Arrow S04E05 “Haunted” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky One, Weds 8pm
Writers: Brian Ford Sullivan, Oscar Balderrama
Director: John Badham
Essential plot points:
- Someone’s on the loose around Star City, killing people. As the police hunt the mysterious blonde female killer, Lance works out it’s his daughter.
- Thea’s hired a new political expert, Alex Davis, to work on Oliver’s Mayoral campaign. He advises Oliver to distance himself from the Lances, and especially Laurel, if he wants to be elected.
- Felicity is having problems listening to Ray Palmer’s final message – the file is corrupted, and she needs Curtis to clean it up.
- Oliver and Thea are called to a nightclub where the blonde murderer is attacking someone.
- When they arrive, they find Laurel already fighting the woman – Sara. She escapes, and Oliver realises that the “spa” weekend Thea and Laurel went to was in fact a trip to Nanda Parbat to resurrect Sara in the Lazarus pit.
- Damien Darhk asks Captain Lance to install a device at a server farm outside the city. Lance has Felicity look at it, but there’s too much encryption on it for her to work out what it does.
- Instead, Oliver sends Diggle with Lance as backup.
- Felicity and Oliver realise Sara’s victims so far all look like Thea. They try to contact her, but Sara’s already found her, and Thea barely escapes with her life.
- Oliver confronts Laurel about using the Lazarus Pit, and she points out his hypocrisy, saying he didn’t tell her about it or Thea because he never saw her as an equal.
- At the server farm, the device starts deleting files about military personnel. Diggle sees his brother’s name among those being erased, but before he can do anything, security arrives.
- Lance improvises by knocking him out and claiming he was arresting Diggle to allay their suspicions.
- Sara turns up at the hospital. Thea, knowing she needs to die to allay Sara’s bloodlust, is ready to give in but Oliver and Laurel stop her, and set a trap to capture Sara using Thea as bait.
- Oliver reveals Sara’s soul has been left behind in the Lazarus Pit, and to restore her he needs a favour from a friend – John Constantine.
- He performs a ritual that takes Oliver and Laurel to where Sara’s soul is trapped, and they battle to free her, bringing her back to normal.
- Darhk passes information to Lance, who in turn passes it on to John Diggle, about why HIVE had his brother killed; it emerges Andrew Diggle wasn’t quite the military hero John thought he was.
- Curtis fixes the audio file, which reveals that Ray Palmer is still alive.
- In flashbacks, Oliver meets Constantine for the first time when he turns up on Lian Yu, hunting an artefact in a secret chamber under the island. Oliver saves his life, and Constantine owes him a favour in return…
So, the first big crossover episode of the Arrowverse gets underway this season and it’s not with The Flash, Vixen or, indeed, forthcoming spin-off show Legends Of Tomorrow. Instead it’s with a rival show from a rival network which was cancelled months ago. Ballsy.
Not that you need to have seen the short-lived NBC version of Constantine (available here in the UK on Amazon Prime) for any of this to make sense: the script boils his character, and his relationship with Team Arrow, down very quickly and sensibly to “dodgy magical bloke Oliver helped out once, who now owes him a favour”. It’s absolutely the right approach, and instead relies on the natural charisma and performance of Matt Ryan, returning to the trench coat as if he’d never been away.
Because this isn’t so much of a crossover as a guest booking, there’s no need for reciprocal storytelling. Thus “Haunted” gets to focus on Arrow’s ongoing storylines rather than wrapping up anything from the aborted Constantine series. I’ve seen people complain elsewhere that Ryan’s not in it enough, or doesn’t get enough to do, but that misses the point.
It’s like David Tennant’s Doctor popping up in The Sarah Jane Adventures; it’s lovely to see him, and it adds an extra dimension to the story, but ultimately it’s still Sarah’s show and the focus should be on her. Besides, Constantine’s in pretty much every flashback scene: what more do you want?
Instead, the focus is on what’s happening in Star City, namely Sara’s crazed rampage through the underworld in pursuit of Thea, Laurel’s relationship with Oliver, Felicity and Curtis’s investigation into Ray Palmer’s death and Damien Darhk’s plans for… well, whatever it is he’s up to. Each of those stories progresses apace, with Constantine’s presence touching three of them, but not overpowering them.
The Laurel and Oliver plot’s the most interesting. Laurel, as a character and Katie Cassidy as an actress have never been Arrow’s strongest selling point. In fact, she’s probably the least interesting or valuable member of the Lance family, and the most emotionally fragile, yet she’s very much the heart of what’s going on – be it the Queen campaign’s new political adviser telling Oliver to distance himself from her, Oliver’s anger and guilt over Sara’s resurrection, and Darhk using Laurel as leverage to threaten Captain Lance. In an episode where Constantine tells Oliver of nexuses where bad things are drawn together, she seems to be the Arrowverse’s embodiment of one.
And while it’s nice to see Caity Lotz back, to set up her new role as White Canary in Legends, the whole battle for Sara’s soul appears to be a couple of stuntmen on a redressed Nanda Parbat set dancing about while Olly and Laurel drag her out a swimming pool. It’s all a little underwhelming and worse, the direction of the action sequence, so often Arrow’s strong point, feels really flat.
It undermines what feels like a key part of the show, certainly over the last couple of weeks, with a payoff that could be from any Arrow episode. There doesn’t actually feel like any sense of danger or threat, and cries out for some kind of different approach in visualising the battle for Sara’s soul.
Actually, a word about the direction overall. It’s lovely to see John Badham, responsible for most of my VHS collection when I was about 13, pop up again. Arrow’s style of directing is usually very templated, not least because the action sequence unit are a very well-oiled machine, but he brings a lovely sense of stillness and calm to big dialogue scenes, especially Olly and Felicity’s heart-to-heart, and the big reveal for Diggle at the end.
Between Lexi Alexander last week and Badham this week, it’s nice to see the producers trying to bring something new to the visual palate of the show, and not drawing from the regular churn of TV directors whose names pop up so often on credits.
Next week, the focus switches to Ray, as the ramping up of the set-up to Legends Of Tomorrow progresses. But more importantly, there’s a sense of the pace in the Arrow universe picking up again after a couple of episodes to catch our breath.
- Matt Ryan. Let’s not beat about the bush here, there were many, many, many things wrong with the TV version of Constantine, but Ryan’s performance as John Constantine wasn’t one of them. He hasn’t missed a beat in picking up the character in the time since Constantine was axed, and it would be a crying shame if this is the “one-time only” deal the producers claim, especially since magic and mystical powers seem to be the key theme in Arrow this year. I can’t imagine anyone’d be adverse to seeing him pop up again in the future.
- The peacock feather – and especially Felicity’s face when Constantine hands it back to her.
- The scene where Oliver and Felicity realise who Sara’s hunting for is beautifully written and performed, with a very gentle and sadness-tinged discussion on the nature of grief and dealing with it between two characters who have seemingly risen above their emotional damage. In fact, performance wise, this whole episode contains some of Amell’s best work this series.
- Finally, after weeks of ragging on Katie Cassidy, she finally delivers: the scene of her confronting Oliver at the hospital gets the tone and performance dead on.
- Lance and Diggle as a double act’s a great idea, not least the implication that both men do what they do for one reason: to protect their daughters.
- The cliffhanger ending. It’s not like the show hasn’t done them before, but Arrow this year just feels more connected, particularly in contrast to last year. This is a story unfolding at just the right rate.
- So after weeks of build-up and roping in of magical dabbler John Constantine, Sara’s restored to normal by… a fight scene. Not even a big fight scene either, not by Arrow standards. That feels like a big old let down, and worse, the producers trying to shoehorn the Arrow format into something which really could have been done differently.
- I know Thea’s young and a bit daft at times, but would she really not have heard of Chappaquiddick (even if the Harry Potter joke’s a nice line)? It’s something that likely changed the course of American politics in the ’70s and famous enough that even on this side of the Atlantic it’s pretty well known.
- Baron Reiter’s dismissal of Conklin’s discovery of the parachute and equipment is bizarre. Surely, if he’s so worried about infiltrators – as with Constantine turning up – he’d be more likely to act, not less. Unless Conklin’s forever claiming people are traitors and spies and Reiter’s just got a bit bored with it now.
- No ciggies. Okay, reformed ex-smokers might not complain, but the nearest we get to TV Constantine having a smoke is stubbing one out on the ground when Oliver phones. C’mon, I know it’s 2015 (and kids, smoking really IS bad for you, m’kay) but Constantine smokes like a chimney with a death wish and you’d think he’d at least nip outside for a crafty one once he’s brought Sara back to life.
- New political fixer Alex Davis, played by Suburgatory’s Parker Young, doesn’t make much of an impression. Presumably the character will start to have an influence on Oliver’s campaign over the next few weeks but on first impressions, he’s not exactly Bruno Gianelli.
And the Random:
- The director of this episode is veteran British-born helmer John Badham, and if that name sounds familiar, it’s because he directed some of the biggest cinema hits of the ’70s and ’80s, including iconic genre entries such as Blue Thunder and Short Circuit, Saturday Night Fever, Stakeout (and its ’90s sequel Another Stakeout), real-time Johnny Depp curio Nick Of Time and of course the pretty much untouchable WarGames. Despite being well into his ’70s, he was also a director on the TV series of Constantine, making him the obvious choice to take care of “Haunted”.
- The idea of a crossover between the shows had been kicking around for a while, in fact, since the Lazarus Pit became a feature of Arrow’s mythology. Stephen Amell revealed earlier this year he was originally going to pop up on Constantine. With that show being axed, the writers seem to have shoehorned him into the flashback sequences as a set-up instead.
- Constantine and Arrow shared the same studio building, so when Constantine was axed by NBC, the producers of Arrow snaffled the character’s costume from storage. Just in case…
- The reference to him bringing back a soul a year ago is true: it’s the soul of his partner Chas’ daughter, in the Constantine episode “Quid Pro Quo”.
- The Orb of Horus, eh? Horus the Hawk God. Suspect we might see that coming back again sometime soon…
- Listen out to Blake Nealy’s score for the episode. He’s worked the five note harpsichord sting from Bear McCreary’s Constantine theme into most scenes featuring John, starting from the moment we see his face after being belted in the chops by Baron Reiter.
- Writer Brian Ford Sullivan is an Arrow veteran, working on a number of series three’s key scripts, and also co-wrote cartoon spin-off Vixen. Co-writer Oscar Balderrama has been the show’s script co-ordinator pretty much since day one, and also wrote the episode in which Sara was killed. He’s also co-writing Arrow’s first tie-in novel.
- Poor old Curtis. The comic book version of Mister Terrific is an Olympic Gold Medal winner in the decathlon. Arrowverse’s version only won the bronze in 2008. In the real world, Cuban athlete Leonel Suarez picked up the bronze in Beijing – a feat he repeated in London four years later. Gold that year was won by an American, Brian Clay. Still Curtis is, at least, wearing a jacket with Fair Play on the sleeve, just like his comics counterpart.
Review by Iain Hepburn. You can listen to his podcast at www.fromthesublime.com