Historical romance author Lavinia Kent and I write an article every Friday for the USA Today HEA Blog about ARROW, one of our all-time favorite television shows. We re-cap that week’s episode but focus on the story and how well it’s told. ARROW is one of the best television shows out there for writers to watch, plus it’s just an all-around fun show!
Both Lavinia and I enjoyed Season 3, which ended last May, but not as much as the first two seasons. The finale in particularly left us feeling … disappointed. But GREAT news! Season 4 is off to an AMAZING start and will likely be my favorite season to date. (Hard to beat Season 2 which was pitch perfect in every aspect … but Season 4 definitely has a shot.)
USAT keeps our blogs up for a few weeks, then they disappear, so I’m going to archive them here at Murder She Writes. It’s going to take me a few days to get them all up, but I’ll post when they’re done.
The first archive I’m posting is about the Season 3 finale … and better, I’m including my daughter Kelly’s observations. She’s behind (college keeps her busy!) so she just finished Season 3 and had a lot to say. I hope you enjoy her comments as well as Lavinia and my’s original post. This is long — but perfect for a weekend read!
[To check out our comments about Season 4, Episode 4 “Beyond Redemption” visit the HEA BLOG here … the articles will be archived here at Murder She Writes monthly.]
ARROW: Episode 3.23
My Name is Oliver Queen
AB: I still love this show, I still love these characters, and I am still invested in Season 4 … however, the Season 3 finale was less than exciting. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it was underwhelming. I wanted to love it. I was ready to have the adrenalin pumping and a huge climax for a season that had some of the best episodes of the series … and some of the worst episodes of the series. But … except for a few good (not great) scenes, the finale fell flat.
Case in point: both of my boys fell asleep in the middle of the episode. And it wasn’t even nine p.m.
What do you think Lavinia?
LK: I am more positive than you, but not without complaint. After last week’s powerful episode I had high hopes for this week. I, too, wanted to love it. I expected to love it. Perhaps my expectations were too high. The writers did such a wonderful job teeing up this episode, the Team dying of the poison gas (even if we knew they weren’t), the wedding, Ra’s and Oliver leaving to destroy Starling City, the general fear that everything could go really wrong – even the leaked hints about characters dying and the set-up with the villain for Season Four all led me to be on the edge of my seat as the episode started.
And then . . .
I can’t say that I was bored, and I certainly didn’t fall asleep, but I kept waiting for more, even when the credits were rolling I was still waiting. I did think there were some great moments, but none of it quite came together. I felt like there was a huge chunk missing in the middle – all those things that happened off camera. I don’t know if they ran out of screen time in editing or if some of those scenes would have been too costly to shoot, but I would have made very different choices on what to show and what to keep off screen.
But let’s look at the big picture first. Let’s talk about the strengths of this entire season.
I going to start with the one that is right in our genre and is either really popular or really unpopular depending on who I talk to – Olicity. I was impressed with how well the writers built up this relationship and then let it flower and wither and then flower again. I thought this was fairly masterfully handled – and (with some qualms) I even like where they took it – although perhaps not as the very end of the season (more on that later). My only problem is that they’ve reached the end of the book. I don’t see how to make this work in coming seasons. If they stay happy for too long it will get boring fast – not that I worry too much about that, I don’t think that “too long” is likely.
In conjunction with this I really liked Felicity’s development as a strong and funny character over the season. She showed that she could stand up for what she believed in even when everyone else was turning away. She makes a good conscious for the show – although like every conscious she’s had her wobbles.
I could go on and on talking about the character development and conflict this season: Laurel, Thea, Nyssa, Ray, Roy, and even Merlyn. Almost every character grew and changed to become someone different, someone better. Diggle, in my mind, might be the exception. Oliver sums it up at the end, “You are a hero. For three years you’ve been a rock, the city’s rock, my rock. For three years you have been a person I can count on. I am still counting on you.” Diggle didn’t change much, but that was okay. He’s who we need him to be.
On to the big one, I thought that the conflict between Oliver and Ra’s al Ghul over the season really worked. They were both such developed characters and the contrast between them was intriguing. They weren’t mirror images of each other, but almost characters from alternate realities. Their two different characters showed how choices made and choices not taken matter. Ra’s was what Oliver could become if he made one set of choices – and Oliver showed how Ra’s could have been different if he’d stayed true to his heart instead of his quest for power and “vengeance is justice.”
AB: I agree with your assessment on the growth of the characters. Truly, at the beginning of the season I did not see HOW the writers could make me like Laurel (who I wanted to like because I was a big fan of Katie Cassidy in SUPERNATURAL!) … but for the first two seasons Laurel was a wishy-washy damsel in distress who didn’t know she was a damsel in distress. Yet … her transformation into the Black Canary worked. Kudos to the writers.
All the other characters – the growth, the transformations, the changes – fit and I loved the directions they went. While I’ll miss Roy a lot, I really like how they wrote him out of the show. He could make some appearances, but they let Thea have her moment with him, closure, and let him go. It worked.
The best thing about this season was Oliver’s transformation as a character. From the “Fall” in the middle of the season and nearly dying at the sword of Ra’s al Ghul, to his feelings of failure then growth, I think the Oliver character arc was the single strongest over-arching storyline. We see it come to fruition here when he says at the end, “I am happy.” Happiness had eluded him for eight years … and he found it. He deserves to be happy. And I don’t have a problem with that ending … except it felt artificial because we know it’s not going to last.
The best thing about the finale was the beginning – Oliver standing up to Ra’s al Ghul on a cargo plane after he sabotaged it, expecting to die and take Ra’s and the Omega virus with him. I loved how Nyssa fought with him, how they became a team. Unfortunately, after Ra’s escaped the plane to spread the virus across Starling City, the episode went down hill.
LK: I agree that the beginning was the strongest part of the episode, particularly the fight on the plane. I think that clip of Oliver saying, “My name is Oliver Queen,” is destined to be a GIF seen over and over. And I was surprised at how quickly Oliver revealed himself. I knew it would happen, but I was expecting it later in the episode. I thought the writers would hold onto that tension for longer. It did, however, lead to the fabulous fight on the plane and Oliver and Nyssa teaming up. It was great seeing Nyssa take her place as part of the Team.
To skip back, I wasn’t sure about the very beginning of the episode. The Teams survival of the poison gas felt very anti-climatic to me. It may be because we’d already seen it in the trailers and guessed (pretty correctly) about what was going to happen. I wanted more doubt that they might not all survive.
And the Flash. I am not sure that I found him necessary and it did seem he took down half the League of Assassin’s with a little bit too much ease. I wanted to know why they didn’t just have him whizz by a little earlier and grab the gas vial.
I will admit it was a good way to cover a lot of ground very quickly – no pun intended. It would have taken another ten minutes of film for them to escape without his help.
I was very glad that they did keep his help so constrained to that one piece of the beginning. I watch Arrow because I want to see Oliver and the Team not because I want to see superpowers. (I do also watch, and enjoy, The Flash, but it’s just a different beast.)
AB: I agree—I was so glad the use of Flash was minimal but effective, and that it didn’t happen until after we knew Oliver sabotaged the plane and revealed himself. While I thought the take down was a little fast, when I first watched it I was excited because if SO MUCH was happening in the first ten minutes, that meant this episode was going to rock it big time.
Then … once Oliver and the team arrived in Starling City, the episode went downhill, with only a few glimmers of hope. First, my biggest problem with this episode was how the threat of the virus – a huge threat that had been built up for several episodes between the current show and the flashbacks – was a dud. Ray Palmer and his nano-ites or whatever they’re called saved the day … and it happened off-screen! I don’t get it. There was a great set-up … and then, ho-hum. No real threat, the outbreak handled quickly and efficiently. I never felt like anyone was really in danger like with Malcolm Merlyn’s earthquake machine in season one, or Slade Wilson’s rampage in season two. But I think what really rubbed me wrong was how they incorporated the Damien Darhk subplot that went nowhere … an obvious set-up for season 4 that had no business being in this episode and totally fell flat.
LK: So, so right on everything, Allison. I felt more tension about the Alpha-Omega weapon in the flashbacks a few weeks ago than I did this week. Even during the brief moment when they discovered that the League of Assassians themselves and their blood were the carriers, the writers didn’t let us worry for more than a second. I wanted to see more, to feel more. I am not big on death and gore, but in the last two years we saw destruction, death and fear at the end of season. This year it felt more like glimpses of something horrible on CNN as you race through an airport to catch a plane. I could piece together the story and I knew what was happening, but it didn’t feel complete.
You are also right about Damien Darhk. I don’t know how I would have felt if there hadn’t been so many hints that we were really going to see more of next year’s villain than we had it past years. I was looking forward to it. And then . . . it just felt so unnecessary. I would have been much happier with either more, or if they’d just left it out altogether. Although I did enjoy watching all the characters get into place and taking out Darhk’s men.
The flashbacks this week left me with mixed feelings. I thought they largely took up time that could have been used to expand on the bioweapon story, but I was glad to see the hint of how the characters developed after the death of Akio: Oliver turning very, very dark and then going off on the boat from Coast City (home of the Green Lantern), Tatsu heading off to the Japanese monastery to be alone, and Maseo leaving Tatsu because he no longer has a soul and can’t look at her without seeing Akio.
The scene change from Maseo leaving Tatsu to Oliver and Felicity was one of those moments the writers do so well. We start with the hopeless couple, the couple where the wife cannot change her husband, and then they turn to Felicity giving Oliver hope, telling him “you’ve become someone else, become something else, (she places a hand on his heart) this is different now, because despite your best efforts you’ve allowed yourself to feel something – and even though you think it’s your weakness it’s not. It’s your key to beating Ra’s. Don’t fight to die, fight to live.”
AB: Felicity is always the one who can get through to Oliver, and I liked her speech. Though I think she forgave him a bit too easily (along with everyone else except Diggle) it’s still in her character to be forgiving, so it worked for me. I also loved the banter between Felicity and Merlyn in this episode and throughout the season.
Merlyn was particularly good in these last few episodes … we love to hate this guy. And at the beginning, when he told Team Arrow that he inoculated them from the virus and he saved their lives, and they all just stared at him … and he said, “I think the words you are looking for are ‘thank’ and ‘you’” … I just about died. What a great line, and fitting so perfect with his character!
LK: It did have me laughing. Merlyn has definitely been complex this season, and this episode was no exception. He helped “save the day” more than once during this episode and always with the ready quip. And at the end when we learn it has all been a deal between Oliver and Merlyn, Merlyn’s help in return for him becoming the new Ra’s, it fits so exactly with the character he has become. He can be a good guy, he does think he is doing the right thing, but he always has his own best interests at heart. I do believe he loves Thea and even that he in some way cares for/respects Oliver, but his own beliefs will always win out. And when Oliver says that he will never forgive him for Sarah, for what he did to Thea, and that he’d better hold up his end of the bargain you can see the potential for Merlyn to once again become a “big bad” as head of the League of Assassin’s.
AB: After the dud of an episode (except for the first ten minutes), the two minutes of Oliver and Merlyn in Thea’s loft were a high point. Oliver slipped Merlyn the ring, essentially giving him the identity of Ra’s al Ghul, holding up his end of the bargain and, presumably based on his comments, he expects Merlyn to run the League of Assassins as Oliver wants. This whole “deal with the devil” Oliver made with Merlyn works on multiple levels for me, and also sets up potential conflict, which I always love.
But truth be told … Oliver is the legitimate Ra’s al Ghul. He defeated him in battle. Oliver knew that he had to learn from Ra’s in order to defeat Ra’s – something that Merlyn was never able to do. The battle between Oliver and Ra’s had to happen … but it was anti-climatic. Oliver had to win, and I liked the prayer he gave Ra’s as he died, but the battle happened too fast, too neat, no real danger to Oliver. After all the fantastic actions scenes this show has given us over the last three years (including the episode opener of the fight scene on the plane), this swordfight was … dare I say it … boring.
LK: It did lack tension, maybe just because we knew Oliver would win, but I felt that there was never a moment when I even felt Oliver was in danger. They almost redeemed it at the end with Oliver repeating the same prayer that Ra’s had said when he killed Oliver in “The Climb” and with the fact that he used the same bloody sword that Ra’s had – but then the shooting, the waterfall fall, and Felicity’s rescue all fell flat for me. I am not quite sure why the writers felt the need to put it in. It was a funny moment seeing Felicity in the Atom suit, but I felt like it was a great moment that still needed to be cut. I know I’ve written scenes, scenes I love, like that and I am sure you have to Allison.
AB: Yes—kill your darlings, that’s what I say. You have a great scene, but it doesn’t fit with the story, so you cut it.
Another big problem I had with the dull ending … it dragged on and on. We had no real threat to Starling City, no real threat to anyone on the team, and no real threat to Oliver. There was a lot of talking … and while productive conversations are good, these weren’t productive. And it felt completely forced when Oliver and Felicity drove off into the sunset together with no plan, no anything … it would have been better if they said they were going on vacation and would be back, or left spontaneously, or something else than the way they left it. It felt like a nod to those who wanted Oliver and Felicity to be together, but it didn’t feel right. What did you think?
LK: I have to confess that (watching on Amazon) I watched all the way through the credits, waiting for something more. I didn’t mind the convertible ride in the sun, but I need an extra bit, either more of a sense that Oliver’s marriage to Nyssa was going to be more of a problem than could be solved with one joke, or a cliffhanger clip leading into next year. This is when I would have liked Damien Darhk, liked the real hint that everything was not going to be sunshine and roses. We watchers know problems will be coming and I would have liked some foreshadowing.
The one scene I really liked was Merlyn and the League of Assasins with Nyssa also kneeling before him. That had strength and power and gave a peak into what some future conflicts could be.
AB: Great idea … if at the end they brought in the shadowy figure and maybe a hint that there would be a big betrayal, or that what happened in the episode set up an even worse catastrophe, or something that told us this is but a brief reprieve, but the worst is yet to come. We just had to assume it because this series is dark and predicated on bad things happening to good people.
The two (very brief) segments at the end that were good (other than, of course, the Oliver/Merlyn exchange in Thea’s apartment) was the unknown person going through the evidence collected from the Arrow Cave at police headquarters, and Merlyn having the League bow down to him. And, seeing Oliver board what appears to be a merchant ship in Hong Kong instead of going back to the island or going home after what happened to Aiko (Tatsu and Maseo’s son) was very interesting … I hope the flashbacks in Season 4 are more integral and better developed as a whole, like they were in the first two seasons.
LK: I missed the Arrow evidence bit and had to rewatch. Good catch.
I do hope the flashbacks are better (and more compact) next year. I had been thinking that we would be seeing Oliver and the Russian Brava, but now he could be back in the states and heading in a Green Lantern direction. It might make sense with all the hints that we’ve had about Diggle and his brother – and Diggle maybe getting a costume, hmmmm . . .
Despite my disappointment this week I am looking forward to Damien Darhk and the Hive. I do hope he has some relationship to Felicity and that it leads to interesting tension between the characters.
While I was at the Nocking Point wine tasting, someone asked about Oliver’s old girlfriend and his son (I had completely forgotten about them.) and the answer was that we “very possibly” might find out more in Season Four – could be another great tension point.
AB: Yeah – I never forgot about them. Especially after the hint in The Flash when his old girlfriend saw Oliver at the coffee place. I thought for sure this would come out this season … but nope. His son would be what now? Ten?
My one hope for season 4 is that the show has more consistency. Season 3 had some fabulous moments, but the lack of consistency of storytelling episode to episode made the season feel disjointed. I think the Damien Darhk storyline could have a big payoff, but I’d placed a lot of trust in the writers this season and I felt they let me down a bit.
LK: I didn’t feel let down, but I definitely don’t completely disagree. There were some things I wish had been edited differently and things I would have liked to see more (or less) of, but the great character development kept me satisfied. I just wish the ending had felt more complete. It felt too much like they were worried it might be the end of the series – although I can’t believe that’s the case – and rushed through everything.
AB: They renewed this show before they had to film the final episodes … but you’re right, it’s like they were ending the entire series. Character development? Definitely an A. But I need more than great characters. Truthfully … the first two seasons were so amazing, I think they had a hard time topping it, and went off the rails experimenting with whatever. Now? They need to go back to why we loved the show in the first place.
