[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 19. There will be SPOILERS.]
Oliver Queen is always ready to play the part of the hero; it’s what he does, and it’s the entire reason Arrow exists. He is willing to put himself at risk for the benefit of others, often to the degree that his life is constantly in danger. At times, the guy even makes it apparent that he’s completely willing to sacrifice himself, in order to protect his city and the people he cares most about. And, as ready as he is to help others at great risk to himself, he is often reluctant to accept help from others – even if its help from the members of his own team.
These are common, generally accepted truths about Ollie and his alter ego, the Arrow. They are, in many ways what defines him, things that are well established and have been for some time – which asks the questions: are they concepts that really need to be revisited in a late-season episode, when Ra’s al Ghul is stomping around Starling City, killing people in the name of the Arrow (before running a blade through Thea), as a means of bending Oliver to his will?
This is a common issue with series running 23 episodes per season, as they have to find ways to fill certain hours with what amounts to digression – while placing the matter at hand on the backburner. That’s not to say ‘Broken Arrow’ doesn’t have something to offer in lieu of Oliver confronting Ra’s. The Oliver-Ray Palmer “team up” proves to be a shallow but entertaining excursion, while Roy’s incarceration on charges that he’s the Arrow shine the spotlight on Colton Haynes in a way that hasn’t really been possible this season. In a sense, both plotlines are detours on the route to Nanda Parbat and the conclusion of Ra’s offer.
The only real problem is that they are also both so obviously a part of the show spinning its wheels until the climactic showdown can occur that even the impact of Roy faking his own death (and subsequently leaving Starling City behind) feels like such an aside that the emotional impact it makes is nominal at best.
Mostly, this is because Roy’s spiritual renewal seems hollow and somewhat unearned. He killed a cop, became a vigilante, took the fall for his mentor, and was roughed up in prison. These were compelling actions taken by someone suffering under the weight of immense guilt – and though it made Roy kind of a drag to be around these last few weeks, it did help make the character more compelling. That extra dimension justified his presence beyond that of Oliver needing a color-coded sidekick while in the field. It also mirrored Thea’s guilt over her part in Sara’s death, making their brief romantic reunion about something more meaningful than two former lovers falling back into one another’s arms.
But the thread itself – the actual part about taking action to combat his feelings of guilt and pursue some sense of closure – was too hasty, and, in many regards, perfunctory. Roy can tell anyone he wants that he killed a cop, he can have himself incarcerated, but in the end, Capt. Lance is right, nothing he does is going to alleviate his guilt; it’s something he’s going to have to live with for the rest of his life. The thing is, isn’t that the sort of motivation that makes people into heroes? It’s like Roy’s living his origin story in reverse – becoming the hero before legitimately tackling his motivation to do so.
And so, after coming face-to-face with why he would put his life on the line for others, Roy Harper decides to check out – without saying goodbye to Thea, mind you – to leave Starling City and Team Arrow behind, so that he can start a new life as someone else. This may be a temporary departure or it may not, but either way you cut it, the situation feels less like a high note in Roy’s story and more like an obligatory response to Capt. Lance’s all out war on Oliver Queen and Team Arrow.
The same can be said for Oliver’s reluctant team up with Ray Palmer, when a meta human (played with appropriate creepiness by Doug Jones) comes to Starling City to hang out near power stations and rob banks, apparently (it doesn’t really matter, since Laser Eyes – or Deathbolt or whatever name they give him – is so boring he barely works as a plot device). Since Lance won’t let Oliver out of his sight, and with Roy incarcerated there can’t be an Arrow – so Ray’s ATOM has to be put to the test. Aside from how excited Ray gets at the prospect of teaming up with the Arrow (and how great Brandon Routh is playing an exuberant nerd, feeding off the exuberance of Emily Bett Rickards’ delightfully nerdy Felicity), the team up itself isn’t really that interesting. It basically breaks down to Felicity falling into Deathbolt’s hands, forcing Oliver to take control of the ATOM suit remotely, because Ray doesn’t know how to fight.
That exposes an interesting component: investigating Oliver’s need to control every situation. That brings the overt thematic text of the episode to the forefront, cohering with the flashback sequence wherein it is actually said how Oliver needs to learn to accept help from his friends. But with everything else that’s going on, there’s no time to feel as though we discovered something new about Oliver, or that he learned something about himself. He says that he needs to be more willing to accept help from his friends, but when they help Oliver by making him think Roy’s been killed in prison, it sort of makes sense why he’s a little hesitant to ask.
At least now, with Thea’s life hanging in the balance, the pieces seem like they’re in place for Arrow to stop spinning its wheels and to get to the matter at hand.
Arrow returns next Wednesday with ‘The Fallen’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: