Arrow Season 3 Review
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 3 OF ARROW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
The first season of The CW’s Arrow was pretty rough, but while it had its problems I still watched all the way through and got pumped for Season 2. Then Season 2 was awesome, with great action, the best use of the flashbacks in the show so far, and a fairly threatening antagonist. So when Season 3 came out, I was excited to see how they were going to top Season 2. Then I got really depressed when I realized they weren’t even going to try.
Season 3 kicks off with Sara Lance being murdered by some unknown archer, because of course it’s an archer. From there, things just meander aimlessly until the mid-season finale. Most of the episodes felt entirely interchangeable, and the big surprise reveal episodes felt mostly hollow. Up to the mid-season finale, the episodes were there for character interactions and introducing new elements that become important later, and drop some potential new things to happen later in the universe. After mid-season, where Oliver fights Ra’s al Ghul and gets his ass whipped, it turns into a Batman story. Just a straight up Batman story, with Oliver being chosen to become the next Ra’s, marrying Ra’s’ daughter, all that crap. Meanwhile, in the flashbacks, nothing of importance happens until the final couple of episodes. They just serve as padding for the run time and are fairly boring.
Pretty much everything that I liked about this season was in the nine episodes. That’s where we get the most character from the team, and in those episodes they’re pretty damn good together. Especially Oliver and Diggle. The two of them were good together in previous seasons, but this time around I got a real sense of actual brotherhood between the two of them. The best scenes of two characters talking to each were involving these two. In fact, Oliver was pretty good with everyone in that first bit. The relationship between him and Roy felt like a real master-student deal and had its moments, with Thea in on the secret she and Oliver were able to actually talk to one another about things, and the stuff with Felicity, while it did get repetitive after a while, did have some emotion behind it that I think made it work.
But Felicity was at her best this season when she was with Ray Palmer, who is the best damn thing about this season. Played by Superman Returns’ Brandon Routh, Ray Palmer is an eccentric billionaire who buys out Queen Consolidated, starts dating Felicity, and becomes a knock-off Iron Man version of the Atom. The thing I’ve always liked about Routh is that he is a really charming guy. Outside of Superman Returns, I’ve liked him in pretty much everything else I’ve seen him in (those things being Chuck and Scott Pilgrim). Even when he was being an evil jackass he was still thoroughly enjoyable to watch, and the same is true here. I’ve said it before on this site, but Routh plays Palmer as a scientist and businessman who’s just coked up enough to be incredibly good at what he does. And he and Felicity play off of each other very well.
When she’s off with the team, though, Felicity’s mostly crying. Thinking back on this season, the most I remember about Felicity was that she was constantly yelling at Oliver or about Oliver and was on the verge of bawling her eyes out. Whenever Oliver was around or involved, a lot of the energy that made Felicity so likable was gone. Emily Bett Rickards, Felicity’s actress, still played the role well, but this season didn’t play well to her strengths.
Thea got herself a bit of an upgrade in the plot this season, and it made her quite a bit better. She learned that Oliver was the Arrow this season, and because of that scenes with her were less about Oliver scolding her for being like him and more just talking about things. You know, like families do. Plus, she had all kinds of shit going on with Malcolm Merlyn, who kept being a part of things even though absolutely everybody involved repeated over and over that he was untrustworthy. Turns out they were right. Anyway, Merlyn had been training Thea between seasons and she’s become a pretty competent fighter. While early scenes of her fighting were kind of slow and awkward, but later fight scenes were done much better.
Laurel also started to get more involved with fighting side of the show this season. With Sara being murdered, right in front of her no less, and with Laurel having a long history of taking personal tragedies incredibly well, she starts taking up boxing and eventually vigilantism. While this is a vast improvement over Season 2 Laurel, who was just depressing, her becoming the Black Canary feels entirely unearned. While I wasn’t that big a fan of Sara, I think she was a decent Black Canary. Trained by the League of Assassins, she killed potentially dozens of people before it became too much, when she returned home to look after her family who were going through so much shit at the time. Eventually she became a well-known vigilante and a hero. That’s a really good arc for a hero. But with Laurel, her sister is murdered, so she takes a couple of boxing lessons, throws on a mask, and she’s a vigilante. It’s a real weak way for her to become the Black Canary.
All of that crap happens in the first part of the season, and even with all of that happening, it still feels like absolutely nothing was done up to that point. Then the mid-season finale hits and we are just pummeled with plot about who killed Sara and why. It’s almost all done through exposition and, like a lot of things this season, is pretty hollow. Then Batman happens.
This has always been the joke with this show. The CW didn’t have the rights to use Batman, so they took a character almost nobody outside of comic fans knew about and turned him into Batman. But it’s never really been as blatant as it was for the rest of Season 3. And I could never get it out of my head. It didn’t matter if the action was pretty good throughout, or that Matt Nable did a decent job playing Ra’s al Ghul, every second after I realized how Batman it all was I kept looking for Batman parallels and humming that 60’s Batman theme in my head.
On top of the Batman-ness of it all, there were the flashbacks. Like I mentioned above, the flashbacks served almost no purpose up until the last few episodes. Not helping the matter was the fact that Oliver had almost no chemistry with Maseo and Tatsu. Well, I thought Tatsu was pretty bad regardless, but it really fell apart when she was with Oliver. This time we were going back to China, when Oliver was working for Amanda Waller trying to secure a dangerous bio-weapon that became important near the end of the season. If they cut out the flashbacks entirely and just had everything that happened to Oliver in China be entirely secretive, this season would have been shorter but a lot better.
The only other really big thing to mention is the crossover episode with The Flash. It was pretty good. Nice to see some fun injected into this increasingly dark series, had a good villain, and everyone worked together pretty well. Doesn’t really do much for the season overall, but still had to mention that.
Despite the okay first nine episodes, Arrow Season 3 got worse as time went on. It started directionless, but once it got a direction it headed towards the first bat shaped thing it could find, which turned out to be a pile of guano. Nothing felt like it was at stake, and it all ended with a disappointing climax and a stupid final scene that seemed kind of out of place to me. This was a major disappointment after the damn good Season 2, and makes Season 1 look better in retrospect. I probably would have enjoyed this a lot more if I skipped it entirely, waited for Season 4 to come out, then read what happened this season on a wiki so I wasn’t entirely lost.
With a directionless beginning and a middle and ending that feel like a kind of shitty Batman knock-off, Season 3 is the worst season of Arrow so far. Even with the team feeling tighter than ever and the introduction of Ray Palmer and to a lesser extent Ra's al Ghul, nothing ever felt important or impactful. Things just happened and almost none of it was that good. A very disappointing season.