This is a non-spoiler review. No plot information will be shared here, other than in very general terms, that is not already widely known thanks to pre-season interviews and other press.
When Arrow returns in a couple of weeks, the veteran CW/DC superhero series has a lot on its plate.
When the series launched, Oliver Queen had been stranded at sea for "five years in Hell" before returning home to save his city. Each season has seen its main plot accompanied by a flashback storyline that ran concurrently and, for the most part, had some kind of narrative or thematic tie to the A-plot.
Now we're at season five, which means that in addition to cleaning up the (metaphorical) bomb that was dropped on Team Arrow at the end of season four, the writers and producers have to wrap up any dangling threads in the flashback so that everything can be tied up nice and neat by the time Oliver is rescued on Lian Yu.
When you start to count up just how much stuff that really is, it's a lot to put on one season. The writers, though, also have to set up a world beyond the five-year structure for Oliver and company, including introducing new characters and dealing with the fallout from last season. All of this while most of Team Arrow is either absent, on hiatus, or in denial.
Oh, and forget metaphors: Remember that bubbly IT girl Felicity Smoak, the heart and brains of Team Arrow, still has the specter of a literal bomb hanging over her: at some point they're going to have to deal with the fact that in order to save millions of lives, Felicity made the choice to kill thousands by dropping a nuclear warhead on a small town. There's just no way that doesn't take a toll on somebody.
On top of all that, Arrow has the most deeply-divided fandom of just about any show on TV, with plenty of backseat drivers taking to Twitter to tell the writers and producers what they're doing wrong regardless of what they're actually doing.
One would think, then, that the most obvious course of action would be to go in fairly bare-bones: strip everything down to the essentials. And the season five premiere does -- eventually.
In a year of seismic changes everywhere (Supergirl joined the lineup, The Flash starts off in an alternate universe and Legends of Tomorrow...well, that's another story entirely), the CW show that most needed a clean slate got one, but it was halfway through the episode.
There's a deliberate build-up that happens in "Legacy," the season five premiere of Arrow. It starts out slow, and even throws in a familiar face or two for good measure, in a beautifully-choreographed fight scene that shows from the start that the show is doubling down on action while also not shying away from its roots as the show inspired by Christopher Nolan's Batman films.
(That's not a slam on Arrow: remember that Nolan brought back Scarecrow again and again, so that Batman wasn't just fighting random goons but somebody with whom he had a history. Arrow does the same.)
The action aside, the actual story starts out crowded and bogged down: nearly everyone is at rock bottom. Oliver is a terrible mayor. The team is in shambles. The city isn't improving as much as Ollie would like. There's familiar faces, familiar subplots, references to past events...it's a daunting episode to catch up to, and it all feels a bit overwhelming, with the details bogging down the action and the plot making so much noise that the characters can't quite make their voices heard.
That all settles in fairly soon, though, and by the second commercial break, the show is shedding dead weight and setting up some really intriguing storylines in both the present day and the flashbacks. The pacing of the episode might leave something to be desired, but by the time it reaches its end, you don't want it to. Everything about the last fifteen minutes -- the performances, the action, the storytelling -- is firing on all cylinders, and feeling like Arrow at its best.
And to be perfectly fair, the aforementioned pacing issues might be a deliberate creative choice rather than a misstep: it's distinctly possible the writers wanted audiences to experience the chaos that Oliver is rumbling into at the start of the episode, and then leap into season five along with the characters.
Thea is a high point of the premiere, and Willa Holland absolutely carries the show on her shoulders in a couple of scenes. There's a lot of stuff in this episode that is going to be divisive with fans, for a variety of reasons, but Thea rises the occasion. As she's developed she's been one of the most interesting women in the Berlantiverse, and the premiere doubles down on that.
There will be no mistaking this show for Supergirl or DC's Legends of Tomorrow this season: the first episode is dark. Probably as dark and violent as the show has been since Deathstroke killed Moira Queen in season two. In the past couple of years, Oliver's poor decisions have had a relatively negligible long-term effect because he's had the team to reel him in. Without Diggle and Thea in the field, it's only Felicity who's trying to keep him in check, and with...uneven results.
You'll notice that not a lot has been said -- either in interviews and ads or in this review -- about Diggle and Felicity, the unit that fans on social media have dubbed "OTA" (Original Team Arrow). That's for a simple reson: this is a non-spoiler review and there is very little about either Diggle or Felicity's roles in the premiere that can be said without spoiling something. They probably get a little bit less screen time than they usually do (let's ballpark it at about 20% less), with the episode being very action-driven and Oliver-centric.
What's fair to say is that we don't yet know very much about Diggle's current headspace following the events of season four, and that Felicity is still very much the same Felicity that she's been the last couple of years, if a little more assertive about having her voice heard in the Lair.
And Olicity? Well, let's just say that Diggle asks about it, and Oliver's answer is fairly telling.
There are a few moments that will be deeply divisive -- an observation that showrunner Marc Guggenheim met with "So, in other words, it's an episode of Arrow, then?" -- but they're very much in service of the bigger picture.0comments
And that's the theme of the premiere, it seems: they're building something.
When we wrote about The Flash, we said that it's a great episode that sets up a potentially difficult tightrope for the show to walk (run). In the case of Arrow, it's the opposite. This premiere isn't as balls-out awesome an episode of television as last season's premiere, but the care that's been put into crafting the world of season five, its stakes, and its storylines is evident. You can already start to see the shape of things coming into relief, and that shape is exciting.