Warning: This contains spoilers.
Admittedly, it’s still very early days, but the new season of Arrow has been very promising so far. Episode 3 continues in the same direction, solidifying certain elements and bringing a number of others into play, including the inevitable return of a series regular and the introduction of some new supporting characters.
The main plot for this week centres on a new super drug called Stardust that is wreaking havoc on the streets of Star City. Oliver, Wild Dog and Evelyn Sharp hit the streets and shake down informants, with Oliver’s newly rescinded no-kill policy adding extra tension to each encounter.
When Wild Dog and Evelyn – who’s now going by Artemis, even though we never saw her choose her codename and she hasn’t previously demonstrated any archery skills – get hold of a lead, they disobey Oliver’s orders and chase it down themselves. This leads to a confrontation with drug pusher Derek Sampson (guest starring wrestler Cody Rhodes, who has an off-screen history with star Stephen Amell) and they end up accidentally knocking him into a vat of chemicals, Joker-style.
Sampson emerges from the vat with super-strength (what are the chances, with a name like that, eh?) and the inability to feel pain, making him a worthy adversary for Team Arrow 2.0. They quickly realise they have to stop him, before he carries out his plan to douse the rest of his henchmen with the same chemical and create an army of super-soldiers. After all, that happened with Slade Wilson and the Mirakuru-enhanced goons in Season 2 and look how that worked out.
While Oliver is obviously mad at Wild Dog and Artemis for making their whole situation quite a bit worse, he eventually has to put his trust issues aside for the team to take down Sampson and his goons. The ensuing fight scene (courtesy of stunt co-ordinator J.J. Makaro) is pretty decent and even ends on a surprisingly nasty note, with Oliver slicing Sampson’s tendons to stop him walking. Ouch. They really ought to warn you about stuff like that. Anyway, that rather leaves Sampson as a one-and-done villain, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he returns later on this season, given the actor’s connection to Amell and his generally strong performance here.
With both Tobias Church and Prometheus in the plot cupboard this week, there is room to concentrate on a bit of character work. The primary beneficiary of this is Curtis, who makes his first official debut in his Mr Terrific suit (or a prototype of it, anyway). In a neat touch, Terry Sloane, the original Mr Terrific from the comics, is name-dropped as being Curtis’ favourite wrestler (honestly, there are wrestling in-jokes and references all over the shop), and the inspiration behind wearing Sloane’s jacket with “Fair Play” emblazoned on it. I also like the little side-relationship that’s developing between Curtis and Evelyn, notably with her questioning the idea that Curtis was ever an Olympic champion (a sentiment frequently echoed by the show’s fan-base – say what you like about Arrow, but it’s very aware of its audience).
Another interesting development is the speed with which Felicity comes clean to Ragman over her part in the bombing of Havenrock. Normally, they spin that angsty stuff out over several episodes, so it makes a refreshing change for her to come straight out with it. Ragman has an entirely reasonable reaction to the news and appears to distance himself from the team, so we’ll find out the full ramifications of that next time. (I’m guessing Oliver won’t be too happy that Felicity just pushed out the team’s most powerful member.)
We also get to spend a little more time with Thea, in her new role as Oliver’s Chief of Staff. As much as I’d like to see her back in the Speedy suit, I am all for Thea having something decent to do this season that doesn’t involve a) super-heroics, b) moping over a love interest or c) having the same argument with Malcolm over and over again. Here, she is mostly standing by her decision to hire Quentin (their mutually supportive relationship goes from strength to strength, but it’s a safe bet Quentin will fall off the wagon at some point), averting a potential PR disaster and dealing with a back-stabbing journalist. (Frankly, if the CW want to give Thea her own politics-based spin-off show, I am totally on board with that.)
As for the afore-mentioned back-stabbing journalist, that would be one Susan Williams (played by Carly Pope, from Suits), who is one of two new supporting characters making their debut. She looks set to be a thorn in Oliver’s side (and a possible love interest, if the show wants to go that way). The other is District Attorney Adrian Chase (played by Josh Segarra), who’s going to be fulfilling his comics-ordained destiny and suiting up as Vigilante later this season.
One of the strongest elements of the episode occurs in the Diggle sub-plot. When Diggle ends up behind bars for plot-related reasons (he’s been framed for something or other), Lyla comes to see him and realises that he’s in a bad way, believing that he deserves to be punished for killing his brother and telling her to give up on him, because he’s already given up on himself.
The show also pulls off a very clever trick: For the majority of the episode, we’re convinced that Deadshot (a returning Michael Rowe) is sharing Diggle’s cell, having miraculously turned out not to be dead after all. (To be fair, they could easily bring him back, just by using The Flash’s Barry messing with the timeline as an excuse). However, the twist is that Deadshot (who has helped Diggle vocalise his guilt over Andy) turns out to be just a figment of his imagination. (I’ll confess, I was pleasantly suckered by the whole thing, partly because it was sold so nicely – kudos to the actors and to director Gregory Chase – and partly because comics and TV shows have a long history of characters turning out not to be dead after all, so I just assumed they were doing that.) Anyway, Diggle’s in a bad way, so the episode’s cliffhanger involves Lyla coming to Oliver and asking him to help bust Diggle out of prison, even though he doesn’t want to go.
Meanwhile, in Flashback City, Oliver’s Bratva initiation continues. In fact, the episode manages to pull off a second fake-out, when you think Anatoly and Oliver have come to tell her that they’ve killed her son and she’s weirdly happy about it, but then it transpires that they’ve killed her son’s killer, or something. Anyway, the flashbacks continue to be entertaining, thanks to David Nykl’s performance as Anatoly and they once again serve a purpose this week, as they underline the theme of having to trust your teammates, be they wannabe superheroes or Russian Mafia members.
Here’s hoping Season 5’s promising direction continues.
Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
– There are all sorts of fun in-jokes and references on the show this week. For instance, Stardust is the name of the drug in the show, but in real life, it’s also the name of guest star Cody Rhodes’s former WWE persona. (See YouTube for more detail on the SummerSlam 2015 feud between Amell and Rhodes.)
– Another neat reference: when Oliver compliments Renee on his hockey mask disguise, it’s a reference to Amell’s appearance as Casey Jones in the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel.
– And finally, a fun fact from Wikipedia: Carly Pope was classmates with Cobie Smulders, when they attended Lord Byng Secondary School in British Columbia together.
Arrow Season 5 is available to buy and download on pay-per-view VOD.