I’m going to be honest, the third season of “Arrow” was a massive disappointment for me overall. While its highs were wonderful, its lows were almost catastrophically bad, with the first batch of episodes after the mid-season finale being the worst. The majority of the subplots and character arcs were botched to an embarrassing degree and I had worried that the show might not recover. Have things been course-corrected over the summer? Have the showrunners and writers gotten a handle on their series again? It’s too early to tell just yet, but going off of the premiere, I’m leaning towards “yes”.
When last we left our characters, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) had destroyed at least two of his important relationships (John Diggle and Chief Quentin Lance) towards the end of the season and after finally defeating Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Noble), he walked away from life as the Arrow. The defense of Starling City was left to his remaining team members, comprised of Laurel “Black Canary” Lance (Katie Cassidy), Thea “Speedy” Queen (Willa Holland) and Diggle (David Ramsey), to spend his remaining days happy and with Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) at his side. Roy “Arsenal” Harper (Colton Haynes) also walked away from the vigilante life, seemingly gone for good, and Ray “The Atom” Palmer (Brandon Routh) supposedly perished during the middle of a volatile science experiment. As for Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), that slithering serpent ended up as the new head of the League of Assassins; their new Ra’s al Ghul.
So what have they all been up to in the six months that have past since we last saw them? Oliver and Felicity have been living a happy life as a seemingly normal domestic couple. Oliver has taken up jogging and cooking to help pass the time and the two occasionally have neighbors over for dinner. Felicity in her spare time has been…well, she’s been helping out their old crime-fighting team behind Oliver’s back by supplying them with intel and technical help. What can you do?
Speaking of said team, they’ve apparently been having their asses hands to them by an elite group of criminals that the press have dubbed the “Ghosts”. Highly-trained commandos, this shadowy group has been robbing banks, stealing military weaponry, and assassinating city officials in such a casual fashion that you’d think they were just doing house chores. Star City (rebranded after last season’s events in honor of Palmer’s “death”) is being overwhelmed, business are closing left and right, the citizens live in fear and many are leaving. Clearly something has to give, so despite Diggle’s objections, Laurel and Thea convince Oliver and Felicity to return to help.
Who are these “ghosts”? They are HIVE, the organization responsible for the death of Diggle’s brother, as revealed to him by Deadshot (Michael Rowe) last season. Their leader is the mysterious and dangerous Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), former ally and League member of the now dead Ra’s (Matt Nobel). Unlike Merlyn, Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), or Ra’s, Darhk isn’t interested in hiding in the shadows as he tears the city apart. He cares so little about the affect that anyone can have on his operation that he literally strolls right into a city officials meeting and threatens them all to their faces. What’s more, he actually follows through, having them all assassinated in under 24 hours, with the exception of Chief Lance, who is saved by Black Canary.
If his attitude, training, and forces weren’t formidable enough, there is another layer to Mr. Darhk: he has mystical powers. That’s right, folks! After the sci-fi additions in the last two seasons of “Arrow” and the first season of “The Flash“, magic has come to CW’s DC TV Universe. Black magic in this case, as Darhk so far has showcased the ability to heal himself, to control objects around him, and to drain the lifeforce from others. It should come as no shock that he’s kept himself alive somehow, as his former friend Ra’s had been alive for centuries himself, but black magic opens a whole other side of this universe. One that John Constantine (Matt Ryan) will absolutely fit into when he arrives later this season.
Due to Oliver’s (rather immoral) actions last season, Diggle still harbors a grudge against Oliver and understandably no longer trusts him. Oliver is doing his best to get through to him, but is well aware of the damage he caused. If anything, the only person who hates Oliver more now than Diggle and Lance is Oliver himself. He has changed in his six months away and very fearful of returning to his old habits, having tasted happiness and peacefulness for the first time in almost a decade. His return to Star City is not an easy one, nor should it be. I had worried that the writers might drop the ball in this regard and simply smooth over all potential conflict in this area. I was wrong and am incredibly happy to admit it.
I’m not quite sure what to make of the flashback storyline (“4 years ago”) just yet, but that’s partly because we didn’t spend much time on the subject. Oliver’s detour to Coast City was a short one (sorry, Green Lantern fans!), as he ends up being caught by Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) early on and forced to go on another mission for ARGUS against his will. The mission? We haven’t been told yet, although announcements since SDCC point towards it involving Baron Blitzkrieg. The location? Lian Yu. Yep, he’s back on the island again. By the end of the second season, I was hoping not to see too much more of that damn island in the future. After how meandering the Hong Kong flashback storyline was last season, however, I’m happy to see him returned to a more confined location.
As with the premiere for “The Flash” this one takes its time to get things rolling, but that’s not a bad thing. Big flashy moments are mostly avoided, instead giving way to character development and re-introductions, as well as a few surprise revelations. Some reveals are more surprising than others, of course, but such is the nature of the game. First on deck is the fact that Oliver is more than ready to propose to Felicity, but fate has intervened to postpone that proposal for now. Also unsurprisingly is the fact that Thea still has some anger issues, particularly when it comes to wailing on armed criminals. Diggle has a costume now and thank god for that, although he could do with a proper code name as well. Here’s hoping we get one soon. As for the outfit? It certainly looks better in motion than it did in the promotional stills, but we have to remember that most of us even scoffed at The Flash outfit when it was first revealed in still form.
Now come the biggies. First on deck is the revelation that police Chief Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) is in cahoots (I love that word) with Damien Darhk and HIVE. While the vague dialogue points to Lance being threatened into cooperating, this is a disturbing turn of events and one that could prove devasting (in a good way) to the other characters if it’s played to the hilt. The second involves a quick “6 months later” flash-forward involving Oliver and pal Barry “The Flash” Allen (Grant Gustin) standing over the grave of someone important to Oliver. The tone is grim and the look of anger on Oliver’s face and sadness on Barry’s is telling. Someone has died at the hands of an enemy and Oliver is ready to kill again because of it.
Who lies six feet under the freshly-laid soil? We don’t know yet. Of course we don’t! While a bit cheeky, such a sequence tells me, at least for now, that they don’t intend on playing around this season. The tone of the grave is setting in and the Grim Reaper is now hovering over the rest of the season. When will his scythe drop and on whom? I can guess, but it’s just simply too early to tell. I just hope they don’t pull any punches and actually follow through with giving us a major death this season.
And yes, Oliver has now officially taken up his true mantle: Green Arrow.