Arrow: 301 “The Calm” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
Finally, a new season of the Bonkers Superhero Hour has arrived, and big changes have come to Starling City. After two ‘terrorist’ attacks in as many years, the whole place seems to be rebuilding, and the general populace seem to have welcomed the Arrow into their hearts. However, darker things stir beneath the surface, and “The Calm” of the title is presumably that of “before the storm” fame: judging by a few hints from this episode and the pre-season publicity, something big is coming.
But as the season begins things could not be better: Team Arrow, now including a suited-up Roy are working well as a team, stopping a shipment of RPGs from being delivered to presumably nefarious customers, and Oliver seems generally happy with everything. He even meets with Laurel, with whom he has worked out a deal in which he catches the bad guys, and she prosecutes them and puts them away; and witnesses a slightly battle-damaged but newly-promoted Captain Lance make a public statement declaring the Arrow a hero and disbanding the anti-vigilante task force.
Things are going so well, in fact, that Oliver decides it’s about time to have a personal life: he works with Felicity on a presentation to try and win control of Queen Consolidated back and then asks her out on a date, thus making a positive decision in his own life and simultaneously fulfilling the desires of thousands of online ‘Olicity’ shippers.
However, this being the Bonkers Superhero Hour, the good times don’t last. While making weird and incredibly awkward small-talk with Felicity about the fact that while he was lost for five years, he spent time in places other than Lian Yu, the entire restaurant is blown up by a man named Werner Zytle, which brings us to one of the best parts of the episode. Because Zytle, a street-level drug pusher now calling himself ‘Vertigo’ as the successor to manic drug-pixie ‘The Count’, is played by Peter Stormare, a man who adds approximately 80% more crazy to anything he is cast in, and Arrow is no different.
Understandably, the explosion and Felicity’s subsequent minor injuries put the scare on Oliver, and combined with the arrival of the dashing hacker-genius/successful businessman Ray Palmer (played by Brandon Routh in his second DC Comics role after his disappointing turn as the Man of Steel in Superman Returns) to take over Queen Consolidated with a flashy presentation promising to turn ‘Starling City’ into ‘Star City’, it’s enough to drive Oliver back into loner-vigilante mode. He dismisses father-to-be Diggle, telling him that being there for his daughter is the most important thing and if he keeps hanging out with Oliver then that will become less and less likely, and tells Felicity that they can’t be together for her own protection.
Whether these decisions have anything to do with his first meeting with Zytle is unclear, as he is injected with a new and improved version of Vertigo which also reveals the user’s greatest fear, making it the least-desirable recreational drug ever produced. Of course, being the great hero, Oliver’s greatest fear is himself, a revelation which apparently freaks his noodle enough to reject everything that was making him so happy a few hours previously.
Anyway, Vertigo’s big plan is to take out the three remaining major crime bosses and become the crime lord of the entire city, but in order to do so he needs to blow up an entire stadium full of people on the night of a prize fight. Fortunately, Oliver and Roy arrive on the scene and stop the dastardly plot with the help of a newly-arrive Sara, who returned to the city to see Laurel but tuned in to Oliver’s communications and decided to help out with the Vertigo situation.
Shortly after, Oliver gets a call from Barry Allen and heads off to show up in The Flash pilot, and Sara meets up with Laurel and tells her not to tell the sickly and now hospitalized Quentin that she’s in town. The reason for this becomes apparent as Laurel heads off and Sara is shot three times by a mystery archer, causing her to fall off the roof to her death. The fact that she knew her assailant suggests that it was one of her contemporaries from the League of Assassins, and her surprise suggests that it was not someone she would ever have expected to see.
Which leads me to another tease introduced in this episode: several characters, including someone on a talk show towards the beginning of the episode, and Ray Palmer in his speech to the Queen Consolidated board, refer to Starling City as being ‘sick’ or ‘broken. Judging by the fact that he has been teased in promotional material and previous episodes of the show itself, and that some of his established methods involve destroying entire cities to supposedly ‘cleanse’ them of their corruption, it would seem that the writers are laying some pretty solid groundwork for the appearance of the Demon’s Head himself: Ra’s al Ghul.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong (it feels strange not to be writing ‘on the island’), Oliver is introduced to Amanda Waller’s methods: after escaping her clutches several times and showing no fear of death, she instead threatens the family of one of her men and places Oliver in his custody. If he tries to escape again, the man’s family will die and that will be on Oliver’s conscience: now, what exactly Waller wants with Oliver remains to be seen, but it promises a very different series of flashbacks this season.
“The Calm” is a good solid start to the new season of the Bonkers Superhero Hour, setting up some intriguing themes and offering a big shock at the very end. However, it was not perfect, as Vertigo felt a little underused and some of Oliver’s decisions and motives were somewhat unclear. However, it promises an intriguing and exciting new season for Arrow, and possibly the Biggest Bad the team have ever faced.