Arrow: 319 “Broken Arrow” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Previously on Arrow: in a bid to get Oliver to take up his offer of being the next Ra’s al Ghul, Ra’s introduced a little motivation by helping turn the city against the Arrow. Spearheaded by the perhaps slightly crazy Captain Lance, the SCPD chased the Arrow across Starling until Lance finally made the discovery that Oliver Queen is the Arrow from the ever-helpful Ra’s. With nowhere else to turn, Oliver turned himself in – but on the way to jail, the ‘real’ Arrow stopped the police transport, unmasking himself as Roy Harper…
This week’s episode, Broken Arrow, eased off on the League of Assassins plot to deliver a classic superhero team up, along with a major character’s farewell. The villain of the week was Jake Simmons aka Deathbolt, Arrow’s first metahuman. Unfortunately, the problems with The Flash’s standalone bad guys bled over to this episode – Deathbolt, despite some adequate effects and the novelty of having a metahuman on a show that once prided itself on ‘realism’, had essentially no motivations or character quirks to make him stand out, and therefore ended up as a blank slate for Ray to test his mettle against. Deathbolt’s battles against Ray did see spectacle of the kind we rarely see on Arrow, but the villain was easily the least interesting part of a stellar episode.
However, the framework around Deathbolt was strong enough to justify such a paper-thin antagonist. The team-up between the Arrow and the ATOM provided a few drops of levity, with Oliver’s exasperated reactions to Ray’s boundless enthusiasm allowing Oliver’s moody demeanour to be refreshingly exploited for humour in a way we rarely see. We saw Oliver juxtaposed against a more powerful but less experienced vigilante in the Flash crossovers, but the team-up in Broken Arrow was distinguished well enough from that (despite Ray and Barry Allen being broadly similar) due to the legwork Arrow has done with Ray beforehand. The ATOM may have started off as a mildly creepy admirer of Felicity’s back in the season premiere, but throughout the season Ray has slowly been fleshed out as a vigilante with a direct contrast to Oliver’s methods, and the dramatic material between the two here is therefore much more rich than the fleeting (if enjoyable) juxtaposition between Oliver and Barry back in the crossover.
In many ways, this thread of the episode had a lot in common with The Flash (and Ray’s appearance on that show is coming next week in the UK, as luck would have it) – from the quipping hero taking centre stage to the slightly wackier bad guy than the ilk Arrow usually sees. This similarity was taken a step further with a brief one-scene crossover, as Ray took Deathbolt to be locked up in STAR Labs’ 100% ethically correct Pipeline. The appearance of Cisco was a fun surprise, and the invoked idea that the particle accelerator explosion could have been a little larger-scale than Central City is an intriguing mystery – and one that will encompass both The Flash and Arrow. It remains a pity that both shows are locked out from the movie universe Warner Bros are building, but the smaller DC TV shared universe is continuing to build nicely, with mysteries that can be introduced on one show and explored on another.
Despite Roy’s successful attempt to get Oliver briefly off the hook, Broken Arrow saw Captain Lance’s one-man mission to take down Oliver Queen continue – and in doing so, the captain appears to be slowly slipping into madness (he’s even, thankfully, called out on his behaviour by a fellow cop). Broken Arrow also justified Lance’s fairly unreasonable behaviour last episode as Lance shifted into a more overtly villainous role, vindictively berating Oliver for… pretty much everything, possibly including world hunger. Despite my concerns last episode, Lance actually works extremely well as an antagonist – Ra’s al Ghul might be the most immediately threatening and imposing foe, but Lance’s three seasons of development and personal ties to Oliver lends his scenes an emotional weight that’s not often felt when Oliver’s confronting Ra’s, a bad guy who’s appeared in just a handful of episodes so far.
The Hong Kong flashbacks, which have ambled about a bit this season with little direction at points, snapped into focus this episode, as the villain of the flashbacks was finally revealed. Some flashbacks in the early part of the season were downright tedious in their slowness, but Broken Arrow went the other way entirely with a set of rapidly paced scenes that burned through material that could have taken five episodes with the pace of the earlier flashbacks. This does mean some potentially exciting material like an ARGUS heist is reduced to a cursory tiny action scene, but the flashbacks are given purpose and drive here – a clear endgame has been set (General Shrieve unleashing a super-virus on Hong Kong because he doesn’t like Chinese food, or something similar), giving the flashbacks something to at least build towards. The thrilling momentum of the flashbacks in late season two isn’t quite there, but there’s ample chance now for the Hong Kong flashbacks to end on a high before we inevitably relocate to somewhere else on Oliver’s top-secret world tour in season four.
A major departure was teased for this episode by the cast – and true to their word, Roy Harper made his exit here. Roy’s been a bit of a hit and miss character in his time on the show, but his desire to atone for his killing of a police officer has given him the depth he had been lacking for a while now. His scenes in prison were an interesting change of scene for Arrow, and allowed him one last chance for him to fight (which, oddly, didn’t involve his trademark parkour, which was a crushing disappointment) in a prison brawl – and his ‘death’ by shiv was a very effective, if immediately unsatisfying gut-punch while it lasted… but of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as that.
Roy faking his death could have been a frustrating cop-out, but Roy’s ‘death’ scene is effectively portrayed as to not seem quite like a satisfying exit – therefore making the moment where he stepped out of the shadows in the trashed Foundry a satisfying and relieving bait-and-switch moment. It’s fitting for such a tortured character that Roy was able to say goodbye and have a relatively happy – and his goodbyes with Team Arrow before he drove away were short but sweet moments that allowed Roy to have the exit he deserved. His farewell with Oliver was a particularly good moment – rather than an ornate emotional speech, his goodbye was a simple ‘thank you’, summing up their relationship in a succinct and subtly emotional way…
… But of course, not everyone gets to drive off into the sunset. After Roy’s departure, Arrow wasn’t quite done, as Ra’s al Ghul popped into Thea’s apartment for a chat. It was here that Broken Arrow pulled out one last twist – Thea’s apparent death, as she became the latest Queen to be skewered by a sword (current count: three) after Ra’s insistence that Oliver would ‘beg him’ to become the next Ra’s al Ghul. It’s a twist made shocking precisely because of the fact that Roy had just left, seemingly securing the rest of the cast for the time being, and therefore catching this viewer completely off-guard.
Will Thea survive? What will Oliver beg Ra’s for? No matter how these questions are answered next time, it’s the latest in a series of twists that will be awfully hard to undo – unless, of course, there was some kind of pit that could bring Thea back to life…
Season three’s impressive late-game streak of great episodes continues with Broken Arrow, an episode that overcomes a dud of a villain with a thoroughly satisfying send-off for Roy, a fun superhero team-up and yet another shocking cliffhanger.