“We said we’d do things differently. We just need time to figure out how.”
Oliver relates this phrase to Felicity in one of the latter scenes of “The Candidate.” Ostensibly, he’s discussing how the team is approaching its crime fighting. Taken in a more meta context, however, this could also serve as the writers announcing that, yes, they will steer the ship back from the follies of Season Three, but they need time to do so.
If “The Candidate” is any indication, they’re doing a bang-up job of it. The episode is a terse encapsulation of the kind of things Arrow does best—seamlessly choreographed action, a more dramatic character-centric storyline balanced by a healthy dose of comedy and surprising last-minute twist that make you desperate to see the next installment.
As the episode opens, we see that—despite the lingering tension between Oliver and Diggle (not to mention Oliver’s increasing concerns about Thea’s conduct)—the team remains a well-oiled machine. At one point, Oliver even fires an arrow that acts as Black Canary’s zip line—all the while, Felicity cracks wise from the sideline and complains about not having her own nickname. Because the Arrow creative team and their stunt choreographers pull this kind of stunt off week-after-week, it can be easy to not stop every once in a while and appreciate the skill and economy at play in these sequences.
Post-battle, Oliver and Thea meet up with their parents’ long-time friend, Jessica Danforths (played by Star Trek: Voyager actress and all around geek dream girl, Jeri Ryan) as well as her daughter, Madison. Here, Jessica reveals that she plans to run for a mayor, a prospect that greatly concerns the siblings given that the mayor position as of late has had a bigger turnover rate than Defense Against The Dark Arts professors in Harry Potter. True to tradition, Jessica has barely made it a few seconds into her announcement, before a new baddie tries to off her (“that must be a record, even for our city,” Diggle later cracks).
The new villain in question is Lonnie Machin, better known by his alias Anarky. In the comics, the character—per his moniker—is a teenage prodigy who decided to put his radical anti-establishment views into action through a myriad of terrorist-like crimes. Unfortunately, the show casts him as merely another interchangeable hitman with vague anarchist leanings. As it turns out, Machin was hired by Damien Darhk to prevent Jessica from running for mayor. Upon failing to do so, Machin goes about kidnapping her daughter and holding her hostage. It’s a move that Darkh finds utterly distasteful, to the point that he rats out Machin’s coordinates to Quentin Lance. After readily establishment his badass credibility last week, it’s cool that the show is now showing the flip side of Darhk’s character—that of a former League of Assassins member who still respects certain boundaries and codes of conduct. It’s always nice when a villain has personality traits beyond “ha ha, I’m so evil”—it makes him infinitely more intriguing in my eyes.
Eventually, Team Arrow tracks Machin down, and Oliver’s worst fears come to light when Thea ends up attempting to burn Machin alive. Oliver manages to quell the flames, but this incident brings Oliver’s his about Thea’s well-being to a head. Prior to this point, she’s demonstrated her bloodlust by breaking a witness’ arm when he refused to give up information. It’s at this point that Oliver reveals to her that her resurrection via The Lazarus Pit may have resulted in some not-so-pleasant side effects.
Balancing out all the somber areas of the episode is a lighter subplot involving Felicity being forced to lay off a sizable chunk of Palmer Technologies employees (okay, so maybe not too much more light). As it turns out, the algorithm for who gets the axe comes courtesy of bumbling, yet clearly ingenious technician, Curtis Holt (AKA, the future Mr. Terrific). As played by Echo Kellum, Curtis is basically a male version of Season One Felicity, complete with a halting line delivery (“I’m the only one who speaks in sentence fragments here,” she warns). Though the firing takes a toll on Felicity’s demeanor (in typical fashion, she describes Team Arrow’s ongoing crusade of fighting endless adversaries as the “most depressing game of whack-a-mole ever”), a pep talk from Oliver quickly encourages her to rehire everyone under the notion that Curtis is building a game-changing new invention that will save the company. The one problem—he still needs to figure out what that will be.
On the flashback side of things, I’m happy to report—fingers crossed—that this year’s pre-Arrow storyline has the potential to be of some interest. Shortly after arriving on the island and killing a guard (a reminder that we’re dealing with ruthless, cold-blooded killer Oliver), our hero learns that he must infiltrate the man’s paramilitary organization. Presenting himself as merely a castaway who has fought to survive on the island for three years, Oliver wins the respect of the group’s leader and finds himself becoming a guard who oversees the organization’s slave labor (he also now boasts a look much more similar to present-day—perhaps Stephen Amell was growing tired of the wig). I’ve always been a big fan of undercover operation tales (Wiseguys is a personal favorite show of mine), so this subplot hits the sweet spot for me. Hopefully, this goes about better than last year’s relentlessly dull Hong Kong story.
As per the premiere episode, “The Candidate” also ends with a double shocker. The first concerns Oliver, who, after Jessica decides against running (seems like kind of a waste of Jeri Ryan, in my opinion), decides to pick up where she left off and announce his intention to run for mayor. The second twist comes when Laurel announces to Thea that they are returning to Nanda Parbat—not, as I feared, strictly for some BS “face your fears”-type scenario, but primarily because Laurel wants to take advantage of the Lazarus Pit and resurrect her dead sister. The episode ends with the two unearthing Sara’s body, which thankfully looks appropriately shriveled and decayed, given its been almost a year (I feel as though other shows would have simply caked the actress in white powder because, even in death, their characters need to look sexy). Granted, those who keep up with the CW/DC mythology at all know that Sara is set to become the White Canary in the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow spin-off, so the reveal of Laurel’s plan shouldn’t come as a major shock, but it’s still a stellar end to what thankfully stands as a strong episode.
It’s looking as though, even in its fourth year, Arrow still has the capacity to be a fun game of whack-a-mole.