This Arrow review contains spoilers and they start right away.
“You’re very perceptive, Thea.” That’s how Malcolm Merlyn open this week’s Arrow. It’s true. Thea was pretty deep in post-adolescent angst when we left her in season two, and even though this opening scene still takes place then, there’s an immediate change in her.
Of course, the bigger question that scene raises is who the “someone” that Merlyn refers to is. I’m sure we can all guess, and it rhymes with Ra’s al Ghul.
So, with an opening like that, and a title like “Corto Maltese,” we know where we’re going and who we’re focusing on. “Corto Maltese” is a change of pace/change of scenery for Arrow. The most important parts involve Oliver trying to get Thea to come back to Starling City with him. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode, while it offers some fun set-up for the future, isn’t really much to talk about.
There’s very little actual superhero action on Arrow this week, and that’s just fine. The little that we do get gives us a neat little gimmick arrow as part of Ollie’s arsenal. The lack of costumes isn’t the problem. The problem is that the “action mission” involving Diggle doing some quiet work for ARGUS before getting (expectedly) betrayed by a rogue operative isn’t just dull…it’s really dull. It could have been reheated from any number of other shows, and it’s a mission that could have been run by anyone other than Ollie, Diggle, and Roy (who is completely out of place this week).
That’s not to say there aren’t a few badass plainclothes moments. Ollie wielding a handgun with ruthless efficiency was cool (although were any of those kill shots? I couldn’t quite tell), as was the bit about him crafting bows from crap in the hotel room. These were moments, but nothing more. In terms of action and actual suspense, “Corto Maltese” was pretty bland.
Also, what is it with Dads on these shows talking about shooting boyfriends? We had it on this week’s episode of The Flash, too. I get it, but it’s kind of a cheap laugh.
Laurel deciding to take the law into her own hands by going after that dude is not exactly a highlight of this character’s career, or particularly great writing on the part of the show. For one thing, it’s dumb, and I don’t care how messed up she is at the moment, it’s just exceptionally impulsive. The other problem is that she beats the crap out of that dude with a baseball bat. I don’t care how tough he’s supposed to be, and I don’t care how weak they’re trying to make Laurel look, if somebody gives you a few whacks with a Louisville Slugger with all they’ve got, you’re gonna feel it, and you’re probably not going to be in any shape to hit back. So, unless this creep has some residual mirakuru in his system, this was a pretty dopey setup.
Why can’t they ever get Laurel right? Why is this the one character they just keep rushing and rushing and turning back and forth? I’ve spent the first two weeks of this season praising Katie Cassidy, and uttering my relief that Laurel finally seems to be on the right track, and tonight Arrow made a liar out of me. Yes, her turn to vigilantism is inevitable. But every major Laurel arc for the last year has been pushed at breakneck speed. She became an addict overnight. She recovered overnight. She was disbarred and then (again, overnight) became the DA. Now she’s suddenly driven to be a superhero.
Other characters don’t have this problem. Roy may have been bland and a little irritating, but his eventual transformation into a hero was seeded with a number of things: his checkered past making him already street tough, for one thing. By the time Laurel puts on her mask (which I presume will be at the end of this season), it will be one year of real time (which the show operates in) since she kicked her chemical demons, and six months since she started physical training. It’s nonsense, even for a show about superheroes.
That brings us to the introduction of Ted “Wildcat” Grant. I’m beyond thrilled that this character is on this show. I wrote all about why right here if you’re interested. But other than his badass one punch knockout (which should become his trademark really quickly) that intro was just a really awkward exposition dump. I like the idea of Grant running this gym to give troubled kids a healthy outlet, and I appreciate that it gives him a little bit of a shady background. But that was an awfully talky way to get a lot of points across in the space of about ninety seconds. It felt lazy.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Everything with Ray and Felicity is great fun. I really, really hope that it’s Felicity that ends up kind of dragging Ray into superheroics, too.
By far, the best parts of “Corto Maltese” were the moments between Oliver and Thea. These were quite powerful, and handled well by Stephen Amell and Willa Holland. I’m so happy that the writers aren’t taking the easy way out with Thea and pulling a “now she’s eeeeevil…” thing since she’s been hanging out with Malcolm Merlyn. It does raise a big question, though: Malcolm was too happy to let her go back to Starling City. So what aren’t we seeing? Is she a sleeper agent now?
The only problem with this end of things is that I can’t help but wonder how Ollie and friends don’t put two and two together. If Felicity was able to track Thea so easily, surely there would be something linking her to Malcolm Merlyn? Then again, I suppose if you don’t know what/who to look for (Malcolm is “dead” after all), then why should you look?
Despite some important (and powerful) character work with Oliver and Thea, “Corto Maltese” feels just short of a filler episode. It’s not bad. It’s hard to imagine Arrow turning in a genuinely bad episode at this point in its run. Of course, now that I’ve said that, I just jinxed everything.
Who killed Sara Lance?
– When Oliver is interrogating the kid in the alley, he mentions that “a lady showed up” and told him and his buddies to get lost. He isn’t necessarily talking about Sara, right? But then Nyssa shows up looking for Sara at the end, which would appear to rule her out, and as we heard “The League doesn’t kill their own.”
– But what if Nyssa has gone rogue and is just covering her ass by showing up and threatening Team Arrow? Or…what if Talia has?
– Has anybody seen Sin lately?
DC Universe Watchtower
– Corto Maltese is, of course, the fictional nation that became a central piece of The Dark Knight Returns plot, and it famously showed up in Tim Burton’s Batman movie in a batch of Vicki Vale war photos.
– Mark Shaw was one of the many versions of Manhunter in the comics, and the second possible Manhunter character we’ve seen on Arrow (the other was the late Kate Spencer, former DA of Starling City).
– Ted Grant/Wildcat training Black Canary is right out of the comics. If you want to know more about him, I wrote a whole article for you.
– A Coast City shout out! If we’re keeping score, between Arrow and The Flash so far this year, that’s three Green Lantern easter eggs. Let’s keep ’em coming.
– The kid that Ted Grant is protecting with his story about sparring was Tom Bronson. In the comics, that’s his illegitimate son, who eventually becomes a kind of werecat version of Wildcat and joins the Justice Society. I suppose it’s possible that this Ted is old enough to have a teenage son, but it’s probably just a clever wink to the comics and nothing more.
Let me know what I missed!