Corto Maltese; a fictional South American island that is most fondly remembered by many as being a location in Frank Miller’s iconic The Dark Knight Returns. Since then, it’s been referenced in several books, TV shows, and films. After a brief mention in Arrow, this third episode of Season 3 fully introduces us to this often idyllic, often dangerous isle.
The closing moments of last week’s Sara brought us the reintroduction of Thea Queen/Merlyn (Willa Holland) and Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman). Here we get fully reacquainted with this pair who have not been glimpsed since the climactic episode of Season 2of the show. And yes, they’re residing in the aforementioned Corto Maltese. With Thea living a secluded life, complete with a false name, the youngest of the Queen family is working at a local café whilst undertaking some seriously heavy training at the hands of daddy dearest, himself trained by the League of Assassins. Having seen Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) suffering from the loss of sister Sara (Caity Lotz), Oliver (Stephen Amell) has Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) track down Thea’s whereabouts and then sets off on a mission to bring his younger sister back to Starling City. Joining him for the ride are Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) and John Diggle (David Ramsay), with Diggle also using the trip to locate a missing A.R.G.U.S. agent.
Whilst the father/daughter duo of Malcolm and Thea are reintroduced, Corto Maltese also gives viewers a full introduction to Ted Grant (J.R. Ramirez). Glimpsed ever so briefly in The Calm, this hard-hitting boxer is given some time in the spotlight, sharing several moments with Laurel. During the wait for Season 3 to air, it was speculated that the new arrival of Ted Grant would tie in with Laurel’s arc throughout this season, and that looks firmly to be the case. Of course, in the DC comic book world, Ted Grant is a hero in his own right, taking on the alter-ego of Wildcat. Whilst it remains to be seen if any progression to Wildcat happens this year, there have been some foundations laid to suggest that Ted Grant has his heart in the right place, even if he does pack a powerful punch. And as such, his offer to assist Laurel in channelling her aggression seems very much to be a catalyst in something we all wondered would ever happen: whether Laurel Lance would ever become Black Canary.
As Laurel seems to be making rapids moves towards taking over from sister Sara in cracking skulls on the streets, we do get a moment that is pulled right from Batman: Year One. Remember the early nightly adventures of Bruce Wayne, complete with a hat and dark clothing? Yeah, they may just be riffed on here. But while Laurel’s agenda and path is becoming increasingly clear, Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) is a different beast entirely. Again, this is a character who has his own hero alter-ego is the comic books – that of The Atom – but the Arrow version of the character appears to be on a hazy path. Yes, he’s witty, funny, charming, and an all-round entertaining presence, but why does he have such a heavy interest in the weapons that were created by the seemingly defunct Applied Sciences arm of Queen Consolidated? He's still one of the good guys, but this does throw up a few questions. And whereas heroes and future heroes are spotlighted throughout Corto Maltese, we also get to see the wonderful Felicity Smoak hard at work, with her becoming the Oracle of the Arrow world more and more with every passing episode.
Another good episode for Arrow (which, by this point, has come to be standard), although there were one or two slightly irksome issues. Firstly, Colton Haynes’ Roy Harper is developing well in his role as a true sidekick to Stephen Amell’s Arrow, but it’s still hard to buy Roy excelling in hand-to-hand combat with a group of military-types during the Corto Maltese stay. Additionally, whilst we can all see exactly where the arc of Laurel Lance is heading, that particular element of the show still feels a little forced and a little rushed. Yes, we’ve presumed that Laurel would end up becoming Canary/Black Canary ever since the show debuted, but these last two episodes have seemed to jam that idea down the audience’s throat. We get it: her sister died at her feet, her domino mask literally landed at her feet, she was given Sara’s black jacket. It makes perfect sense for Laurel to eventually take on the Canary moniker at some point but, with current stories suggesting that the transition will occur by the mid-season break, it all just seems a tad rushed. Just a tad. That said though, Katie Cassidy is putting in hugely greater performances this year that she has in previous year, and it can be argued that it is maybe down to Laurel having more to do. Plus she looks like she’s been working out and toning up (either that or some painfully bad surgery), which always helps when one is making the step towards superheroine (clearly we should know, for STARBURST regularly dons a Wonder Woman outfit and prowls the rooftops of Manchester). But these two moans are merely minor gripes in an all-round enjoyable episode, with it being a nice change of pace to see the core characters of Arrow in a different location, lending itself to a great moment of improvisation by Oliver when he's left with no weapons. Enjoyable, well-crafted, and with some nice introductions/reintroductions for characters who will play a big part in the season going forward, Corto Maltese is another impressive episode of a show that continues to shine. And then there’s a climactic finale that suggests the presence of an ominous figure is lurking in the shadows; that of The Demon’s Head.
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