Last week, I criticized the season 3 premiere of [Arrow](series:720988) Arrow for the “rushed and cluncky” death of Sara Lance. I’m happy to say that all of my criticisms were assuaged after watching this week’s episode. Episode 2, “Sara,” deals almost solely with the fact and aftermath of Sara’s death, to tremendous success. “Sara” is everything missing from “The Calm” and then some, and ends up being one of the best hours of Arrow so far.
The episode focuses primarily on Oliver, Laurel, and Felicity's contrasting reactions to Sara’s death. Oliver and Laurel run from their grief, albeit in different ways. Oliver retreats deeper into his team leader role as The Arrow, further progressing the season’s theme of identity (for more on this, see last week’s review). Laurel looks for a quick emotional fix in the form of revenge, and seeing her pursue it so ruthlessly gives us a quick re-glimpse at the self-destructive addict she became last season. Felicity does not run from her grief but embraces it head on, allowing herself to weaken, despair, fall off her, “A game.” Because of this, she is the only character to achieve any kind of acceptance at the episode’s end. By allowing herself to grieve, she achieves a clarity and peace in the last act that Oliver and Laurel don’t even come close to attaining. Together, the three portray all 5 stages of grief in concurrent fashion, with Oliver representing denial and isolation, Laurel anger and bargaining, and Felicity depression and acceptance. It’s a well-crafted framework by which to present the episode’s emotional arc, one that works very well.
I can’t talk about this episode without mentioning the performances of Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards. The two actors share a chemistry that makes their scenes together stand out against all others. The subtleties they bring to their performances in “Sara” elevate the show to its most real and believable: Felicity hugging her chair before her argument with Ollie, her constant air of exhaustion; Oliver not looking any character directly in the eye when talking about Sara, his quiet acceptance of Roy’s confession regarding Thea. As a CW superhero show, Arrow is never going to get accolades for its performances, but the cast is truly phenomenal, and never better than they are here.
“Sara” succeeds in balancing its pathos with all the genre elements Arrow juggles week to week. The subtle, character-driven hour is balanced with great and innovative action pieces, specifically the jousting motorcycle showdown between The Arrow and Komodo. We also get our first real look at The Arrow and Arsenal fighting as a team, a sequence both badass and uplifting given how much Team Arrow is emotionally scattered by this point.
Komodo is nicely done, and feels like a bigger threat than the typical Baddie-Of-The-Week. It’s nice to see new (as in New 52) comic book characters adapted to the screen, and Simon Lacroix fits the tone of the show perfectly. The only real criticism I have is that Komodo’s red-herring status is pretty predictable. But with his anti-hero swag in the his last scene, he leaves me hoping we haven’t seen the last of him. He’d make a great addition to the Suicide Squad.
The Hong Kong storyline this week serves the purpose of furthering the relationship between Oliver and Maseo while providing a thematic counterpoint to Oliver’s struggles in the present storyline. Here we see Oliver hide behind a mask, shut his best friend out of his life, and isolate himself to a life of violence and intrigue, very much like the present day Oliver is doing. We do see the return of Colin Donnell as Tommy Merlyn, though he doesn’t have much to do in the episode. I have a theory about Tommy Merlyn’s possible return to Arrow, but that will be a rambling for another day.
A good storyteller can create a work that raises a myriad of ethical, social, philosophical, and practical questions. A great storyteller can do this without providing a single answer. It may simply be a product of its long-form medium, but for me Arrow is doing this with superheroes better than any mainstream Marvel or DC film. One only need to hear the weary Felicity say, “My friend, our friend, was shot with arrows and fell off of a rooftop. Her body is upstairs right above us in a freezer because we don't know what to do with it, with her..” to start asking serious questions about the life Oliver and his friends have chosen to lead. Is the reward enough for the price of Sara’s life? For Oliver’s life? Is it right to inflict this much torture and pain on themselves and their loved ones to accomplish their mission? Is any of it even worth it? Arrow answers none of these questions, at least not this week. In great storyteller fashion, those questions are left with the audience. Hopefully, that’s where they’ll stay.
NEXT WEEK: Corto Maltese
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