Arrow: 323 “My Name is Oliver Queen” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
It’s been a tough season for Arrow, both in-universe and out. For Oliver Queen, has third year of vigilantism has been filled to the brim with torment and angst; losing his identity as Oliver Queen, then later on losing his identity as the Arrow itself – and meanwhile, in the real world, season three has received a fairly lukewarm reception after the critical and fan acclaim of season two. Did the third season finale at least cap off a middling season in style?
After my criticism of last week’s overblown cliffhanger, My Name is Oliver Queen at least delivered a pretty stylish resolution – sure, the Flash’s appearance was a deus ex machina at its most definitive, but the brief injection of The Flash’s lighter and frothier tone helped add some comic book colour and fun to a fairly run-of-the-mill finale, yielding a couple of fun lines to boot from Barry (‘You guys have a hot tub?’). Likewise, the early action sequence on the plane was a briefly excellent set-piece, providing some enjoyable, well-presented spectacle with the crashing plane, and a triumphant moment for Oliver as he finally gave the game up and proclaimed his real identity to Ra’s (the first of many title drops this episode).
Unfortunately, as soon as Ra’s parachuted off the plane, the threat pervading the last couple of episodes all but dissipated for most of the remainder of the episode, and the finale sunk into a slump that it struggled to overcome for quite a while. The brief Damien Dahrk subplot failed to make much of an impact, either – there was room to organically combine the immediate hunt for the virus with intriguing hints for the impending threat of Dahrk and HIVE, keeping viewers on tenterhooks for the villain’s emergence in season four, yet what Arrow actually delivered was awkwardly inserted, unnecessary setup that actually revealed very little about the character who will almost certainly fill Ra’s al Ghul’s boots as Big Bad next year (in a shocking twist, Dahrk seems to be fairly well prepared, which is at least something).
The hunt for the Alpha-Omega virus across Starling City also had the potential to be much more exciting viewing than it actually was. To its credit, like last week’s fight at Nanda Parbat, the virus hunt allowed almost all of the extended Team Arrow and friends to work together in tandem – and we even had a new vigilante enter the scene, with Thea suiting up for the first time as Speedy in a great moment, albeit one that was somewhat lost in the tidal wave of other things going on. However, the promised traditional finale spectacle wasn’t there, and the virus hunt essentially became little more than a glorified case of the week; resolved fairly easily with little fanfare thanks to some hastily cooked up ‘nanotech devices’ as focus shifted to Oliver and Ra’s al Ghul’s final battle.
This would all have been fine if said final battle had delivered, but like most of My Name is Oliver Queen, Ra’s and Oliver’s final confrontation was a little underwhelming, especially when stacked up against the vastly superior previous battle between the two in The Climb. The symmetry between the fight here and their first fight back in the mid-season finale (with the same words spoken to the dying loser of the fight, but reversed this time around) was well executed and bookended the League conflict well enough, but the final fight was reasonably tame aside from that, lacking brutality, a sense of excitement and a particularly satisfying resolution, especially when stacked against the terrific intercutting flashback/present day brawls with Slade Wilson last year. Felicity’s late appearance in the ATOM suit was a fun way to give Felicity a more direct involvement than just pep talks and moral support, but it was still a slightly random moment that didn’t really make a great deal of sense (she must be a really fast learner with billion-dollar supersuits), and came across as a bit of a gimmick.
Meanwhile, in the flashbacks, Oliver’s year-long jaunt in Hong Kong reached its conclusion. I’d just about lost interest in the General Shrieve plot last week, but the brief resolution of the conflict with Shrieve’s army allowed the final flashbacks of the season to work as a morose, quiet coda to the Hong Kong plot. The emerging brutality of flashback Oliver was another satisfying step in the slow-burning character journey towards becoming the man who returned to Starling City in season one, even if it functioned as a pretty flimsy excuse to keep Oliver away from Starling for another two years (there’s a definite sense that vast swathes of the flashbacks are being made up by the writers on the fly half the time).
We knew the endpoints of Tatsu and Maseo’s journeys already, but the way the dots were joined here had some great emotional heft to it, with some quietly strong acting from Karl Yune and Rila Fukishima – they’ll be missed, as they were consistently solid throughout a bumpy season of flashbacks. A change of location for past Oliver and his terrible flashback wig is certain, but it’s intriguing to see how open-ended the flashbacks are left in the finale, as opposed to seasons one and two’s fairly definitive indications of the next year in the adventures of past Oliver. All we know is that Oliver still needs that captaincy in the Russian mafia, needs to learn how to fly a plane, and is seen boarding a boat marked for Coast City at the end of this episode; incidentally, the home of one Hal Jordan…
There were an awful lot of character arcs in season three, and My Name is Oliver Queen took on the unenviable task of tying up a few of those tangled threads. After the terrific ‘public enemy’ arc a few episodes back that marked the highpoint of the season, Captain Lance has retreated to the periphery, but the finale attempted to bring him back into the fold by cramming in a ‘falling off the wagon’ subplot for Lance. Lance’s alcoholism has been explored pretty thoroughly, and while there’s merit in putting the character through the ringer again, the season finale was probably not the best place to do so, and as a result this mini character arc for Lance barely registers at all. It’s actually unclear if Lance’s alcoholism will be an ongoing thing, or if his helpful call to Felicity indicates he’s staying on the wagon, so this subplot also ends on a confusing and inconclusive note.
What did work better, however is the natural conclusion of Oliver’s protests against the burgeoning troupe of vigilantes entering Starling, with Oliver’s acknowledgement and final acceptance of all the masked heroes a suitable payoff that should allow Arrow to embrace its comic book roots a little more with a growing cavalcade of heroes next season. Letting characters like Thea and Laurel join Oliver’s crusade has immeasurably improved two characters who were consistently problematic in previous seasons, so keeping the extended Team Arrow as a regular fixture bodes well for season four.
My Name is Oliver Queen leaves us with three tidbits to set up both the future of the growing mini-universe DC has carved out on TV, and the more immediate future of Arrow itself. Ray’s little accident was an abrupt, out-of-nowhere moment that worked as a sudden shock but tonally jarred with the upbeat tone of the final scene – but at least we know Ray will live on (and shrink!) in spin-off Legends of Tomorrow, so it’s easy to forgive the Palmer Industries explosion as more set-up for the spin-off than a death scene created entirely for shock value. In more Arrow-related business, Malcolm’s ascension to Ra’s al Ghul is a great, sly twist (of course Malcolm would use a loophole in an ancient prophecy to get what he wants) that promises a return to a villainous role for Malcolm, which means both the tantalising prospect of a Nanda Parbat feud between the revenge-hungry Nyssa and Malcolm, and the opportunity for John Barrowman to showcase more of his trademark acting, which can only be a really, really good thing.
With Oliver and Felicity driving into the sunset for five months of relaxation before an inevitable catastrophe brings them back in October, season three wraps up with a final voiceover from Oliver that could just as well be the final lines of the entire series itself. Arrow’s third season might have fallen short of the dizzy heights of season two, but with a nigh-on blank slate to rebuild the show and its main character from the ground up in October, the show’s future prospects look perfectly bright for now…
My Name is Oliver Queen at least wipes the slate clean for a chance for season three’s problems to be fixed when the show returns, but it’s a disappointingly flat finale that fails to conclude season three in a satisfying fashion, and fails to truly achieve what it set out to do.
Scene of the Episode: City of Heroes – Oliver exits Starling City for a while, leaving the city to the small army of vigilantes that have followed him (minus Ray, of course).