Let’s talk about Arrow.

Arrow , for those not in the know, is a show on CW adapted from Nolan’s Batman trilo—I mean DC Comics character Green Arrow/Oliver Queen, a billionaire playboy who becomes a superhero through his mad skillz at archery after returning home from having been trapped on an island. The first season dealt mostly with his return, and a plot in which he crosses names off a list of the corrupt businessmen who are poisoning the city, and eventually leads to Oliver uncovering a full conspiracy. All the while the show has flashbacks to tell the audience what happened in the first year that Oliver Queen was trapped on an island. The second season dealt with the repercussions of the first season and the problems that happen when one of Oliver’s enemies from the island shows up not quite dead, and the flashbacks showing us how the two of them became enemies in the first place.

A good chunk of the show’s plots have him not only hunting down the corrupt of Starling City, but also having to deal with living a double life as “the Arrow” and as Oliver Queen, and the drama that ensues from keeping secrets and not being able to tell his loved ones that he’s secretly a bow-wielding badass.

Let’s be real here: from the above description, you’re probably able to tell that the show took a lot from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The way Starling City appears on screen looks an awful lot like Gotham in Batman Begins, and the overtones of taking back the city from its corrupt elements resonate strongly in the first season. Season two seemed to move away from that, but the League of Assassins became a major presence, and in the end we have a villain that is goading our hero into killing him in order to make a point (which fails), a bit reminiscent of The Dark Knight.

Yet strangely, it mostly works. No, I don’t think it ever reaches the depth and complexity of Nolan’s films, but it’s a dark action series with good fight scenes, several likable characters, and tons of nods to the comics and its various franchises.

But season three? Is a mess. The plot swerves in ridiculous directions, the characters act in ways that don’t add up, and thematically it doesn’t mesh with the rest. Just about everyone noticed how out of whack this season was, from critics to longtime fans alike (myself included). In fact, the only people who don’t seem to notice how bad things got were rabid shippers on Tumblr, and that’s not a particularly insightful crowd.

Tons of reviews have been written since, but I’d like to add my two cents now that things have cooled down. For that reason, I’m splitting up my review into three sections to cover those three parts dedicated to those three sections. So first up: the Plot.

The Plot

In the words of Ursa, the plot goeth thusly:

Oliver Queen is the Arrow, a vigilante/superhero and everything seems to be going great. Crime is down, his relationship with the police is great, Roy Harper is now his sidekick in red and Diggle’s girlfriend/ex-wife Lyla is going to have a baby. Oliver decides he can have a normal life and asks out Felicity, but on their date the restaurant gets attacked by the new Count Vertigo and Oliver decides he can’t have a normal life as Oliver Queen and breaks off the relationship. He fights Vertigo, wins with help from Sara Lance who just happens to be in town for a bit on break from the League of Assassins.

Furthering Oliver’s decision that he can’t have a normal life is his loss of Queen Consolidated to the Ray Palmer, who rebrands it Palmer Industry. Oliver has no girlfriend, no company, no family in town and no money, so he decides it’s just easier to be the Arrow.

But then Sara Lance is murdered1 and that sets off the plot for the first half of the season: who killed Sara?

There are some different episodes that deal with the plot, but the first major development appears when Nyssa, Sara’s ex-girlfriend, shows up in town demanding to see Sara. Upon finding out that she’s dead, automatically claims it was Malcolm Merlyn2, revealing to Oliver that he’s alive. They confront him, but Merlyn claims he didn’t do it, as Ra’s al Ghul already hates his guts for breaking Assassin rules3, killing Sara would be the stupidest thing for him to do, as murdering a member of the League would only bring him back into the League’s crosshairs and endanger his daughter Thea (and Oliver’s half sister). Oliver, now that he doesn’t kill people, decides Merlyn must be telling the truth and swears to protect Merlyn’s life.

Nyssa goes home to bitch to her dad, but it turns out that Ra’s doesn’t actually care that Sara’s dead, believing that Sara never committed to being an Assassin and was just a distraction for Nyssa.

There’s some other BS in the Plot; they decide to lie to Police Captain Quentin Lance, Sara’s dad, about her death, claiming she’s still alive, and Laurel Lance starts training to be a badass in her sister’s memory, eventually becoming the Black Canary.

Also, Thea’s spent the past few months training with Malcolm Merlyn and becoming a badass.

