For two seasons, “Arrow” had made a good living being a kind of viridian-hued, archery based homage to Nolan’s Batman, while still respecting the original source material of Green Arrow, albeit modernised for a CW audience. After season two’s triumphant and gripping story arc leading to the defeat of Slade Wilson, what would “Arrow” do next? In season three, out on DVD/ BluRay today, “Arrow” throws caution to the wind and goes full-on Batman, abandoning any pretence of trying not to crib from the Dark Knight’s back catalogue. The result is a disappointing, sluggish and repetitive season that feels like the final season of a show which is running out of ideas and is looking to set up a spin-off or two before it sputters out.
The season long arc bringing Ra’s al Ghul in as the main antagonist starts well enough, even if Matthew Nable never quite manages to exude the same level of threat and menace as Manu Bennett’s Deathstroke. The early mystery around the identity of Sara’s killer counterpoints nicely with Oliver enjoying a relatively benign time as Starling City embraces its masked protector and once the truth is revealed, the consequences set in motion keep the series nicely on track up until Oliver’s apparent death in the mid-season finale episode “The Climb”.
From that point on, though, the season struggles to regain any momentum and the various taunts and schemes of The League Of Shadows to coerce Oliver into becoming the next Ra’s start to wear a bit thin. The ultimate resolution is also deeply frustrating, bordering on stupid as Oliver casually hands off the entire League Of Shadows to his arch-enemy Malcolm Merlyn (an only slightly hammy John Barrowman) without any apparent concerns for what a man like Merlyn might do with an army of assassins at his beck and call. It doesn’t help that throughout the season, nobody can quite settle on how to pronounce ‘Ra’s al Ghul’. By the end of the season, Oliver is so entrenched in the tedious League Of Shadows rituals that it’s hard to figure out when he found the time to nip over to Central City and help out The Flash deal with Eobard Thawne.
In the absence of a strong and compelling central arc, the flaws in the rest of the show are unfortunately magnified. “Arrow” displays the same naïve comprehension of corporate finance and governance as “The Dark Knight Rises” did as Queen Consolidated is taken over again, this time by Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) who’s looking to rebuild the city following the previous year’s conflict. His storyline sits uneasily alongside the main story for quite some time before overlapping and the Felicity/ Ray relationship arc feels like it comes from a different show. The awkward pivot back to OliCity by the season’s end belies the CW constraints within which the show has to operate.
The trademark flashbacks this season are literally the worst. The convenience with which the flashbacks remind Oliver of what he needs to know in that episode is baldly transparent in season three and the very nature of them strains credibility to breaking point. It was one thing when he was marooned on the remote, unpopulated – but surprisingly busy – island but for him to be out and about in Hong Kong just feels ridiculous.
Several of the main characters get short shrift this season as the stories tend to focus on an increasingly sullen Stephen Amell. Diggle gets little to do and at one point actually gets put on paternity leave, while Thea and especially Laurel undergo rapid training regimens which bring them up to combat readiness in about a fifth of the time it took Oliver. Nobody in the main cast suffers as much as Paul Blackthorne’s Quentin Lance. Flip flopping around as narrative whim requires, one moment he’s totally pro-vigilante, the next dead-set against him and reconvening his task force to take him down. Even then, though, he’s not granted any kind of consistency as he issues shoot to kill orders in one scene only to order his men not to shoot at all in the very next scene. Throughout the season, he’s criminally underused and when he does make an appearance his character is so wildly unpredictable that you’d expect him to be relieved of duty as Police Commissioner.
Convoluted, repetitive and melodramatic even by Arrow’s CW standards and featuring the campest wedding since “Flash Gordon”, season three of “Arrow” wasn’t without its highlights. “The Brave And The Bold” (S3E08) is a fun crossover with “The Flash” and features a live action version of the DC villain Captain Boomerang who isn’t utterly ridiculous and the mini arc featuring Vinnie Jones as crime lord Danny Brickwell is pretty good (S3E10-S3E12). Roy also gets a pretty good exit story in “Broken Arrow” (S3E19). The common factor in all these episodes is that Oliver isn’t central to the story and neither is Ra’s al Ghul. I know DC likes to make itself all about dark and gritty but “Arrow” went too far in season three and ended up dull, not dark and bleak, not gritty. A disappointing step backwards after the impressive season two and, if comments from the producers are anything to go by, they’ve recognised their errors and are aiming for a slightly lighter tone in the forthcoming season four. I don’t want “Arrow” to be all fluffy and tongue-in-cheek like “The Flash”, I like an edgy darkness as much as the next guy, but I hope the series – and Oliver in particular – can lighten up a bit. I’m still a fan and I’m looking forward to the start of season four but I’d be lying if I said I was in the same place as season two left me. “Arrow”, you have [kinda] failed your audience.