Both “Arrow” and “The Flash” are currently carrying the burden of having to function as their own respective entities and set up “Legends Of Tomorrow,” which is an unfair place for both shows. “The Flash” is inherently more nimble at this point, and can throw in the occasional TWELVE-FOOT SHARK BEAST THING to bring the wow factor. But “Arrow” is still coming off a monstrously ill-conceived third season and trying to figure out its own new voice at the same time it’s bringing Sara Lance and Ray Palmer back from the dead to be part of the upcoming spin-off.
Still, the fourth season of “Arrow” has been a marked improvement over last season, which is admittedly a backhanded compliment at face value. But it’s still back well beyond simply being “watchable,” and I’m hoping that once Sara and Ray are sent off on their merry, time-traveling ways, the pieces are in place for a solid season. Sure, it’s a blast to see Matt Ryan tonight returning as John Constantine: He’s great in the role, and was infinitely better than “Constantine” the show itself was. But honestly, I think I enjoyed Laurel Lance dressing down Oliver Queen’s mansplaining more than any DC mythology on display in tonight’s episode. It’s a long time coming, and suggests that “Arrow” understands its lead character can be a blowhard. That goes a long way towards tolerating his a-holeness when it occurs. After all, if the show thinks he’s being heroic when in fact he’s demeaning every character around him, especially the female ones, then that’s a huge freakin’ problem.
Having Constantine around to help Sarah get her soul back is conveniently plotting, but having him sense the Emperor Palpatine-levels of evil emanating off of Damien Darhk goes a long ways towards setting up the impossible odds that Green Arrow Inc face this season. He’s a man who faces demons on the regular, and yet Constantine is advising Oliver to pack up and move out. Darhk is a scary dude. He’s not as scary as Diggle’s helmet, but he’s scary all the same. You would think it would be hard for the show to top having Ra’s al Ghul, a top-tier DC baddie. And yet, the execution there was so bad that Darhk feels like a step up in terms of overall danger, and not just to my spellcheck. (Having Neal McDonough in the lead role doesn’t exactly hurt, either.)
Now that Sara is done busting through walls like the female assassin equivalent of the Kool-Aid mascot, we’re still left with a show slowly regaining its feet. I don’t think Season 2 of “Arrow” will ultimately be the aberration that the second season of “Sons Of Anarchy” proved to be, but I also don’t think there’s any guarantee that the show will reach those heights again, either. So long as The CW is into world-building and cross-show pollination, it will be hard for any one entity to be its best self. “The Flash” has entire other Earth from which to pull new stories. “Arrow” has a lot of baggage, and while fighting to redeem one’s past is baked into the show’s DNA, it’s yet to see how much that will work for the show itself. But I’ll be watching to see if it does, which is a huge testament to how far the show has come since nearly losing me as a viewer forever with its third-season finale.