By Matthew Cafaro
The premier episode in the third season of Arrow quickly fills the audience in with the obligatory, “Last time on Arrow…” montage, followed by an in media res beginning of the well-oiled machine that is Oliver & Co. doing what they do best: taking down the bad guys who have, “Failed this city!”
It’s a whip-crack beginning to a solid, if only slightly disappointing, episode of Arrow. The direction, camera work, and above all, the stunts and fight choreography are still as good as we remember them, which is what separates this show from the other comic book shows also currently on television. I read an interview with Marc Guggenheim (one of the creators) on TV Line and he mentioned that they want to create one-hour movies every week, which is an excellent way to describe episodes of Arrow. Even in those weeks when the plot or character development may not be up to Arrow’s usual par, the technical aspects are always top notch and better than anything on TV not named Justified or Mad Men.
As for the aspects that work best, the character work and story telling that also separate Arrow from other four-color-inspired programs on TV, they felt a bit rushed here. “The Calm” almost feels like a re-pilot in the way it re-introduces everyone to the audience. From Diggle and Lyla’s soon-to-be-born baby, Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer (not yet The Atom) swooping in to buy Queen Consolidated out from under Oliver’s efforts to buy back his family’s company, Roy becoming an active partner in Team Arrow as Speedy / Arsenal / Red Arrow (they haven’t given him a name yet), throwing-off a brief mention that everyone thinks Thea is in Europe, setting up a new version of Count Vertigo, the now Captain Lance and his health issues, explaining why Oliver met with Barry on that rooftop in The Flash’s pilot, to bringing back Sara to speak with Laurel before that shocking ending, and oh yeah, Oliver’s ninth escape attempt from Amanda Waller’s control after five months in Hong Kong five years before this time (and three years after his first marooning on Lian Yu).
I know that’s a gigantic run-on sentence, but that’s what the season’s first episode felt like: a gigantic run-on sentence. Last season’s premier episode was tighter, but because of everything that happened leading-up to and during the season two finale, there were a lot of dangling threads that demanded explanations to close the loop. I’m slightly disappointed because this episode was like the season premier of SHIELD in the way it tried to cram perhaps two episodes worth of plot and character work into one. However, as usual, Arrow does a far better job of showing us why we care about these characters instead of telling us that we should, and it’s in those moments that this episode shines.
In some ways, it’s the little things. The look on Roy’s face when Oliver talks about getting a text from Thea and where in Europe she is now. We can see Roy knows more than he’s letting on about where Thea really is (“safe” with her biological father, Malcolm Merlyn), and it’s a nice bit of acting from Colton Haynes. The way Felicity is on the verge of tears when Oliver and Diggle have it out about why Digg shouldn’t be in the field (because he’s about to be a daddy… in like eight minutes). Sara’s talk with Oliver, and then Laurel, about why she’s back, or why she isn’t back, and then her shock when she receives three black arrows in the gut from a killer she knows. Yes, dear friends, Sara Lance, The Canary, dies at the end of the episode, and it’s a death that resonates in its shocking execution because it makes us angry and sad all at once.
Sara’s death, at the moment of her return to Starling City for some (nefarious?) reason she doesn’t want her newly minted police captain father to know about, is well earned, and it will either set-up the first arc (or maybe the whole arc) of the season or it will be resolved quickly. Either way, her death is not cheap. The one thing that did feel cheap, however, was the way in which the episode treated Oliver and Felicity’s seemingly DOA romantic relationship. To have Oliver blame his nascent relationship with Felicity as the reason for causing him to lose focus, allowing the new Count Vertigo’s henchman to plant a GPS tracker on him is cheap. For Oliver stand before Felicity at the end of the episode with the idea that keeping her at arm’s length is the best thing for him and her also feels cheap. Sara literally just spent some of her last words ever giving him sage advice as to why he needs to let people without masks into his life. So Oliver’s decision doesn’t feel earned at this point. This is a decision the writers should have had Oliver make a few episodes down the line. However, Felicity’s heartfelt plea to him to stop telling her “maybe” they could be together at some unknown time did feel earned. This brilliant, beautiful woman doesn’t deserve to be kept waiting, and so she won’t. Her ending it with Oliver was the right choice for her, and it saves this situation because she’s the one who ends it, not him. However, all of this feels very “beginning of Chuck season three” to me.
Oh, hello there Brandon Routh, I didn’t see you!
Yes, everyone’s favorite nice guy to hate is now playing his second (third?) superhero, Ray Palmer, who will one day become the incredible shrinking superhero, The Atom (no, he doesn’t talk to ants). For the purposes of Arrow season three however, he’s a brilliant scientist with a vision. Ray and Felicity have a meet-cute at the Buy More, I’m sorry, generic electronics store in which she unknowingly aids his bid to purchase Queen Consolidated, and soon after, when Palmer gives his presentation about how he’s going to Save. This. City. The speech contains some nice comedic moments for Routh, who gives it with enough charm and bravado to spare. The look on Oliver’s face as he listens to Palmer and sees his opportunity to take back his family’s company disappear is a nice bit of acting by Amell. I must say, I quite liked Routh here. Then again, I liked him in his first couple of appearances as Daniel Shaw on Chuck and that did not end well. Here however, Routh’s chemistry with Emily Bett Rickard’s Felicity Smoak is almost as good as Stephen Amell’s Oliver, so perhaps Routh guest star on this great character-driven action show will work out well for everyone.
Again, this episode is a lot of set-up, much more than we are used to at this show. It’s a lot of “tell” for an episode of Arrow. There is enough “show” to keep you engaged though, and after Sara’s shocking death, cradled in Laurel’s arms, I can’t wait to see where Season 3 takes us.
What did y’all think?
- What will they call Roy? My bet is on Arsenal even though in the comics, Arsenal was called such because he moved beyond just using a bow into using all manner of weapons, and here, it appears he’s very much Speedy or Red Arrow.
- Sara was killed by black arrows (well, the fall is probably what killed her), which we know are used by League of Assassins members. So my guess is she either ran away from the League again, or perhaps it was Merlyn paying another visit. Either way, it’s going to make for interesting an interesting mystery.
- Did anyone catch Baby Girl Diggle’s name? I don’t have a DVR, so I don’t know if they said it at any point.
- Loved the comic moment between Lyla and Digg as they explain to the doctor Diggle’s place in Lyla’s life after he calls John her husband (Her: Ex-husband! Him: Boyfriend!).
- I have to admit, I always wondered why the Arrow writers called the city Oliver protects “Starling City” instead of the proper “Star City,” and it looks like it’s because they wanted to tear Starling City down, twice, in order to have Queen Consolidated (or if the newspaper from 2024 at the end of The Flash pilot is to be believed, Queen, Inc.) have a hand in not only saving this city with a population that is abandoning it after two terrorist attacks, but in renaming (rebranding?) it as Star City.
- The flashback to Hong Kong this week wasn’t important except for the final scene in which Oliver’s captor provides him not only with a reason to stop trying to escape, but an answer to his problems in the present. I’m hoping this year’s flashbacks are on par with last season’s. We shall see.
Follow Matthew on Twitter: @HistoryofMatt