If “The Climb” had all the emotion and decisiveness of a season finale, then “Left Behind,” the winter premiere of Arrow, had all the forward momentum and drive of a season premiere. New motivations were discovered, the status quo was shaken up, and everything we were led to think happened, actually happened with some slight adjustment. Emotionally impacting, but still not short on any action, Arrow began 2015 with a simple, but pointed question: Can Arrow still be Arrow without Arrow? In other news, a new villain arrives with big plans, an old villain sees his plans fall apart, and a new hero borrows an old identity to become the latest Starling City resident to kick ass and take names.
Now that the intro’s out of the way, let’s not beat around the bush. Oliver is dead! Long live, Oliver! On the League of Assassins’ sacred mountain of combat (or whatever) we see the pale corpse of Oliver Queen, right where Ra’s al Ghul left it. A lone figure finds his body and takes it away, but who would go to the trouble?
Obviously the fact that Oliver will be back is as apparent as the fact that Arrow just got renewed for season four. What else were they going to do, promote Roy to Green Arrow? No disrespect to Arsenal, but he’s been captured and used as bait so often even Burt Ward‘s Robin is laughing at him. As for Diggle, he does don the green hood, but even the bad guys know that Arrow rarely missing what he’s firing at. Not that Diggle doesn’t have the skills, he certain has the stature and the hand-to-hand combat. David Ramsey got to show off his moves, but an Arrow that can’t fire arrows well does nothing for that reputation that Oliver’s so carefully cultivated.
For much of the episode, our heroes hold up hope that Oliver’s just lost his cell phone, or maybe got loaded in celebration after beating Ra’s al Ghul, but Malcolm Merlyn throws cold water on that when he finds the sword that killed Oliver, left as a “memorial to the fallen.” That Ra’s al Ghul is such a fiend for tradition, isn’t he? He’s like the Martha Stewart of murder. You’ve got to love John Barrowman‘s oily delivery of condolences to Team Arrow, he says that he will have to live with the guilt of killing Oliver in such a way that it instantaneously makes you say to yourself, “Yeah right!”
There was also a great impetuousness to the way Barrowman tells the gang that Oliver’s death means his own. Like it’s all their fault he violated the rules of the League and is marked for death. A great villain doesn’t think he’s the villain of the story, but a cartoon super-villain blames people he has never met for making him do things he did to himself, for himself, that legitimately got him into trouble. Congratulations Malcolm, you’re a sidekick and a talking cat away from being Team Rocket.
The emotional concerto though belongs to Felicity, and her portrayer Emily Bett Rickards. Typically in melodrama, it’s go big or go home, but Rickards only gets one big outburst, and it’s with Ray Palmer. In the process, not only does it tell us something about Felicity, it tells us something about Ray too. As Felicity evokes Ray’s dead fiancee Anna to convince him of the futility of being an armored hero, Ray sheds the nutty professor routine to be simple and direct, “never tell me again what Anna would have wanted,” he said. There was a real sense of darkness in Brandon Routh‘s line reading, and one wonders just how totally Ray is invested in the A.T.O.M. suit. Is he so driven like season one Oliver that he can’t see a life outside of his mission?
In another great Felicity moment, and one before Malcolm reveals certain facts, Laurel arrives at the Arrow-Cave to buck up the team, refute Malcolm’s claims and look Felicity in the eye and tell her that she knows Oliver will be back. In fact, it was a pretty big week for Laurel’s general effectiveness as we see her be a potent district attorney, and we see her being a good friend and comfort to the team. Not only does Laurel get that sweetly pointed moment with Felicity, but she gives Diggle a hug when he confesses that, as silly as it seems, Diggle still sees himself as Oliver’s bodyguard and he wasn’t there to protect him. Ramsey really killed that moment, keeping that stiff upper lip but with a hint of a tear in his eye.
The primary developments in the ongoing story this week included the arrival of a new villain in the form of ex-con Danny “Brick” Brickwell. He’s got a big plan to recruit a group of hired muscle by stealing the evidence keeping them in prison from the SCPD lock-up and then extort them into helping him take control of the Glades. Vinnie Jones does his Vinnie Jones thing as Brick, but this really wasn’t the week for a new guy to stand out and make an impression while the regulars were dealing with so many heavy things. Even poor Quentin, who’s repeatedly gotten the short shrift this season, only gets screen time during shoot outs.
Not to sound like a broken record, but they could always make time chopping off the flashbacks, which this week revealed that the chemical weapon China White stole comes in two parts, the second of which is in the possession of the Chinese military. Oliver not only procured the chemical agent, but sneaked a tracker into one of China White’s men, presumably because he will lead them back to the missing Tatsu. In the present, we learn that Maseo is the one that rescues Oliver’s frozen corpse, and he takes it to Tatsu in a cabin somewhere to bring Oliver back to life. So now we know who, but how did Oliver come back to life? I suppose a Lazarus pit can still come into play, but now the real impossible has happened, I’m invested in the flashbacks. Why did Maseo join the League if Tatsu is still alive?
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the final scene, which was the first appearance of the new Canary. Convenient that Team Arrow had all the old Canary’s stuff – blonde wig, gloves and sonic devices – just lying around for Laurel to find, knowing that she was already warming up in the superhero bullpen. It will be fascinating to see just how effective Laurel is off the top as the new Canary, is she pushing herself too soon, or do desperate times call for desperate measures? Find out next week! Same Arrow time, same Arrow channel!