The second episode of Arrow‘s fourth season takes what worked with the premiere and doubles down on it. Beginning with a blast of the show’s now almost patented action, which depicts a reunited Team Arrow battling it out with Darhk’s minions, “The Candidate” wastes very little time diving into Arrow’s central preoccupations.
Chief among these is the examination of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow’s dynamic with his team, which has changed dramatically since earlier seasons. While last season the team often seemed mired by in-fighting and pervasive secrecy, “The Candidate” in addition to last week’s “Green Arrow,” make the case that Oliver has finally transformed. It suggests that he has done away with the bullish, isolating and ultimately corrosive sides of his personality, and established himself finally as a positive force of social good.
At least that’s how it appears on the surface. In between the rousing, fluid efficacy displayed by Team Arrow, and the goofy shot of Oliver smiling like a goddamn fool underneath his hood (pictured above), potential problems within the team are quickly evoked in the opening battle. Thea/Red Arrow (Willa Holland) for instance has become the equivalent of rabid dog while fighting crime, corroborating the brief mention in the season premiere that her exposure to the Lazarus Pit left her changed. David Ramsey’s Diggle on the other hand has less existential problems. In addition to his beef with Oliver, he has chosen to keep secret his belief that Damien Darhk’s (Neal McDonough) Ghosts are actually the organization known as “HIVE,” which was responsible for killing his brother years ago.
The overarching theme that connects and exacerbates both of these issues is that the team’s central leadership has been, essentially, eroded due to the events of Season 3. This is explored when Oliver attempts to deal head-on with problems within the group, only to find that his moral authority has been rendered almost completely nugatory. “The Candidate” carefully broaches this material, tackling it in a way that makes the primary characters, and their interactions with one another, feel recognizable and believable. Yet, it never lets the baggage of its previous season overwhelm the episode’s forward momentum.
In the midst of this internal angst, there are external threats that the team must face. Damien Darhk continues to make his malevolent presence felt within Star City, here using a proxy fighter named Lonnie Machin, aka Anarky. Known primarily within nerd circles as a foe of Batman, Anarky (Alexander Calvert) is dispatched by Darhk to ensure that Star City doesn’t receive the mayoral benefits of candidate Jessica Danforth (Jeri Ryan), a family friend of the Queens who decides to pursue the most dangerous and vacant job in Star City.
For the most part “The Candidate” continues to drive the show forward, balancing its action with its character development. Stephen Amell’s Oliver for example is forced to confront the reality that just because he has moved on from the events of Season 3 doesn’t mean that his teammates have. The fallout of his past actions is still all around him, encompassing everything from Thea’s growing madness, to Diggle’s lack of trust. Amell continues to be impressive this season. He is even able to sell campy bits of the episode, like when Oliver tells Felicity that he has made her a sack lunch, almost as well as he handles the character’s moments of real pathos. The stories of the other primary characters are developing as well, albeit more slowly. Ramsey’s Diggle reveals more in this episode about his connection to Darhk’s gang, but really only gets about one significant scene. Katie Cassidy’s Laurel/Black Canary gets even less, although by the episode’s end her character does embark on a dangerous new mission.
McDonough’s Darhk is less present in this episode than he was in the premiere. He is also far less jolly, showing up only once or twice to chastise Anarky for being a moron and to verbally tangle with Detective Lance (who is in his employ). There is an interesting distinction the showrunners draw between the methodologies of Darhk and Anarky, the former of which showing considerable distaste for his villainous employee’s do-whatever-it-takes ethos. This exploration of Darhk’s principles presents an entirely new side to the character, and stands in stark contrast to last season’s Ra’s al Ghul, who was a big, fat stick-in-the-mud regarding character development.
Less impressive however is Calvert’s Anarky. Not only is the actor too much of a pipsqueak to be a credible baddie, but the show completely scrimps on Anarky’s development. This relegates him to a standard villain of the week, something which I personally would like to see far less of on the show. The bright side is that the episode does build several moderately exciting action pieces around him, from a brief chase between him and Amell’s Oliver, to a final showdown with Team Arrow.
If anything, this episode is mainly devoted to Holland’s Thea, whose erratic behavior is elevated to the forefront in several scenes. Holland, who too often has been forced to play Thea as the ultimate spoiled brat, gamely tackles her character’s change in direction. She maintains a hold on vestiges of the character’s normal self, even when Thea is in the throes of berserker rage.
This complexity is elegantly handled, and does provide the episode with its most affecting moments (such as when Oliver promises to stick with her through her lunacy). Yet, it does lead to critical moments of the story playing out in ways that are entirely expected. Nowhere is this more glaringly obvious than in the show’s climax, which seems solely devoted to Thea’s arc, and leaves the sequence feeling somewhat contrived. Characters who have no reason to leave the climax do, and characters who should be more competent physically go down like a ton of bricks.
All in all though, “The Candidate” does what any good episode of serialized television should do. It respects its characters by recognizing past baggage, but does let said baggage overwhelm the here and the now. What’s more, is that the show seems hellbent on taking its characters into new and uncharted waters. This is an ambitious goal, made even more challenging by the season’s already sprawling cast and myriad of subplots. If the season’s first two excellent (if imperfect) episodes are any indication however, Arrow just may be up to the task.