the chance for a better understanding of where Rene’s coming from and why his approach to vigilantism is always punch first and ask questions later. So far, Arrow has found an interesting character in Rene and using Diggle to bring out his character even more is a win for the series as it underlines both characters’ need for redemption and it frees Oliver up to, you know, be the Green Arrow.
As the series moves past its first major obstacle it now welcomes two more. Prometheus is set to take center stage, but replacing him in the background is Susan William’s discovery of Oliver’s time in the Bratva – when he was supposed to be stranded on an island. That’s about as many plotlines as the show needs to keep simmering, which again suggests the decision to do away with Church was the right call. Hopefully, the show will be able to maintain the focus it’s had so far this season as things begin to heat up with an even more dangerous adversary.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with ‘So It Begins’ @8pm on The CW.