Channel: The CW
Recurring Cast: Stephen Amell, Emily Bett Rickards, David Ramsey, Katie Cassidy, Willa Holland, Colton Haynes, Matt Nable, Brandon Routh with John Barrowman and Paul Blackthorne
Season Three of Arrow starts off unbelievably strong. The first episode ends with one of the biggest shocks in the show’s history, even if it is only because it happens right at the starting line of the season. From that moment, Arrow has us glued to the screen, hanging on every narrative thread and twist they have in store for us. This season, the big bad is once again Malcolm Merlyn, who last season returned from the dead to save Thea, his secret daughter, from Starling City. He has since trained Thea to become a deadly warrior and as Oliver slowly discovers that his old enemy is, in fact, alive, his investigation is threatened by the fact his own sister might be a traitor to his cause. However, an even worse evil is looming. Malcolm Merlyn isn’t so much plotting against Oliver, as fleeing from his old master, head of the League of Assassins, Ra’s Al Ghul.
For the most part, Season Three is a tidier version of Arrow. Season Two brought Arrow into the realms of top TV, but it still needed a slight polish. There were too many frustrating subplots and sometimes, the show was so fixated on its end game that the day-to-day side of the show was a little weak. Here, the ‘disposable’ bad guys (villains only intended to be used for a single episode or storyline), are much stronger. They feel less like filler and more prominent. It helps that two of them are cast superbly with Peter Stormare and Vinnie Jones. Vinnie Jones especially shines as his villain crops up in a crucial point of the show that makes him all the more threatening. The context of his power will remain a secret in this review however. The subplots are a little stronger as well, mainly because they aren’t dragged up as constantly. Felicity starts to find a new romantic partner in Ray Palmer, Laurel wants to join her sister as the Black Canary and Roy struggles with the fact he murdered a police officer, while under the influence of Deathstroke’s formula. The show touches upon them often, but they are never bullied into a plotline. Storywise, everything evolves naturally. Of course, this means that at one point, the main plot ends up domineering the show, as Ra’s Al Ghul steps up his plan to corrupt Oliver’s soul. There are several moments where a massive plot point forces the show to focus on one area (the midway season twist is… phenomenal), but again, because the show flows so well, it never quite frustrates. The only slight niggling aspect that we could blame the actual plot on is that it sometimes could be blamed on stealing important themes from the Dark Knight trilogy. The mid-point of the season feels very Dark Knight Rises and as Oliver discusses the differences between vigiliantism with Ra’s, it is hard not to compare it to Christian Bale and Liam Neeson in Batman Begins. However, Arrow is still very enjoyable, so it is hard to complain too much.
What I must complain about however is that Arrow seems to hit a brick wall after the mid-point of the season. The first half is great, with stronger writing and some great plot developments. However, the second half needs to up its game to improve from this and it begins to falter. And the truth is that Arrow can only go so far when it comes to shocking plot devices. It feels reluctant to change up its style too often. With the same flaw that crippled Heroes, the writers are too scared to kill anyone too important off. There are so many shock deaths that really wowed me, but the writers did a full reversal an episode later, writing back flimsy reasons of why that character wasn’t actually dead. Of course, its biggest ‘death’ was always going to be a faked element, but I can forgive it happening that one time. However, there were a few other moments, when I couldn’t help but get annoyed at a few amazing twists that were abandoned. One ‘death’ in a prison would have caused social media to explode at the sheer grimness of it, but before that episode is wrapped up, the shock is reversed. The loss doesn’t even have time to sink in, before the writers give up and bring the character back. Maybe this is coming from someone who has a fondness for darker shows like the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, but sometimes you need to trim down the character list to make your show more worthwhile. Arrow’s supporting cast are always threatening to need a cull at some point regardless. Because of the show’s refusal to take its shocks far enough, the fear factor ends up dwindling. Why should we care about how futile the stakes are when we are pretty sure everyone is going to make it out of the situation alive? Arrow ends up trapped in a circle, where it repeats plot points, rather than finding new ones. How many times have we seen Oliver push away his friends, because it is too dangerous? How many times have we seen Laurel’s family bicker about each other? In fact, applause must go to the cast, namely the ever amazing Stephen Amell, for keeping proceedings as fresh as they do.
Final Verdict: An amazing first half is let down by a second half that runs out of ideas. The script needs to start taking gambles if it is going to keep Arrow in the public eye.
I really enjoyed season three but I agree that it goes a little off the boil in the second half – but the mid season cliffhanger was rather excellent and Brandon Routh a real highlight as Ray Palmer/Atom. Season four is off to a great start at the moment.
I think season three is a mixed bag of potentially interesting story threads, missed opportunities & wrong turns and like you said repeating plot points. Like Chris said above, the mid season literal cliffhanger was the high point of the season in my mind. I don’t follow the comics but another reason I learned why some parts felt like Dark Knight eque is that the Ra’s Al Ghul storyline was take from a Batman story, except they put Oliver in Bruce’s shoes. I’m liking season 4 more so far. Good review Luke!