[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
After he and Team Arrow successfully protected Starling City from Slade Wilson and his band of mirakuru-powered warriors, the question was: What would be Oliver Queen's next step? Moreover, how would Arrow respond to what was essentially a happy ending, one filled with the promise of better days to come? What kind of conflict needs to be tackled after your hero becomes, well, a hero?
Throughout much of 'The Calm' Arrow and Oliver Queen are responding as much to those questions as they are the title of the episode. Although things begin with a rousing pursuit of a semi filled with stolen weapons – once again demonstrating how the visual appeal of the show is consistently improving – the encounter is a quick affair, one that establishes how Team Arrow operates like a well-oiled machine. And with Roy Harper helping out, dressed in his snappy red duds, the opening sequence also gives off a sense that everything is as it should be – at least on the Arrow side of things.
In the world occupied by Oliver Queen, things aren't so rosy. And when you really think about what it is the Arrow does all night, every night, it's clear why things in Queen's personal life aren't great at all. But it's not for a lack of trying. Between working on his burgeoning relationship with Felicity and balancing his efforts to regain control of Queen Consolidated, Oliver's already got his hands full. This leads to two promising but equally disastrous undertakings that leave him unsure whether or not he's ready to live a life as Oliver Queen and the Arrow.
It raises an interesting question as to where Oliver begins and the Arrow ends, but more than that, Oliver's troubles with identity suggest he's a textbook example of the oft-used principle that, when it comes to superheroes, the civilian identity is the secret one, and the masked persona is his or her true self. Oliver has become Starling City's protector and has had success doing it. But, in a way, the uniform he puts on in his quest to save the city, does more than represent his ideals. It also acts as a containment device to shield him from the trauma of losing those close to him, as he did when Slade killed his mother (and when the truth about Thea's father devastated their relationship).
Unfortunately for Oliver, having his first date with Felicity interrupted by an RPG, courtesy of the all new Count Vertigo (Peter Stormare), and then having his hopes to regain control of Queen Consolidated dashed by the charming but underhanded intrusion of Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), confirms that maybe he's not cut out to carry the emotional baggage that comes with being Oliver Queen. He then proceeds to sideline Diggle on account of his father-to-be status, in an attempt to be further shielded (and to protect those he cares about) from future emotional scarring.
The notion of the hero willingly becoming lost in the mask - or in this case fearing the idea of the man underneath it - isn't necessarily a new one. But the fact that Oliver's actions in the opening of season 3 can be traced back to everything he's gone through in the previous two seasons, helps make his retreat from the personal feel more justified, and it legitimizes the question of: If he's not Arrow, then who is he? To prove the point, Ollie's concern is reflected in the recently promoted Captain Lance's fear of spending the rest of his career behind a desk. Both men have become so rooted in the identity tied to their duty that it has become all they have, or in Oliver's case, all that he wants to have.
With Arrow there is always the hint of a defining moment in Oliver's past that will help explain what he's going through. In 'The Calm' it has to do with his time in Hong Kong, as basically a prisoner of Amanda Waller. There's not much to go on here, but the episode does set up Oliver's post-Lian Yu excursion by turning up his sense of desperation and by putting him in another impossible situation with a heavy moral component. That is, if he flees, the son of the man assigned to watch over him will be pay. It's a clever way of keeping the flashbacks as interesting as possible, despite the fact that we all know how his journey ends.
In that sense, the events of 'The Calm' are not only engaging, but also they seem to carry real weight. Oliver puts his relationship with Felicity on hold, but still proclaims his love for her. Meanwhile, Diggle and Lyla become parents, and to top it all off, Ray Palmer wants to turn Starling City into Star City. Even Arrow's ability to overcome the effects of the new vertigo formula, and bear the weight of the Count's suggestion that the existence of heroes like the Arrow results in the creation of villains like him, delivering a sense of consequence and import to the proceedings. But all that pales in contrast to the episode's final moments.
After Sara Lance turns up unexpectedly and lends Oliver a helping hand, she has a meeting with Laurel that intimates she's in town on League of Assassin business. She also hints how the life she's chosen can be filled with unexpected consequences. It's all fairly standard stuff, seemingly suggesting that, despite her departure at the end of season 2, Sara will have a role in season 3. That is until she takes three arrows to the gut and falls off a building in front of her sister.
It's a shocking moment and truly startling way to cap off the season premiere. But, in addition to (apparently) killing off an established, well-liked character, Sara's death is more than just shock value; it gives significance to the choices Oliver makes throughout the episode, suggesting an unbalanced life will only lead to an empty ending and heartache for those left waiting. If nothing else, the event certainly suggests that the titular calm period is over, and Team Arrow needs to prepare for the coming storm.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'Sara' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: