I’m back, and after this I’m going to take a break because someone else desperately needs to post an article on this website. Seriously.
Alright, let’s talk about some themes and ideas used in season three of Arrow.
Thou Shalt Not Kill
I’m going to talk about this first, because it’s the bit that bugged me the most when all was said and done.
In the first season, Oliver Queen didn’t have any issues with killing people. It’s not clear if he killed every mook he shot—a line in the pilot implies that he doesn’t, but they’re definitely in the hospital and might not ever recover fully, leaving them handicapped and unable to continue criminal activities. He certainly killed some people though, and Tommy accuses him of being a murderer. Season two deals with Tommy’s accusation in the wake of his death, and Oliver decides to not kill people anymore. He does kill Count Vertigo when there doesn’t seem to be another choice, but by the end of the second season, he’s firmly in the ‘not killing people’ camp. Deathstroke tries to get Ollie to kill him, saying there’s no other way to stop him, and Oliver finds a third option and has him locked up.
Season three… is a lot more vague. We see him shoot Assassins left and right, but it’s not clear if they were fatal shots or not. He certainly doesn’t stop other characters from killing Assassins though. And when it’s suspected that Merlyn killed Sara Lance, Oliver refuses to kill him and says he’s under his protection; I assumed it was because he refused to let anyone kill on his watch. But by the end of the season he doesn’t have any issue killing, and finishes off Ra’s al Ghul without any hesitation or guilt.
This is an issue.
No one brings up this huge disconnect. I’m not saying there isn’t justification for it; Ra’s al Ghul has been ruining his life, and would go on hurting other people if he’s not stopped.1 But Oliver Queen specifically has character arcs leading to him deciding that he’s not going to kill people anymore. When the show goes to such lengths to tell us that the character doesn’t kill people, the writers can’t just have him kill someone and not have it be important. If they insisted on having Oliver kill Ra’s al Ghul, they should have dealt with it as an important plot point. As it is, it just happens and everyone moves on. The only comment we get is that Nyssa wishes she had been the one to do it.
That’s not okay.
But I think that the biggest problem about all of it is this: we’ve been told that Oliver doesn’t need to kill. That’s the overarching Plot of season two is about that. And yet the entire Plot of this season would have been easily fixed if he had just killed Merlyn the second it becomes obvious that he’s involved with the problems of the story. It ruins the entire theme the last season had by making Oliver A) ignore it and B) having a Plot in which everything would be easier if Oliver killed the right guy at the convenient moment. The entire thing is a mess.
Dear Lord, badly written romance will be the death of me.
Oliver and Felicity is an awfully written relationship, guys. On the first episode of this season, Oliver tells Felicity that she’s the first person that he saw as a person since getting back from the island, and that he’s always found her special, despite there being not much evidence to suggest this. A flashback this season reveals that Oliver was in Starling for a day in his missing five years, and in it he sneaks back into Queen Consolidated to see Felicity talking to herself and commenting that she finds a picture of Oliver cute.2
And of course, there’s a love triangle, because Oliver decides he can’t be with Felicity because she’ll be in danger, so she ends up with Ray Palmer, but everyone else comments throughout the season that she and Oliver have such great chemistry and everyone can tell they’re in love. Both Slade Wilson and Ra’s al Ghul comment on it for God’s sake (Slade in an ominous way, while Ra’s pretty much encourages Felicity to go have sex with Oliver while she still can).
Let’s get real here—Felicity and Oliver as a couple only happened because a good chunk of the fans liked it as a pairing. In the first season the official couple was Oliver and Laurel, and it was forced despite the lack of chemistry and there being little reason to see what they saw in each other. On the other hand, the fandom made it clear they liked the idea of audience surrogate/nerdy hacker Felicity being a romantic alternative, leading to the writing teasing the idea by making it pretty clear that she has a crush on Oliver in the tail end of the first season and all throughout the second season. But by season three, it’s treated as if it’s TRU LUV, and it looks like fanfiction—the hot broody superhero type falling head-over-heels for the cute nerdy girl, but woe! Their romance is cock-blocked by interference by the League of Assassins! Whatever shall they do??
