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TV REVIEW: ‘Arrow’ S3E1 – “The Calm”

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Like an RPG blowing up your favorite romantic dinner spot, the third season of Arrow began with more plot, exposition and character development than a skid full of C4. Following quickly on the heels of last night’s very well-received premiere of The Flash, it was Arrow’s turn to assert itself. The gold standard of comic book-based series, there were a lot of expectations for this first new episode of the season, but did it deliver? Mostly yes, but a little bit no. This premiere episode has packed from beginning to end with some slick action, interesting new characters, interesting twists for old favorites, and a gut punch in the end that will have reverberations all season long.

Aptly named “The Calm,” the season begins with Team Arrow having it made in the shade: the team is operating like a well-oiled machine, the criminals of Starling City are on the run, the SCPD have officially disbanded the anti-vigilante task force, and the city is five months without a cataclysm. Oliver aims to get his company back and get his personal life in order. (Little sister Thea? She’s in Corto Maltese, thanks for asking.) He also decides to exercise a little romance and ask Felicity out on a date, which she accepts. When things are going this good, you just know a fall is coming.

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Once again, the Arrow production team showed off its excellent, though still sadly unrecognized by the Emmy committee, stunt co-ordination with a car chase that involved Arrow, Arsenal and Diggle stopping a shipment of ill-gotten weapons. For the Starling City’s criminal underworld, its another blow, and at least one of the city’s criminals has had enough. Welcome to the show Peter Stormare as Werner Zytle, AKA: the new Count Vertigo. Stormare looked to be having a blast and reveling in his comic book villainy, even if this new Vertigo seemed a little too Scarecrow all things considered. And although Vertigo was flamboyantly foreign in his characterization, Stormare seemed to be having more fun being a thorn in Arrow than being Raymond Reddington’s Big Bad Berlin on The Blacklist.

The other major character introduced is Ray Palmer played by one time Superman Brandon Routh. I wonder what went through Routh’s head when he signed up for the part, being demoted from the Man of Steel to The Atom (maybe), but the actor seems to bear no resentment and seems downright ebullient in his new role. Palmer upsets Oliver’s plan to take back Queen Consolidated, but from what we see in the board room, Ollie’s great pitch was that his name’s on the building while Palmer points out that the company needs vision. Starling City is dying, no one wants to live in a city where you could die in a man-made earthquake or be killed in a riot by super-powered thugs. Palmer wants to lead QC and the city to a bright, shiny tomorrow. To Star City.

Which brings us to Olicity. True, Palmer was not only throwing salt in Oliver’s business game, but in his romantic game too when he shows up and has a meet cute moment with Felicity at the “Apple” store.*Felicity and Oliver do indeed go on a date after some light hand-wringing from the Arrow himself and a gentle nudge from Diggle. Of course it was obvious from their light and flirty interactions that Olicity was a preoccupation with its hyphenate couple, Oliver was even smiling. Now I’m not one of those – whatchamacallit? – “Shippers,” but it was nice to see the writers address the romance elephant in the room upfront rather than drag it out.

*I’m assuming it’s an Apple Store. It was computer-related and Felicity was wearing a blue shirt. There wasn’t enough glass and plastic in the actual store to make it legit, but the comparison was pretty obvious.

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But if you’re a superhero looking to balance a personal life with your costumed gig, a little advice: Don’t come from a fight with some criminal types and bring your costume in a bag on a date. Vertigo ended Felicity and Oliver’s date with a bang, albeit not the kind of bang Olicity fans wanted. The breezy (for Arrow) tone goes out the window as Oliver comes to a predictable and pedantic realization that he’s trying to hard to be Oliver and losing focus on being the Arrow. As a result, Oliver bars Diggle, whose facing pending fatherhood, from any further work in the field. Not helping Ollie’s complex is the recently promoted Captain Lance, who is not 100 per cent healthy after collapsing at the end of last season. Popping pills ain’t helping, but the Captain doesn’t want a desk job either.

The climax comes down to Vertigo’s attempt to blow up a fight where several of Starling City’s most notorious are gathered, along with a couple of thousand others who like watching two men beat each other. Roy, who aside from showing off some sweet new moves is mostly sidelined and silent in this episode, gets to be the hero and freeze Vertigo’s bomb into uselessness. Arrow, meanwhile, faces off against Vertigo for a second time, defeating the would be mob boss and overcoming the effects of the new and improved (with fear gas) Vertigo drug. It was a bit weird, and very Batman Begins, but Oliver’s exposure to Scare-tigo yield the best split-personality fight since Good Kirk Versus Bad Kirk in Star Trek’s “The Enemy Within.”

So the day is won, Diggle and Lyla welcome a baby girl, Oliver gets a call to meet up with a fellow hero (see last night’s Flash), and Oliver and Felicity agree to disagree that the ship has sunk before it’s even set sail. I blame the fact that she didn’t wear her glasses on their date. Really? In the year 2014 we can’t concede that a woman can be attractive while wearing glasses? It’s still a She’s All That world where one’s beauty is disguised by glasses just like how wearing glasses makes no one suspect Clark Kent is Superman? Speaking of which, that was a nice reverse Superman Oliver pulled, wearing his date attire under his Arrow suit.

On the flashback front, we see how Oliver’s first few days in Hong Kong went. Now I’ve never been a fan of Arrow’s flashbacks, and while last season the writers tried to tie the flashbacks to the action in the present, I still feel like I don’t need to know Oliver’s every move while the world thought he was dead. What’s Waller’s motivation in recruiting Oliver? What does she want from him? That’s never explained (this week), but we do get an idea of the extent Waller’s willing to go to in order to convince Oliver to sign up with her.

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And that brings us to the episode’s final moments. The triumphant return of Black Canary and the tender moment between her and her sister Laurel “You Catch ‘Em and I Cook ‘Em” Lance, is undercut by an ominous voice and several arrows to the gut meaning Sara’s third and most permanent death on the show. Was this Ra’s al Ghul shedding first blood? Was this the work of the Dark Archer Malcolm Merlyn retaliating against the League of Assassins? Either way, it was a helluva sucker punch, and a sad loss for the show considering the tremendous love for Caity Lotz amongst fans. I guess we’re officially on our way to making Laurel the new Black Canary. Vengeance will be the name of the game now as Team Arrow mourns losing one of their own. The calm is over. The storm is here.

What did you Bastards think of “The Calm?”

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