It was probably unrealistic to expect that Arrow could stay on message, or maintain the high quality displayed in the first two episodes of its fourth season. If Season Three taught us anything it’s that the show often prescribes to a one-step-forward, two-steps-back mentality, and episode three of the fourth season adheres to that mold completely. Suitably titled as “Restoration,” the episode restored my cynicism that Arrow is perhaps doomed to wallow in bizarre plotting and character development, broken up by brief moments of brilliance.
“Restoration” is a deeply uneven episode, which splits the primary cast between two storylines. In one part of the episode, Diggle and Oliver continue their nightly skirmishes with Darhk’s gang, while in the other Thea (Willa Holland) and Laurel (Katie Cassidy) seek answers about the Lazarus Pitt in Nanda Parbat. Of course, in typical Arrow fashion each plotline is rife with melodrama and clandestine behavior. Diggle and Oliver have stubbornly been unable to bury the hatchet, while Laurel – in a stupefying character move on a show full of stupefying character moves – has decided to unearth her dead sister Sara (the original Black Canary, whose crime fighting persona Laurel adopted) for the purposes of secretly restoring her in the pit.
Of the two storylines, it is the material focusing on Oliver and Diggle that is exponentially more successful. Nimbly-paced and quite entertaining, their part of the episode shows the two men attempting to heal the schism in their relationship, facilitated in part by Felicity. The three actors behind this trio (David Ramsey, Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards) embody their parts with ease, navigating the episode with a loose charisma. Not to say that this episode is particularly strenuous from an acting perspective. The material is actually rather slight, with action and set pieces taking priority over subtle characterization. For what it is though – a relatively low-stakes episode – the actors all rise to the challenge, capturing the beats with the right mixture of gravitas and levity.
The crew’s work behind this part of the episode is also notable. From the graphics of villain-of-the-week Double Down (Jeremy Tell), who can actually turn his tattoos into real, lethal weapons, to the editing of the fight scenes (which no longer are being chopped to bits), Oliver and Diggle’s side of the episode is for the most part slick and engaging. Like all episodes, “Restoration” is also peppered with flashbacks which detail the events that occurred prior to the beginning of the show (where Oliver was shipwrecked and set on the course to becoming Green Arrow). Even these scenes are not terrible in this particular episode, a nice change from their typically insufferable nature since the end of Season Two.
If only the other primary storyline of the episode was quite so accomplished. While the Diggle/Oliver stuff may not exactly be Shakespeare, it’s at least fun to watch; and you can feel some semblance of momentum within the narrative. Not so within the tale of Laurel. Her decision to dig up and restore her dead sis reeks off the kind of erratic, contrived plotting whose sole purpose is to generate drama. So much has stunk about the way the Arrow showrunners have treated Laurel over the years that at this point it almost feels expected. Yet, this decision puts the stinkiness into overdrive, almost like if you had a tuna sandwich marinating in a faint sunbeam and then you moved it to a radiator. One can only quiver with dread at the thought of its ramifications. It’s going to be fun to watch the already hyped-up Captain Lance go into overdrive when he learns that his daughter has returned for seemingly the second time (Sara was with Oliver when he was shipwrecked prior to the show’s events), and buzz about like a coked-up humming bird. And that doesn’t even hold a candle to the way this will affect Team Arrow’s dynamics and progression this season. Did you like two episodes of relatively fluid character development within the team? Too bad! Their journey together is about to turn into the equivalent of a stagnant morass.
It’s probably pointless to be too irate about Sara’s return, as the contrived feeling one gets from the resurrection is due to the fact that it is mandated, no less, by forces larger than the show. See, Sara Lance (Kaity Lotz) has long been set to return from her “dirt nap.” However, she isn’t destined to be a regular on Arrow, but on the upcoming CW superhero team-up show: Legends of Tomorrow. Much of “Restoration” revolves around laying the groundwork for this new spin off, which unfortunately eradicates any of the episode’s individual resonance.
The way this preoccupation affects CW’s shared TV universe is not to be understated. It corrosively diminishes the importance of the individual shows (the network’s The Flash is also sacrificing itself to establish Legends, just to a far lesser degree), a mistake that feels similar to Marvel’s cinematic universe. For example, look at the character of Thea. The script sends her with Laurel to Nanda Parbat to learn something more about how her own dip in the pit. Yet, nothing of the sort happens, and she is left mired in the same hopeless state as she was in episode two. In fact, one can’t shake this feeling from much of the episode’s proceedings, which will eventually prove fatal unless it can be quickly resolved. One can’t sacrifice the here and now forever.