A Short List of Everything Wrong With Season 3 of Arrow
WARNING: The following article contains opinions… and spoilers
I’m going to level with you guys. I’m not gonna troll, I’m not gonna needlessly hate and nitpick on small things no one cares about. I’m going to be straight-forward and give my honest sincere opinion and back it up with solid arguments. Season 3 was bad. Not flawed but still enjoyable like the last two seasons of Supernatural were. Just, bad.
In the following text I will describe in great detail the main issues that plagued season 3 of Arrow while also trying to exclaim how these issues could have been fixed and how the overall story could have improved. While discussing this I will also compare season 3 to the previous two seasons, other television shows that did correctly what Season 3 didn't, and Arrow’s main inspiration, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Be warned, there are spoilers for the first three seasons of arrow. And finally, please note that I love this show and want nothing more than for it to be great again. With all that said here is my critique on everything wrong with Season 3 of Arrow, in no particular order. They are…
1. The Flashbacks
Previous seasons of Arrow expertly used flashbacks as a method of not only tying in the past and the present, but also showing how past events transformed Oliver Queen from care-free playboy to survivalist vigilante, similar to the likes of shows like Lost. Season One’s flashbacks served as an introduction to Oliver’s character, we see how he had to adapt in order to survive and how the other people on that island (Yao Fei, Slade, and Shado) taught him how to. In the Season Two flashbacks Oliver became a lot tougher, and we started to see how this kid would end up becoming The Arrow. They also had very strong connections with the present, as we got to see Slade Wilson becoming the main villain Deathstroke and more often than not the flashbacks in some way reflected current events. In Season Three Oliver is not on Lien Yu, he’s in Hong Kong, which already gives an alienated feel, working for Argus. It’s here that he meets Maseo and Tatsu, played excellently by Karl Yune and Rila Fukushima. Structurally Season Three is a considerable step down from previous seasons, the only thing we see of Oliver’s growth as a character is Amanda Waller teaching him to torture people, but that’s only one episode in a series that has over 20 episodes a season. In terms of learning more about Oliver’s journey into becoming The Arrow, we don’t see how Oliver becomes The Arrow in the future like we did in Season Two. But more than that, I find the flashbacks to be uninteresting, needless complicated, and so convoluted to the point that by the time I got to episode 19 I had no clue what was happening. Aside from Tatsu and Maseo the only other thing that connects the flashbacks to the present is the Omega virus that some military guy uses because of reasons I couldn’t begin to explain. When coming up with the idea for this article the first thing to come to my mind were the flashbacks, not because they’re the worst thing about the season but because even during the first half of the season (The good half) I didn't like them that much. I also found Oliver choosing to go back to Lien Yu because he tortured a guy to be, well, really dumb. It also seems completely out of left-field as Oliver’s main goal in the first two season, just like everyone else on the island, was to get off Lien Yu. And how does the Season One intro go again… “My name is Oliver Queen. For five years I was stranded on an island with only one goal, survive.” Not “For two years I was stranded on an island with only one goal, survive… and another two years I was stranded on that same island with only one goal… Inner peace, inner peace.” It just seems like a complete step backwards because in the first two seasons Oliver needed to adapt to survive and through that we were able to see how he would end up becoming a crime fighting vigilante.
2. Time Devotion
One of the most important elements of any superhero show is devoting enough time to the right things, and it’s also something Arrow was pretty good at until now. The handling of Roy Harper in the first two season of Arrow is the prime example on how to introduce the sidekick character. Other good examples of devoting time correctly can be applied to characters such as; Slade Wilson, Felicity, Diggle, Sebastian Blood, and Sara Lance. Diggle doesn’t learn about Oliver’s secret until the end of the third episode and when he does learn about it he’s not on Oliver’s side at first, Felicity plays a very memorable part in the show before joining Oliver’s team, Sara is referred to so often that her presence is almost always present even before she comes back as the Black Canary, and Slade Wilson is the ultimate example of the slow burn villain, along the lines of Two-Face in Batman: The Animated Series, He becomes a main character in the second half of Season One and we don’t see him become Deathstroke until the end of the first half of Season Two. For more examples of slow burning villains take a look at Wilson Fisk in Daredevil and Dr. Wells i.e. The Reverse-Flash in The Flash.
Point is, the first two seasons of Arrow were extremely well balanced and knew where to put the focus and devote time to. Season Three on the other hand is constantly juggling multiple stories, some more interesting than others, and instead of putting the focus on developing Roy or Laurel they instead decide to devote time to stories that don’t go anywhere. The worst offender to this hands down is the Ray/Felicity romance. Now before I go on a rant about this let me first say that I think Brandon Routh is extremely believable and likeable in his portrayal of Ray Palmer, it’s just a shame that a majority of his screen time is spent on this romance. The Ray/Felicity romance goes absolutely nowhere. It serves nothing to the plot and after Felicity dumps Ray they never reference it again, it might as well have never happened. And the writers devoted so much time to it instead of devoting time to stories that needed to be developed more, like…
3. Offscreen Training/Character Relationships
It’s mind boggling how much the writers just leave to your imagination: Oliver training with how to use a sword? Never shown. Laurel training to become the Black Canary? Barely touched upon. Thea training with Malcolm Merlyn? One episode, never re-visited. Oliver training with the League of Assassins? Nada. Though I’ll touch on that more later. Another thing that seems to come and go more often than cars on a highway are the relationships that are sometimes brought up. Case in point, Laurel and Nyssa. Laurel and Nyssa’s relationship doesn't extend anywhere beyond the fact that they both have daddy issues, there’s next to no screen time given to the two of them only occasionally hinted at in one or two episodes. It’s implied that she’s training her, sounds cool, right? Well guess what you don’t get to see any of it, instead here’s another Ray/Felicity scene. Enjoy. You’d think that they’d develop their relationship in some way. Maybe they share a friendship based on mutual respect, or maybe Nyssa becomes a mentor figure to her, or maybe even a possible romance. Another example of this happening in this season is the relationship between Oliver and Ra's Al Ghul, but I'll discuss that in a later segment. Another absolute waste of potential was Roy Harper, who in the first two seasons was built-up beautifully, is given next to no character development in Season 3, even though the season provides so many opportunities for them to do so.
That’s the prime example of time put in the wrong places. Instead of seeing Nyssa train Laurel, we get a romance sub-plot that doesn’t go anywhere. Instead of giving Roy a time to shine as the Red Arrow, we get more of the same thing we’ve seen in previous seasons. Instead of getting an episode where Malcolm Merlyn teaches Oliver to use a sword, we get an obligatory Suicide Squad episode. You get my point, Season Three really would have benefited from the writer’s prioritizing which story to devote time to.
4. The Supposed Theme of Identity
Here’s another problem that could’ve been fixed with time devotion. The writers have said that Season Three was going to have a theme just as the first two had, this theme was going to be one of Identity. If that was their goal they sure missed the mark on that one. Though the theme of Identity would occasionally pop up in a couple episodes, but I can count all of those episodes on my two hands. Don’t believe me? The Calm, Sara, Corto Maltese, The Magician, The Offer, Public Enemy, Broken Arrow, My Name Is Oliver Queen. The supposed theme isn't consistent throughout the season it only occasionally pops up, and do you notice the huge gap between The Magician and The Offer. That means for several months the theme disappeared only to show up again in a few episodes near the end. Because of this the theme isn't present throughout the season and doesn't feel like a theme, but rather a character issue that comes and goes as it pleases. An example of a theme of identity done right is Season Four of Dexter. Sure, the theme of identity was second to the cat and mouse game between Dexter and The Trinity Killer, but the theme was always present throughout Season Four. As different as the two shows are (Except for David Ramsey) Arrow surprisingly could have taken notes from Season Four of Dexter, at least when it comes to this specific theme.
5. The Pacing & The Season Finale
Even though I've touched on this a bit in previous segments, I didn't go to the pacing of all these stories. It’s bad. Like I said, this is constantly juggling all these stories and of course, as is with juggling, most of the stories end up falling completely flat. The season finale is where this is best displayed. Seasons One and Two’s finales ended all their respective stories very nicely and all while still delivering an action-packed, character driven episode. Of course it helped that those seasons didn’t have ten freaking stories. Real quick I’m gonna name of all the stories that weren’t completed before the season finale, not including the flashbacks: Oliver becoming the next Ra’s Al Ghul (The “Main” story), Oliver needing to defeat Ra’s, Felicity and Diggle’s trust issues with Oliver, Ra’s attacking the city, Ra’s’ hidden agenda to kill Damien Dahrk, Thea working out all her personal issues and becoming Speedy (because reasons), Laurel and Captain Lance’s family issues, Oh yeah and that whole theme of identity crap. You see what I mean? And when we get to the season finale and they need to wrap-up all these stories plus the flashbacks, you get a really messy and unfocused season finale. I didn't even talk about all the other stories that came and went, some of which didn't even really have a satisfying conclusion: Team Arrow figuring out Canary’s murder, Thea hanging with Malcolm for 6 months and then continuing to work with him, Laurel training with Ted Grant then with Nyssa, Ray Palmer working on the ATOM suit, the Ray Palmer/Felicity Romance, and now I sound like a broken record. Because of all the stories they're constantly throwing at us there's no time to get emotionally involved in any of it. The pacing is not only messy I also find it to be kind of boring, especially during the last 4 episodes. The pacing of this season seems totally unbalanced, convoluted, and all over the place with it’s storytelling. But I've already gone off about that.
