Arrow season 3 episode 1 review: The Calm

Arrow returns as slick and strong as it was in season 2. Here's Caroline's review of the third season opener...

This review contains spoilers.

3.1 The Calm

We ended Arrow’s second season on a much happier note than after its first, but the title to this third season premiere was a pretty big indication that the characters wouldn’t stay safe and happy forever. The titular calm actually seems to refer to the time over the summer rather than the bulk of this episode, with Oliver’s desperate grab for normalcy and safety for those he loves once again proving just out of his reach.

Team Arrow is a well-oiled crime fighting machine at this point, with the addition of Roy as back-up hero, Laurel as their aid in the court room and Quentin still acting as their ‘friend on the force’ against doctors orders, all boosting their numbers significantly. Crime rates are down in Starling City, and everyone has been lured into an understandable sense of security.

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But, as fun as is it is to see the gang winning for a change, we know it can’t last.

There’s the looming danger of Malcolm Merlyn, for one, with Oliver under the impression that Thea is off innocently travelling and not in the care of her psychopath father. Mention of her was mainly so that Roy could do something other than mutely help with the crime-fighting, but her return is likely going to be one of the big moments of the season.

One brand new addition was Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer, who charmed his way to the top of Queen Consolidated after wiping the floor with Oliver and Felicity’s pitch to keep it in the family. Like Roy, we didn’t see too much of him here, but what we did see was hugely promising. I haven’t got a clue who Palmer is in the comics, but I’m looking forward to seeing what he’ll offer to the show.

We’ve been told that this season will be about exploring identity, and pretty much everyone has something they’re wrestling with. Diggle, who previously defined himself through being Oliver’s associate, now has a wife and baby to take care of, Quentin has a promotion but can’t go out in the field and Felicity is wasting her smarts in what appears to be this universe’s version of a Buy More.

I could have done without the on-the-nose visual of Oliver fighting himself after being exposed to enhanced Vertigo, but the villain of the week really wasn’t the point of the episode.

For a lot of Arrow fans, the big selling point of the episode was the promise of Olicity. The pairing has become so big in the fandom that it’s sometimes hard to remember that it’s just one small part of a much bigger and more complex ensemble show, and I thought The Calm did a good job of balancing the two. Yes, Oliver and Felicity go on a date and, yes, they also kiss, but it’s not the only focus, and nor should it be.

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Oliver’s excitement about finally feeling comfortable and free enough to pursue a relationship with someone he “really cares about” is what matters long-term, and seeing that play out for 20-minutes of the episode makes the apparent back-peddling to his old stance that he must be forever alone far less annoying.

He gave it a go only for his first instinct to distance himself to be proven right, and that leaves him in a slightly different position than before. It’s not about his own self-loathing anymore – as it may have been back in season one and most of season two – but a genuine fear that getting too involved would do more harm than good for the people around him.

If only he’d had the conviction to, in Felicity’s words, “stop dangling maybes,” it would have been perfect. The show is playing this like its endgame, and we know that means endless near misses and breakups before they can even think about getting it together.

But it’s so much better than the Oliver/Laurel pairing that the writers tried to force in the first season, and I have to say that Laurel was one of my highlights of The Calm. Everyone loathed the character last year, but having her find out Oliver’s secret went a long way towards redeeming her.

The friendship now feels natural and sweet alongside Oliver’s more angsty connections, and establishing that simplicity (though it took a long time to get there) will be useful when it comes time for Laurel to suit up.

And that time may come sooner than we think, after the big shocker of Sara’s death in the episode’s final few moments. We were on edge all of last season but putting this moment in the premiere caught everyone with their guard down. It’s awful, with so much wasted character potential, but it will certainly lead to a lot of extra story avenues for those who remain.

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Arrow hasn’t changed too much over the summer, but that hardly matters when season two was as good as it was. We may have waved goodbye to one of the main reasons for that in this episode but, with Roy in full superhero garb, lots of incoming characters and Laurel presumably evolving into Black Canary 2.0, there’s so much to look forward to.

Read Caroline’s review of the season two finale, Unthinkable, here.

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