I’m not saying these two characters couldn’t have gotten together; but when it’s played for melodrama instead of two people with chemistry just starting to go out together, it kind of defeats the purpose, because that’s exactly what was wrong with the romance of the first season. And there’s no indication that it’s going to change; the season four official synopsis calls Felicity Oliver’s “long-time flame” as if they’ve had an ongoing romance throughout the show.
Shippers have loved this season, insisting it’s amazing by sheer virtue of it having Felicity and Oliver have sex and the two ending the story driving off into the sunset together. But this show’s never been about romance, and having it shoved in our faces is something that’s made it take a nosedive in quality.
I’ve said that Identity was an important theme this season, with Oliver trying to figure out exactly who he is. And I don’t think it’s really a bad theme, or a subplot that’s as grating as the romance or the confusion of the main story. But I don’t think it’s all that well done, in part because of the pacing.
Oliver doesn’t actually join the League of Assassins until the last three episodes, and he wasn’t offered the part until three quarters of the way through the season. So for a while, the question of identity isn’t much of one at all—he can’t be Oliver Queen? Well he’ll just be the Arrow. And while there were some complications with that, like him not having a social life or money, it’s not that big a deal. We see him as the Arrow most of the time already, so the audience doesn’t see that much of a crisis, and the narrative doesn’t show us any hardships in his everyday life because of him giving up being a normal person.
At the end of the season it all comes rushing in, like, “If I can’t be Oliver Queen, can I be Ra’s al Ghul?” And the Plot has to intervene and twist the characters in order to make it work for the last quarter of a season, by making the city turn against him. Even then, it doesn’t work until Ra’s al Ghul actually shows up and stabs Thea to use the Lazarus Pit as leverage on him.
It’s all too rushed. So in the season finale, when Oliver shouts “My name is Oliver Queen!” it wasn’t as triumphant as it should have been, because him being called something else (Al-Sah-him) wasn’t actually going on for that long. The producers admit they should have had Oliver join the Assassisns earlier in order to help build up drama, so I guess points for recognizing they messed up?
And more than that, this theme could have been put on most of the major characters without too much issue. We see it a bit with Laurel struggling to live up to being as awesome as Sara, and Thea with being Merlyn’s daughter and her own person, but it could have been more. Laurel struggling with being a superhero and a lawyer. Thea contrasting her old life to her new one. Diggle wondering his place as a husband and father in a world with more and more superheroes and metas. Merlyn realizing that he’s the villain of the story and not its savior, and that he can’t go back to his old life because he’s supposed to be dead. Nyssa figuring out that she no longer has to be under her father’s thumb and can be her own person. None of that is covered in detail, but it would have made a great unifying theme.
Mourning and Loss
Is… kind of not dealt with that well. In fact, the characters try to sweep it under the rug. I guess Laurel’s all raged out and trying to take it out on whoever killed her sister, but I don’t know if anyone ever tells her that Merlyn did it. Everyone else…. Seems awfully calm about Sara’s murder after the initial shock, and they do their best to keep it from Quentin Lance because… he might be a bit miffed that his daughter’s dead, I think? The guy has a heart condition, not prone to emotional breakdowns.
No one seems to deal well with loss at all. When it seems like Oliver might be dead, John and Roy kind of cover up their feelings and go on; I suppose they accept the possibility and decide to keep on fighting crime because that’s what Ollie would do. Felicity freaks out by outright denying that he’s dead, and upon receiving evidence that suggest he is, goes around and tries to stop anyone from fighting crime because they might get hurt. And when it comes down to either saving Oliver or the city, it’s clear that Felicity would rather them go for Oliver and let Starling City die.3
Nyssa’s own reaction to Sara’s death is hardly healthy (immediately going to kill Merlyn), but it makes sense for someone who has been an Assassin her entire life. But she at least seems sad, and doesn’t lash out at anyone else other than the person responsible (Merlyn) and the person stopping her from taking out the person responsible (Oliver).
So when the audience sees Nyssa building a friendship with Laurel, it makes sense and is cool, because those two characters are working out their issues over the loss of someone both of them were close to. It also makes them two of the most likable characters on the show, because it’s relatable, and unlike Felicity doesn’t involve tearing people down or ignoring feelings and lives of others.
So overall, it’s a mixed bag.
