‘Arrow’ Returns with a Refreshingly Entertaining Season 7 Premiere: ‘Inmate 4587’ Recap

I didn’t really think I’d be watching Arrow anymore in 2018, yet alone writing about it. A lapsed fan of the show, I slogged through the first half of the season around this time last year before finally giving up on it around the midpoint of season 6. Slow, repetitive, poorly written and overall uninteresting, it really felt as if the show had no more runway. There are only so many interesting things you can do in a show about an underpowered, more colourful Batman-type hero with limited access to D.C.’s Rogues Gallery. Over six seasons of Arrow, we had seen it all. Personal grudges, flashbacks, unnecessarily elaborate plans to destroy Star City, copycat vigilantes, even more personal grudges… and yet, on Monday night, after some effective advertising and a severe lack of anything to watch on that night (now that Better Call Saul has wrapped its fourth season and the only remotely interesting new Monday show, Manifest, turning out to be a dud), I sat down to watch the season 7 premiere and I was pleasantly surprised!

To put it briefly, season 7 feels fresh, exciting, and willing to open the show up to some interesting places that could breathe new life into the show for the long term. While it’s still rough around the edges and still suffers from some questionable writing, the premiere, “Inmate 4587”, is entertaining and interesting enough to rope me back into the show.

But before getting into what I liked so much about the premiere, let’s recap how we got here… I left the show when Michael Emerson’s Cayden James was still toiling as an under-used generic villain plotting to destroy Team Arrow as revenge for his dead son. As, for some reason, the mayor of Star City, Oliver Queen was having trouble balancing his job, his duties as the Green Arrow, his relationship with his wife Felicity and the estranged son he was now responsible for, so he decides to build a team. Only problem is that they were all mostly greener than his uniform and also largely untrustworthy, so they split up, get back together, split up, etc. Also, the true villain of the season turned out to be one of Cayden James lackeys, Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevedo), who was orchestrating everything in order to take over Star City. Yadda yadda yadda, Oliver defeats Diaz by turning himself in and admitting he’s the Green Arrow, in exchange for help taking Diaz down and immunity for his friends. Diaz’s empire crumbles, the allies he hasn’t murdered turn against him and he winds up in the wind, running from Argus but also plotting to destroy Oliver.

So, season 7 begins and Oliver is in a prison filled with people who he took down, and incapable of helping the people he loves on the outside. He’s keeping his head down, minding his own business and counting the days, trying not to rile up the likes of Derek Sampson (Cody Rhodes), Brick (Vinnie Jones) and others who are jonesing at the opportunity to mess with him now that he’s vulnerable. However, he winds up getting into a series of confrontations with other inmates, one at the behest of Diaz, who wants to send him a message that he’s coming after his family. Along with what they did to a wrongfully convicted man who was asking for his protection, he decides that even as Oliver Queen in a prison jumpsuit, he is still the Arrow, and he stakes his claim as protector of the innocent in this prison and the big dog in the yard.

Just about everything in these prison sequences is great and the main reason why I’m back on the Arrow train. I love that they’re using it as an opportunity to bring back underused villains from the show’s past. I love Oliver’s arc and what he has to go through to realize who he truly is and what he must do even while incarcerated. I love his look with the buzzcut and the beard, and I love that the show is going back to its roots with the topless working out. And the fight scenes are great. They’re trimmed down, simple, but still feel raw and brutal the way Arrow has often been good at doing. There’s even some symbolism in the scene where he fights people naked in the shower. On top of being obvious eye candy, it feels like the show is telling us that it’s willing to parse things down and get back to its roots.

That being said, it’s also willing to go some crazy places, because underscoring all of this is a series of scenes set in Lian Yu which turn out to be flash-forwards, showcasing a grown up William finding his way onto the island with his father’s arrowhead (given to him by Felicity in the episode) and encountering an old Roy Harper, talking about Oliver in the past tense. Arrow has never shied away from comparisons to LOST, but to see it dive head-first into that territory with a flash-forward and a return to the island opens things up to all sorts of possibilities. We can only guess where all of this is going, but moving forward in time while keeping the old format of sideplots through flashbacks/forwards might help breathe new life into a show that seemingly lost its way when those flashbacks caught up to them. There is a legacy in the comics for an older Oliver Queen, there are things they can do in an advanced timeline, and I would be totally down to seeing them get crazy with that kind of thing.

Those two storylines are what I choose to focus on here, what I enjoyed and what is exciting me the most about this season. That being said, “Inmate 4587” isn’t devoid of problems. Everything else about the episode feels like it’s still suffering from all the things that turned me off from the show in the first place. Without being too much of a downer, here’s a recap:

  • Felicity is in witness protection as a flannel-wearing emo barista for some reason, and she’s being hit on by an IT guy whose computer she fixes and who is clearly working for either Diaz or Diggle at Argus.
  • In a sequences that felt as if it was missing a scene before and after, Diaz somehow finds Felicity, tries to kill her, fails despite the fact that he’s supposed to be a cunning criminal mastermind, and then just leaves.
  • Rene and Dinah continue to be the worst, despite the fact that I haven’t seen them for the lion’s share of a full season. Rene is training some kids in self-defense and Dinah is the police captain now (why they’d promote a former vigilante is anyone’s guess, then again the DA is freaking Evil Laurel…).
  • Their paths cross when a new hooded archer appears in town. Rene thinks he’s protecting the city, Dinah doesn’t want to mess with her immunity agreement and is also, you know, a police captain, so she tries to take him down, only for Rene to get in her way and help him escape. The new Green Arrow gives the money from a drug bust to the poor, but Dinah is not convinced. She and Rene continue to be the worst.
  • Funny enough, I could care less about who is under the new hood.

I really hope the show doesn’t wind up getting bogged down with the worse aspects of its storytelling. The show has one or two too many characters, those characters are no good and completely uninteresting and detract from the things that the show has figured out about itself. I understand that changes can’t be made overnight, so let’s hope that those are just growing pains as Arrow figures out its new self and not the bullshit that will seep through like it seems to always do.

While the premiere may seem like kind of a mixed back, the good stuff is good enough for me to be fully back on board with the show for now. They managed to make a superhero-in-jail storyline that we’ve seen a million times before (The Flash freaking did this last season) interesting and even having me hope they stick with it for a while, and while the flash-forwards could go either way, for now, they’re providing an exciting wrinkle to a show that desperately needed that kind of thing. While I won’t be writing about the show every week this season, I will certainly be watching and I’m excited to see what comes next. “Inmate 4587” gets 7.5 prison yard pull-ups out of 10.

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Better Call Saul S04E01 Recap: ‘Smoke’

Nearly fourteen months have passed since the hectic third season finale of Better Call Saul. With extended breaks among television’s top shows becoming increasingly commonplace in order to ensure quality, this isn’t all that shocking, even if it may be somewhat frustrating for fans, and probably kind of risky for the network, especially for a show like Saul, which may be safe thanks to that consistently high level of quality, but could still wind up struggling in the ratings department as a result. But, truth be told, going into the fourth season premiere, Smoke, it felt like no time at all had passed since we had last checked in with Jimmy McGill and the gang.

I vividly remember a lot of what happened at the end of last season. Who can forget Chuck’s shocking suicide, the end result of a wedge between him and his brother driven so large and irreparable by the both of them that it led to Jimmy vindictively ratting Chuck and his condition out to his firm’s insurance company, forcing Hamlin to force him out and taking the one thing that Chuck still held dearly; his career. Chuck kicking his table until the lantern tips over and sets his house ablaze is a scene that will stay etched in my memory for a long time, and it’s something that drives a lot of what happens in this premiere. But it isn’t the only thing. Everyone is facing the consequences of their actions in “Smoke”, including Nacho after he switches out Hector’s heart pills and causes him to have the stroke that makes him how he is during the Breaking Bad days. Mike takes a job with Madrigal under Lydia in order to ensure his family’s future. And, in the future, Gene takes a tumble while working at the Cinnabon.

We’ve had a lot of time to sit with all of these developments, to let them simmer, but for everyone in the show, no time has passed at all, as “Smoke” picks up right where season three left left off. And, rightfully, the premiere handles it with BCS’s trademark meticulous pace, giving everything that happened space to breathe, the same kind of space that we’ve had over the past year. And it makes sense, I don’t think it would be right to pick up some time in the future with Jimmy jumping straight into some new antics. Chuck was paramount to what made the show work in the past. He was simultaneously the show’s antagonist and its moral compass, providing balance to a Jimmy that wanted to be good but constantly teetered on the edge of evil. With Chuck  gone, and with the way things are beginning to play out on the Mike/Gus/Nacho side of things, the kind of escalation and chaos that eventually overcame Breaking Bad, is inevitably going to plague its successor.

