Arrow Season 3 (Review)

  • Series: Arrow
  • Season: 3
  • Episodes: 23
  • Discs: 5
  • Cast: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Willa Holland, Colton Haynes, John Barrowman, Paul Blackthorne
  • Network:  CW (Warner Brothers Productions)
  • DVD Format: Color, Widescreen

Season 3 of the CW’s Arrow was criticized by fans for being “too dark”. Rather than being dark, though, I saw Season 3 as being very intense. And it was a season that I found, in a sense, easier to watch on DVD than watching it as it aired last year. When I watched the season last year, the flashbacks to Oliver in Hong Kong seemed very out of place, and even disruptive to the main story line in present-day Starling City. However, watching the series all at once, on DVD, over the course of a week – and having seen the show last year, it becomes clear that the flashback story and the present-day story are parallel. And the flashback story has a important point – rather than simply pointing out that Amanda Waller and ARGUS are always willing to let the ends justify the means, even crashing an airliner full of innocent civilians to kill one “criminal”, as it appears when watching the show live from week to week, with several long breaks – there is a bigger point. The flashbacks give us, the audience, the necessary background to the Alpha-Omega Bioweapon, so that when it shows up in the present, we know how dangerous and deadly it is – and the story-tellers don’t have to slow down the story and explain it. The flashbacks also introduce the Yamashiros – so we know who they are when they return in the present.

Season 3 also brings into the CW Arrow universe four more characters from DC Comics: Wildcat, Black Canary, the Atom, and Katana. In the first episode of Season 3 of Arrow, Sara Lance, the Canary up to now, is killed. Oliver and company cover up the death, burying Sara in her grave from seven years ago. To his credit, though, Oliver does tell Laurel to tell her father, Captain Quentin Lance that his other daughter has died. Laurel, however, is unwilling to do this, fearing for her father’s health since he recently suffered a heart attack. Laurel’s decision will have grave consequences throughout the season. But Laurel decides also she will take up her sister’s mantle and become the Black Canary. However, Laurel doesn’t know how to fight – so she heads to Ted Grant’s gym. The Wildcat teaches her how to fight. Often the Cat and the Canary have had a special relationship – so it is great to see Ted Grant in Arrow, and I hope we see him again.

Meanwhile, Oliver, not the most attentive of CEOs because of all his distractions is about to lose Queen Consolidated. Although he makes an impassioned speech, there is another bidder for the company. Dr. Ray Palmer wins his bid for QC – renaming the company Palmer Technologies. Soon Felicity is his VP and deputy CEO, though she also continues to help Team Arrow. Ray meanwhile is developing his Atom suit so he can help people and perhaps fight crime.

Finally, Tatsu Yamashiro is Katana, a well-armed swordswoman, who became a superhero after personal tragedy struck in Hong Kong. Her husband, Maseo Yamashiro, having experienced the same loss, joins the League of Assassins and becomes The Phantom.

The over-arcing theme of the season is that R’as al Ghul wants Oliver Queen to be his heir, this is especially true after R’as defeats Oliver in single combat, but Oliver recovers from his apparently “fatal” wound. R’as plans drive the season – but Oliver has plans of his own, plans that he doesn’t share with the rest of his team in order to protect them. Only in the last three episodes do Oliver’s plans start to become clear, and only in the final episode of the season in the real mastermind of everything revealed. This means the story plays out like an elaborate chess game of moves and counter moves that make it not only watchable – but re-watchable. In fact, I’d say I enjoyed Season 3 of Arrow even more upon re-watching it on DVD because it was, in a sense, easier to put all the pieces together and follow what was happening.

Season 3 of Arrow sees Thea, Laurel, and Felicity all grow, change, and become who they will be or even more of who they will become. Thea accepts Malcolm Merlyn as her biological father and he takes her to Corto Maltese where in trains her to fight and to defend herself. But in an unseen scene he also drugs her, takes her to Starling City, and has her kill Sara. Thea is completely unaware of what she has done until the towards end of the season. And it even takes Oliver and company awhile to figure out that it was Thea who killed Sara. For awhile, Roy is convinced he did it – but his dreams are actually a mash-up of his murder of a police officer while under the influence of the Marikuru drug from last year and Sara’s death. Thea goes through a lot of changes and challenges in her relationship to Malcolm and to everyone else. However, after R’as al Ghul kills her and she’s brought back via the Lazarus Pit, Thea is also ready to take on her destiny and her new identity. She becomes Red Arrow (Speedy), the Arrow’s assistant. Meanwhile, Arsenal (Roy Harper) has left town, having faked his death after claiming he was the Arrow to protect Oliver. No doubt, Roy will return.

Laurel, as I mentioned, takes up her sister’s jacket and bow staff – and even has Cisco Ramon from The Flash work her up a miniaturized sonic Canary Cry device. Wildcat trains her. Eventually, Oliver sees the light and trains her as well. Laurel takes her place in Team Arrow. She also is an alcoholic but on the path to sobriety. I really liked how Arrow portrayed Laurel’s journey. Not only did we see her having problems with alcohol and drugs in the last season or two – but this season we see her deciding not to drink. We see her attending AA meetings. We see her even walk out of an AA meeting. And we see her clashes with her father – who still has issues with drinking. I liked that Laurel’s alcoholism was realistic and shown as a continual struggle rather than “A Very Special Episode of Arrow” ™ with everything being resolved at the end of 42 minutes and never mentioned again. It was so nice to see a realistic portrayal and that a character we like would both make strides and slide back and then make strides again towards not drinking and getting her life back together.

