I'm so glad that Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. aired their respective mid-season finales in the same week. I could easily launch into a lengthy discourse about S.H.I.E.L.D.'s failings so far—Arrow suffered some of the same problems in its freshman outing—but this isn't the place, and I'm not sure how much of an overlap exists between the two show's audiences. And while Arrow has found plenty of strength in Season 2, if you'll allow a brief comparison of the two shows, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s "The Bridge" was a nice example of how NOT to get viewers excited about a show before a month-long break, whereas "Three Ghosts" was EXACTLY the right way to have your audience chomping at the bit for your series to return.
"The Bridge" did next to nothing to alter S.H.I.E.L.D.'s status quo or even make gestures toward solving its bigger ongoing storylines; there was just more teasing about Skye's parentage and how Coulson was alive. "Three Ghosts" gave Oliver a mask (finally), it gave Roy superpowers (eh), it gave Barry superpowers for his own show (neat), it killed Shado (whoa), and then it revealed that Slade Wilson is alive and in Starling City working as Sebastian Blood's benefactor... oh, and that he has nasty, long-term plans in store for Oliver (hells yeah).
So like last season's pre-winter-break episode, "Year's End," things changed, and Oliver at least managed to put a masked face to the threat of the Mirakuru serum, even if that threat remains something of a question mark to him. Similarly, there's a sense of Oliver recommitting to the mission, and a renewed sense of self in that journey. Malcolm Meryln's showdown with Oliver as the Dark Archer rattled him, but it also strengthened his sense of resolve at the time; stopping Blood's operation was shown as having a similar effect, along with the mask and Oliver's discussions with the hallucinations of Shado, Slade, and Tommy.
The hallucinations may have been the weakest part of this episode, however, as the emotional set-up for them was decidedly soft. Hallucinated Shado's call for Oliver to "stay with her" and to "give up" stemmed from insecurities, as did Hallucinated Slade's comments about his strength to shoulder the burden of saving Starling City. These are not things that Oliver has routinely expressed to anyone, even if they were larger than the issues that circulated around him last season. So they're fears that Oliver likely carries with him, and they were complemented, to a certain degree, by Shado's death on the island—but to have them come up now felt rather sudden.
Likewise, Hallucinated Tommy's arrival on the scene to tell Oliver to keep fighting, to function as that driving force that Oliver uses to better himself as the Arrow, might have landed stronger had the whole "no killing" aspect of Oliver's mission—not to mention how Oliver grapples with it—been given a bit more weight. We saw it as he sort of dealt with killing Count Vertigo, but in Arrow's rush to set up Barry Allen in the episode that followed Vertigo's death, it might've sacrificed a stronger dramatic through-line to make Hallucinated Tommy's words really hit home, even if they were just the words Oliver needed to repeat to himself to take down Cyrus.
But while I take issue with those emotional shortcuts, they weren't enough to sap the episode's strengths. Beats like Thea and Sin going to see Laurel to get info on the blood drive... and Roy breaking into
the (comic book nod) Langstrom Langford Institute... and Quentin leading a squad after Cyrus. Those are the sort of procedural bits I can always get behind, but since Arrow often struggles to fully incorporate them into all its other plots, it's always at its strongest when it has A- and B-stories—in addition to the Lian Yu flashbacks—that tie into one another, instead of all that plus C- and possibly D-stories that often just end up feeling like throwaway ideas, like Moira's lawyer wanting Thea to end her relationship with Roy a few episodes back.
Other, larger plot-changing elements—like Roy surviving the Mirakuru injection and thus gaining superpowers, and Shado's death—also buoyed the episode, even if I'm less keen on the former. Roy getting powers changes the dynamics of everything in the present day, as he'll be able to be reckless in the Glades and come out generally unharmed, and so he'll become progressively bolder in his attempts to save the city. It's a smart way to keep Roy in Oliver's crime-fighting orbit—better than the messenger boy role—but I'm not exactly looking forward to "Roy discovers his powers and looks shocked and excited!" montages, and I am curious about how Arrow will integrate his abilities into the narrative, while still being happy that Cyrus is out of commission (for now?) and so we won't have superpowered baddies running around.
Shado's death would've significantly shaken up the characters on the island regardless of Slade being alive or not, but since he is alive, in pain, and has superpowers, it makes things very dangerous for Oliver and Sara on the island until Slade can get a grip on himself, which will probably mean killing Ivo. That may, of course, reveal that Oliver made the choice to save Sara instead of Shado, and obviously that will not end well for anyone.
That brings us to our antagonists. I was worried for a while that Blood was operating with the League of Assassins, a la Scarecrow in Batman Begins, so I'm glad that Arrow is apparently side-stepping that particular rehash in favor of Slade working a long game against Oliver. As you might've guessed, I loved the snippets we got of Blood's mayoral announcement speech, particularly the bits about elites and the oppressed in Starling City. The show has teased issues of class and race since it started, but never fully delivered on them. I'm hoping that Blood's campaign brings some of this to the forefront, and in productive ways.
As for Slade, his eyepatch, and his seemingly ill-fitting suit, I'm thrilled that he's operating in the present day. The threat he poses to Oliver, both physically and emotionally, is immense, and immediately adds weight to whatever's coming next. While Malcolm was/is a personally connected threat due to his dealings with Moira and being father to Tommy, Malcolm's plans weren't targeted at Oliver; he was just against Oliver foiling them. This season, it's not just a matter of Blood taking control of the city, it's a matter of Slade destroying Oliver's life for personal reasons, and that's much more compelling and ultimately dangerous than Malcolm's city-destroying earthquake machine to avenge his wife's death.
How long until January 15?
– Mmmm. A little side pectoral never hurt anyone.
– I really liked the scene in which Barry got his powers. It combined the traditional origin of The Flash that I mentioned last week, while offering a bit of a fresher update with the much-ballyhooed particle accelerator. It is, as Andy mentioned on Twitter, "much more scientifically valid" now. My biggest problem was that it felt so very jarringly placed in the episode. There was the big Slade reveal followed by cross-cutting between the Arrow Cave and Barry in the lab. Without the Barry scene in there, the Arrow Cave stuff was a nice denouement to the episode; with it, everything felt dragged out, killing the momentum that the Slade scene set up.
– Ivo's little game of "Pick who dies!" seemed really contrived to me. Sure, he was pissed, but just shoot everyone and be done with it. It was a sloppy way to get to the desired result of Shado's death.
– How much are we reading into Quentin, Roy, and Felicity appearing during Slade's little speech about his plans for Oliver? Roy and Felicity make complete sense, but Quentin seemed like an odd inclusion there.
– How happy must Celina Jade and Manu Bennett have been with this episode? "You mean we get to shoot somewhere other than the forests of Canada?! YAY!"
– I wish you all a happy new year, and I'm sure I'll see you in the comments as we roll out our end-of-the-year stories! I'm especially looking forward to the discussion surrounding everyone's best/favorite shows of the year.
What did you think of "Three Ghosts"? How are you liking the season so far?
AIRED ON 5/25/2016
Season 4 : Episode 23