Contrary to Season 2, Arrow Season 3 begins with everything being pretty upbeat. Things seem to finally be going right for Oliver Queen as the Arrow, along with the rest of his team, now including Roy as a red-hooded archer (later donning the name Arsenal). Captain Lance calls off the anti-Vigilante task force at the beginning of the season. It seems that the Arrow is finally seen as a force for good, thanks to his efforts to re-establish himself in Season 2. But things quickly begin to fall apart for both Oliver and the Arrow. All things he can’t foresee.
[SPOILERS for Arrow Season 1 & 2 are within, and the first couple of episodes of Season 3 (new status quo set-up stuff).]
He loses control of Queen Consolidated to Ray Palmer of Palmer Industries, an insanely charismatic and geeky businessman and genius, played by Brandon Routh, taking a second stab at superhero media after his starring role in the critical flop Superman Returns. His budding relationship with Felicity seems too dangerous after she is almost killed in an attack on a restaurant they’re at by a new Count Vertigo. Sara returns to Starling City on mysterious business for the League of Assassins, but is brutally murdered by an unknown assailant.
All of the above things happen in the first episode, with the lurking threat of his sister Thea, who he thinks safe, being under the influence of Malcolm Merlyn, her real father, in Corto Maltese. It’s not that any of these things couldn’t be foreseen. Oliver should be able to be aware of any one of them. It’s having all the things at once — balancing everything — that’s the problem, and it’s one that’s very much a through line throughout the season. What does it mean to be Oliver Queen and the Arrow in the Starling City of Season 3? What happens when those things mix together? What happens when it’s all too much?
The first half of the season is business as usual. Everything moves along quickly, and there’s a lot of interesting new developments and twists. Characters begin to progress radically from where they’ve been stuck in prior seasons, with the problem with the writing for them paid attention to and addressed. As usual Arrow is a very fluid show, not afraid to make changes, adapt, and continue to grow. Roy, Thea, Laurel, and Nyssa all return with bigger roles than ever, all taking their own interesting routes that are quite different to how you’ve seen them before. And that’s only the least of it, pretty much every character is moving in new and interesting ways. Nobody feels overlooked or useless, everyone has a role to play — even great new characters like Ray Palmer, Ted Grant, and of course, R’as al Ghul. It feels like the show has shed a lot of its baggage in many ways, and feels lighter for it.
Arrow Season 3 hurtles towards a truly stunning mid-season finale, the cliffhanger of which was torture at the time. Unfortunately the season does start to unravel a little bit after the mid-season finale. It uses the events of it to explore some interesting new ground, but sets it on a path on which it must inevitably stay pretty firm all the way until the end. It’s not as if it becomes one long continuous and uninterrupted story, but it does dominate, as it must. With that said it’s a good story, and I genuinely didn’t know where it would go. While it is a bit longer form than Arrow has done before, it does hold the interest more over that long term than some of the duller moments of the Season 2 finale sequence of episodes.
The “in the past” B-story that’s the norm for Arrow also takes some interesting new turns throughout Season 3, being the first time Oliver gets off the island. He ends up in Hong Kong, forced to work for ARGUS and Amanda Waller, paired with Agent Maseo Yamashiro as his handler. It’s an interesting new dynamic, and we get to see Oliver really begin to pick up some of his skills he uses as the Arrow, especially some of the not so nice ones. Unfortunately, while this is also pretty great up to mid-season, it begins to fall apart after that much more, especially as the way the events in Hong Kong will end is pretty explicitly stated and dealt with in the “present”, meaning you end up watching things happen that you know will happen, and it’s a bit boring in that regard.
Arrow Season 3 is a strong showing, and while elements of it might not hold together quite as well at a first glance as earlier seasons, when you take a look at the show so far as a whole it equally presents some new angles for the show too (in the “present” story anyway). In many ways it feels much more confident than earlier seasons. Everything seems to be in the right place, with little room for unnecessary moments or characters. It introduces a lot to the Arrowverse, not only in terms of characters, but also events, and mythos. While Barry Allen (the Flash) was introduced in Season 2 briefly, this feels like a season with its eyes firmly set on expanding its horizons. Maybe some could see that as a weakness, and maybe it could be if the show continues that way going forward. But here it was fresh and exciting.
It seems that this Season has gotten a bit more flak than the others, but I think there’s still way too much to love here to give it too much. Comparing it to other prior seasons it feels much tighter, and there’s no doubt that Arrow is still one of the best superhero television shows on at the moment, providing a strong argument for superhero adaptations to favour the small screen over the big one.