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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.