[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
It can be difficult for a series born of the world of comic books and superheroes to convincingly examine the significance and emotional weight of the death of a superhero. This is especially true when that series has just come off a season filled with mirakuru-powered warriors, the birth of scarlet speedsters, and the return of two characters previously thought dead. In other words, the surprise ending of last week's Arrow season premiere was indeed shocking, but it also left the second episode, simply titled 'Sara', with a lot of emotional heavy lifting.
There's no doubt minds were already racing to predict the myriad ways in which the fallen Sara Lance might one day return. Her proximity to the al Ghul family most likely had images of Lazarus pits dancing in fans' heads. After all, she already returned from her watery grave aboard the Queen's Gambit and the Amazo, so, if nothing else, Sara Lance could easily be going for the back-from-the-dead hat trick. If anyone needed more evidence to suggest that this demise may not stick, the return of Malcolm Merlyn last season only serves as incontrovertible proof that "death" is not necessarily the end for certain characters on the show.
Will Sara be back? It certainly stands to reason that she might, but that's not what Arrow wants to focus on in an uneven but ambitious episode determined to give weight to an event that there's been little time to process.
To the episode's credit, 'Sara' immediately sets the tone for the hour by playing it straight and using some visual storytelling to sell the significance of it all. The cast does a great job in expressing a variety of emotions at the sight of Sara's body lying on the table in Arrow HQ. The scene is surprisingly effective in the way it depicts the possible ramifications of what Oliver, Roy, Diggle, and anyone else who engages in such heroics might one day have to face. 'Sara' also succeeds in selling the impact of this particular loss by letting the title character's presence and her absence be felt in the same moment for so long.
Putting heroes at a loss as to what to do also helps to make the episode more engaging - as opposed to, simply turning it into Team Arrow's search for Sara's murderer. And even though much of the plot is spent searching for another archer – who they find in Komodo, who's conveniently in town to do some killing – the indecision as to how Sara's death should be handled, both emotionally and logistically makes for an interesting insight into how unprepared the members of the team are for an event like this. That realization is only made worse when Laurel can't bring herself to tell her father for fear the shock would stop the poor guy's damaged heart.
Seeing these characters scramble to make sense of the situation helps lend substance to the narrative. This more than balances out the almost routine mechanics of Oliver's quest to take down Komodo who, as it turns out, was not responsible for Sara's murder. The important takeaways then are, of course, Laurel's willingness to pull the trigger when pointing a gun at someone she only believes is guilty, and Oliver's admission to Diggle that he doesn't want to die having not properly lived his life.
Both events help give the semblance of structure to Oliver and Laurel's character arcs for the season. While Laurel's anger and lust for vengeance is paired with a contemplative stare at her sister's leather jacket, Oliver's difficulty in balancing his life with his life's work is met with the frightening possibility of what would be lost if he gave himself over completely to being the Arrow. While Oliver's declaration lands effectively, Laurel's scene with Oliver and Komodo feels off in a way that leaves some questions about the effectiveness of her character taking on more of a vigilante role.
Nonetheless, the emotions of both characters wind up driving most of the plot, which means that Felicity is left processing her reaction to Sara's death through several interactions with Ray Palmer, who gets to become more than the guy able outsmart everyone in the room. It's nice to see Brandon Routh getting more screen time, but the unevenness of his interaction with Felicity - and Felicity's reaction to Sara's death - made for a tricky balancing act in terms of tone that didn't always work.
Speaking of things that didn't work, the episode throws in an unnecessary Hong Kong flashback that is significant solely for featuring the return of Colin Donnell as Tommy. Although the idea of Oliver successfully navigating Waller's insistence that he assassinate his best friend, the flashbacks didn't offer anything the episode absolutely couldn't live without. The same could possibly be said for the brief glimpse of Thea (and her new haircut) calling Malcolm "dad," but the fact that it leads to next week's episode, keeps it from being as incongruous.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'Corto Maltese' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: