Last week, I compared entire seasons of Arrow to airplane rides with smooth takeoffs which give way to several stretches of severe turbulence before completely nailing the landing. “Sacrifice” is a fantastic capper to the first season as is “Unthinkable” for the second season. Maybe Malcolm Merlyn playing the dead wife card was insufficient motivation for his plan to destroy an entire section of the city, and maybe the show had made a total mess of super-powered, insane Slade Wilson. But by the time you got to the end you didn’t really care. Those finales truly were culminations of a season’s worth of storytelling, in Slade Wilson’s case more like a season and a half.
My trust in Arrow’s ability to make it three in a row and really stick the landing in what has been a remarkably shaky third season was misplaced. To be fair, the actual ending of “My Name is Oliver Queen” is good. Oliver driving into the sunset with Felicity and declaring that he is finally happy is a perfectly pleasant way to go out. It feels like the show is actually writing Oliver and Felicity out of the show as regular characters (don’t worry; they’re both coming back). There are way too many promises for future storylines (e.g., Nyssa and Malcolm in Nanda Parbat, Thea’s new life as Speedy, Diggle’s contemplation of his future vigilante attire, Ray’s apparent lab accident) to make it truly feel like a series finale, as many have argued. But it is nice that season 2 ended with Oliver and Felicity staring longingly each other on a beach, and now season 3 ends with them finally together.
The path to that ending, however, was fairly half-assed. Everyone wakes up in their Nanda Parbat jail cell openly wondering why they’re not dead, and Malcolm reveals his sudden but inevitable betrayal was actually part of his master plan with Oliver. They needed Ra’s to see Oliver sacrifice his friends, but Malcolm subcutaneously inoculated Team Arrow against the Alpha-Omega gas without them realizing it. Felicity jokes she’s lost track of all the double-crosses at this point, and we nod in complete agreement.
Right off the bat the episode throws a pretty big cheat at us. However, we knew no one was seriously going to die. If they say Malcolm saved them due to some thin plastic-like material stuck to his hand we’ll just go with it. Then that signature Flash theme music plays, momentarily reminding us of how much more enjoyable The Flash is. Barry Allen comically neutralizes the League ninjas in record time. He shows off his infectious smile, fires off a couple of one-liners and hightails it back to Central City even though his crisis, i.e., Harrison Wells, is momentarily contained while Team Arrow’s crisis is unfolding and could be dealt with so easily if they had the fastest man alive on their side. Of course, that’s exactly the reason they had to get rid of Barry – his presence would undercut most of the episode. Plus, there’s also the practical matter of Gustin’s limited availability. He had his own season finale to film!
At this point, it already feels like the episode has taken two false steps. Then on the way out of Nanda Parbat Laurel runs into Tatsu/Katana who mumbles something about returning to a life of solitude. They gave us The Flash and Katana only to instantly take them away? That’s not great, but it’s workable. It’s going to come down to just the regular cast members and Nyssa against the big bad.
And then we find out Oliver’s end game was to crash the plane with the Alpha-Omega gas en route to Starling City, killing himself, Ra’s al Ghul, Nyssa, and a bunch of League ninjas in the process. What kind of honeymoon is that for Nyssa? Of course, Oliver pretty much instantly blows his cover when Nyssa starts a fight on the plane, and Ra’s uses the opportunity to jump out with the gas and a hastily grabbed parachute like a total badass. From that point forward, Nyssa follows Oliver’s lead, even attempting to protect her new husband when a fight almost breaks out at Team Arrow headquarters. That felt a little odd (shouldn’t she be mad at him, too?), but, hey, she is a lifelong member of the League of Assassins. That’s probably how a League of Assassins wife would treat a husband, assuming marriages are even allowed in the League. Come to think of it, they’re probably incredibly rare.
Plan A was to blow everyone up. Epic fail. Plan B is for Malcolm to mobilize Team Arrow on the ground and save the city. Oliver didn’t expect to survive thus making his subsequent heated argument with Diggle and Felicity all the more unwelcome. He never thought he would have to apologize to either of them for anything he did while pretending to be Al Sah-him. He was going to die without ever saying goodbye, and the only person who was in on it was Malcolm. Ouch. Diggle loses complete respect for Oliver while Felicity seems upset before instantly switching over to problem-solving. She later gives Oliver a pep talk in which she actually places her hand over his heart and pleads, “Don’t fight to kill. Fight to live.”