LK: Well, I suppose we’ve reached the end of the road for a bit. I’ve certainly enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you. It was fun to break down the episodes and made me see things I otherwise wouldn’t.
LK: Allison and I are hoping to do a few posts this summer discussing our feelings about the first two seasons now that we know where everything is heading – and perhaps we can discuss favorite characters and plotlines. We’d welcome suggestions!
Until then, good bye and keep watching – and reading!!!
I agree, this episode was underwhelming, especially because the episodes leading up were so good and built so much tension that viewers expected the finale to be an epic snowball of epic, but sadly, it felt more like a mid season episode. You know, the not-so-great ones where you anticipate every other “plot twist” and there’s little to no threat to the team.
I agree with Lavinia that many things were left off screen that could’ve made the episode more meaty. I almost completely forgot about the virus threat. Felicity flying in to save Oliver was cool and a nice way to lean into their happy ending romance while showing Felicity’s growth as a character (How many times has she even considered the possibility of jumping into battle? Her confidence in her abilities away from the computer screen have bloomed) But we expected it to happen when Ray wouldn’t go in the suit for her. If that scene had been left out and replaced with a more active example of the virus being annihilated (more on that later) I’m sure fans would’ve been more HOLY CRAP IT’S FELICITY and less, oh of course it is.
I like the comment on Ra’s and Oliver’s characters, how they’re mirror images of each other, and Diggle’s growth, but personally I feel his lack of growth is not only necessary (He’s Oliver’s rock, the only character other than Felicity that’s never strayed from his side) But realistic, as he’s older and more emotionally adjusted.
Side note—seeing Lilah in on the action would’ve been awesome! Really would’ve brought the team together in an OMG THE GANG’S ALL HERE kind of way.
I’ve always sympathized with Laurel, as Allison knows, and I think her “weak” character in the first couple seasons was intentional and all very much leading up to her transformation as Canary. I could go on about her growth and how sophisticated of a character she is in contrast to others on the show—not that they aren’t all expertly developed. That’s truly the biggest strength of this show, and I hope they don’t lose it next season.
Looking back to the plane scene I couldn’t help but think of the beginning of the third installment to the Hobbit—where they put the most anticipated and important climax at the very beginning, when Frodo kills Smaug. (This is the climax of the entire book!) Like the movie, this made the rest of the episode feel weak in comparison. I can see why they ended with Arrow killing Ra’s—the Ra’s/Oliver conflict was the most important and well written arc to the series, so giving it a climactic end was deserved, albeit necessary—they just could’ve done better to get me on the edge of my seat.
I agree that their use of the Flash was perfect—minimal but effective.
I like the CNN comment—it did feel like we were piecing together the virus story with what wasn’t seen more than what was.
The Darhk subplot was a good way to open up the next season, but did feel like a little too much amongst everything else going on. I wish it had been threaded through out the season so we’d think *maybe* something would go down this season and leave more anticipation for season 4. But it felt like it was just thrown in there out of necessity.
Oh Merlyn. As I was watching this my friend randomly said how much he loves him. He is fun to hate! And so interesting, too. I can’t wait to see how they handle Merlyn/Nyssa in the future.
I agree with all your comments on how the episode went downhill after the plane, to where it was almost boring. Those final moments did redeem it slightly, and the hints to the next season were on point—I did notice the evidence bit, but barely. It was almost indistinguishable, so if it’s important I fear most fans missed it, like Lavinia. Seems like another element thrown in to reference the next season.
Honestly, this could have worked best as an ending to the whole series, with the nature of Oliver and Felicity getting together, the closure between Roy and Thea, and Ra’s death. The fact that they only signed on for season four halfway through the season the set up for season four became rushed.
And finally, Olicity. I’ve never been a fan of the way Oliver treats the women in his life, but you’re right, Felicity is the only character other than Diggle who can really get through to him. So all in all, they’re meant to be. But the way they tied them was unsatisfying. I was talking to my friend how a simple, uneventful scene can be more powerful than a romantic drive into the sunset (literally). Yes, it was an allusion to Oliver’s good dreams he told Felicity about. But it was far too cheesy for my taste, and having a perceived threat would’ve been more interesting.