6. Ra’s Al Ghul (and his relationship with Oliver)
Nothing but respect for Matt Nable but that doesn't change how poorly this character was written, especially when it comes to his relationship with Oliver, and it’s a shame. As annoying as it may be for you to hear me compare Season 3 to the first two seasons here I go again. Season Two had built-up Ra’s Al Ghul tremendously, with characters talking about him and small references here and there, as well as the introduction to the League of Assassins and Nyssa Al Ghul, the show had paved the way for his appearance. And after such a badass introduction Ra’s really doesn't do anything for most of the season. He just walks around Nanda Parbat with his hands behind his back and commands other people to do simple things like carrying his possessions. Even in the season finale he doesn't seem like much of a threat. As I said in the Offscreen Training segment, Oliver’s training with the League of Assassins was basically non-existent. I mean for all we know Ra’s didn't teach Oliver jack, because all we saw was Oliver was chained in a room for a couple of days and then Ra’s splashed some water on him and that was it. So in the season finale when Oliver beats Ra’s using all the skills he taught him, it doesn't make any sense because the season took no time to develop their relationship. It also makes Oliver’s extreme dedication of beating him seem completely out of character and overall just not make any sense. For an example of this done correctly take a look at another Ra’s Al Ghul story, Batman Begins. With far less time Batman Begins perfectly develops the relationship between the hero and villain. Ra’s Al Ghul is Bruce Wayne’s opposite, he’s just as smart and skilled as him, both he and Bruce Wayne have the same viewpoint on crime and society but have arrived at opposite conclusions. Because of how similar the two of them actually are, it makes their conflict interesting. For another great villain/hero relationship look at Arrow’s sibling series The Flash. You know what makes Reverse-Flash such an awesome villain? Because he’s superior to the hero. He’s smarter than him, he’s faster than him, and he’s always like 10 steps ahead of him. This makes for a more interesting battle between the two of them, and also makes it more satisfying when Barry actually gains a victory. Ra’s lacks the sense of threat that Merlyn had in Season One and lacks the developed relationship with Oliver that Slade had.
7. Oliver Returning So Soon
Possibly my biggest issue with the season was this complete waste of what could’ve been the most epic story in the series. After the climactic showdown between Oliver and Ra’s on top of the mountain fans were left with the biggest cliff-hanger the series has ever had. After Oliver was jabbed in the throat, stabbed through the chest and kicked off the mountain falling at least 200 feet with nothing but a 2-inch coat of snow to break his fall people understandably expected Oliver to be gone for a few episodes. But nope, instead Oliver was brought back the following episode. No build-up, no explanation, no believability, and nothing good came from this creative choice. I was expecting Oliver to be gone for at least 5 episodes, Hell I would have been happy if Oliver didn't come back until the last 3 episodes. I remember thinking to myself “Man, that would be epic. If they play there cards right they might actually be able to top Season Two.” It would've given the writers time to develop other characters, and devote time to many different stories. It would have fixed most of these problems, I don’t know if it would have been as good as the first two seasons but it certainly would have been on par with them. This choice removed all emotional weight to the season, when Oliver “Came Back” in Uprising it wasn't like “Oh my god he’s back, Fuck yeah!” it was more of a “Oh cool, Oliver’s back, I guess.” There was no real emotional impact to that moment because he was never really gone. There was no sense of loss. This is maybe my biggest problem with the season because it was the first mistake, this was how it started going downhill.
Now look, I’m not a hater. I didn't sit through every episode of Season Three with the thought “Oh man, lets see how bad this one is.” I went in to every episode hoping it would be great. I’m also well aware that this season isn't without merit, just as the first two seasons aren't perfect. The Calm, Public Enemy, and The Climb are some of the best episodes of the series. With that being said most of the time it doesn't turn out so good. But I haven’t given up on the series just yet, I have high hopes for Season Four and hopeful it ends up being a much better season… or maybe it’ll be even worse, only time will tell. Either way, Season Four has a lot of redeeming to do.
So that was everything I had to say about Season 3 of Arrow, I had a lot of fun writing this article. So what did all of you think about this season? Did you love this season? Did you hate it? Did you agree with my points? Do you want me to burn alive in a fire? Let me know how you felt about this article in the comments below, I welcome any feedback. Except if you want me to die in a fire… because that’s pretty fucked up. Even by internet standards.