After what seems far too long, The CW’s Arrow is back! Without any sense of exaggeration or bias, Season 2 of the show was arguably the best episodic television show of the last year. Quite high praise, indeed. So, how exactly do you follow that up and maintain those high standards? Now’s the time for us to find out.
The Calm initially eases us back in gently to the world of the Arrow (Stephen Amell) and Starling City. We’re given a brief summary of what went down in the previous season, then we’re thrown headfirst into an on-going chase sequence. Team Arrow, consisting of Arrow, Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), John Diggle (David Ramsey), and the newly decked-out Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), are in the midst of stopping of a crime as we’re reintroduced to them. Several months have passed since Slade Wilson’s (Manu Bennett) mirakuru-riddled army descended upon the streets of Starling City. Make no bones about it, the Arrow team is at the point where it’s a smooth, well-oiled machine. In fact, things are going so smoothly that Diggle remakes to Ollie about how there are only two forms of villains these days: ones that they have locked up and ones that are running scared. But, to play on the title of this episode, this is merely the calm before the storm.
Central to the character of Oliver Queen here is the managing of his dual identity. Things are finally at a point with his hooded hero side that he can also contemplate some form of life for "regular" Oliver Queen. And so, as hotly teased over the last two years, Oliver finally plucks up the courage to ask Felicity on a date. As in a date date. As ever though, things don’t run smoothly and there’s a new villain in town; a new version of Count Vertigo. The always great Peter Stormare debuts as Warner Zytle, who takes on the Count moniker and adds his own fear-based element to the Vertigo drug. With Oliver’s chance of getting to do the horizontal shuffle with Miss. Smoak firmly ruined by an attack from the new Count, the Arrow seeks out to find the source of this attack and to neutralise it before things escalate any further. The initial confrontation leads to an impressive sequence in which Oliver Queen has a stand-up fight with the Arrow. Confused? Don’t be, for Arrow makes this crazy concept make perfect sense.
If the prospect of a new Count Vertigo isn’t worrying enough for our Emerald Archer, his attempt to win back control of Queen Consolidated takes a hit after the arrival of charismatic newcomer Ray Palmer (former Superman, Brandon Routh). The comic book version of Palmer is also known as the heroic Atom, although this is purely just Ray Palmer the businessman here. Making quite the impression on Felicity, not to mention his appeal to the board of Queen Consolidated, Palmer looks like he’ll be causing Oliver problems on a number of fronts. And by problems, that’s not to say he’s a wrong ‘un, just that, y’know, he’s trying to take Oliver’s business and also his potential girl. With Routh’s naturally likeable mannerisms and charm, he’s a welcome addition to the show and we look forward to how his relationship with Oliver Queen and the Arrow develops over this coming season. And while we’re on new additions, there’s also an extremely brief blink-and-you’ll-miss it time on screen for Ted Grant (J.R. Ramirez), the future hero Wild Cat, as he slugs it out in the boxing ring.
Elsewhere, Quentin Lance (the fantastic Paul Blackthorne) has been promoted to Captain of the Starling City Police Department. Didn’t we last see him having a heart attack at the climax of Season 2, though? Yes we did, but the issue is firmly addressed here as the long-time street cop struggles to adapt to his new role and to taking a backseat on the hands-on police work that he’s partaken in for so many years. And with Lance’s promotion comes some timely recognition for the efforts of the Arrow, complete with the once-vigilante being taken off the wanted list of Starling City’s finest. But Quentin Lance isn't the only member of the Lance family back, as Laurel (Katie Cassidy) is again present here, now firmly on the side of Oliver Queen and the Arrow. So whilst all is happy and peaceful, again there’s an underlying sense of something not so tranquil on the horizon for the Lances and for Ollie.
Whilst the events of modern-day Starling City seem to never run smoothly for Ollie, this year’s flashback sequences pick-up with the young Queen in Honk Kong. With Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) seeing a use for Oliver, she has Maseo Yamashiro (Karl Yune) given strict orders to mentor Oliver, with us here also seeing our first glimpse of Tatsu Yamashiro (Rila Fukushima), better known to DC comic books fans as Katana. We’re intrigued as to see what Waller’s plans are for Ollie and just how the dynamic between Oliver, Maseo and Tatsu plays out. There’s certainly a lot of potential for something special in Hong Kong, fingers crossed.
For those of you wondering how this new season of Arrow could possibly follow the highs of Season 2, fear not. Season 3 picks up the red-hot baton from Season 2 and continues to run with it. Amell is again brilliant as Oliver Queen, and it’s great to see his character given some more light-hearted moments with Felicity. And with Felicity, it’s great to see her finally get to let her guard down on the Olicity (it’s a real thing, people – Google it!) side of things, although Emily Bett Rickards shows an iron will as the episode comes to an end. It’s safe to say, though, that everybody hits the right beats in The Calm. David Ramsey is great as father-to-be Diggle, although we just hope that the events of this episode don’t mean that the character will be taking too much of a backseat going forward. Colton Haynes does well as Roy Harper, although his role is limited in this first episode. That said, his character does seem to playing the role of the more traditional sidekick here… and we’re still waiting for that Arsenal moniker to rear its head. Katie Cassidy is a lot better as Laurel Lance here than she was in Season 2, and it looks like there could finally be a point to that character going forward in the show. And on the Lances, Paul Blackthorne is a joy to watch once more – we’re just hoping that his apparent heart condition doesn’t lead to anything too serious down the line. Next to Amell’s Queen, Blackthorne’s Lance is arguably our favourite part of Arrow - well, behind Felicity, that is.
This review has gone on for far too long already, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As far as spoilers go, so far we’re pretty spoiler free on anything major in this review. Safe to say, mind, there are some appearances from some other familiar faces. And would you expect anything else from this triumphant return for Arrow than a cliff-hanger ending? The end of The Calm is huge, if not slightly predictable to some, and it will completely change the face of the Arrow world going forward for years to come. Whether that’s a good thing, we’ll have to wait and see. For now though, Arrow is back and back in a big way.
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