Mayor Handsome struggles to lead Star City while Green Arrow struggles to protect it solo
Credit: Bettina Strauss/The CW
S5 E1
  • TV Show

Moving forward with your life, even if it’s not the life you once had.

That’s the theme of tonight’s Arrow premiere, and it’s not a bad note to hit after season 4 left many fans disappointed in the lackluster plotting, characterization, and momentum. Thankfully, this episode delivers a jolt of energy that hints at good things to come.

It’s been five months since Damien Darhk killed Laurel Lance, and most of our favorite characters have moved on. John Diggle’s back in the Army. Thea Queen’s working as Oliver’s beleaguered press secretary. Quentin Lance has crawled into a bottle of booze and stayed there. Felicity… well, Felicity’s moved on, too.

But not Oliver. He’s floating down that river in Egypt, clinging to what used to be and what he desperately wishes could still be.

The season opens with the new SCPD captain hassling Thea over why the mayor’s late for the police gala. “Blond or red-headed?” he asks, and I don’t hate the show going back to the “millionaire playboy Oliver Queen” cover story.

Thea says it’s a brunet, actually, and we cut to Green Arrow tussling with last season’s baddie Lonnie Machin. Ollie pins him to the wall with an arrow through the hand and leaves him for SCPD to deal with, despite Machin’s taunts that Oliver won’t kill him despite his attempt to blow up half the city.

As Oliver’s dealing with Machin, a vigilante in a hockey mask starts to fiddle with the bomb Machin set. Oliver, who’s obviously been watching Scandal, tells hockey mask, “It’s handled,” and arrows him in the leg to get him to stay off the streets and leave the heroing to the experts.

Thankfully, Felicity does have it handled and shuts the bomb down in time for Oliver to make it to the gala, where he gives a statement to the press denouncing the city’s Anti-Crime Initiative because of its unchecked police corruption. In full PR mode, Thea tries to smooth things over, then chides Oliver for not saving his remarks for the upcoming Black Canary memorial ceremony.

See, Oliver’s mayoral term isn’t going well. As the lone remaining mask on his crime-fighting team, he’s stretched too thin to both defend the city and be its mayor, leaving the public with the impression that he’s a do-nothing who got all his political knowledge by binge watching The West Wing. Hey, you could do worse than Sorkin, Ollie!

He reminds Thea that if she’d hit the streets again, he’d have more time to mayor, but she insists she’s out of the game and staying there.

Aaaaaaand flashback. Lemme tell ya, the first 30 seconds of this are better than all of the season 4 flashbacks combined because a shirtless, bewigged Stephen Amell is bare-knuckle brawling with an enormous Russian, subduing him with a Dread Pirate Roberts-versus-Andre the Giant piggyback move before snapping his neck.

Yep, it’s old-school Oliver. He’s in Russia to follow through on his season 4 promise to Taiana that he’d kill Kovar, the brutal warlord of her Russian village. Instead of an introduction to Kovar, though, he gets tased for killing the Bratva’s best fighter. Oopsie.

Back in Star City, Felicity’s put together a dossier on hockey mask, whom they’re calling Wild Dog. She tells Oliver to stop shooting him and instead bring him (along with Evelyn Sharp and Mr. Ski Goggles, whose code name still needs work) into the fold because lord knows Star City’s ineffectual-slash-corrupt police department isn’t doing the job. Oliver’s all, nah, my team’ll reassemble aaaaany minute now.

Elsewhere in Star City, a pack of crooked SCPD cops are confronted by an even badder cat: gangster Tobias Church (Chad L. Coleman of Walking Dead fame), exuding cool menace, wielding a pair of wicked brass knuckles, and rocking an amazing leather jacket. Church beats the head cop to death and gets the rest of the group to fall in line with his new regime.

In good guy news, Oliver knocks on Quentin Lance’s door, causing the former chief to drag his hungover, beardy self off the couch. Lance tosses Oliver a paper with the best-ever headline: “Mayor Handsome misses city council meeting.” Thank you, anonymous Star City Star copy editor; your snark is appreciated. (Also, did we know that the town newspaper was called The Star City Star? That is amazing.)

