Welcome to Vulture's first-ever Arrow recap!
I know what you’re thinking. Starting Arrow recaps in the middle of a season makes as much sense as a pampered billionaire surviving on an inhospitable island in the North China Sea. Starting recaps in the middle of season three? To paraphrase Felicity Smoak, that’s something else entirely. But there’s never been a more exciting time to pay a visit to Starling City: As of the last episode, Oliver Queen — caddish playboy turned brooding vigilante — is dead, leaving behind the Arrow’s team to fill his tight leather pants. But before death comes for us all, let’s knock back some Nocking Point and get to this week’s episode ...
“You think I’m in denial.” Yeah, pretty much, Felicity. But at the start of the episode, most Arrow fans are right there with you, including me. After watching the midseason finale, in which Ra’s Al Ghul mortally wounds Oliver Queen in a sword fight and promptly kicks his body off a cliff, I immediately went through all the stages of grief: anger (“But the show is called Arrow!”), bargaining (“If only Oliver had fallen into the Lazarus Pit ...”) and depression (“I guess Laurel will have more screentime now.”). Six weeks later, I’m finally at acceptance: Killing off Oliver Queen instantly alters the dynamic between characters who might otherwise have no reason to interact (Felicity and Thea, please!) and gives the Arrow writers the freedom to reboot Oliver’s story when he returns. Because he is returning, right? (Denial.)
It’s not too common that a television series will kill off its title character while the show is still on the air. Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes to mind, but even then, Buffy was offed at the end of season five, when season six was not a sure thing. Before Buffy was resurrected at the end of the season-six premiere, her friends had to convince all the vampires that she was still alive, so as not to turn the town into a demon tourist destination. In this week’s episode, Team Arrow is doing the same, sending Diggle out in Oliver’s green-hooded suit to keep up vigilante appearances in Starling City. Oliver Queen: He saved the world a lot!
Oliver’s absence for the past three days worries the team, but Felicity is still holding out hope, attempting to locate him with hacked satellite images. (Felicity’s insta-hacking skills always require a certain suspension of disbelief, but in this scene, I am a true believer. FIND HIM, FELICITY, FIND HIM.) Felicity’s hope that Oliver survived the duel with Ra’s is dashed by Malcolm Merlyn, who delivers the bad news via a bloody sword. But then again, does Malcolm Merlyn ever bring good news? Malcolm’s apology to Felicity in this scene, in which he owns up to his responsibility in sending Oliver to his death, seems heartfelt. (“I’m truly sorry. I can see how much you loved him.”) Felicity, of course, doesn’t buy it, telling Malcolm that she’s glad that Oliver’s failure eliminates any chance Malcolm had of avoiding the League of Assassins’ death sentence.
I wish I could be as certain as Felicity in sizing up Malcolm’s character. It’s fitting that Malcolm, when being trained by the League of Assassins, took on “Magician” as his League moniker. He is an illusionist in the sense that, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, I’m somehow convinced that he's not completely bad. Credit the charisma of John Barrowman for bringing such nuance into a role that could have easily been played like a mustache-twirling cartoon villain. It’s sad but true: I am a Malcolm Merlyn apologist.
The supposed motivation for Malcolm’s investigation into Oliver’s fate comes from Malcolm’s daughter and Oliver’s sister, Thea. She has a sweet scene with Roy over her concern for big brother Ollie, and it’s been way too long since these two shared screentime. I’m not a Thea/Roy shipper by any means, but Thea needs a sounding board in her life — one that’s not a mass murderer or a grungy, pompous DJ, wherever that guy went. (Also: Did Thea, like Ollie, never learn to wash her own clothes? I can only assume that her array of midriffs this season can be attributed to laundry-shrinkage mishaps.)
After Merlyn’s bad news, there’s a great long shot of the foundry, with Felicity, Roy, and Diggle sitting separately, in silence, absorbing the news. The five seconds of silence is startling in what, until then, has been a very fast-paced, action-intense episode, and is interrupted only when the computer running a test on the sword beeps to confirms it’s Oliver’s blood.
