The CW‘s Arrow The Calm TV Show Review. Arrow: Season 3, Episode 1: ‘The Calm,’ was a reset of a reset. After last season’s finale, Starling City underwent a reset, with a newly promoted Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), and Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy) as its public face; and a new Team Arrow cleaning up, behind the scenes. Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) needed a reset, after the losses he had incurred; and while both he and Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) contended with the absence of one other Queen, by getting their heads into their hero work, Oliver took his reset effort a step further. He decided to openly court Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) – herself resetting to a new station (well beneath her) after Queen Consolidated was left in the lurch. Naturally, the given order of things, at the start of the season, can never be allowed to stand; so ‘The Calm,’ as the title suggested, proceeded to shake up the new order – starting with the failing health of Quentin. Where Laurel was concerned, however, it was the reset at the end that would prove the most traumatic. Unfortunately, until then, nothing major actually happens; just a lot of resets.
One reset there will be no going back from: the shift in flashback setting, from Lian Yu to Hong Kong, and the reveal of a previous Oliver relationship with Amanda Waller (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). This new setting also risks resetting the Oliver-Slade-Shadow dynamic; but I’m hoping that this is a red herring. The would-be replacements were Maseo Yamashiro (Karl Yune), as Oliver’s handler (on Waller’s behalf), and Tatsu Yamashiro (Rila Fukushima). While Tatsu’s role was left undefined (just keep the name Katana in mind), Maseo’s initially ‘hands on’ relationship with Oliver may have already been reset, by the revelation of a common threat in Waller.
Clearly, the presence of both Waller, and Tatsu, means big things are to be expected of the Hong Kong arc; but I’m not sure why it took two whole seasons before Oliver got around to mentioning Hong Kong to any of his team mates. Did it really take Felicity’s comment on exhausted first date topics?
There seemed to be a lot of unnecessary movement, to the episode’s opening action; but it’s always important to provide an opening hook, after viewer hibernation, I guess. All that showing off (to nail a decidedly unskilled high profile crook) did set up one half of the episode’s ‘who fills the vacuum’ theme. In part, ‘The Calm’ referred to the drop off in crime, due to the new Team Arrow getting the thumbs up from the Lances. Into the resulting power vacuum stepped a new Count Vertigo (Peter Stormare). Apparently, the title is up for grabs, by anyone who can reproduce the drug. In the new Count’s case, it was weaponized. Instead of euphoria, it was altered to haunt victims with visions of their worst fears. In Oliver’s case, their first meeting meant being confronted by “only what he took with him.”
Yes, the new Count was doubling as Batman villain, Scarecrow. Not quite sure how the effect of the altered drug jibes with actual vertigo, nor am I sure why Oliver would hesitate to punch out an evil twin (evil Felicity would’ve certainly left his guard down – but I guess the fight coach couldn’t swing an Arrow-Felicity fight). Maybe it was less hesitation than just taking a moment to figure what the image meant. In any case, the real affront was Vertigo getting the drop on I-fight-League-of-Assassins-guys Arrow.
The new Count being much older than the original actually made him more intimidating, and somehow, he did manage to go toe-to-toe with The (albeit drugged) Arrow. Still, Team Vertigo really didn’t seem to challenge the new Team Arrow. If anything, the whole exercise was just an excuse to get Oliver to come to grips with his sense of self. That, and get his priorities straight, after some ‘Olicity’ fanservice (admit it – it was, though).
The other half of ‘The Calm’ vacuum filler theme was split between a take over bid, for Queen Consolidated, and Diggs’ (David Ramsey) impending role as a father. In Diggs’ case, it was pretty straightforward: Roy (I’ll be resisting the urge to call him Red Robin, until he gets an official title) will be taking his place, as second string muscle. The take over bid for Queen Consolidated came in the form of Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh). I will take this moment to apologize in advance: there may be some typos regarding Ray Palmer & Roy Harper; and if the writers attempt an Airplane cockpit crew introduction scene, then they will be well deserved typos, at that.
Palmer’s introduction placed him as more of a foil for Felicity, than Oliver, however, and there may even be room for him making a romantic play of it; but that’s icky stuff – let the shippers mull over that one. It was nice of them to at least try and make Palmer’s intro a subtle one, and Routh brings a noteable degree of charm & charisma to the role (and show). Synchronize spin-off countdown watches.
If anyone breathed some life into the third season premiere, it was Felicity. Heck, I’d go so far as to give her the ‘most improved character’ award. Her speaking in fragments seemed more endearing, than annoying, she seemed much more comfortable in her genius skin, and was an all around source of genuine comic relief (as in making laughs, not just being used as an awkward moment device). Brandon Routh also brought some much needed levity to the cast, but he’s up for nomination in the best new character category. I did give serious consideration to Laurel, but her track record requires more than a single episode of levelheadedness, to make up for all those Laurel moments. That, and the fact that a happy Laurel has been a beacon of personal disaster; Happy Laurel having then been served the kind of blow that Hot Mess Laurel thrives on.
I suppose that brings me to the white Elephant in the room; the one that literally came crashing down to Laurel’s feet. I won’t speak of the episode’s closing moment directly – I figure I’ll let the creatures of the interwebs work out picking that carcass clean, for the time being. I will say that it was, all at once, a crucial turning point for the series, and relatively clumsy in its intended delivery.
The first two seasons of Arrow revolved around Oliver, Slade, and the Queen family dynamic. The presumptive closing of that singular arc requires a new one being set up – or a massive expansion of the mythology. Any such change would require a break from the relatively self-contained mythology, that had been established in the original arc; and while the loss of both the Queen family business, and the Queen family unit, along with flashback Oliver getting clear of the island, made for a definitive means of making that break, it wasn’t enough. The new season launching a new arc demanded another token of renewal; and it wouldn’t be the kind of token viewers could take to the bank, unless it constituted a major sacrifice. Viewers had to be made aware of just how serious the commitment to the new direction will be.
That said, the execution might have had more impact, had it not been telegraphed, to a degree. Yes, saving it for the very end did salvage some shock value, for anyone looking at the clock, thinking it was just a long goodbye, after all. To that end, I did appreciate what I imagined to be the bullpen toying with viewer reaction.
“WTF – <bleep> got shot! Looks like a season of payback, during the recovery – oh snap – shot again! That’s bad. That bad, for real; but no way they gonna let – and that’s three. They’re serious. Not looking good, not looking… and falling off the roof; so this is happening. That’s a done deal. Eyes open and everything – they done kilt <bleep>. Fudruckers.”
Not mine, though, as some pretty cliched signs were there. Resigned character returns, last minute, to save the day and leave encouraging words, before taking off again – all done for said character’s previous appearance, mind you. Might as well have announced being so much time away from retirement, or a wedding date, or some other moment of milestone fulfillment. The fact that Laurel had already been declared a replacement sort of allowed for a more drastic removal of her soon-to-be predecessor, as well. Thank you run-up media blitz.
Something to bear in mind, however: that same media blitz also promised us Ra’s al Ghul. I’ll leave you to do the math on that one.
In the end, what matters is that the closing scene to ‘The Calm’ does get the ball rolling in a big way; setting the stage for the show’s new direction, putting a fire under the evolution of Laurel (for better or worse), and firmly anchoring an otherwise free floating season premiere to the rest of the season. So-so episode, big relaunch.
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