The Plot goes forward at the mid-season finale when Ra’s al Ghul decides that he actually does care about Sara’s death and says for every day that Sara’s killer goes uncaught, he will kill someone in Starling City. Oliver investigates, and finds out that Merlyn, despite making a pretty good argument as to why he didn’t kill Sara, reveals that he totally did do it. Except sort of—he used a special never-before-mentioned-or-alluded-to herb/drug that can mind control/memory wipe people and had Thea kill Sara. He filmed it too on his smartphone. So he says that Oliver must challenge Ra’s al Ghul to a duel to the death, or he’ll send the video to Ra’s and Thea will get assassinated in the face. If Oliver wins, the League will be off his case and Thea will be safe. If not then Oliver will off his case but then he’s still screwed because Ra’s still wants his head on his plate (which he apparently didn’t think of).

Oliver fights Ra’s and loses. And by ‘loses’ I mean he gets cut, stabbed through the chest and kicked off a mountain by Ra’s al Ghul after having his ass handed to him. He’s presumed dead, and Team Arrow has to learn how to live without him for a couple of episodes.

But no! Ollie survives because Maseo, a member of the League who has worked with Ollie before and knows him, takes his battered body to his estranged wife (Tatsu Yamashiro/Katana), who heals him with some tea or something and Ollie gets better4.

Oliver comes back, and Thea eventually finds out her half-brother’s a superhero and actually is sympathetic to it. Upon finding out that her dad made her kill Sara, she immediately calls up the League of Assassins and tells them where Merlyn is so that they find him. Ra’s al Ghul locks him up in his hideout and tortures him for a while. Oliver, deciding that he doesn’t want his sister to have indirectly killed her father, goes on a quest to save him. He gets captured, where Ra’s reveals that he wants Oliver Queen to become the next Ra’s al Ghul.


Oliver declines, but they all get to go home and Ra’s assures him that he will take the deal. Ra’s ends up framing the Arrow for several murders in Starling City, and after Captain Lance finds out one of his daughters is dead and Team Arrow has lied to him about it, decides to arrest the Arrow, making a city-wide manhunt. After all of this, Ra’s straight up stabs Thea and tells him the only way to save her is through becoming his successor and using his personal hot tub—the Lazarus Pit.

Oliver takes the deal to save his sister, becoming an Assassin. Team Arrow thinks he’s turned evil, but it turns out he worked out a plan with Merlyn in secret to double-cross Ra’s al Ghul. Oliver is told by Ra’s that he must unleash a super-virus he just pulled out of his ass and use it to kill everyone in Starling City to ascend to the role of Ra’s al Ghul, but he and Team Arrow stop the supervirus, Oliver kills Ra’s al Ghul, and then he lets Merlyn becomes the next Ra’s al Ghul.

Our hero decides he’s finally happy with his life, and quits being a superhero so he and Felicity sail off into the sunset with Felicity in a convertible while the rest of Team Arrow has to deal with Starling City on its own now I guess.


Also! There were flashbacks this season, but all they did were give the backstory on Maseo Yamashiro, his wife Tatsu (who goes on to become the superhero Katana), and where the super-virus Ra’s pulled out of his ass came from. That’s it.

Plot Analysis

In case you couldn’t tell, the main issue with the plot this season is that it didn’t flow in the slightest. Allow me to elaborate—one plot point doesn’t organically lead to another. It seems that the story is going in one direction (murder mystery), and then Ra’s al Ghul pops up and shoves it into another one (his fight with Ollie, and then making the Arrow his heir). I get that they wanted a different plot, and a different villain, so that it was more unexpected and viewers wouldn’t predict everything, but… there’s only so far you can get on effort. You guys know that by now. It is possible to try too hard.

All of these ideas are all barely connected by the Plot. We have one thing going on, and then right out of nowhere Ra’s al Ghul’s motivation switches and the story changes into something else (which is a characterization issue too). I’m not saying that the plots of the past two seasons worked perfectly, but they at least made sense as a year-long sequence. Here, the Plot could have been split into two or three seasons to be given enough time to breathe, and it probably would have worked as a story. A super-long story, but all the ideas would have had time to develop. So much is just pressed into a short amount of time with not enough time to do anything and the result is a bland mess.


I gave you the highlights, but guys, there’s a butt-ton of subplots in this season. Wildcat training Laurel Lance, Roy Harper becoming Arsenal, the Atom building his suit, Maseo’s possible redemption, a stupid love triangle, Diggle becoming a father, the hints for the villains of next season, HIVE, the Flash showing up every now and then, among other things. Many commenters said this season had too many characters, but I hold that isn’t that there’s too many characters—there’s too many plots (which may be a result of too many characters, but I feel like if it’s done well it wouldn’t show as much). We’ll get a bit more into the characters next time, though.

When you have that many plots, of course not all of them are going to have time to develop properly. Several are dropped or rushed and as a result feel half-assed. The Main Plot already has too much going on; the horde of other subplots didn’t make it any easier.

