Arrow S04E03 “Restoration” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky One, Weds 8pm
Writer: Wendy Meigle, Speed Weed
Director: Wendey Stanzler
Essential plot points:
- Thea and Laurel travel to Nanda Parbat with Sara’s corpse to use the Lazarus Pit, and bring her back to life. But Malcolm Merlyn and Nyssa refuse to help her.
- Back in Star City, Diggle and Oliver manage to briefly capture one of Dahrk’s ghosts – although he escapes, leaving behind his cyanide tooth.
- Oliver and Diggle’s issues continue to make working together difficult, until Felicity orders them to work out their differences… or else
- Malcolm tells Thea the blood lust the Lazarus Pit has given her can only be sated by taking a life, which will ease the effects for a few weeks at a time; then he sacrifices a couple of his guards to help his daughter.
- Diggle gets a lead in who killed his brother when the woman who ordered his hit, Mina Fayad, arrives in Star City with a meta human assassin, Jeremy “Double Down” Tell, who HIVE has sent to kill the Green Arrow.
- Curtis Holt manages to identify what Double Down makes his lethal throwing cards from: the same material homing pigeons use to find their way. Except Tell’s tracked him and Felicity down to Palmer Tec,- and to the Arrow Lair underneath the building.
- After being routed by Felicity with a machine gun (no, really) Tell tries to flee to Central City but is caught by Oliver and Diggle. Oliver takes a couple of playing cards in the chest to protect Diggle, convincing him he can trust Oliver again.
- Malcolm agrees to bring Sara back to life, and she emerges from the Lazarus Pit alive but feral. Nyssa, horrified, spikes the pit to prevent it being used again…
- In the flashbacks, Oliver continues to work undercover on Lian Yu, which is being used to produce a new drug, Slam, by Baron Reiter. He helps one of the captive workers escape being executed for stealing the drug to give to her colleagues.
- And Felicity’s phone is being hacked whenever she enters the Palmer Tech labs. By someone sending messages in a distinctive blue and red coloured text…
“Restoration” is one of those episodes you get sometimes. You know the kind: it feels like it’s absolutely vital to the season’s progression, yet it also feels lightweight in itself because so much of it is about progressing the arc rather than having a story in its own right.
With so many plates spinning already in season four of Arrow, something had to give, and while none of them have come crashing off their poles just yet, there’s a lot of running to and fro to keep them from wobbling too much.
In terms of progressing the series, we now know why Oliver was sent back to Lian Yu in the flashbacks, who had Diggle’s brother killed, what Darhk’s connection to HIVE is, seen Sara Lance brought back to life, found out there’s no cure for Thea, had Oliver and Diggle’s relationship restored AND seen introduced Curtis into Team Arrow proper. With all that to get through in 45 minutes, it’s amazing the episode has any kind of depth at all.
Framing all this is a by-the-numbers “DC villain tries to kill Arrow” storyline of the type we’ve seen a dozen or so times already over the last three years. Thankfully this one just about gets away with it thanks to the charismatic presence of JR Bourne as Double Down who, initially at least, seems to be a sort of Aldi version of Gambit but actually turns out to be the best villain of the week the show’s had in a good season or so.
The schizophrenic and blisteringly paced nature of the episode means that all the character stuff, which you’d hope would be played out between Olly and Dig as they look to put their friendship back on track, is underbalanced against the whole “restoring Sara” stuff elsewhere. It boils down to, “You took a bullet for me, dude, so we’re bro’s again!” It’s a shame: I know they want to get the status quo back, but it felt like there was at least a proper episode’s milage still to be wrung out of getting the two of them on the same page again.
That’s especially disappointing as we know both Amell and Ramsey are actors who can pull off emotional confrontation scenes well, whereas Willa Holland and especially Katie Cassidy – who are given the on-paper emotion-charged storyline around the resurrection of Sara – feel flat in this episode. There’s no sense of the desperation Laurel’s supposed to be feeling over the death of her sister, especially in the early scene where, of all people, Barrowman ends up doing a lot of the heavy lifting. These should be wrought, emotionally potent scenes but Cassidy feels like she’s sleepwalking through them. It’s not that she’s a bad performer – we’ve seen she can be great on Arrow – but here it just doesn’t work.
