Arrow: 303 “Corto Maltese” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
After the grief-tastic trauma-coaster of last week’s episode, Arrow takes things back a little this week with a tale of family drama, espionage and betrayal set in a strange foreign land, and we finally see who the real villain of the show has been all along. Here’s a hint: as surprising as it may be, it’s not Malcolm Merlyn.
After vowing to get Thea back last week, Team Arrow quickly track her down to an island called Corto Maltese, known to DC Comics fans as the island from which the Soviet Union launched a nuclear strike against the USA, narrowly diverted by Superman. Anyway, she is shown to be living on the island with her father Malcolm Merlyn, who is training her in the same brutal fashion as he was trained by, presumably, the League of Assassins. We see him punching her in the face to show her that she always needs to be alert, pouring scalding hot wax onto her hand to show her that pain is an illusion, and generally doing everything he possibly can to win the Father of the Year award.
So Team Arrow decide to take a road trip out to Corto Maltese, Oliver and Roy heading out to find Thea and Diggle tagging along at Lyla’s behest to find an ARGUS operative, Mark Shaw (aka ‘Manhunter’ to longtime DC fans) who has gone AWOL while on a mission on the island. While Oliver and Roy find it easy to track down Thea, convincing her to return to Starling City is not so much, and she decides to keep her association with Merlyn under wraps: so generally another fun chapter in the deceit-filled Queen family history.
The Fabulous Archer Boys (a subset of Team Arrow, for those of you keeping track) then decide to help Diggle out while they are waiting for Thea to make her decision, and they successfully find Shaw, who informs Diggle that someone hacked into the ARGUS database and is now planning to sell information about undercover operatives on the black market, thus endangering their lives. However, this being the Bonkers Espionage Hour (not so much with the superheroes this week, hence the temporary title change), Shaw brings Oliver and Diggle to the location of the sale and thoroughly double-crosses them, taking the information Lyla gave Diggle in order to decrypt the ARGUS intel and sell it on for himself. Turns out stranding a highly trained agent on a crappy island in the middle of nowhere doesn’t always turn out so great!
With help from Felicity back in Starling City, they track Shaw down and get ready to disrupt the sale: Oliver brings along a couple of makeshift bow and arrow sets MacGuyvered together from stuff he found in his hotel room, but quickly finds out that a gun is slightly more effective against all the bad guys, who also have guns: go figure!
Anyway, they successfully disrupt the sale and as Diggle takes out Shaw, we get to the real meat of what’s going on in Arrow: Shaw tells Diggle that he was using this opportunity to get out of ARGUS, because he didn’t like what he had become as part of the organization. Apparently Amanda Waller doesn’t take too kindly to people wanting to retire quietly, and prefers to manipulate people into doing bad stuff until they inevitably die in the field: considering that every decision Waller has made since she turned up on the show has been batshit insane and would likely have led to vast numbers of civilian casualties if she hadn’t been stopped (for reference, see her plan to nuke Starling City just to save the rest of the country from a handful of super-strong criminals), we’ve got a very clear villain, both in this timeline and the flashbacks.
Following a brief heart to heart where Oliver tells her what really happened to their father Robert Queen, that he committed suicide to save Oliver and didn’t just die when the Queen’s Gambit sank; along with a brief swordfight between Thea and Malcolm, Thea is convinced to come home. However, Oliver’s suspicions are raised when someone spills boiling hot coffee all over her hand and she doesn’t flinch, almost like his sister has been trained as some kind of ninja or something.
Back in Starling City, we get a bit of light comedy as Felicity starts her new job working under Ray Palmer: he pulls a classic move of inviting her to his office, only to tell her that it is actually her office, and that she is now a high-ranking member of his company. His first move is to get her to repair a hard drive damaged when Team Arrow blew up the Queen Consolidated Applied Sciences division at the end of last season, and she has to juggle the responsibilities of her new job with being the brains of Team Arrow with amusing consequences. However, things take an odd turn when she leaves to show up in The Flash for an episode, and Ray Palmer looks on the Applied Sciences weapon schematics she recovered with a very sinister look on his face. Is the golden boy of Starling City really just a bastard like pretty much everyone else who tries to help the city? Only time will tell.
Elsewhere Laurel continues to take Sara’s death hard, and begins to display the tell-tale signs of being filled with an ocean of rage and vengeance: after she sees a fellow Alcoholics Anonymous member covered in injuries from where her abusive boyfriend beat her again, she asks Quentin to arrest him. However, the confidentiality agreements and the structure of AA doesn’t allow him to unless the victim asks directly, which she never will. So Laurel heads out and handles it in the most Laurel-like manner possible, putting on a balaclava and attempting to beat the dude up with a baseball bat, then failing and ending up on the receiving end of a beatdown herself.
She asks Oliver to train her so she can become more like Sara, and when he refuses (for pretty obvious reasons), she turns to Ted Grant (or ‘Wildcat’ as he is known in the comics), a local boxer for help instead, and her training to become the new Black Canary begins.
And then, as if all that wasn’t enough, Nyssa al Ghul shows up in the Arrowcave, pointing an arrow at Oliver and asking what happened to Sara, and all he can do is give her a look as if to say ‘oh, we didn’t call you…’
An interesting enough episode, although one which at times felt as though it was just a distraction from the ongoing storyline involving Sara’s death. It was nice to get clarification that both ARGUS and Amanda Waller are basically villains, though, and the action going down in Corto Maltese was pretty satisfying.