TV Report Card | 'Arrow' Season 3 Review

Overview: Oliver faced his greatest enemy yet in Ra’s al Ghul. While Sara’s murder reverberated with consequences for everyone on Team Arrow as they sought vengeance.

Storyline Pros:

Ray Palmer and Raylicity 
The best part of the season was the introduction of a breath of invigorating air that came in the form of Ray Palmer, a sunny side up genius who romanced Felicity. Ray proved that a hero does not have to be doom and gloom, anguished to no end and filled with so much self-loathing that he struggles to feel worthy of taking another breath. He also gave the show a huge burst of fun. You know that weird expression of a character actually enjoying their life?

It is easy to forget that phenomenon actually has the capacity to exist in the “Arrow” universe, and Ray made it possible again. His romance with Felicity was naturally cultivated, and actors Brandon Routh and Emily Bett Rickards brought more chemistry to the screen than one could have possibly hoped for in a doomed romantic storyline that ended way too soon.

The Return of Malcolm Merlyn
Malcolm Merlyn is the complicated villain that “Arrow.” desperately needs, and that is because he is so multifaceted. The finest villains start out with the best of intentions before morphing into something they never anticipated, as they gradually lose touch with their original mission by sacrificing one shred of morality after another in an attempt to secure their original goal.

Such is the case of Malcolm, a man who has lost sight of his moral compass more times than viewers can count and because of his stupendous portrayer's (John Barrowman) charisma, been given more than his share of second chances to change.

Merlyn’s journey over Season 3 was an interesting one. It kept the audience guessing as to his true motives while hoping they would eventually spell his redemption. He is the ultimate arch-nemesis for Oliver. He can fight equal to him (if not better), and he is a superior strategist. When it comes to brains and brawn, he has it covered. He is also the only long-term villain that can authentically be kept alive given he’s someone Oliver shares a history with pre-dark side and thusly someone he can’t bring himself to kill.

The Maturation of Thea
From whiny party girl to her father’s kick-ass protégé, Thea had her best season yet. Her newfound confidence and awakening as a fully matured woman was a far better-realized arc than Laurel’s. With her function on the show secured, the only thing that needs improving is her love life. Having been nearly killed by a deadly DJ (seriously?), it’s time for her to wise up in the romance department.

Diggle and his Friendships
Oliver and Diggle’s bromance hit a major rough patch at the end of the season, which was sad because their relationship had recently hit a newly gratifying peak. It will be interesting to see how that tension rolls into the following season. That said, it was Diggle’s relationship with Deadshot that continued to be among the show’s most compelling. Given their past, the begrudging respect that grew between them was an unexpected and nuanced development that was one of the season's big surprises. With Diggle becoming a dad in Season 3, there was a heightened risk to his heroics and the price it posed to his family. The conversations surrounding this were philosophically richer than most.

Storyline Cons:

Sara’s Demise
Sara's death was the hardest storyline to get behind throughout the season, simply because it was impossible to sympathize with everyone’s grief over it. Sara lived by the sword and died by it. How many other people has she left to mourn after she killed their loved ones? She was an assassin - a killer who killed because she was told to by a higher-up, without being given any reason.

She was anything but a saint, and still, the show had one scene after another with characters all broken up over her death. Laurel seemed to have instantaneous amnesia that blocked out how her sister cheated with her boyfriend behind her back and then blew back into town, putting Laurel down for not forgiving and forgetting at the drop of a hat. Well, she got that part down during the season, anointing Sara the saint of Star City.

Everyone Reports for Superhero Duty and Overuses the Phrase “Save My City”
There is not a normal civilian on the series now. Everyone and anyone can apparently put on a tight leather outfit and pronounce themselves a hero without much training. Of course, the only person in Season 3 to suffer a real superhero learning curve was one of the few qualified and equipped to be one, Ray. Thea’s evolution into an empowered heroine was more believable than Laurel’s.

It’s reasonable to believe she has enhanced abilities given her father’s skills and being trained by him, a killer combination. Laurel received two weeks of training in a gym and got beat up several times, not exactly a winning formula for superhero dominance. It is also time to retire the phrase “save my city.” Claiming possession of a city whilst proclaiming to save it is as oxymoronic a display of ego if ever there was one.

Felicity’s Backstory and her Rushed Romance with Oliver
For two seasons, viewers have been left to wonder about the mysterious past of Felicity Smoak, and in Season 3, they finally got their answers. Well, be careful what you wish for. When the curtain was pulled back, it was revealed that Felicity was a raging goth hacktivist who was mean to her mother for no reason. All of this rendered the Felicity fans had come to know and love as a sort of falsehood, her feminine wardrobe, and sweet demeanor and apparent cover for her inner Lisbeth Salander. None of that felt genuine to the character and made Felicity feel like a fake, something she’s never come across as. For more on this opinion, click here.

Meanwhile, her tumultuous relationship with Oliver ranged from an unrequited affection on her part to being retconned as a full-blown mutual love affair. It was hard to keep track of where it was all going. In many ways, the dynamic between Oliver and Felicity is better as a push and pull relationship. The reality of them being a couple loses the luster of their magic.

With Felicity’s dream of being with Oliver coming true at the end of the season, it is hard to imagine her inadvertent double entendres hitting with the same awkward amusement that lent so much of the needed levity to the show. The biggest problem in accepting her love match with Oliver is that it came at the expense of Ray. Love triangles are always tricky because they tend to claim a casualty, and it's usually the person at the center of it. Unfortunately, Felicity was not an exception. For more on this outlook, click here.

The Flashbacks
The dueling timelines and incessant flashbacks continue to be the show’s most crippling feature. It is time to embrace the current timeline completely. Skipping back and forth is so disruptive to the show's flow and adds nothing pertinent to the “present” storyline. An occasional flashback is one thing but sharing half the show with one is mind-numbingly pointless. There is no tension in the storylines. We know Oliver survives and a little mystery as to how he made it back to Star City is not a bad thing.

Overall Grade: B- | To its credit, “Arrow” did manage to shock with the literal cliffhanger that followed Oliver’s face off with Ra’s, a major highlight for the season. However, Ray Palmer and his portrayer emerged as the season’s MVP, saving the show from the throws of absolute melancholia. Season 3 would not have been half the enjoyable experience it was without him.

Photo Credit: "Arrow"/CW