Three episodes in and Arrow’s come out of the traps running, but that pace feels almost unsustainable, especially with so many big storylines running simultaneously. This isn’t A-Plot, B-Plot, C-Plot stuff any more, but two big A-Plots running simultaneously, with a mass of threads being piled on underneath. It’s starting to sit quite unevenly. Perhaps once Legends is up and running it can calm down and start focusing on just one or two things thing again, ideally around Damian, since Neal McDonough is reduced here to just a couple of scenes (albeit one key one) and his presence is largely missed.
The big redemption in this episode, and indeed for probably most of Arrow’s run, has been Emily Bett Rickard, who’s performance turns on a dime from silly to funny to angry in the space of a scene. She’s been a hell of a find for the show since her first appearance in series one, and after Arrow finishes is the sort of actor you could build a vehicle around; especially a sitcom. It seems the producers have finally figured out she deserves more to do, too. About bloody time.
It’s rare you get a really bad episode of Arrow, and “Restoration” is by no means a bad one. It’s just a bit uneven in terms of pacing.
- The Felicity/Curtis double act works so well already; it’s basically a replay of the Oliver/Felicity relationship from the first series, but flipped round.
- Also, Felicity’s meltdown at Diggle and Oliver over their failure to resolve their differences is fantastic. Emily Bett Rickards is often Arrow’s MVP but in this episode they really let her loose.
- Barrowman’s back. Hurrah! It’s also a welcome return to recent serial MCM Expo guest Katrina Law as Nyssa, and Caity Lotz returns to action as Sara Lance.
- Thankfully they don’t kill Double Down, but shuffle him off to Iron Heights’s metahuman prison instead. He’s a fascinating villain and an obvious candidate for a return in either The Flash or Arrow.
- The arc plot seems to be progressing at a rate of knots this season. Three episodes in and we’ve already got so much going on. After the at-times ponderous progression of season three, it’s refreshing to see them ramping up the storyline.
- The Arrow stuntwork is usually spot on, which makes it all the more jarring when they fluff something. But the John Barrowman stand-in for the sword fight at the start is about as obvious as the Cage/Travolta ones in Face/Off. Yes, that bad.
- “Restoration” sexpose the three action sequence formula that Arrow and, to an extent, The Flash stick to. Big stunt/fight sequence for the cold open, fight sequence half-way through the story where Oliver (or Barry) comes off second best, confrontation and victorious fight at the climax. I know Arrow’s an action series, and the formula works for them, but occasionally it really does feel like a formula.
- Dig’s helmet. Yes, I know I’ve mentioned it before, but “Restoration” really shows off how awful it looks. In fact, in a couple of close-up shots, it looks like it doesn’t actually fit David Ramsey properly.
- We don’t get to see how Nyssa spikes the Lazarus Pit to prevent it being used, but the aftermath effect is basically some dry ice and a pink spotlight. Even Blake’s 7 would have thought twice about that cheap and cheesy looking an effect.
- There’s some horribly leaden dialogue in this week’s episode. The, “You took a bullet for me” bit at the end just about works thanks to Ramsey and Amell’s performance, but some of the other supposedly banter-ish lines really don’t land.
And the Random:
- You may have noticed I’ve been asking over the last couple of weeks where the new Arrowcave is. Well, now we know the answer: it’s in the basement of the former Queen Consolidated, now Palmer Technologies HQ. Although now it’s been compromised, Oliver reveals he’s already planning Lair 3.0…
- Appropriately enough, Double Down’s favoured card of choice appears to be a Queen – we almost see him take out Oliver with it.
- Director Wendey Stanzler is a regular on both The Flash and Arrow – but is now also directing Gotham.
- The new communications devices Curtis shows Felicity sound and look uncannily like Mister Terrific’s T-Spheres from the comics.
- Whoever’s been writing the dialogue for the flashback scenes on Lian Yu has been watching Aliens, by the sounds of it. There’s at least two lines that appear to have been “borrowed” from it this week.
- This week’s Arrow build towards Legends Of Tomorrow sees the restoration of original Black Canary Sara Lance, who we know’s going to be White Canary in the spin-off show. And the messages Felicity’s getting on her phone in Curtis’s lab could only be from someone else who’s joining the cast of that show.
Review by Iain Hepburn