"Arrow's" third season is a mixed bag for me. There are parts of it which I loved, parts which I hated, and parts which just felt okay. There will be spoilers in this review so I'd recommend only reading further if you've finished the third season of "Arrow" and most of the first season of "The Flash."
The main threat this time around is the League of Assassin's, led by Ra's al Ghul (Matt Nable). Nable himself does a great job in the role of this major character. He portrays Ra's as menacing while giving him a silent demeanor. Learning about the character's backstory was a neat addition as well, as it helped to inform some of Ra's' decisions in the second half of the season.
As per usual, the main cast, led by Stephen Amell, is great and do their jobs well. The primary new addition to the team is Ray Palmer, who actually joins the team towards the end of the season. This is the first time I've seen Brandon Routh in a non-villain role, since I first saw him in "Scott Pilgrim Versus The World" and more recently as a major villain in "Chuck," and he does a great job as a goofy, lovable guy who's brilliant. While I was hesitant about the actor originally, he won me over by the season's end. His interactions with Felicity helped that as it developed his character as a good-natured one.
When he finally develops his Atom suit though, that's when he really takes off as a character. I enjoyed seeing him learn that it takes more than a suit to save a city. Him being bested by the Arrow early on was a good wake-up call for him and being trained by Oliver to some extent helped with that. It was also fun to see his eventual interaction with the entirety of Team Arrow after being left to his own story arc for most of the season, as well as his appearance on "The Flash" and how he worked with STAR Labs.
Seeing John Barrowman on screen more often never hurts either as he makes for an interesting opposite to Oliver's Arrow. Now that Barrowman is a main actor, allowing him to have more of a presence and a purpose on the show outside of a simple villain is nice, and I look forward to seeing how he continues to be a part of the show come October. His interactions with Thea and trying to adopt a father role for her was interesting to see as she constantly rejected him, although one could tell that his desire for some sort of relationship with his daughter is legitimate.
The third season started off with a bang as the death of Sara Lance occurred at the end of the premiere. This was a huge shock for me as I expected the Canary to be around for a bit longer. Her death informed the majority of the first half of the season as Team Arrow worked to try and identify her killer. This worked fine as it led into the primary villain of the show and the re-introduction of Thea into the group.
Speaking of Thea, her transformation is probably the biggest of this season, second only to maybe Laurel. At the end of season two, she was helpless against Slade's onslaught of Miru Kuru soldiers, but even by the mid-season finale she can hold her own against some of the toughest opponents. Her training with Malcolm worked well and led to her becoming the sidekick Speedy by the season's end, although one has to suspend some level of realism with how quickly she turned into an expert fighter. The reveal, however, of her being Sara's killer was interesting, and led to some interesting dynamics between her and Malcolm for the remainder of the season, along with her guilt with Laurel once she discovered what she had done.
As I mentioned, Laurel has a transformation as well this season, one which was a bit more rocky all around. Wanting to avenge her sister's death, Laurel becomes the Black Canary in form but not even close in regards to fighting ability. This led to some hard-to-watch scenes as Laurel tried to take down enemies Oliver or Roy could handle with ease and got her ass handed to her. Seeing her abilities improve due to her training with Nyssa was a lovely change and made her a more worthy addition to Team Arrow. An interesting episode revolved around Laurel confronting her fear of not being able to live up to the hero her sister was. This was a good psychological episode for Laurel and allowed her to overcome the hurdle which prevented her from becoming the Canary.
The crossovers which happened with "The Flash" were enjoyable as well. Seeing Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) speed into Starling City for the first time was great as his and Oliver's fighting styles conflicted and led to an interesting showdown. While nothing to quite that degree occurred again, it was still fun to see characters from both shows appear in the other's as it made for some fun interactions.
One note from the most recent episode of "The Flash" (skip ahead if you're not caught up). When Wells fights Oliver and has him pinned, he mentions that Oliver is destined to live to be 86 years old. Whether or not that's solidified or not is hard to say, but is does somewhat kill any theory that "Arrow," when it does eventually end, would end in Oliver's legitimate death, thus making the character immortal for quite some time in the eyes of the viewers. Not a big deal, but that fact has stuck in the back of my mind since I heard it.
The last thing of note before I touch on some negatives is the battle between Oliver and Ra's in the show's mid-season finale. The battle had some fantastic build-up to it as Oliver was essentially going to his death to protect Thea from the League's judgment. But seeing how easily Ra's bested Oliver was shocking, even more so when the sword went through his chest and he was kicked over the cliff, dead. This was easily one of the best cliffhangers I've seen on TV, and, while I knew he wouldn't stay dead as he is the star of the show and this isn't "Game of Thrones," it was still very cool.