The fact that Oliver was going to kill himself via a plane crash to beat the big bad is actually something Green Arrow once did in the comics. It is a pretty profound idea for Arrow to run with. Marc Guggenheim told Variety, “I hope the audience gets the sense that here’s a good explanation as to why Oliver placed himself in this position. [He] has a pretty definitive answer.” But is “he never expected to have to apologize to anyone” really a good answer? Is his attempted self-sacrifice a true act of heroism? If it had worked it would have been a very clean solution to their problem, although poor, poor Nyssa would have died for no reason. Is it even believable that Oliver would actually be willing to leave Thea without any surviving family members beyond Malcolm? Is it a condemnation of Oliver’s lack of character development that even after 3 seasons he still hasn’t learned his lesson about needing to work with his team and friends instead of going solo as per his default setting? If he had simply told at least one other person beyond Malcolm about his plan they might have thought of another angle he had missed, particularly since without capturing Nyssa Ra’s al Ghul never would have even re-obtained that Alpha-Omega gas in the first place. Maybe his team could have worked together to stun Ra’s and actually release the Alpha-Omega gas in Nanda Parbat.
That wouldn’t have worked because, as Marc Guggenheim told Vulture, “We knew [from the very beginning] that Ra’s at the end of the season was going to try to destroy the city. That’s what our big bads tend to do.” The show even mocked itself a little with Captain Lance sarcastically quipping, “The city’s under attack? It must be May.” And that’s okay. That is simply what this show does, and while it may feel a tad tired at this point it still could have worked in “My Name Is Oliver Queen” if they had kept their focus on Team Arrow’s fight against Ra’s.
But they didn’t. They devoted an entire act of the episode to setting up next season’s villain, Damien Darhk, revealing that Ra’s plan to destroy Starling City was never just about Oliver but instead a revenge scheme against old friend Damien. Guggenheim was actually proud of this, telling Variety, “We first heard about Damien Darhk in episode 321 and there’s a pivotal sequence that surrounds Damien Darhk in the season three finale, so that’s exciting. It feels like we’re pulling a True Blood or a Sons of Anarchy where the big bad for the following year is teed up in the season finale of this year, so that’s kind of exciting for me because that’s something we’ve never seen before.” I can’t speak to Sons of Anarchy or the latter seasons of True Blood, but the crucial difference is that when True Blood did that in its early seasons it waited until the end of the season finale. You don’t drop an extraneous set-up for next season into the middle of your season finale. You save that for the very end, preferably as a cliffhanger. The way Arrow went about it felt more like, “Why are we even talking about Damien Darhk right now?” This needs to be between Oliver and Ra’s, yet here they are oddly pulling focus away from something they’d spent an entire season building toward.
That’s just poorly constructed. The same goes for the flashbacks which ceased seeming relevant the moment Katana killed Maseo last episode, if not sooner. Their story is over now, making it odd that “My Name is Oliver Queen” devoted so much time in the flashbacks to doggedly depicting the moment Maseo left Katana after their son died. Karl Yune is acting his ass off, trying to break hearts by looking at his wife and saying that every time he sees her he sees their son and is thus reminded of his failure as a father and protector. However, it’s all happening one episode too late.
Of course, the true focus of the flashbacks is marking the moment Oliver lost a little more of his soul and sought a life of solitude as a result, contrasting with present day Oliver embracing life and Felicity. That comparison is a little harder to take when Oliver mostly went solo in the present day as well for the past couple of episodes and was going to kill himself without consulting any of his allies and loved ones.
Cutting to the end – Oliver defeats Ra’s in a completely lackluster sword fight where it was often impossible to tell who was who. Felicity’s speech apparently willed Oliver to victory, and she again saves him, this time in the ATOM suit, after police snipers shoot him off a ledge (what if they’d aimed for his head?). It’s Felicity’s Iron Man 3 moment.* Malcolm’s deal was always that in return for his help Oliver would give him the fancy gold finger thing that designates someone as Ra’s al Ghul. So, there’s that. Nyssa returns to the League, without saying goodbye to new bff Laurel, and bows before Malcolm. Ray Palmer appears to blow up, but was actually just shrunk down Ant-Man style thus finally becoming the ATOM of the comics instead of a warmed over Iron Man/Blue Beetle hybrid. Diggle walks away from everything super pissed. Thea is going to be her own vigilante, which Oliver is surprisingly okay with. And Laurel owns all of her drama with her off-the-wagon dad, causing snarky Twitter jokes about her calling him out on trying to lie her when she seemed to have no problem lying to him and impersonating her sister for half a season. Still, Laurel is a vastly improved character at this point, making it such a shame that they so quickly broke up her pairing with Nyssa.
