When The CW first premiered Arrow, the DC TV universe was but a twinkle in the eye of mastermind Greg Berlanti. And although the series is now connected to some of the most fantastical, super-powered series on television today, it started off a humble show about a man with a mission to save a single city from the crooked individuals who had corrupted it and set about its decline. It was 2012 and the world (and Warner Bros.) was still enraptured with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. As such, the CW series took many of its initial cues from those films and adapted them to suit a gritty, grounded show about billionaire playboy Oliver Queen and his unquenchable thirst for justice.
Since then, Arrow has – to borrow a phrase – become something else. The show still revolves around Oliver's war on crime and his determination to save Star City from ruin, but after (almost) four seasons on air it has had to evolve, partly to accommodate the launch of shows like The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, and partly in response to them. That meant the grittier, street-level storytelling Arrow put to good use in its first season was pushed further and further back, until the show was dealing with super-powered warriors, resurrections, and now mystical villains with designs on nuclear Armageddon. In other words: it has changed.
While season 2 made good use of its fantastical elements, telling a story of Slade Wilson's transformation as a result of the Mirakuru in his bloodstream, subsequent seasons have gone bigger and seen diminished returns. With the season 4 finale approaching, series star Stephen Amell has offered up his opinion on what makes Arrow work. In an interview with Comicbook.com, following The CW network upfronts, Amell intimated that a return to stories less reliant on superpowers would see the show at its best.
"I think it was a good element for season four. I think that ultimately, we are always going to be at our best when we do what we do best, which is, we're the superpowerless superhero show, right?
"We haven't been for a couple of years now, for a variety of reasons that have all been important and have helped build the universe on The CW. But at the same time, I do think we're at our best when we are doing what we do best."
Amell makes it clear that Arrow couldn't very well function in its role of introducing other corners of the DC TV universe without dealing with stories involving superpowers and those who wield them. And while the time spent setting up Legends of Tomorrow may have obstructed parts of Arrow and The Flash in their current seasons, that phase of The CW's DC TV universe building is now complete – and the next stage made even easier by CBS doing the heavy lifting on Supergirl before it joins CW's superhero line-up. Now that the process of constructing so many different parts of a larger universe is complete, it sounds as though Amell is ready to get back to basics as it were with the next season of Arrow.
Not much has been revealed about season 5 so far, but co-showrunner Wendy Mericle has implied that the flashbacks will take Oliver and Taiana (Elysia Rotaru) to Russia, to explain why Ollie is fluent in the language and has ties to Bratva organization. Whether or not that will connect with the season's present-day storyline is not yet clear, but Taiana's recent name-drop of Kovar might be an indication of at least one villain Oliver may run into (either in the past or in the present) during next season.
At any rate, as Arrow moves into its fifth season free from the entanglements of creating a larger television universe, it may finally be time to see Oliver and the rest of Team Arrow take on a threat that is more suited to their specific skillset. Whether or not that is where the story is headed is anyone's guess at this point, but from Amell's statements, it's a safe bet that he's interested in seeing the show go back down that particular road.
Arrow concludes season 4 with 'Schism' next Wednesday @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below:
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