Ollie tries to recruit Lance for his team, which is seriously getting back together any day now, you guys. But Lance just scoffs, “And cover up this beautiful face with a mask?” He pours a drink instead, then declines Oliver’s invitation to attend Laurel’s memorial ceremony. “It’s probably best I don’t turn up and embarrass her memory.” God, that’s depressing.

NEXT: There’s trouble at the docks

Back at the Arrowcave, Felicity again urges Oliver to welcome new members because he needs numbers to go up against Church. “For five months, you’ve been frozen in amber,” Felicity says. “You need to move forward.” Then she sends him to City Hall to get some mayoring done and sends Curtis to track down Wild Dog.

We next cut to a pier, where the Laurel/Black Canary memorial ceremony’s being held, and I’ve got to be honest, anytime a DC universe show sets a scene near a body of water, I always expect Aquaman to appear.

Sadly, the dweller in the depths doesn’t show, but Quentin Lance does, melting my heart. Oliver addresses the crowd, speaking passionately about how Laurel reminds us of the importance of bravery and sacrifice and remembering. Then he reveals an enormous, waterside statue of Laurel-as-Canary. It’s… it’s not good, guys. I mean, it’s not Lucille Ball statue bad, but it’s a little… Soviet mural blocky, somehow.

Apparently, Church and his gang of art critics agree because they show up and open fire on the crowd, kidnapping Oliver and a few other notables in order to draw out the Green Arrow. DAMMIT, AQUAMAN, WHERE WERE YOU?

At some kind of abandoned factory location (really, Star City should just level all of those because crime seems to be the No. 1 use for them), Church speechifies to the bound hostages, and Oliver tells him that the Green Arrow isn’t coming to rescue them. “I have it on pretty good authority that he’s tied up right now.” Zing!

In retaliation, Church sends Oliver to be taught a lesson by one of the corrupt cops. Oh, please. Oliver Queen laughs in the face of a beating from a soft-handed Star City cop.

Flashback! A Russian thug who absolutely has to make a living as a Liam Neeson stand-in has Oliver tied to a chair and is paging through Robert Queen’s naughty or nice book. Then none other than Anatoly Knyazev, the Bratva captain whom Oliver saved on the island in season 2, shows up to rescue his “brother.”

It looks like he goes in for a hug, but he actually dislocates Oliver’s thumbs so he can slip out of the restraints tying him to the chair. “Can’t you bring a knife next time?” Ollie pants, then tells Anatoly that he’s in Russia to kill Constantine Kovar, and is it just me, or are the flashbacks already so so so much better?

Back in Star City, Lance asks Thea why she’s not suiting up to rescue her brother, and Thea haltingly explains that she just wants to hang onto this normal version of herself where she’s not a vigilante.

Lance tells her that he gets it. He lost his job and his daughter and his girlfriend. But hearing Oliver speak at Laurel’s memorial, he realized he can’t hit pause on his life forever, so he’s stepping up. Quentin Lance: the hero Star City deserves.

In the hostage factory, Oliver’s still bound to the chair. Gee, how will he ever escape? The bad cop promises to make him Mayor Not-So-Handsome, and HOW DARE YOU, SIR? Naturally, Ollie dislocates himself out of the zip-cuffs and actually kills the guy, and then there’s Thea in her red costume.


The rescue hits a snag when they realize the hostages are protected with wires rigged to blow everything up, so Oliver shoots all the henchmen, and they escape.

Thea’s shocked that her brother’s back to killing, but Oliver argues that he had to protect his cover. Also, he regrets not using lethal force on Darhk. “Maybe if I’d have shown a little less restraint, Laurel would still be alive.”

Thea argues that not killing people isn’t a mistake, but Oliver says Malcolm Merlyn was right: Do what’s necessary, or don’t be out there at all.

Ah, yes. Guilt — and that age-old DC problem of superheroes who let the villains survive to wreak havoc another day — is influencing Green Arrow’s choices this season. Let’s do this, people.

Flashback: Anatoly tries to talk Oliver out of killing Kovar. The man has an army, and Oliver’s likely to die. Then he drops a Russian proverb: “A shark that does not swim, drowns.” He tells Oliver that the promise he made was in the past, and he needs to move forward.

Hoookay. So the showrunners have promised that the flashbacks this season are going to more closely mirror the action happening in the present. But man, I hope they develop a lighter touch with it in upcoming episodes because, like, we get it. And hey, if they don’t, this is the last season for the flashbacks. We can get through this together.

