Why The CW should let Arrow end with season 7


Since 2012, Arrow has served as the anchor of The CW’s superhero universe. But the show is losing steam – and should quit while it’s ahead.

On Monday, The CW unveiled its annual slew of renewals. Among the lucky many guaranteed to survive another year were Riverdale, Jane the Virgin, and all five DC superhero shows, from Arrow to Black Lightning.

As a long-time Arrow devotee, I am supposed to rejoice. Instead, I responded to the news with a sigh of exasperation.

Look, my relationship with this show has been through a lot over the past six years. It survived Sara Lance’s death, Ra’s al Ghul, Amanda Waller’s death, Laurel Lance’s death and countless melodramatic twists and turns in Oliver and Felicity’s whirlwind romance. At times, I wondered if my affection for season 2 (which, for the record, is limitless and eternal) justified continuing.

Then, like an angel, season 5 arrived, rewarding my suffering with a riveting central villain and well-earned character development. Episodes like “Kapiushon” and “Underneath” ranked among the best ever. However, the uptick in quality didn’t happen by accident. Season 5 represented the final act of the show’s original arc, connecting the flashbacks to the present-day narrative and completing Oliver’s transformation from murderous vigilante to righteous hero. It unfolded with a confidence and urgency that previous seasons lacked.

I knew it was possible, even likely, that the next season would be a disaster. Season 5 propelled Arrow into uncharted territory, creating a sense of uncertainty that was equally exciting and scary. Still, I held out hope that showrunners Wendy Mericle and Marc Guggenheim would take advantage of this opportunity to branch out. Without a template to follow, they could take the characters in new directions and experiment with style and structure.

At first, things looked promising. Oliver accepted fatherhood and, later, marriage. Diggle, along with the season 5 recruits, seemed poised to take over the team. We got two episodes centered on Slade Wilson. But after “We Fall,” the rails started to crumble. Michael Emerson was dispatched in favor of a Big Bad that the show hasn’t even tried to make interesting. William faded into the background. Team Arrow succumbed to petty squabbles.

In general, TV shows tend to decline once they hit the six or seven-year mark. Even Mad Men, which remained remarkably consistent throughout its run, could have used some trimming in the later seasons. Some, such as M*A*S*H, Cheers, and 30 Rock, offer satisfying endings but have to limp to get there. Tellingly, most successful long-running shows are sitcoms, procedurals, and daytime soap operas – shows that rely on episodic plots and ensemble casts.

Theoretically, superhero shows could function like a procedural/soap hybrid, mixing villains-of-the-week with long-term character arcs. After all, superhero comics have endured for almost 70 years, constantly reinventing themselves and adapting to their times. Unfortunately, like its hero, Arrow exhibits little interest in changing. Wasn’t the point of “Lian Yu” to cleanse Oliver of his trauma? (Not that you can entirely get rid of trauma, but you can learn to handle it.) So, why are we still watching him self-destruct and alienate his teammates?

Except for the action choreography, which remains as dynamic as ever, everything about season 6 feels aimless and robotic. It’s as if once Oliver donned the hood again, in essence rejecting his humanity, so did the show. By nature, superhero stories are larger-than-life. At their best, though, they retain some connection to real life, whether through social commentary or personal stakes. Legends of Tomorrow, for example, jumps across time and features cameos by historical figures, but it grounds the zany adventures in relatable emotions: regret, loneliness, the desire to belong or matter. Right now, Arrow seems to have forgotten how the world works and how people act. It might as well take place on the moon.

Maybe all the contrivances have a purpose, and the season will offer a brilliant, cathartic payoff. However, at this point, I don’t have the patience to wait and hope. There’s too much other TV to catch up on, and frankly, it’s just depressing seeing something you love turn into a zombie. As any party host will tell you, skipping out early is preferable to overstaying your welcome. While I’d miss seeing Oliver, Felicity and Diggle in crossovers, I’m willing to make the sacrifice if it means a (semi-)graceful exit for the show.

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If Arrow has taught me anything, it’s that clinging to the past only causes pain.