[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
Arrow may have ended 2014 by running a sword through Oliver Queen's chest and then kicking him off a snow-crusted cliff into the frozen ravine below, but there was never any question of whether or not the Emerald Archer would be making a return to the land of the living. And with Ra's al Ghul on the loose in the Arrowverse, there was at least one possible answer to the inevitable question on everyone's mind: How would Oliver be brought back to life?
Well, 'Left Behind', the midseason premiere, doesn't beat around the bush when it comes to bringing Oliver back. The episode ends with his resurrection at the hands of Tatsu (Rila Fukishima), after Maseo (Karl Yune), spent most of his screen time dragging Oliver's corpse through the mountains for that explicit purpose. And while that question is solved – some details notwithstanding – there are larger questions of potentially greater importance looming over the proceedings.
Of course, the most pressing question is the one at the center of the episode's storyline – i.e., what would Team Arrow be like without Arrow? Or, more to the point, would there even be a Team Arrow anymore? For all the roads the midseason premiere has to travel down, touching on as many of the character threads as possible, the center of the storyline's focus still manages to work its way around those two questions, resulting in a solid episode that succeeds despite the abundant exposition and jumping around required to bring everyone into the fold.
'Left Behind' is, structurally speaking, similar to 'The Climb.' They were both episodes that braided the various threads of Oliver, Team Arrow, Merlyn, and Laurel together, often relying on scenes that skipped to commercial and were later resolved through the magic of expository dialogue. It's an economical way to handle certain things, and here, it worked in terms of Merlyn confirming Oliver's death. Even though the evidence Merlyn supplies is mostly circumstantial – there is no body, obviously – the blood-encrusted sword and Oliver's four-day absence, mixed with a hearty dose of common sense, tells Diggle, Felicity, and Roy that their worst fears have come true.
The way the episode is set up, with Oliver's resurrection sidestepped until the last few remaining seconds, there is room to focus on Team Arrow's reaction. And in those moments, 'Left Behind' hits the target. During the opening sequence, there is already a sense that things are off in Starling City, and it's only been three days since Oliver ventured off on his ill-fated challenge of Ra's al Ghul. The slow reveal of Diggle in the green hood, using a bow and arrow, works to convey the sense of anxiety the team is feeling in the extended absence of their leader. But instead of letting the team wallow in denial, there is a push by Diggle to read the writing on the wall. When a man challenges the world's greatest assassin to a duel and doesn't come back for four days, chances are he did not emerge victorious. While Diggle and Roy contemplate the possibility of continuing Oliver's mission, that question becomes an increasingly substantial after their first chaotic encounter with Brick (Vinnie Jones).
For his part, Jones brings his brand of brawny intensity to the character, which helps him become something more fierce and fearsome than a mere villain of the week. The fact that his plan revolves around a multi-episode arc to undo all good the Arrow had done in the wake of Slade's attack on the city and to take over the Glades speaks to that. And while Diggle and Roy put on a good show, Felicity's decision to cut their mission short speaks volumes about how she chooses to deal with the news of Oliver's demise.
Felicity acts as the show's emotional center, as she's the only member to openly express her grief in the conventional way – which she does through her interaction with Ray. It also helps clarify the character's relationship with the idea of vigilantism (or super heroics, if you prefer). That is: a person can choose not to put his or her life at risk in the name of stopping crime – a position that will hopefully be revisited when Oliver returns.
Rickards and Routh are both strong, as their worldviews and sense of purpose that are increasingly driven by grief collide with one another. That focus on anguish and the question of the preservation of human life or the memory of it succeeds in grounding not only the moment, but also the entire episode – which is surprising when you consider the hour revolved around a man literally being brought back from the dead.
For all its moving parts and occasional choppiness, 'Left Behind' succeeds in setting the stage for Oliver's return by offering a brief glimpse of what Starling City would look like without him. That reestablishes the Arrow's importance, while at the same time it strengthens the emotional bonds of the supporting characters by giving them room to break everything down. Although it's primarily table setting, with its brief but satisfying foretaste of Black Canary and a living, breathing Oliver Queen, the episode's potency comes from Diggle, Roy, and especially Felicity. This proves that the Team Arrow members aren't there in a strictly supportive capacity, but can take center stage when necessary.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'Midnight City' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: