Arrow season premiere recap: 'The Calm'
Oliver Queen tries to have a life outside of being the Arrow.
As EW‘s Natalie Abrams reminded us in her handy-dandy round-up of the 33 spoilers for Arrow‘s new season, this season’s theme is identity—and everyone is in on it. Arrow has never been one for subtly when it comes to its thematic material—and there’s nothing wrong with that—so, we shouldn’t be surprised that the theme of identity is all over Arrow‘s cleverly titled third season opener “The Calm.” From Oliver trying to figure out if there’s room for him to be Oliver Queen to Detective Quentin Lance dealing with circumstances that challenge how he defines himself, all of our characters are using the calm after last season’s epic finale to decide who they want to be. (Even Starling City itself gets in on the thematic action.) Something happens at the end of the hour that has repercussions for everyone and will definitely redefine how one person conceives of his place in the world.
STARLING CITY — PRESENT DAY
Villain of the week: The New Count Vertigo
After HBO’s Game of Thrones, the CW’s Arrow is the master of action sequences, and the fast-paced one that opens tonight’s episode is a great reminder. It’s clear from the ease with which Team Arrow carries out its operation in the fast-paced cold open that, since last season ended, they’ve become a well-oiled machine; everyone has their tasks and executes them perfectly: Felicity is monitoring communications back at HQ, Diggle is in charge of securing a shipment of black market weapons, and Oliver and Roy—who flips onto the scene debuting his new Arsenal costume—handle the bad guys. An underlying sense of calm that wasn’t in the Team before could be detected in the opening mission, signaling that they’ve finally got this crime-fighting business down.
You know what else is new this season? Almost every character seems genuinely happy. Well, I’d say Oliver’s more cautiously content than full-on happy. But Diggle is definitely happy because his and Lyla’s baby girl will soon be born. After Oliver gives Diggle a present for her—an arrowhead on the chain because that’s the extent of Ollie’s artistic abilities—Diggle makes a point of telling him that he should take advantage of Starling City’s current calmness and try to find himself someone to be with, a.k.a. Felicity. Unfortunately, the moment Diggle tells Oliver that things are as good as they’re ever going to be signals that things will quickly take a turn for the worse. But, who cares because Starling City’s crime rate has decreased in the months since Slade’s terrorist attack, the city loves the Arrow, and as a result, Detective Lance—who’s still alive—has decided to formally recognize the Arrow and to disband the anti-vigilante task force. Everything’s coming up Ollie!
While Team Arrow and associates are enjoying the new status quo, a low-level vertigo drug dealer takes over a leaderless crime group to become Starling City’s new Count Vertigo. With his version of vertigo that forces a person to confront their worst fears, this Count Vertigo is less Heath Ledger’s Joker and more Scarecrow. His first act as the new Count Vertigo is to kill Oliver Queen.
After Detective Lance’s press conference, Oliver takes Diggle up on his advice and decides to ask Felicity out. She doesn’t believe he’s serious at first, thus requiring Oliver to ask a second time. Obviously, she says yes. The whole thing is almost too cute to handle, but the cuteness doesn’t stop there. While out on a mission, Oliver asks Felicity, who now works in an electronic retail store, if she’s into Italian, but quickly realizes that “everyone’s likes Italian.” However, the twee is interrupted when Oliver finally catches up to the guy he was chasing and meets up with Detective Lance, who is not looking too good because his heart is having a hard time being out in the field.
Back at Felicity’s store, a gentleman comes in to buy a satellite frequency communicator, and it’s none other than Brandon Routh making his low-key debut as Ray Palmer. Not knowing who he is, Felicity bonds with him over their shared hobby of hacking things, and she goes even further and recommends a better device. Spoiler alert: She’ll regret this later.
NEXT: A fiery date
Now the moment shippers have been waiting for: Oliver and Felicity’s date. As expected (and was clear from the previews), it doesn’t go too well, but that doesn’t matter because it’s still a joy to watch and was a nice respite from the breakneck speed at which the episode was moving up until that point. It’s rather clear that Oliver has not been on a date in quite some time. As Felicity pointed out, they’ve already talked about anything normal people would talk about on a date and she’s already seen him shirtless, so Oliver decides to get real.
He tells her how he wasn’t always on the island during his time away, specifically that he spent time in Hong Kong. Lately, he’s been thinking about his time there and the choice he had to make. He explains to her that he feels so out of his element right now because during the five years away, he was always in so much danger that he stopped being able to trust people and started seeing others as threats or targets that needed to be handled. It wasn’t until he walked into her office for the first time, he says, that he finally saw a person as a person again.
As with almost every Olicity moment in tonight’s episode, this one is interrupted, and this time by Count Vertigo, who managed to place a tracker on the Arrow’s suit and followed him to this restaurant. Count Vertigo gleefully fires a rocket into the restaurant bringing an end to the date… and any chance of Oliver committing to a relationship with Felicity. And Oliver’s mad at himself for letting his feelings for Felicity distract him from noticing the GPS tracker on his suit.
Oddly, this rocket helps bring back the typical Arrow episode feel. We’ve stopped indulging the fantasy that it might be possible for Oliver to have a life outside of being the Arrow. It was fun while it lasted, but now we can move on to Oliver’s identity crisis, something we should’ve seen coming.
With the help of Detective Lance, Oliver tracks down the Count, who ambushes him and injects him with his new vertigo formula. The effects of vertigo cause Oliver to hallucinate fighting his out-of-costume self while he’s fighting the Count. Although the fight sequence is fun to watch—as all Arrow sequences tend to be—it still feels like the writers are hitting us over the head with this season’s theme: Oliver is scared that he can’t be both the Arrow and Oliver Queen, and that he needs to decide or risk losing everything. Oliver’s identity crisis is interrupted by Detective Lance, who fires a warning shot at the Count. Unfortunately, Detective Lance is unable to follow through on his threat because his heart starts to give out from overexertion, and he collapses, which forces Oliver to rush to his side and let the Count escape.
Luckily, Detective Lance makes it to the hospital in time and will be fine. His ego is a bit bruised, though, because he’s slowly starting to come to terms with the fact that he can no longer be a cop.
There’s little time to dwell on his fight with the Count because Oliver has to give a presentation to Queen Consolidated’s board. Things get complicated when he finds out that Ray Palmer is also making a bid for the company. Brandon Routh’s first scene was merely a teaser for the main attraction: his arrival and presentation to the board. In the role of Ray Palmer, he’s achieved a near perfect mix of charm and cockiness.
Needless to say, Ray’s presentation to the board, which contains data he stole using Felicity’s advice, is stronger than Oliver’s, which appealed more to emotion. Ray points out how little growth there was while Oliver was head of the company; he has a plan not only to resurrect Queen Consolidated, but also Starling City, which has suffered from two terrorist attacks—oh, and he wants to rename it Star City. (ASIDE: It’s not until Ray’s presentation that you realize that Starling City is the Seattle Grace/Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital of cities.) This further convinces Oliver that it’s not possible for him to be Oliver Queen.
NEXT: The calm is over
Team Arrow figures out that the Count is going to attack a boxing match to take out his competition: the three remaining crime bosses in Starling City. Because of Lyla’s pregnancy, Oliver has decided to sideline Diggle, and Diggle is not happy about it. But once Oliver has made up his mind, there’s no changing it. Unfortunately, Oliver doesn’t realize that his argument with Diggle is further ruining his chances with Felicity, who overhears their conversation and clearly realizes that things aren’t going to work out between them.
Oliver and Roy make it to the stadium, and the former goes after Count Vertigo, while Roy handles disarming a bomb that’s set to go off in less than five minutes. With Felicity in his ear, Roy tries disarming the bomb, but runs into trouble when Felicity tells him to cut the yellow wire—there is no yellow wire. Thus, Felicity comes up with Plan B: using the stadium’s AC to freeze the bomb. It works.
Meanwhile, Oliver is on the roof fighting The Count, who tries to weaken him with vertigo again, but this time it doesn’t work and Oliver starts kicking ass. To his and the viewer’s surprise, Sara shows up and lends him a hand. In defeat, the Count ominously tells Oliver that he’s like hydra—take one Count Vertigo out, and someone else will step up to take the role over and sell more vertigo: “You have given the power, don’t you see? Don’t you see?” says the Count.
In their post-fight debrief, Sara takes an opportunity to tell Oliver exactly what Diggle told him earlier:
“Words of advice: we’re not our masks and we need people in our lives who don’t wear one.”
This advice goes in one and ear and out the other.
Elsewhere, Felicity is rushing through the halls of the hospital. She’s intercepted by Ray Palmer, who decides to offer her a job because he needs help after someone hacked into his devices and replaced all his files with audio of porcupine flatulence. However, Felicity dismisses his offer because she has no time to think about anything other than the birth of Diggle and Lyla’s baby! The birth provides not only an opportunity for Diggle and Oliver to make up, but also for Felicity and Oliver to talk.
Or, not. Felicity is adamant that she doesn’t want to have the talk because as soon as they do, she will know it’s over. Ignoring her wishes, Oliver starts talking and says he can’t be both the Arrow and Oliver right now… or possibly ever. But Felicity is done with back and forth, and she tells him to mean “never” because it’s unfair to her. And in a moment when every Arrow fan freaked out, Oliver interrupts her speech by kissing her. Sadly, that’s not enough for Felicity, and she confirms that it’s over. Pretty sure she’s going to end up taking the job, too.
If this moment wasn’t heartbreaking enough, the writers did something we all expected them to do last season, but didn’t: They killed off Sara. After meeting up with Laurel on a roof, an assailant we don’t see shoots three black arrows into her stomach and she falls to the ground and lands in front of Laurel. Although it’s sad to see Sara go, this can only mean great things for the show. Arrow has always done a great job of showing the effect losing a loved one has on its characters. Sara’s death will also give Laurel’s story line the jump-start it has needed for a long time. We know this season that she’ll start training with Ted Grant, known to comic fans as Wildcat, something good for Laurel—for the first time in a while.
FLASHBACKS – HONG KONG
Tonight’s flashbacks did an adequate job of giving us a context for Oliver’s inability to trust people. After trying and failing to escape from Hong Kong multiple times, Amanda Waller places Oliver in the care of Maseo Yamashiro and his wife, Tatsu, also known as Katana, because she has a use for someone with his skills. To ensure that Oliver doesn’t try fleeing again, Amanda knowingly threatens the lives of Tatsu’s family because Oliver cares very little for his own life. During their first civil meeting, Tatsu tells Oliver something that his father used to say and that sums up tonight’s episode perfectly:
“A man cannot live by two names.”
Tonight’s episode definitely put this proverb to the test, and we know this issue will come up again once Ra’s al Ghul comes into the picture. If there’s one complaint about the season premiere, it’s that Arrow has already been down this road with Oliver before. Although it was great to see him and Felicity make a go at something more, it was a sort of a letdown that we saw him go through the “Can I have a normal life?” plot again. Moreover, if this episode proved anything, it’s that Oliver Queen is actually fairly interesting when he’s not being the Arrow. Here’s hoping we get more of it.
–Barry Allen makes a quick cameo. That’s all that needs to be said.
–Oliver thinks Thea is in the Amalfi Coast. Can’t wait to see the look on his face when he finds out he’s wrong.
–Oliver fighting himself was reminiscent of Clark Kent fighting his kryptonian side in Smallville‘s fourth season premiere.