But there’s no time for grieving in Starling City. One of the lowlife criminals Dig and Roy take down in Oliver’s absence is brought to court and charged with 41 counts of attempted murder. Laurel, of course, is handling the prosecution. I really want to like Laurel. Really, I do. Laurel should be in her own element in the courtroom. But even in this brief scene, Katie Cassidy can’t convince me that (1) Laurel is worth getting to know; or (2) that Laurel is a good lawyer. (Who opposes bail “vigorously,” with a head snap and crossed arms?)
The closest I come to bonding with Laurel in this episode is when she locks eyes with Felicity and promises that Oliver will come back. It’s the only moment of warmth between the two characters since the series began. In past episodes, when Laurel has entered the foundry, there's a palpable vibe of "Who let her in?” If you’re seen as an interloper by two fan favorites like Diggle and Felicity, it’s going to be difficult to get the audience onboard with you. Also: LAUREL, TELL YOUR DAD THAT YOUR SISTER SARA IS DEAD. There’s no reasonable excuse for delaying the bad news this long.
Besides Felicity, Laurel finally has a chance to bond with Diggle, when Diggle lets Laurel in on the fact that Oliver is dead. But I am too distracted in this scene by how Laurel glosses over the news of Oliver’s death too easily to pay attention to any burgeoning Diggle-Laurel love. Instead of taking a moment to reflect that a major love of her life is dead, she just gives Diggle the third degree on whether he is planning on continuing Oliver’s crusade. Laurel doesn’t even do her trademark eye-cry; instead, she eyes Sara’s Canary wig. I wish this show made it easier to root for Laurel.
After court, Laurel overhears the world’s worst defense attorney make a comically loud phone call about the recently arraigned would-be murderer. Laurel employs Felicity to work her computer bippity-boppity-boo to trace the attorney’s call to Danny “Brick” Brickwell. Brick, of course, is up to no good. He manages to free almost all of the perps Oliver’s put away this season by stealing police evidence. Without evidence to put them away, the perps walk free, and right under Brick’s thumb. Brick also appears to be impervious to bullets, which is much more like a meta-human Flash villain than an Arrow one, but Brick is around for a few episodes, so we don’t learn much more than that for now.
THIS WEEK’S FLASHBACK TO HONG KONG: Maybe it’s because Oliver was out for most of present-day Starling City, but the Hong Kong scenes felt more numerous and frenetic than usual. But with Maseo’s wife Tatsu missing and Amanda Waller unwilling to help find her, the stakes are higher than they have been in other Hong Kong flashbacks. When Ollie departs from Waller’s mission plan by planting a tracking device in order to try to track Tatsu, Maseo promises Oliver that he is forever in his debt.
Which is a good thing, because as the last scene of the episode in present time reveals, Maseo, who has pulled bloody, frozen, dead Oliver from the cliff, brings Oliver to a hideout in the mountains, where Tatsu brings Oliver back to life.
- Oliver is alive!!!!! How? Lazarus? Herbs? Tatsu’s “Concentration” Meditation?
- I wish I had more room to expand on Felicity’s well-executed emotional arc this episode. To see her snap at Roy and ignore Diggle’s calls (all nine of them!) was painful but believable, as were her confrontations with Ray.
- “I know who she is.” —Ray to Felicity, who had just described Anna as Ray’s “fiancée.” Fun, cheeky way to get in expository dialogue.
- “I’m more of a glock guy.” —Diggle, struggling to match Oliver’s archery skills
MISSING THE MARK:
- What’s up with the hoarse, coarse-sounding villains on Arrow? (See: Slade Wilson, Brick). I want to throw lozenges at the television.
- Ollie’s Hong Kong hair. I just can’t.
NUMBER OF SHIRTLESS STEPHEN AMELL SCENES: 2
NUMBER OF EPISODES LAUREL HAS GONE WITHOUT TELLING HER DAD HIS OTHER DAUGHTER DIED: 9