The Flashbacks

Several critics I saw hated the flashback this season. I didn’t mind when the season was airing, but looking back they really didn’t work as well as in the past and are honestly kind of forgettable. Essentially, the story is this: Ollie is brought to Hong Kong and has to do stuff for Amanda Waller, teams up with Maseo and Tatsu Yamashiro and finds the Alpha and Omega virus, the super-virus Ra’s al Ghul later uses in the present day.

The flashbacks were boring as hell. What should have just amounted to “who these two characters are and where this virus came from” is stretched out for an entire season and bloated with filler. For instance, there’s an episode where the flashback is that Ollie went back to Starling City for a day or so and it’s just fluff.5

Critics said it seemed more like the flashbacks were obligatory this time, and I kind of agree. There wasn’t enough going on to justify them being there. Despite the potential of seeing Ollie in Hong Kong, it’s mostly just forgettable sequences that fart around until the Plot rolls.

So yeah, while the present-day story has too much happening, the flashbacks have not enough.

In Conclusion

The Plot sucks.

Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but the Plot of the season honestly isn’t very good. It’s a tangled mess that manages to have both a bunch of filler and too much going on, which is fairly talented in a FAIL-tastic sort of way.

Here’s the thing though: Plot isn’t everything. You can have a mediocre or bad plot made bearable by having it populated by intriguing elements. A good writer can take a bland story and make it great in the way they tell it: by interesting characters, good fight scenes, or pose interesting questions and ideas to the audience.

Well… one of out of three isn’t too bad I guess?

Next time, we discuss the characters.


1 Again. She was believed to have been killed in the shipwreck that stranded Oliver on the Island, then we find out that she survived, only for her to be presumed dead again, only to be revealed yet again that she’s alive and a member of the League of Assassins. And in an on-and-off relationship with Nyssa al Ghul, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, the leader of the League.

2 The main villain revealed to be behind the conspiracy in season one, and assumed to be dead. Also the biological father of Thea, Oliver’s sister. Half-sister. Whatever.

3 Ra’s isn’t pleased with Merlyn’s season one plot to destroy the poor part of town; apparently a former member killing an entire district of the city makes the League of Assassins look bad and so he’s already gunning for his head.

4 coughbullshitcough

5 Ever seen an episode of a show that was like, “Actually these people all met each other long before the show happened, they just didn’t know it?” It’s like that. The only show that’s done it really well that I’ve seen is Leverage. Arrow didn’t even come close.

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  1. The Smith of Lie on 13 July 2015, 17:22 said:

    As someone who’s just casually interested in DC universe and who did not watch the series, I find the summary of that season terribly convoluted.

    Part of it is certainly the fact that a characters that I don’t know have their actions from large number of episodes summed up in few paragraphs. But just the amount of side switching is enough to make the whole affair seem rather… I don’t know. Insubstantial? Irrelevant?

    What I am getting at is for example how Merlyn is sort of reformed, but he isn’t and heroes turn on him but in the end they work with him… Seems very flimsy to me.

    Having character betray someone is ok (see Petyr Baelish, who is my favourite A Song of Ice and Fire character*) but have the whole thing consistent.

    Also, I am going from the summary here so it is a shot in darkness, but character actions seem pretty random. Whole thing smacks of coming with story on the spot with disregarad to how given character would or should act, what motivates them and so on.

    *Note A Song of Ice and Fire and not Game of Thrones.

  2. Shell on 14 July 2015, 02:57 said:

    Ugh I remember season 3 and it was so awful. I didn’t even watch most of it. I watched it up until they fridged Sara Lance who SPOILERS (Still isn’t dead). Then I watched the Flash crossover episode, and then I watched the season finale. Without even watching the middle stuff I don’t feel like I actually missed anything except Katana being more of a badass. It’s probably some of the worst plot writing I’ve seen for a show this far in with such a good start.

    Seriously the end of season 2 was great and then season 3 just sucked.

  3. Juracan on 14 July 2015, 08:33 said:

    What I am getting at is for example how Merlyn is sort of reformed, but he isn’t and heroes turn on him but in the end they work with him… Seems very flimsy to me

    Oh, we’ll get to that in more detail when I do part 2 on the characters. But yeah, you’re right— the show can’t decide whether or not Merlyn is supposed to be a complete asshole or a somewhat sympathetic anti-hero asshole. It’s annoying.

    Also, I am going from the summary here so it is a shot in darkness, but character actions seem pretty random. Whole thing smacks of coming with story on the spot with disregarad to how given character would or should act, what motivates them and so on.

    I’m somewhat inclined to agree— what people say or do seems to contradict previously established character in order to just move the Plot. I think Merlyn’s deal with Sara’s murder is the best example— it gets incredibly convoluted for the sole purpose of getting us from point A to point B— to get Oliver to fight Ra’s al Ghul, when he had little reason to do so before. I told someone recently that it felt like they hadn’t quite worked out the story all the way when they started the season.