Felicity, as I mentioned before, ends-up working at Palmer Technologies for Dr. Ray Palmer. She’s the audience’s introduction to Ray and his ATOM suit. But from the beginning, Ray actually treated Felicity with more respect than Oliver did at Queen Consolidated. Oliver “promoted” her to his personal secretary, which she objected to and with good reason (see more on this in my post on Felicity as a Role Model), but when she bursts in to talk to Ray because she has no choice but to take his job offer, Felicity gives a speech about “not bringing him coffee”. Not only does Ray introduce Felicity to her executive assistant and offer to have him get her coffee, but he then leaves her in her huge executive office. Felicity is given the respect her considerable talent deserves. Ray pretty quickly introduces her to his ATOM suit, but also tells her why he wants to make Starling City a better place – his financeé, Anna was killed during the attack by Slade’s Marikuru Solders in the previous season. So he’s decided to put his considerable resources behind re-branding Starling City as Star City, but more than just a new name, he wants to clean up and improve the city. The ATOM suit is his more personal take on helping people.

We also see “The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak”, which I was a bit disappointed with when I originally saw it last year. Second time around, I knew what to expect, so it wasn’t quite so disappointing – and I guess it makes sense that Felicity would be a “super-hacker”, but it seems so stereotypical – and I was so proud and happy that Felicity was a college graduate, from MIT no less, and not simply “a hacker who fools around with computers for fun” as is the norm for both male and female computer geeks on TV and in film. However, when we see “Mama Smoak”, especially when she returns when Ray in is the hospital – it’s brilliant. Meeting Felicity’s mother did more for explaining who Felicity is than her origin story – and now I want to know who her father is.

Finally, Felicity gets a lot of action this season. Dr. Ray Palmer falls in love with her, we can guess at first sight, and they eventually sleep together. Felicity sort of has a thing going with Barry Allen, though they both decide not to pursue it because Felicity really loves Oliver – and Barry really loves Iris West. In the flashback, we meet Felicity’s college boyfriend. And finally, at the end of the season, Felicity sleeps with Oliver. She literally gets more action than Oliver – for at least this season.

An impressive theme of the season, however, besides the growth of several of the characters, is the importance of both honesty and cooperation. Oliver continuously gets in trouble because he thinks he can keep secrets to protect everyone he cares about. Yet those secrets inevitably come out – causing more pain, hurt, anger, and mistrust than if Oliver had been upfront in the first place. (Or take Laurel – Laurel’s plan to keep Sara’s death from their father was a bad idea – and when Captain Lance finds out it causes a major rift.) Oliver learns that he cannot be alone, he can’t be a lone wolf, he needs others. And he learns there are plenty of people who want to help him – both personally and with his crusade to save Starling City. After everything he goes through, Oliver realizes this.

When I started this I wanted to keep you as far away from it as possible, because that has always been my instinct, to go it alone. But the truth is that, we won tonight because I wasn’t alone! I thought this crusade would only end with my death. But even if I had died tonight, it would live on, because of you, and you, and you.” – Oliver Queen

“It’s true – this city isn’t lacking masks.” – Laurel Lance

“Heroes.” – Oliver

And this is something that sets the DC Comics Universe apart from other comics universes. The characters are not lone wolves fighting a solo battle. All the characters in DC Universe have friends and colleagues that help them in their personal and Superhero lives. And Heroes have other heroes to rely on as well. Not only does DC have a rich history of team-ups, especially in the Silver Age, but there’s the Justice League (aka Justice League International, Justice League of America, Justice League America). All DC heroes belong to the Justice League – it’s like a professional association. And as part of the League, everyone knows who everyone really is – there secret identities and known family, friends, and associates. But it goes beyond simply a professional association, or back-up if one needs it – there’s a camaraderie between heroes. And this offsets the often tragic nature of the heroes backstory. In DC, the hero often becomes a hero after a personal tragedy – the death of parents or a parent, a brother, a sister, a child – these personal tragedies forge heroes. But DC Villains also often have tragedy in their background. It isn’t the event that causes the person to become a hero or villain it’s how the individual reacts to the event that makes him a hero or a villain. Malcolm Merlyn lost his wife, Rebecca, to “random” street crime. Dr. Ray Palmer also lost his financeé to violent crime. But while Merlyn is sent down a dark path leading him to become The Magician and the Dark Archer and even to become R’as al Ghul himself; Dr. Ray Palmer takes the death of Anna and it becomes a driving force in him. He acquires Queen Consolidated and makes it into Palmer Technologies – he wants Starling City to become a better place, Star City. He uses nanotechnology to save his own life but will no doubt bring that tech to the public to save other lives. And he creates the ATOM suit to help people. And DC Heroes are surrounded by those who share their mission. Oliver belatedly realizes he needs those who surround him – not to “use” them, but for friendship, support and help. Barry Allen on The Flash also has a group of friends and family. Even Batman, whom many only know the from the Adam West cartoon TV Show or Tim Burton film (and think of as a solo character), has close to a dozen friends and allies in the comics (Batman himself, Alfred Pennyworth, Dick “Nightwing” Grayson, Jason “the Red Hood” Todd, Tim “Red Robin” Drake, Damien “Robin” Wayne, Barbara “Oracle/Batgirl” Gordon, Cassandra Cain, Lucius Fox, etc.). For this reason, DC always seems more optimistic and yet real than other major comics.

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