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In fact, the premiere highlights this as it checks in with Gus and Nacho in the aftermath of Hector’s stroke. Borsa calls them in to ensure that Nacho and Hector’s guys toe the line and make sure no one encroaches on Salamanca territory. But Gus warns him that with Hector out of play, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes for his territory, which will lead to war, which will lead to chaos, which will lead to the DEA. It’s the mother of all teases for a show like this. As the name of the game on Better Call Saul becomes convergence and escalation, branching closer and closer towards its predecessor, words like “war”, “chaos” and especially “DEA” become very loaded. We already know that the Salamanca Cousins are going to be back, as well as possibly Tuco. “War” and “Chaos” could be interchangeable with their names. But “DEA”? Could we be in for an inevitable Hank Schrader or Agent Gomie appearance to fulfull Gus’s final prophecy? And with the pace that people drop like flies on this show, what’s to come of Nacho, a man who likely doomed himself the moment he went after a Salamanca, who is now being followed, and who doesn’t make any appearance during the Breaking Bad days?

That scene is Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s way of making big promises in an otherwise slow, and maybe even (necessarily) lethargic episode, as the show goes through the motions of Jimmy’s grief following the loss of his brother, reiterating Chuck’s importance to the balance of the show and making a statement about how it might need to change in his absence.

Jimmy may be turning into a bad guy, but he’s not a monster, at least not yet. He doesn’t see his brother’s death coming, and he struggles coping with it up through the funeral.  But everything changes at the end of the episode, as Hamlin confesses to Jimmy and Kim that he blames himself for Chuck’s suicide, since he took a stand and forced him out following the incident with Chuck’s liability insurance that, unbeknownst to anyone else, Jimmy orchestrated. It’s hard to tell how much of the puzzle Jimmy had filled in prior to this, but it would also be likely that he pieced together that Chuck going over the edge might have had something to do with his final, vindictive stunt. In any case, what finally gets him looking a little chipper, as the episode comes to a close, is Hamlin taking the blame for Chuck’s death, which Jimmy presumably takes as a cue to finally stop worrying about his brother. He callously tells Hamlin it’s his cross to bear. That’s telling, and kind of huge for Jimmy, because, as we’ve seen over the course of three seasons, he’s always taken responsibility for his older brother. He’s felt burdened, not only by the illness that had him delivering provisions over the last few years, but also by how Chuck always purposely held him back. He’s always felt obligated to seek out affection that, by Chuck’s own admission shortly prior to his death, was never really there to begin with. One way or another, Jimmy McGill always found a way to make Chuck his problem, even after his death. Now, with Howard taking responsibly, it instantly feels like a weight lifted off his shoulder, and a cue indicating that the show is willing to move on to some new and scary places, the kind of places teased by Gus in the aforementioned scene.

“Smoke” is a dreary, solemn episode of television. Of course, as it deals with a shocking death, that’s to be expected. Seemingly aware of this, Peter Gould provides us with somewhat of a reprieve, as the episode’s most fun and memorable sequence involves Mike pulling a Kramer and pretending to work at Madrigal for a day. This comes on the heels of Mike getting a job from Lydia, and perhaps  unhappy with the idea of not having to earn the $10,000 check (net!) that he receives in the mail. So he steals someone’s badge, putzes around the Madrigal office and warehouse, before chewing out the supervisor for all the lapses in security that he’s uncovered along the way. Mike looks genuinely happy as he’s doing this, which, in a show like Better Call Saul, can only mean that something horrible and tragic is about to happen.

Nonetheless, it’s a welcome break in the otherwise lethargic pace of a necessarily bleak episode. As much as it is a premiere, “Smoke” is also transitional. The show deliberately makes promises about its action-packed future, it gives up hope that it won’t all be solemn and depressing, but at the end of the day the point is indeed that the show has lost an important element, and needs to find a way forward in replacing him. I’m glad to have Saul back, but I can only imagine that “Smoke” is the low point of a season that will trend continuously upward over the course of its ten episodes, so it gets 7.5 cat themed birthday cards out of 10.