    I watched it up until they fridged Sara Lance who SPOILERS (Still isn’t dead).

    Yes and no. She’s dead, but they’re resurrecting her using a Lazarus Pit for the spin-off Legends of Tomorrow. Which looks a hundred times better than the past season of Arrow because if nothing else it looks insane and fun.

    Then I watched the Flash crossover episode, and then I watched the season finale.

    Flash crossover episodes were probably some of the best this season. They were fun at least.

    On the subject of Katana: yes, you missed her badassness, but other than that, not much. She’s not developed much, and rumor has it that because of the character’s inclusion in the Suicide Squad movie, DC Entertainment has blocked her from appearing anymore on the show. So chances are she’s been written out entirely.

  4. Lurker on 14 July 2015, 14:24 said:

    Wait. Wait. I was reading this, but had to scroll down to comment on something immediately. Sara is murdered? Sara who is presumed dead TWICE, only to return as a bad-ass assassin is murdered, (from what it sounds like in the review) early in the third season? After her character arc in the last season, seeing that she could be a hero, even if she hasn’t always walked the right path? She’s killed for what? Drama? To make Oliver Queen have a sadface? So her sister can be Black Canary?

    What a waste. I’m glad I never bothered to watch the third season.

  5. Juracan on 14 July 2015, 15:04 said:

    Uh… yes. She’s murdered to set off the Plot and drama at the end of the first episode of the season. It’s awfully done, considering that we’ve seen characters survive much worse on the show.

    If it makes you feel any better, Lurker, she’s being brought back for the spin-off series Legends of Tomorrow via Lazarus Pit.

  6. Lurker on 14 July 2015, 15:38 said:

    Okay…yeah sorry, I usually don’t get mad about dumb things on television, but that sort of annoyed me a lot. Kind of feeling like they didn’t really have any idea of how to start the season, so they resorted to the old trick of fridging a female character. Funny thing is I already knew that she died this season, just not how, so I assumed that it was in a heroic moment, fighting bad guys or for what she believed in or whatever. But, nope her death is just for cheap drama.

    Knowing they are bringing her back, does make me less angry, but still leaves me feeling annoyed. If they were going to put her in a spin-off, why kill her at all? Not to mention constantly killing off characters just to bring them back later is not a great way to get people invested in your show.

  7. Shell on 14 July 2015, 16:04 said:

    It doesn’t actually make me feel better that she’s coming back because she’s coming back as the White Canary which is a mantle used specifically by an Asian woman in the comics. More whitewashing by Arrow and friends, (cough Ra’s Al Ghul).

  8. The Smith of Lie on 14 July 2015, 16:20 said:

    If it makes you feel any better, Lurker, she’s being brought back for the spin-off series Legends of Tomorrow via Lazarus Pit.

    It says something about how cynical I am, that after mention of two previous “she is dead” plots I instantly thought about Lazarus Pit and how she will be resurrected via one. Thanks for proving me right.

    I know bringing back characters is staple of comics and their adaptations, but “character seems dead, but they turn out to be alive” has recently became bugbear of mine. I can recount a single instance of it being done right in recent years*. And whenever in a movie I see a character “heroically sacrificing himself” by blowing threat up or taking bullet for someone my only thought is “Please have balls and make it stick, make it stick!”. But more often than not I am disappointed. It can even ruing a decent movie for me (say, Pacific Rim).

    *To avoid spoilers I withold the title of the book, but here’s how it went: at the very start a certain character dies in an assaasination attepmt; due to geographical circumstances body is never retrieved; throughout the book other characters discover extent of the powerset of loval equivalent of mages – one being extreme regeneration; in the epilogue the “dead” character (who was revealed as a local mage equivalent in previous book) turns up alive just to discover that major part of the plot has been resolved during their absence. It has everything – suspsense is helf for whole lenght of the book, return is not used to conviniently solve a plot point, it is foreshadowed throughout the book by characters learning about powers. Perfect execution of overused trope.

  9. Juracan on 15 July 2015, 07:41 said:

    If they were going to put her in a spin-off, why kill her at all?

    I don’t know if they planned to bring her back in the spin-off when they wrote her death. If I had to guess, I’d say that it’s more probable that they decided to bring her back once the backlash started.

    I know bringing back characters is staple of comics and their adaptations, but “character seems dead, but they turn out to be alive” has recently became bugbear of mine.

    Well what’s really weird is that there’s a way to bring her back, but in the show itself no one even thinks about it. I get that it’s not like they have access to a Lazarus Pit at the time, but why would the people in-show (Nyssa, for instance, who knows about the Pit at that time) act as if death was so permanent when they have the stuff right there?