One small nitpick before we begin—I can’t help but be a bit disappointed that the follow-up episode to Arrow’s third season episode, “The Calm,” is not entitled “The Storm.”
Okay—nitpicking over. On to more important matters…
Considering the superhero renaissance it was dropped into (mere months after the record-breaking runs of The Avengersand Dark Knight Rises), it’s not too surprising that Arrow became a success. What was surprising, however, is how the show ended up becoming so much better than it had any right to be. Season Two of Arrow very much represented a no-holds-barred, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink roller coaster ride that secured its status as one of the most entertaining shows on television.
Picking up in an unspecified time after the action-filled finale, “The Calm,” finds the character, per the title, in a state of relative contentment. Team Arrow has succeeded in capturing many of the city’s remaining major criminals, with Roy Harper now sporting official superhero attire. And while Oliver’s young side kick is still understandably hung up over Thea (who appears to be lying to everyone regarding her location), all the other characters walk with a spring in their step. Diggle is excited/nervous about his upcoming foray into fatherhood, Laurel is now sprouting a brighter hairstyle and a much lighter attitude, Quentin Lance is alive and well, and Felicity, despite now working retail, has lost some of her spark.
Even the typical brooding Oliver seems to have drunk the “don’t worry, be happy” Kool-Aid. What’s more, in the intervening time, his relationship with Felicity appears to have deepened. So much so, in fact, that Oliver decides to ask her on an official date. After the bait-and-switch regarding their romance in the Season Two finale, it’s fair to say that the “Olicity” shippers will get a good kick out of these first 15 or so minutes of their flirtatious, yet undeniably cute banter.
Of course, good things can never last for Oliver Queen, and the restaurant where the two have decided to hold their date is abruptly demolished by an RPG. The mastermind behind this plot is Werner Zytle, a Vertigo-pushing drug dealer who has managed to further weaponize the drug. Instead of merely scrabbling the victim’s brains, this brand of Vertigo unlocks the recipient’s deepest fears. How very Scarecrow (and dramatically convenient) of him. Admittedly, this marks the third storyline involving Vertigo, and it makes for a somewhat softer storyline than one might expect from an Arrow season opener.
In general, most of the episode seems concerned less by the villain threat and more by how it affects the character dynamics. After the incident at the restaurant, Oliver is now clearly more reluctant about beginning anything with Felicity—lest more harm come to her. Likewise, he also begins distancing Diggle from the missions, as he doesn’t want the man to be killed in the line of duty when he has a child on the way. Predictably, this causes tension with our core group, and the episode subsequently shifts into the darker, more dramatic Arrow of Seasons One and Two.
All the while, we are shown flashbacks of Oliver’s time in Hong Kong. It’s comparatively little information, with Oliver finding himself in the care of a young couple who must hold him there by any means necessary. Otherwise, according to Amanda Waller’s threats, their young son will be killed. In any case, it’s a nice change-of-location, as the Island flashbacks had really reached their greatest potential in Season Two.
Back in Starling City, things seem to be going in a more hopeful direction. Team Arrow prevents Zytle from blowing up a boxing venue with several crime lords in attendance, Diggle’s baby is born and Oliver ends up getting some unexpected help from a returning Sara Lance/Black Canary. “Olicity” shippers then get the ultimate push-pull when Oliver and Felicity finally launch into their long-delayed “conversation” about their relationship. An emotional Felicity begs him to just say it won’t work and that he doesn’t love her, Oliver replies by kissing her (for real this time) and replies that he could never say such a thing. With that, Felicity promptly nips their relationship in the bud and storms away, breaking the hearts of many fans in the process.
Just as it looks like things couldn’t get much worse for our heroes, Laurel meets with Sara for a bit of sisterly bonding. No sooner has Laurel walked away, however, than a mysterious figure shoots the Canary full of arrows, sending her falling off the building and to her death. As a devastated Laurel cradles her dead sister in her arms, we slam to black.
And shit just got real again…
Prior to these final minutes, “The Calm” mostly plays as an obligatory scene-setter for the season. More than anything, the episode appears to emphasize the vicious cycle that comes with the characters’ unusual occupation. No sooner have they found themselves in a more emotionally stable place than the life of crime fighting brings them back to the status quo. Oliver slips back into his more “loner” persona, alienating his colleagues in the process (even if his reasoning is perfectly sound). Needless to say, it’s a plotline we’ve seen multiple times before and the fact that the episode does not have the strongest villain subplot to counteract it, makes it feel a bit “been there, done that.” Also, while it makes dramatic sense, the idea of Oliver being forced to fight against him because of the drug’s effects feels like a plot point that would have been more at home in previous seasons when Oliver was a bit more uncertain about his status as a hero.
That being said, the episode does offer a fair amount of great material to remind audiences of its potential. The action scenes remain as exhilarating as ever, with the aforementioned Oliver vs. Himself fight showing off some truly amazing stunt work. Moreover, it also features an exceptional introduction to Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer (aka, the future Atom). In the context of the show, Ray is presented as the new gun vying for control of Queen Consolidated, effectively pushing Oliver out of the consideration in the process. Here, Routh shows himself to be quite the charming, lively presence when given good stuff to work from. Seeing him here, it’s really a shame that we never got to see his potential fully realized in subsequent Superman films.
Oh, and I’d be remiss to not mention the call Oliver gets towards the end from a recently awakened Barry Allen, thus setting the scene for their rooftop discussion from The Flash. Looks like the two shows will be taking a hint from the first season of Angel/fourth season of Buffy dynamic.
Ultimately, however, it’s the death of Sara Lance that will be the big takeaway from this episode. Between Moira Queen’s death last season and Tommy’s death the year before, the show’s writers have clearly outlined that, in the universe of Arrow, even main characters are not safe. That being said, Tommy and Moira were still civilians. The death of a core crime fighter—in the season’s first episode at that—raises the stakes in a way that the other two, despite the emotional impact, were not quite designed to do. If nothing else, it looks as though this twist will finally give firm story material to Laurel, a character who the show’s creative team appears to have struggled with over the past two seasons.
“The Calm” may not be the show’s strongest episode, but it makes for an effective season opener, setting up storylines and characters that the show will no doubt build upon to form another monstrous year of action and drama.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.