NEXT: Oliver embraces his inner shark

Hey, there’s Curtis, skulking around the section of Star City where fires burn in trash barrels. No surprise that he’s beset by street toughs, which is what happens when you wear a patterned shirt buttoned to the neck in this part of town, apparently.

Back at the Laurel statue, Oliver and Lance have a heart-to-heart. Ollie admits that he and his original team are never ever getting back together, and in response, Lance gives him a folder of trustworthy SCPD cops to help him in his fight.

Laurel flashback! She’s in the hospital bed, making Oliver promise that she won’t be the last Canary so a part of her will always be out there with him. Awwww! I was never a Laurel fan, but I’m also not made of stone.

So. Time to rescue the hostages. Lance’s good cops storm in and take out the bad ones as Church plays a horrible game of duck duck goose with the hostages and a baseball bat. (Walking Dead shout out? We’ll know for sure if he calls it Lucille.)

Wait, how long has it been? Didn’t Church wonder how the mayor managed to murder his guard and escape? Eh, whatever. Felicity and Lance serve as Co-Overwatch as Oliver and the police try to evacuate everyone before the site blows.

In the end, the building goes up, and Oliver barely escapes the conflagration by shooting an arrow into the bottom of Church’s helicopter and pulling himself out. He and Church tussle in the open helicopter door, which always seems like a bad idea. Church shoves him out, but as he falls, Oliver fires a parachute arrow and lands safely. Parachute. Arrow. Thank you, show.

Hostage situation resolved, Mayor Queen finally gives his speech about the Anti-Crime Initiative and singles out Lance’s four officers who rescued the hostages. He puts them in charge of the ACI and says they’ll report directly to the mayor. So a politician has a private police force? That’s… potentially problematic, under ordinary circumstances.

Also putting together a team is Church, who brings Star City’s gangs together and declares himself their new leader. Anyone who disagrees is dispatched with extreme prejudice.

In the Arrowcave, Oliver surprises the heck out of Felicity by finally agreeing to recruit new team members. This is when Curtis strolls in, rocking some nasty bruises, and asks to be recruited, too.

Final flashback! Anatoly delivers Oliver to a cadre of Bratva men. If Ollie survives the beating, he’ll get to start the process of becoming Bratva. It should be noted that the pack contains four big dudes, one with a knife. Rude.

Back in the present, Oliver Skypes with Diggle, who’s pleased that his friend is finally making peace with the fact that things won’t go back to the way they were. However, Ollie confesses to Digg that he’s not so sanguine about the situation with Felicity.

And then we see the woman in question walk into her sweet pad (actually, Thea’s sweet pad — why’s Fi still living there?), kick off her heels, and accept a back rub from one of the good SCPD cops we saw earlier in the episode. His name is Officer Benton, and he’s apparently allowed to touch her perfect skin and be in her house when she’s not there. I already hate him.

Finally, one of Lance’s newly appointed ACI cops is leaving the precinct and on the phone with his wife, promising to pick up diapers for their baby, when he’s felled by an arrow wielded by a masked man who announces himself as definitely not the Green Arrow. Based on his costume and voice, I’d call him Reverse Arrow, but we already know what name this new baddie goes by. And I don’t know about you, but I cannot wait to get more backstory on him.

Thoughts for your quiver:

  • So, hello! I’m Sara, your new Arrow recapper. I’m a huge fan of every superhero show that The CW airs, although I’m a little nervous to be stepping into a show as rich in mythology as this one. I’ll do my best to keep it all straight, but please be patient with me as I get my bearings. If it matters to you, I love Sarah Lance, tolerate Laurel Lance, adore Quentin Lance, ship Olicity, and haven’t seen Batman vs. Superman yet because the DC movie-verse is a big ol’ mess.
  • Season 5 salmon ladder count: 0.
  • Parachute arrow > boxing glove arrow. Discuss.
  • “No one can know my secret.” Who else screamed at this callback to the pilot?
  • What do you think of the premiere? Is the show getting back on track after a meh season 4? Or did you love season 4 and want to fight me on this? Let me know in the comments!

Episode grade: B

Episode Recaps

Billionaire Oliver Queen — under the vigilante persona of Arrow — tries to right the wrongs of his family and fight the ills of society.
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