The CW’s superhero series Arrow re-imagines Green Arrow for a TV audience as a tough, often ruthless vigilante bent on setting things right in his home of Starling City by punishing the wicked. ComicsAlliance’s Matt Wilson is back for the third season of the popular series in our recap feature we’re officially dubbing Pointed Commentary.

This week: Sara Lance returns (but not really), Ollie reveals his big secret (yet again) and an evil DJ reveals his true colors.

  • The Action

    Peter Stormare returns as Count Vertigo this week, and it's pretty much a "second verse, same as the first" scenario. It's clear he's here to help along certain plot elements, and not do a whole lot else. After three weeks of a fairly decent villain arc with Danny Brickwell, it's hella disappointing, and a waste of a really fantastic actor.

    And what are those plot elements Count Vertigo is serving? A cold-open teaser that shows the Laurel Lance Canary fighting the Sara Lance version by a shipping crate serves as the first clue. "Sara" is telling Laurel that she's, "a liar, fraud, and an addict," and at least two of those are true.

    Laurel starts bleeding profusely from her nose and we cut to 48 hours earlier, where we see Arrow and Arsenal chasing some unnamed goon across a rooftop and down a fire escape. Despite the deployment of zip-lines to run downstairs, they fail to catch up to the guy, so Laurel jumps out from behind a car and takes him down.

    Ollie, being the control freak he is, decides to rip into Laurel instead of thanking her, telling her that it's not safe for her to be out doing vigilante stuff. He adds that it's "selfish." He may also turn into a literal pot so he can call a kettle black.

    Laurel counters by saying she's being a hero, and finally just tells Ollie maybe they should stay out of each other's way. That doesn't last.

    In the Arrowcave, Ollie immediately starts yelling at Dig about how he gave Laurel "permission" to go out and be a vigilante, and Dig's like, "Hey, dude, she's her own person and can make her own decisions." These are words Ollie simply cannot process.

    Later, Vertigo's being taken to a prison transport through the front doors of the courthouse (?). A bunch of reporters have gathered around so he can say some totally incomprehensible dialogue and seemingly call out his "accuser, The Arrow." As soon as he's finished, a guard flips out and starts randomly shooting people. Laurel runs up and clocks the guard, knocking him out, but Vertigo has skedaddled.

    In the Arrowcave, Team Arrow watches news footage of Vertigo's escape and discover that it was a reporter who dosed the guard with the vertigo that made him see the other reporters as literal monsters (because vertigo is just straight-up Scarecrow fear toxin now). They do this because Smoak has the magical ability to change the camera angle of news footage like this is Blade Runner. Never change, TV.

    In the Discussion Alley outside Verdant, Ollie plays the ultimate jerk card with Laurel: He says she's going out as a vigilante at night to sate her addictive thirsts. She retorts that if anyone is in the vigilante game to hide real emotion, it's him. She's pretty much got him there.

    Smoak tracks down the reporter, a guy named Anthony Walker, to an apartment. Arrow and Arsenal pop in for a chat, only to find the guy sweating buckets. He says Vertigo threatened his wife unless he agreed to kill Arrow, and opens up his jacket to reveal a bomb underneath.

    There's a standoff in which Arrow tries to convince Walker not to do it, but Walker hits that plunger anyway and blows himself, and the apartment, to bits. Arrow and Arsenal jump out of a window and are fine, though. That's how explosions work.

    In the Arrowcave, a tracer that Ollie has planted on Laurel -- because, if I haven't already made this clear, he is a controlling jerk -- starts going off. Team Arrow heads off to make the save, but not before Vertigo, who is overseeing the theft of some barrels of chemicals, spots Canary and doses her with his fear toxin.

    There's a reprise of the fight from the cold open, and just as Laurel's getting mad bloody, Team Arrow shows up to run off Count Vertigo, who Laurel was hallucinating was Sara. It isn't clear whether what "Sara" was saying was what Vertigo was saying, but I'm guessing it wasn't because you can actually understand what Caity Lotz is saying.

    Arrow and Arsenal consider chasing Vertigo, but Laurel begs them to help her, so they rush over and return her to the Arrowcave. There, Laurel sees Smoak as Sara, and here she's got a little different demeanor. Instead of calling her a liar, she asks why she had to die.

    I kinda wish spaced out Laurel had said, "The actress who plays you had other projects!" but instead she scarily says "I'm sorry" over and over again until Smoak sedates her.

    Later, Laurel wakes up and tells Smoak about how she hallucinated seeing Sara. She says she feels unfit to wear her sister's jacket, and Smoak kinda agrees, but in an encouraging way. Smoak says Laurel has a light in her that her sister never did, and that she'd be better served by being herself than trying to be Sara. It's nice.

    Just then, a thing goes off on Smoak's computer. Count Vertigo has opened one of those chemical drums he stole (there's a GPS on everything nowadays) and taken it to Daggett Chemical (sweet Batman: The Animated Series nod there, writers) where he has taken scientists hostage for the purpose of making a big batch of fear toxin.

    Though now is probably the only reasonable time to tell Laurel to sit this one out, given that she's emotionally shaken and physically hurt, Ollie invites her along this time. As soon as Team Arrow arrives, Count Vertigo blathers some nonsense and drops a vial on the floor, starting a huge fire. Arrow casually starts saving hostages despite a huge inferno coming up around him.

    Meanwhile, Canary runs off to find Vertigo. She finds him and he immediately doses her with fear toxin. Again. This time, she not only sees Sara, who continues the whole "you're a fraud" line of attack, but she also sees her dad, who quite rightly tells her that it wasn't right to keep Sara's death from him and he had a right to grieve. No kidding! I've been saying this for weeks, hallucination!

    Laurel eventually snaps out of it and beats Count Vertigo senseless. It's pretty brutal.

    Just after that, Laurel goes to see her dad at police HQ and says there's something she's got to tell him. All it took was a hallucinatory tongue-lashing for her to do the right thing here.

    He says he thinks he knows what it is: That Laurel is the new Canary, but she says that's not it. She says Sara's dead without really saying it, and Captain Lance falls back like someone threw a brick at him. He sits down and they cry together. It's a nicely acted scene from Katie Cassidy and Paul Blackthorne.

  • Family Stuff

    This week's B-plot focuses on Thea, and it starts with Malcolm Merlyn showing up in the Arrowcave and basically saying, "Hey, we need a B-plot." He tells Ollie that, to defeat Ra's al Ghul, who almost definitely knows Ollie is alive now, the two of them must bring Thea "into the fold," which means Ollie telling her that he's Arrow.

    Ollie says he's not really prepared to do that, and Dig basically says, "Yeah, she's going to hate you for lying to her pretty much every day since you came back from the dead." Still, Ollie mulls it over.

    Upstairs at Verdant, Thea has a conversation with the DJ guy who secretly works for the League of Assassins. He's bragging about how "fangirls on Vine" called his last set "epically epic." I have never wanted a TV character to die more.

    Thea tells him to buzz off just as Ollie approaches and tells her he has something to show her: the basement. Sweet, innocent Thea says, "I thought it was flooded." Yes, Thea, that basement has been flooded for like two years with no attempt to clean it up despite a thriving business operating just above it.

    Ollie admits he lied about that, and shows Thea the Arrowcave. She walks through it, mouth agape, like its the f---ing Land of Chocolate.

    Ollie launches into an explanation of why he didn't tell her about any of this, that he was trying to protect her, but it's not necessary. Instead of saying, "Hey, you're a murderer," Thea says she's proud of Ollie for saving lives, and that this explains all his lame excuses. She even goes so far as to thank him and hug him. That may be overkill there, Thea.

    Ollie and Thea take their love fest to the Theapartment, where Thea asks if Moira knew. Ollie says she figured it out. Then they argue about who won their fight a few episodes back. Then Thea says she can't possibly trust Malcolm, the only character she believed she could trust at the end of last season. This is a like a pro wrestling character turn. Just heel to face in the snap of a finger.

    Then come a few more scenes where Thea hums and haws about trusting Malcolm. She talks to Roy about it. She talks to Ollie about it again.

    Finally, she wanders into the Arrowcave at absolutely the wrong time, when Laurel is bleeding profusely on the table. Ollie tells her forcefully to go back upstairs, and that gets Roy all riled up. He tells Ollie not to talk to her that way. Thea stumbles back out and Team Arrow has a big fight about how the team had to learn to do things without Ollie while he was gone. (Dig explains it a little more calmly later.)

    Oddly enough, Ollie stands down, but a shaken Thea dives right into the arms of secretly evil DJ guy, saying she needs "something simple" in her life.

    The two of them don't even make it to the bed in the Theapartment. We catch up with them post-couch-coitus, and the DJ offers Thea a drink. As he hands her some red wine, he jokes that he "almost took it personal" when she said she needed something simple, and I still want him to die.

    Thea hesitates before sipping and says Malcolm warned her that red wine is often used to mask cyanide. Then it all jumps off. Thea asks who the DJ is really working for, and he says it's his "master, Ra's al Ghul." They fight a bit, and pretty quickly Roy comes smashing in. (I guess he was outside the door the whole time, listening to them have sex.)

    Roy gets dispatched, so it's up to Malcolm, in full Dark Arrow gear, to come in and shoot the DJ with an arrow. (Was he outside listening, too?) Dark Arrow demands the DJ tell him where Ra's is, but the DJ says he's going where Malcolm won't follow, and drinks a big swig of poison.

    My greatest wish! Granted!

    Later, Ollie comes over to check on Thea while the body of that dead guy continues to just lay around in the background. Clean that up, y'all. I mean, I wanted to see him die, but that's disrespectful.

    After his save, Thea comes around on working with Malcolm, but is still hesitant about it.

    Malcolm says the two of them still have to "conquer their fear." Like a motivational poster would.

  • The Flashbacks

    Maseo and Katana made the pretty dadgum stupid decision to return home last week even though both ARGUS and the Triads would most certainly be after them.

    That's rectified this week. Maseo tells Ollie to pack his bags and find his way back to Starling City. He says Ollie should return very publicly, which will make it harder for ARGUS to assassinate him. Not a bad plan, honestly, though very public figures die in Starling all the time, so...

    Maseo also mentions that he and his family are getting on the ferry to Shanghai. He trumpets it so hard he should have gotten a t-shirt made.

    Ollie finds a pay phone and calls Moira, but he gets her voicemail. He leaves a message about how he's alive and how his mom should tell everyone. Before he finishes, a guy in a suit hangs up the phone and chases him. Ollie gets tackled and tased.

    Next thing you know, he's being out-and-out waterboarded while Amanda Waller asks him where Maseo and Katana are. And guess what: Torture works in the Arrow universe. A few threats against Ollie's family later (along with assurance that ARGUS deleted that phone message), and Ollie coughs up the info. Dick Cheney must love this show.

    ARGUS agents dump Maseo into the room where Ollie's being held. Ollie instantly says he gave Maseo up and apologizes, but Maseo knew he would, because, of course, torture works. That's why Maseo gave him false info. The family wasn't on the ferry to Shanghai, but Maseo got himself captured so that Ollie wouldn't have to face Waller alone. That's...dubious planning.

    Both of them get knocked out, and when they wake up, they're in a moving car. Waller, who's driving, says they're not in Hong Kong anymore. They've traced China White to a new location: Starling City. The car drives by the "Welcome to Starling City" sign.

  • The Cliffhanger

    As it turns out, the place Ollie and Thea have to go to so they can "face their fears" is Flashback Island, a.k.a. Purgatory.

    There's a quick scene of them there, where Thea starts complaining after only a couple hours.

    Why, exactly -- especially since Ollie has already returned there a few times over the course of the series? Seemingly just to set up an episode where Flashback Ollie is in Starling and Present Ollie is on Purgatory.

    That's a fairly neat concept, but kind of a stretch getting there.

  • Final Notes

    • There's a great moment where Team Arrow is watching the news footage of Laurel punching the guard, and she asks Ollie if he's going to criticize her form. Even the characters are getting snarky about what a jerk Ollie is at this point.
    • In a scene where Captain Lance and Laurel talk about how the new Canary doesn't seem to be Sara, Captain Lance remarks that Sin has "boy hair." Check your privilege there, Cap'n.
    • I liked this exchange between Thea and Ollie:

      Thea: "You smell like smoke. Korean barbecue?"

      Ollie: "C4."

      On second thought, though, that seems like some weird shade-throwing at Korean barbecue, which is delicious.
    • One of Count Vertigo's comprehensible lines comes when Arrow and Arsenal show up at the docks, and it's a total Batman '66 line: "You're supposed to be dead. I salute your persistence!" I'm glad I understood that one. Are all his lines that hilarious, and just impossible to understand?
    • After she tortures Ollie, Waller brings up those two episodes or so from the first season where Thea was a drug addict. I thought even the writers had forgotten about that. Waller must be a super-fan. She must be an admin on the Arrow wiki.

     

    This episode did a few things that absolutely needed to be done in the narrative arc of the season -- namely, Captain Lance had to find out Sara was dead -- but it really sort of ground its gears getting there. In between stuff like the DJ revealing his true, assassin self and two Canaries fighting, there were tons of slow, talky scenes with piano music score. It was almost like a first-season episode that way. It's also like a first-season episode in how the villain is basically an afterthought.

    That is not praise.

    Next week's might be fun, though. I'll have to get past the whole idea that Flashback Ollie actually did return to Starling at one point, despite not knowing anything about the state of the city upon his return in the pilot, but we'll see where it goes.