Last year, the fantastic second season of Arrow set the bar for superhero adaptations on television and was a major contributor in the sudden boom of comic book shows this past year. Unfortunately, instead of continuing to pave the way, the third season fell short of the admittedly immense expectations the series had created for itself.
Season 3 kicked off with a superb premiere that showcased Team Arrow working together properly for the first time and promised to carry forward last year’s momentum. That energy quickly came to a surprising halt, and the season struggled to regain its initial rhythm. The story meandered for half a dozen episodes, centering around a murder mystery that should have been compelling but was spread too thin. Thankfully, an excellent crossover with The Flash gave Arrow the kick it needed to make it to a jawdropping midseason finale. It seemed that everything was alright again when the show returned from hiatus with a strong trilogy of episodes that shined the spotlight on the secondary players. Sadly, however, this up-and-down quality continued throughout the second half of the season, which alternated between ‘great’ and ‘just OK’ like a sinusoidal wave, until the finale arrived without the proper buildup it needed.
Season 2 had a strong sense of forward momentum propelled by personal high stakes that sent it barrelling towards an explosive finale. In comparison, season 3 was unfocused. Episodes like ‘The Calm’, ‘The Climb’, and ‘Public Enemy’ captured some of that drive, which is frustrating as they showed what could have been had the rest of the season been more cohesive. The main problem was a lack of follow-through: there were major events that took place, but their consequences capitalized only on a fraction of their full potential. As a result, instead of events building upon each other, we ended up with a cycle of points where the season started to take off but then fizzled out.
Other issues included the mishandling of Felicity as a love interest and the poorly executed flashbacks. Felicity is one of the best characters on Arrow, but she was not written well this season. The on-again, off-again nature of her relationship with both Ollie and Ray Palmer was meant to be compelling but came off as uncertainty on the writers’ part. I’m not opposed to the ‘Olicity’ pairing if done well, but its execution was detrimental to Felicity as a character and the story in general. As for the flashbacks, they were choppy and repetitive, serving mostly as interruptions to the present events rather than enhancing or even superseding them as they used to.
That’s not to say I didn’t like the season—in fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I only focused on the negatives because I really do feel that it was a watered-down version of what it could have been, but there was a lot to love. Matt Nable’s performance as Ra’s al Ghul was a remarkable highlight, bringing a different but equally effective interpretation of the character last portrayed by Liam Neeson. He was a charismatic, fearsome leader and a deadly fighter, if not used as effectively as he should have been. Brandon Routh brought a welcome amount of levity and superheroics as Ray Palmer though his scenes often felt out of sync with the rest of the show. Team Arrow got plenty of chances to shine, a welcome change from the very Oliver-driven season 2. It was also great to have Katrina Law back as Nyssa on a regular basis, and even Thea grew a lot this season. But the best element was Laurel Lance as Black Canary, a transformation that was always considered impossible, but one that was handled with great care and made Laurel a very likable character. The Laurel-centric episode, ‘Canaries’, was one of my favourites.
Overall, the third season of Arrow was solid. Unfortunately, “solid” is a bit of a letdown compared to what we’ve come to expect from this great show. Nevertheless, with the season 3 finale hinting at a fresh direction in the future, the series continues with hope and plenty of goodwill.