The CW’s Arrow has been a little inconsistent in its storytelling in season three, relying on big gut punches to move the story along rather than an overall cohesive narrative. That’s not to say the hooded vigilante and his crimefighting team are running out of story – far from it – but rather that their focus might have been scattered a bit by the arrival of a certain speedster. Still, if you’re just now coming around to the excellent action/drama that is Arrow, it might be a bit daunting. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of ten things you need to know before Arrow returns for its mid-season premiere. Beware: spoilers follow.
Hit the jump for our Arrow season 3 recap.
The Death of Canary
Let’s get this big one out of the way first. I mentioned that the Arrow writers chose to pepper in some major moments throughout the first half of the season in order to anchor a somewhat wandering overall storyline. Look no further than the death of Sara Lance, aka Canary at the end of the season three premiere, “The Calm.” After Slade, the big bad of season two, was defeated, Sara more or less disappeared from the streets of Starling City, off to rejoin the League of Assassins. So it was a bit strange when the season three premiere introduced her as a deus ex machina who got the team out of a tight spot. Stranger still to have her assassinated (ironic) by a mysterious assailant, causing her to fall to her very certain (and gruesome) death in front of her sister. Obviously this moment has a huge impact on the team, not only for the lengths they’ll go to avenge her, but what her death will do to their already fragile psyches.
One Long Night in Hong Kong
Normally, Arrow’s flashback sequences are excellent asides that reveal a transformative moment in Oliver Queen’s life that ties into his contemporary conflict. This season, that tie-in has been a little looser. Oliver’s escapades in Hong Kong under the thumb of Amanda Waller, and the guiding hand of Maseo Yamashiro (Karl Yune) and his wife Tatsu (aka Katana) (Rila Fukushima), have served to illuminate Oliver’s increasing ruthlessness in dealing with criminals. He’s perfecting his torture techniques alongside his archery skills, but just what that has to do with his current quest to bring Sara’s killer to justice isn’t exactly clear. Sure, he’ll need a cold, calculating heart to defeat his greatest enemy yet, but as we saw at the end of the mid-season premiere, Ollie’s not quite there yet.
When last we left Roy, aka Red Arrow, aka Arsenal, he was dealing with his unfortunate dose of the Mirakuru serum. It gives the young man heightened abilities that serve him and his team quite well in battle, but its insanity-inducing side effects caused Roy to nearly go on a killing spree. An unnamed cop fell victim to his drug-induced rage, but the trauma of the event formed a block in Roy’s memory, that is until he started having nightmares that he was the one who actually killed Sara. After a bit of DNA evidence and herbal mind-tripping, it was revealed to Roy that he was innocent in Sara’s death, but still took the life of a good man. This is a revelation he’s grappling with to this day.
Roy’s not the only one going through some tough times. Perhaps the one hurt most of all by Sara’s death was her sister, Laurel. The writing for the elder Lance sister has been a dramatic rollercoaster through the first three seasons, and not always in the best of ways. She’s been a grieving girlfriend and family member multiple times, she’s been a successful lawyer and down-and-out addict at different points, and often alternated between helpless damsel in distress and unnecessary plot point. Finally, Laurel seems to be on track to do something useful, which is to channel her raw emotions into becoming a fighting machine like her late sister. Thankfully, boxing instructor and part-time crimefighter Ted Grant (J.R. Ramirez) has become smitten with Laurel and is currently training her up to take on Sara’s mantle.
Felicity Goes Goth
Okay, so here was one of the show’s weird asides this season. With all the dark and heavy moments early in the season, the writers had to find a way to lighten things up. While they were successful in some respects, what we got were a handful of odd episodes that seemed to deviate from the overall story simply as a change of pace. We see a glimpse into Felicity’s path as a Goth hacker who had a soft spot for rebellious boys. Not much has changed over the intervening years, but as Felicity shows in this episode, she can certainly handle herself if the situation demands it. And if you ever wanted to meet Felicity’s mother, well, this was the episode for you.
A New Billionaire in Town
Also occupying Felicity’s time (after ill-fated romances with Oliver Queen and Barry Allen) is Starling City’s newest resident, genius billionaire Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh). Routh turns in an entertaining performance as the charismatic businessman, who’s every bit as creepy as Oliver is brooding; both qualities are unappealing but they seem to work their charms on Miss Smoak. While Felicity’s affections bounce back and forth between the two power brokers, Palmer’s got plans of his own. Namely, he’s the new head of Queen Consolidated which he rebrands as Palmer Technologies. As fans of the comicbooks know, Ray Palmer is the alias for the size-shifting hero known as The Atom. We haven’t seen Palmer don his supersuit just yet, but we did get a nice teaser of him checking out its schematics.
Thea’s Road to Ruin
At the end of season two, Thea ended up fleeing from her family of liars and took up with one of the greatest liars of them all, Malcolm Merlyn. Revealed to be her actual father, Malcom took Thea under his wing and trained her up in all the ways of Dark Archers and the League of Assassins. Thea’s disappearance from Starling City caused Oliver & Co. to take a little sidetrip to Corto Maltese in order to track her down. It was another hour of sidebars that eventually ended with Thea making her way back home of her own accord. It wasn’t until later on that Thea Queen actually killed Sara Lance, though it was under the control of Merlyn himself. To what end, you ask? Well it seems that Malcolm still has a rather hefty price on his head courtesy of the League of Assassins, so by getting Thea to kill the lover of the League’s leader’s daughter (you follow that?), Malcom gives Oliver a fighting chance to wipe both slates clean by taking responsibility for Sara’s death and requesting trial by combat. Pretty nasty little plan. I wonder how it all works out…
Cupid, The Flash, and Ra’s al Ghul
Before we get to the first half of season three’s other biggest moment, let’s take a second to look at some of the other side plots. Perhaps the weirdest cameo was that of the lovestruck archer Carrie Cutter, aka Cupid. Arrow saved her during the Starling City riots when Slade took over the city, and Carrie became smitten. She became an archer who assassinated unfaithful men in order to attract Arrow’s attention; it worked! While Cupid was an odd character to bring into this season, another new addition nearly stole the whole show. It’s no surprise that The Flash is one of the year’s biggest hits, but an unforeseen side effect of that popularity was the fact that it stole a bit of thunder (and lightning) from Arrow’s storytelling. When two whole episodes of one hero’s show is dedicated to fleshing out a new character from another series, it’s tough to string together a cohesive narrative. Still, those hours were some of the most entertaining of either series so far.
Perhaps the most-anticipated arrival of the season was Ra’s al Ghul, the “Head of the Demon” and leader of the League of Assassins himself. But Ollie can take this guy, right?
Oliver’s Final Climb
The season’s quest to find Sara’s killer and bring him/her to justice came to a screeching halt when the team discovered that Malcolm had manipulated Thea into doing the dirty deed. So, as per usual, it was up to Oliver to not only take the burden upon his shoulders in a physical sense, but also in a soul-bearing sense as well. He takes full responsibility for Sara’s death, and confesses as much in front of Ra’s al Ghul. His only way out? Trial by combat, against an ageless warrior who has bested countless others in his long life.
I wish Arrow would have spent a bit more time building up the fight between Ollie and Ra’s, since it felt like cramming all the anticipation and the fight itself into the last hour, but it was certainly an entertaining mid-season finale. The sad thing was, after Ollie had beaten plenty of thugs, assassins, and supervillains in his time fighting crime, it was clear from the getgo that he was outmatched in this fight. But a popular series couldn’t kill off its title hero, could it? Surely he’d just make some sort of deal or end on some sort of cliffhanger that would string us along until mid-January, right? Nope, Oliver Queen is dead.
The Lazarus Pit
Season three, as we know, started with the death of Sara Lance and, for all appearances, ends halfway with the death of Oliver Queen. He’s dead on the side of a cliff with no help in sight. So when will Arrow return to Arrow? Your guess is as good as mine, but it will be a few episodes at least. As for how he’ll return, well I might be able to help you out in that department a bit more. Ra’s al Ghul is known for tormenting Batman/Bruce Wayne in the comics, but he’s equally well-known for his use of the Lazarus Pit, a magical and medicinal pool that heals mortal wounds and can bring people back from the dead. It would be a tremendous disappointment if Arrow didn’t use this plot device in some form or another, if only because fans have been looking forward to it for some time. Previous iterations have seen those who emerge from the Lazarus Pit go a bit insane for a while, so that’d be a fun change for Stephen Amell to take on.
Whether Arrow himself is back yet or not, Arrow returns Wednesday, January 21st at 8pm on The CW.