And, finally, Ray’s transfer of ownership papers he recently had Felicity sign was just a red herring. She is not taking over the company (at least not until next season if we start season 4 with the world thinking Ray has died in the accident). In fact, Felicity instantly quits her job and runs away with Oliver even though she has no idea where they’re going. There’s a part of me that flashes back to the moment in season 2 when Felicity yelled at Oliver for making her his personal assistant, practically slamming her fist on a table and emphasizing how hard she had worked to get where she was in IT and how little interest she had to now spend her days getting him coffee. Looking back at that version of Felicity, I have a kneejerk reaction against the idea of her now just dropping her high-paying corporate gig with a corner office and a boss who granted her more patience than any boss ever logically should. But, seriously, it’s been two and a half seasons of flirting between these two. I wouldn’t want to take away anyone’s smile from seeing the two drive into the sunset together.
Here’s what Marc Guggenheim had to say about how they chose to end the season
“I read the internet and I understand people are getting plot-twist fatigue, but personally I think we end the season with a run of episodes that were so twisty and turny and each one seemed to be more surprising than the next. I’m really proud of that. One of my litmus tests is, do we feel like we won’t be able to top it next season? And I certainly feel like we basically blew up the show and that continues on through the finale, so I’m really proud of that, because it’s something you can’t repeat — obviously you can’t blow up the show every year, so it’s exciting to me. The finale, when we finished writing it, I jokingly said I want to call it “Sticking the Landing” because there’s so many plot twists — and the thing about all the plot twists is, it’s all well and good but you’ve got to be able to explain it on the B-side, and all those questions have got to get answered, and at the same time you want it to be an entertaining episode on its own. It can’t just be 42 minutes of us reading Twitter and answering everyone’s questions, and knock on wood, I kind of feel like it’s satisfying in that regard. It answers the questions you have; it sets up new ones that hopefully people will carry into season four.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
And that brings an end to a season which seemed to constantly be taking one step forward and two steps back. As far as “My Name Is Oliver Queen” is concerned, maybe they didn’t have the budget they had for the first two finales, thus making their latest city-wide threat appear to be little more than an isolated incident in one city square. Maybe they were trying to focus more on character than incident, but the end result was easily their weakest finale, even if its final minute was genuinely heartwarming.
1. Of course Barry Allen would waltz in, take one look at the Lazarus Pit and jealously assume it was a hot tub.
2. Ra’s al Ghul’s four instruments of death must have been a reference to the four horseman of the apocalypse, right?
3. Ray’s “death” was eerily similar to the way they depicted Barry Allen’s own lab accident which made him The Flash.
4. It’s a bit much to just throw “Oh, he fell off the wagon” at us with Quentin when we haven’t seen him in a bunch of episodes.
5. Obvious ADR moment: While the camera is surveying the panicked city square and thus nowhere near the faces of Willa Holland and David Ramsey, Thea very quickly tells Diggle that Malcolm inoculated her.
6. When Felicity is rattled, she apparently forgets whether or not Quentin Lance should be referred to as Captain or Detective.
7. Oliver Queen is happy. Uh-oh. In the City of Angels version of the story, at this point Oliver and Felicity would get into a horrific car crash literally seconds after his “I am happy” declaration and Felicity would die.
8. Yes, there is another Green Lantern reference, this time with flashback Oliver boarding a boat for Coast City. And, yes, David Ramsey is again out there telling everyone to stop making such a big deal out of it. He does not want to become Green Lantern, nor should he.
9. This episode was remarkably cavalier about Oliver and Nyssa’s marriage. Normal society won’t recognize it, but what about back at Nanda Parbat? Will Malcolm grant her some kind of League annulment?
*ABOUT FELICITY’S IRON MAN MOMENT
So, Felicity dons the ATOM armor to save Oliver Queen, and it reminded a lot of us of Pepper Potts’ brief time in the Iron Man armor to shield Tony Stark from falling debris and protect Maya Hanson (Rebecca Hall) in Iron Man 3. Well, that was actually an homage to a particularly strange turn of events for the comic book version of Pepper. Around the same time the first Iron Man film was coming out in 2008, the comics had Pepper almost die, Tony Stark rushing to save her much in the same way he saved himself – by giving her a new electronic chest implant. However, he goes even further and gives her additional cybernetic enhancements, making her more cyborg than human, and builds her a unique Iron Man-like armor, which she names Rescue and occasionally uses to do superhero stuff. Tony even worked an automated version of J.A.R.V.I.S. into Pepper’s Rescue armor. However, then the computer program controlling Rescue fell in love with Pepper and strange things went down. Strange things! But before that, Pepper was indeed a proper superhero of her own.
Paste – Certainly, producing this many hours of television with so many logistical issues is no easy task. Considering that the Arrow creative team has also been somewhat split in half in the wake of The Flash, a dip in quality during this transition was to be expected. Here’s hoping they manage to rekindle their creative flame for next year.