“The Calm”, eh? Now there’s an ominously passive-aggressive episode title to launch the third series of Arrow. And yes, for all that this season premiere aims to persuade us that the quality of life is on the up for the heroes of Starling City, there’s a tangible sense that something nasty is heading their way from the dark heart of the writer’s room…
The opening truck takedown makes for a spectacular intro and gives us Team Arrow operating at peak efficiency. Everyone’s in play and everyone’s in character (Oliver even gets to resurrect his “You have failed the city!” catchphrase). Roy may not have a superheroic alias yet but he’s in full costume and already mastering the masked and moody smoulder perfected by his mentor. Pity he’s rather shortchanged by the rest of the episode.
We’re told that the city is dying but Starling definitely feels a more welcoming place for Oliver and company. The cops have disbanded the Anti-Vigilante Taskforce and the crime rate has plummeted. Buoyed by this, Oliver is on the brink of experimenting with the concept of a personal life, and it’s here that “The Calm” dares to plug into the live voltage of the show’s fanbase, directly addressing the Oliver/Felicity relationship that powers a thousand Tumblr pages.
To its credit the resolution of Oliver’s surprise declaration of love at the close of last season doesn’t just play as fan service. The show needed to tackle it, of course, and the fall-out feels genuine and transformative, proving to Oliver that he still can’t take a chance on unshielding his heart. It’s also pleasing that it’s Felicity who’s empowered to end the escalating romance. “Stop dangling maybes,” she says, and she might as well be talking to the show’s writers.
Played by Superman Returns star Brandon Routh with a distinct touch of Christopher Reeve charm, Ray Palmer made his debut in the DCU in the pages of Showcase 34 in 1961. Created by Gardner Fox and Gil Kane, the Silver Age Atom was a compatriot of Green Arrow in the Justice League of America. Powered by a fragment of white dwarf star matter fashioned into a lens, he has the ability to shrink himself to sub-atomic size. So yes, technically he’s the Sub-Atom…
The focus on Oliver’s emotional growth means the threat this week feels a little undercooked. Peter Stormare makes a superior Count Vertigo to his hammy predecessor but the character’s thinly sketched, entering the action just like Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight – Arrow just can’t shake its debt to the Nolan movies, it seems – and stealing the Scarecrow’s schtick with all that business with the fear-summoning psychotropics. Still, the sequence where Oliver slugs it out with his own secret identity has a pleasingly comic book vibe.
Elsewhere the show has a new locale for its flashbacks. The switch to Hong Kong proves refreshing, adding clamour and colour after the desolation of Wig Island. And it’s good to see the charismatic Rila Fukishima joining the cast.
The episode saves its true gut-punch for its closing moments. The death of Sara – and come on, it must be a death, given the three arrows in the torso, the length of the fall and the puddle of blood on the sidewalk – is shockingly abrupt and unexpected. But as Count Vertigo says, “There will always be… someone to pick up the mantle”, right?
Felicity makes a bogglingly rapid recovery from the attack on the restaurant. One moment she’s a dazed, blood-smeared mess, the next she’s looking implausibly glam, without so much as a bruise to show for her unfortunate dining experience…
Did You Spot?
Ray Palmer’s vision for Starling includes a rebranding to Star City – which would, of course, align it with the name of Green Arrow’s home in the comic books.
Did You Also Spot?
The mention of 52nd Street continues the show’s preoccupation with the number, nodding to DC’s New 52 universe.
Arrow is aired on Sky 1 HD in the UK on Thursday nights.