Arrow, Season 4, Episode 5, “Haunted”
Written by Brian Ford Sullivan & Oscar Balderrama
Directed by John Badham
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm (ET) on The CW
It’s odd to think the star of a canceled NBC series would kick-start Arrow‘s fourth season to life—it’s not really a promising sign when a one-off guest star outshines the presence of nearly everyone else on the cast, embodying the lighter, more agile personality the rest of the show’s struggled to adopt early in season four. Regardless of what it may say about the show’s long-term prospects for recovery, a little Hellblazer goes a long way: “Haunted” is a much better episode than it has any right to be, which can only be attributed to the presence of the magical, wise-cracking John Constantine.
Just look at every scene not featuring Constantine: Outside of the barbs Damien Darhk tosses at Quentin, everything without Constantine is lifeless and silly as the rest of the season. This is led by Laurel, of course, whose character makes a strong point about Oliver’s hypocrisy as the Arrow, but has absolutely no way of backing it up. Her conversation with Ollie outside Thea’s hospital bed is one of the most frustrating exchanges I’ve ever watched on Arrow. While she’s right to point out Oliver treats others as his supporting characters and not equals, Laurel hasn’t exactly impressed when thinking or acting on her own, behavior we can trace back to the show’s earliest episodes. Arrow as a show has never placed Laurel on an equal intellectual level with Oliver (or physical: notice how her sister knocks her out with one punch twice in this episode), and it’s odd for them to have her point that out now, days after she resurrected her dead sister and allowed her to get loose and start murdering people around the city.
Now I’m not trying to shame Laurel’s character, but from the pilot episode, the writing for Laurel’s been the most uneven of the show. Consider her alcoholism, the defining factor of her character in season two and early in three. I had completely forgotten about that part of her life, until Quentin mentions she still goes to AA meetings. Shouldn’t we see her struggle with this life-long disease a little more, if it is really that important to her character? It’s inconsistencies like these that ultimately define Laurel’s character as a cipher for the show’s most bullshit turns, creating unnecessary conflict by compromising a character who should be viewed as more intelligent than Ollie. She’s the fucking district attorney of one of the most crime-ridden cities in the world and doing a good enough job that she was still kept on after spending half a season shitfaced at work. She is an intelligent woman, but Arrow never wants her to be, which makes it feel really weird when they point it out, when the show’s in full recovery mode after her latest engineered stunt (which she almost backs away from. She’s ready to kill her sister before Oliver steps in, again saving Laurel from her idiotic self. What a hero!).
There are plenty of other frustrating elements of this episode—led by Diggle’s brother being a crime lord and revelations about Lian Yu’s mysticism I could care less about—but a lot of this is eased by the presence of John Constantine, who makes his way back from television Hell to pop up in both timelines of Arrow. Matt Ryan’s performance as the character really is terrific, and separated from the nonsense writing of Constantine, John’s character comes to life, fitting neatly into the show’s rhythms with his vivacious personality: If this is the kind of mystical character Arrow would engage with more, I’d be a lot more interested in these increasingly magical story-lines. Every scene he shows up in comes to life, from Oliver’s Island 2.0 adventure to the goofy-but-necessary scene where he, Laurel, and Oliver go to another realm to restore Sara’s soul, is more believable because of his presence. He brings an other-worldly energy to the show nobody else has before, and it’s a treat to watch.
Unfortunately, it’s a one-off appearance, and one engineered to silly ends: His integration into both timelines exists mostly to serve the show up as a platform for its next spin-off, which continues to turn Arrow into a less satisfying, unique entity with each passing episode. Is this even a show that cares about Arrow‘s story anymore? We’re spending so much time on Ray Palmer (Curtis uncovers a recording that says he’s still alive—surprise!) and Sara Lance, Arrow’s core stories are being lost in the mix. Bringing in another DC character to help streamline that process only helps Arrow feel less like Arrow, which may make “Haunted” an entertaining hour, but one that comes at the cost of Arrow‘s sense of self, which continues to erode a little more with each passing, underwhelming hour.
- Thea is a master of murder and parkour, but can’t get down a flight of stairs quickly? C’mon Arrow.
- Enlisted‘s Parker Young appears as Oliver’s political strategist. If Arrow continues to pull actors from my favorite canceled FOX comedies, I will be a happy man.
- “Are you sticking around for a cupcake or something?” Darhk with the #zinger.
- The whole idea that Oliver would have to distance himself from Laurel is idiotic. Oliver’s already talked about his mother, who mass murdered hundreds of people and then was elected mayor. The people of Star City couldn’t give a shit about the integrity of their elected officials.