What is it With You and Stabbing People?
What does the League of Assassins even do? No one seems to tell us. We know that they kill people, but we’re not given any reason why or if there’s any higher purpose for it. They’re not hired out mercenaries, and Ra’s doesn’t seem to indicate that there’s a cause they fight for. There’s a couple references to assassinating politicians or corrupt people, but other than that, it’s anyone’s guess what they’re out for.
That’s a problem. How are we supposed to take the villains as a threat when we don’t even know what it is they want? We know a few individuals in the organization, but what is it that unites them? Other than being emotional unstable enough to be taken in by an ancient assassination cult.
We don’t know what the villains want. We know what the characters individually want, but what unites them? What brings them together? What does Ra’s al Ghul hope Oliver will do as the leader of the League of Assassins? What does Nyssa hope to do as leader? What does Maseo hope to attain from the League that he couldn’t from a monastery or something? None of this is explained, and it’s all barely hinted at. And so we know next to nothing about the League’s operations. It’s not even as if this mystery is brought up; it’s just ignored. The inclusion of the League is lessened by all of this.
At the end of the season it seems Oliver has become an Assassin, and that he’s turned evil. Like I said, we don’t get enough time to buy it though, as it’s pretty much the last three episodes. And he does and acts like he might be evil by doing some sketchy stuff. And Team Arrow acts like he’s gone all Sith Lord, which is understandable-ish, but they’ve never actually seen him do anything truly evil, like killing.
Yes, he kidnaps Lyla to make a prisoner exchange, which is understandably a rough point with Diggle, but she never seems particularly harmed, and every acts as if they had just seen Ollie murdering younglings and the like. But he… doesn’t. So the audience has to kind of skeptically wonder why everyone acts as if Oliver’s a puppy-kicking, mustache-twirling, cigar-chomping, red-eyes-glowing villain, when there’s not much to support that conclusion.
The main characters act betrayed beyond reason because the Plot calls for it. And I find it somewhat grating. Laurel, for instance, has seen Oliver lie to her in the past to get what he wants, and so you’d think she’d be less susceptible to acting shocked and confused by it all. What’s probably more confusing is that the person Oliver decides to confide in is Malcolm Merlyn of all people.
When Quentin Lance feels betrayed over his daughter being dead and no one told him, he acts appropriately. But when it seems like the Arrow is murdering innocents, he blows it out of proportion by immediately assuming he’s behind it and leading a manhunt. It’s clear it’s led more by his sense of betrayal than any rational idea of justice, but it comes across as Lance being slightly mentally unhinged, instead of the emotionally fraught man they were probably going for.
And speaking of betrayal, Ra’s al Ghul doesn’t seem to care about it. When Maseo betrays him to help Team Arrow, he immediately apologizes and Ra’s welcomes him back by virtue of he’ll be useful, despite his split loyalties. When Nyssa goes against him, instead of having her eliminated or putting her in a position where she won’t hurt him, decrees that she will marry Oliver and produce an heir (despite her being lesbian). It’s as if Ra’s al Ghul doesn’t understand that a traitor can’t be trusted.
As a whole, it seems as if the writers just didn’t know how to write these betrayals, and like with the Oliver/Felicity romance, blew a ton of it out of proportion or bent to make it work in the Plot.
There are some interesting ideas used in this season of Arrow. But it’s all done so badly. That’s not to say the previous seasons were brilliant with thematic resonance, alright? They weren’t. But this season is so full of ideas flushed down the toilet in order to bend the story into a way the writers wanted it to, despite it not making any sense. And I think that’s what I can say overall about this season.
Plots were rushed, characters were underdeveloped or twisted out of character, and ideas were mostly wasted. Yes, there were some interesting characters and ideas, but it’s clear they weren’t the main characters or themes for the most part. When your show’s most intriguing elements are not the ones you’re trying to bring into focus, that’s a problem.
This season sucked.
1 So has Malcolm Merlyn, though. And he’s still alive.
2 Quickly followed by “I should stop talking to myself.” Arrow, lampshading your awful writing doesn’t make it not awful.
3 Honestly Felicity comes across as slightly sociopathic this season, completely oblivious or insensitive to other people’s problems because it’ll get in the way of her relationship with Oliver.