Now for the negatives. Past the mid-season finale, the show began to lose a lot of its momentum. The first three episodes were good as they showed how Team Arrow would function against a major bad guy without Oliver there to lead them while it also showed his return to life and as the Arrow. The threat of the League never really got to the level that it was in the show's second season with Slade Wilson. If Ra's had appeared in the flashbacks to some degree as an ally of Oliver's, then his presence in the present may have had more punch and depth. But he's really just a figure here who we don't really see a lot of until the last few episodes. I will say that the reveal of Ra's wanting to make Oliver the next Ra's al Ghul was a neat plot point, but even this was never really dealt with in a satisfactory manner.
The flashbacks, at least in the latter half of the season, never really did a lot. They were often short and very detached from the rest of the show, stretched out to fill in the gaps of the present story. The characters inter-meshed into the present well-enough; it was just the content of the flashbacks which was a bit boring. Perhaps its the lack of being on an island and the mysteries surrounding it which was the cause. With Oliver leaving China for a large boat, I wouldn't be surprised to see the island to make a return in Season 4.
We also got more of the same bickering between Laurel and Quentin Lance, only this time is was about Sara's death and Laurel as the new Black Canary. I feel for Lance, I really do, when he found out Laurel and the Arrow had been keeping Sara's death from him. So yes, be bitter for a few episodes, but don't go completely against the Arrow because he didn't tell you something. This is the guy who saved your city a year ago. Why would you be so determined to take him down now? Yes, I realize that there's the whole "Ra's pretending to be the Arrow to turn the city against Oliver" thing, and that's fine, but Lance should've know something was up after everything the Arrow has done. It only seemed to serve the purpose of bringing Lance, and the city I suppose, into the fold of Oliver's identity, and as an excuse to remove Roy from the team.
Roy's goodbye was strange in and of itself. I was okay with him acting as the Arrow, getting "killed" in prison, and then taking off to live his life. Fine, Colton Haynes probably wanted to start doing other things so they worked this out as a way to remove him from the show. But they should have just left it at that and had him give Thea his outfit for her Speedy transformation then and left out the extra interaction between the two a couple of episodes later.
The episodes leading up to the season finale were somewhat interesting for me. We see Oliver accept Ra's' offer to become the new demon's head and the changes he goes through. We also see the Lazarus Pit come into play with the revival of Thea from death. Both of these were neat and I was curious to see if Oliver's alliances had truly shifted. But there was still never a huge amount of tension or excitement revolving around these last episodes as we knew he wouldn't remain in this situation forever.
A lot of the season deals with Oliver trying to find himself and discover who he really is. We see this in the premiere with Felicity as he rejects her since he can't be both Oliver Queen and the Arrow. The remainder of the season dwells on this, both in the flashbacks and in the present as Oliver is constantly faced with choices which will define him. The finale really takes this and runs with it as Oliver in China begins to see himself as a monster who can torture people without remorse while the Oliver of the present defines himself right away as Oliver Queen, not as the Arrow. This choice is reflected in the final scenes as Oliver seems to choose Felicity and a life beyond crime-fighting. Will this last? No, since we have at least two more seasons to deal with and Amell won't be leaving any time soon, but it would be interesting if there was some kind of time jump once the show returns and some instant new threat which forces Oliver back into being the Arrow.
The rest of the finale was fine. The Ra's versus Oliver scene was reflective of the battle in the mid-season finale and so the parallels were fine for me. The other major development was the deal Oliver made with Malcolm, which netted him the title of Ra's after Oliver's ascension. I'll be curious to see how long this change in power sticks, especially with Nyssa present. I was honestly expecting Oliver to still take the title, but just give it to Nyssa, who obviously deserves it, and call on the League when he needs their help. Malcolm becoming the new Ra's will obviously lead to some interesting dynamics next season, but it felt like a waste of a story arc if Oliver was going to just give the prize away so quickly.
After such a long review, what did I ultimately think about "Arrow's" third season? I thought it was fine and had some great character development, but the story was not nearly at the level of season two. The main plot seemed empty and the flashbacks rarely informed the main story to the level they did in season two. But regardless, even if this season had been horrible, I would still watch the next one due to the cross-overs with "The Flash" and "Legends of Tomorrow." Speaking of which, look out for a "Flash" review next week.
But what did you guys think of "Arrow's" third season? Did you enjoy it more than I did or just as much, or even worse? Let me know down in the comments!