The CW’s vigilante series, ‘Arrow’ completed its’ 3rd season a few weeks ago, and it appears to have really found its’ stride after building on a very solid 2nd season. With the introduction of Barry Allen’s Flash as part of this emerging DC Comics television universe, Oliver Queen’s Arrow has become the reluctant mentor-figure / example to the younger hero, adding a new, almost playful, dimension to the stoic character played by CW MVP Stephen Amell.
** WARNING ** SPOILERS AHEAD
Amell has the gravitas, physique, and acting ability to sell what is, on its’ surface, a dubious concept – a modern-day vigilante in the guise of a Robin Hood –type, complete with bow-and-arrow as weapon of choice. His supporting cast, made up of sidekick Roy / Arsenal (Colton Haynes, matching Amell brood-for-brood), sister Thea (Willa Holland, getting more to do this season other than pout), ex-flame Laurel (Katie Cassidy, finally being freed from a tedious addiction side-plot), who is also now a fledgling crime-fighter after taking up her deceased sister’s Canary mantle, right-hand man Diggle (David Ramsey, stoic and grounded), and his girl Friday, Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), who in many ways has become one of the most integral members of the group, guiding the heroes with both her technical expertise and core values. Arrow’s team saw plenty of action this year, at times taking up his cause during his multiple absences from Star City, an unfortunately tiresome repeated plot point that still followed through the season finale cliffhanger, but which did provide some much-needed character building for a few of the supporting characters. This season also found time to introduce Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh, doubling down on superhero casting after his one-and-done, “Superman Returns’), AKA The A.T.O.M. – who unlike DC Comics character, The Atom, a scientist who could shrink to sub-atomic size, builds a very ‘Iron Man’-like battle-suit to protect his adopted city (although he plays around with nano-tech and the finale also graciously teased his idea to decrease the suit’s mass). If this seems like too many characters, quite frankly it really is, but the show-runners are trying to fill up a traditional full 20+ episode season with plot.
Season 3 never quite reaches the heights of drama of Season 2’s extended Deathstroke plot-line. The fact is though, that ‘Arrow’ gets a lot of things right this season, fluidly introducing far-fetched comic-book plotlines like Ra’s al Ghul and his life-restoring Lazarus Pits, bringing back arch-villain Malcolm Merlin (played by the always game John Barrowman of ‘Doctor Who / Torchwood’ fame), this time forcing our hero to join forces with him in taking on his own former mentor Ra’s, and fleshing out assassin Deadshot and a version of the Suicide Squad (soon to be over-shadowed by a feature film). The biggest fault with this season landed on the flashback storyline that never really goes anywhere. ‘Arrow’ has always structured its’ episodes by flashing back to the time before Oliver’s return from being stranded on a deserted island where he learned how to be ‘something else’. In past seasons this was very effective, the present day action mirroring character choices and events on the island, culminating in a Season 2 finale that cut back-and-forth between a past and present brawl with former ally and mentor Slade Wilson AKA Deathstroke (Manu Bennett, still Arrow’s greatest frenemy). The series would have done well to retire this story-telling device, as Season 3’s biological-weapon-in-Hong Kong backstory was weak, dragging down the momentum with every cut (plus, getting rid of Amell’s ridiculous hair extensions and skull cap would be appreciated).
The most welcome addition to the ‘Arrow’ universe is the introduction and cross-pollination world-building between this core show and ‘The Flash’. Since both shows air on the same network and were created / produced by the same team, they can build off of each other. The dynamic of two distinct cities in relative close proximity, each having its’ own main hero and inhabited by its’ own recognizable characters makes things even more fun and invokes the sense of an interconnected comic book universe. Major events in both cities and both sets of characters have effects on each other, manifesting in cross-overs of plotlines and characters all throughout the season. It was so engaging that viewers desiring the whole story should really watch ‘The Flash’ episode of the week followed by the ‘Arrow’ episode of the week, although this is not necessary to enjoy both series (fans that prefer their heroes less angst-y and their villains more colorful might enjoy ‘The Flash’ more or vice versa). Not only is this a smart move economically, it creatively opens up more avenues for larger, more complex storylines, and more overall entertainment for the audience. This development helped lighten Amell’s Arrow in ways that has brought out a new, welcome trait, leaving fans giddy for next season and beyond . . .
* * * (out of 4 stars) -or- B