Arrow Season 3, episodes 3 and 4
“Corto Maltese” and “The Magician”
Another 2 weeks, another 2 episode recap. One day, I’ll be caught up enough to look at each episode individually, I promise.
While on paper “Corto Maltese” and “The Magician” aren’t as easily lumped together as “The Calm” and “Sara”, there are still overarching themes that tie the two together…mainly the theme of Family, both blood related and the family we choose. Team Arrow is still reeling from the death of Sara Lance, and with the family that he’s chosen fraught with grief, Oliver decides it’s time to track down his ACTUAL family and bring Thea back to Starling City. With the help of Felicity (who he is still being super cold too…dammit Oliver), Team Arrow learns that Thea is not in Italy as she said, but instead is on the island of Corto Maltese (“What is it with your family and islands?”). Thus Oliver, Roy, and Diggle (who goes for a mission for Lyla that I have little memory of, so really it was a matter of the writers needing to give Dig something to do other than moon over baby Sara and drop truth bombs on Oliver. Hey writers! Give him better and more memorable material!) set out on a Boys Trip to bring Thea home. But does Thea even WANT to come home?
When we last saw Thea, she was climbing into a limo with her father Malcolm Merlyn as Starling City fell prey to Slade and his Mirakiru jacked minions. One of the things I wanted most for this season was a flashback to what happened immediately following this decision, and god bless the writers, they gave it to us. “I don’t want to feel this pain again. Never again,” Thea said to Malcolm, with a steely determination on her face. This is completely terrifying because aside from Felicity, Thea has always been the character who could ground Oliver and remind him of his humanity and need to connect with people. Thea leads with her heart. She’s incredibly open emotionally and that openness has led to nothing but pain, so it’s completely understandable that she wants to learn how to control her emotions and not feel ANYTHING anymore. Thea has been through a LOT of shit, y’all. She lost her brother and her father…only to get her brother back 5 years later. She found out that Malcolm Merlyn was her father. Her heart was broken by Roy. Her mother was brutally murdered right before her eyes. She’s been lied to by the people she’s trusted time and time again. Ironically, the one person who has never lied to her is the one the audience has been taught to fear…Malcolm Merlyn. He’s also the one person she thinks can TEACH her not to feel…so off father and daughter go to Corto Maltese.
What I find fascinating about the Malcolm and Thea relationship is that you see them interact in a way that he never did with Tommy. Maybe it’s because he found Tommy weak (or vulnerable enough) or maybe it’s because Thea ASKED him to train her, but we never saw Malcolm even attempt to pass on his League of Assassins training to Tommy. Malcolm recognizes the strength in Thea before she even does…and he tempers that strength with fire (a sentiment later echoed verbatim by Nyssa to Laurel in “The Magician”). “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional,” Malcolm says as he pours hot wax over his hand without even flinching. This kind of training is horrendous and more than a bit fucked up, but to Thea’s credit, she dives into it headfirst, even when the literal pain is too much to handle. She is capable of so much more than she thinks she is, and Malcolm makes her see that. I don’t know to what end this training is leading to but it’s exciting to see Thea learn not to be a victim to her own pain any more. As Sage just said to me, it’s not JUST about learning how to kick ass and fight back. It’s about walling your emotions up…which is why Malcolm preaches “First you must fight with your mind, then your sword.” So really, it’s all about Thea finding her mental toughness first and her ability to FIGHT BACK instead of sitting back and taking it. That’s where the “suffering is optional” comes in…so when Thea finally grabs a sword and holds it to her father’s throat after he punches her, we know she has it in her to stand up for herself.
In Corto Maltese, we see both Oliver and Roy trying to convince Thea to come back to Starling City. What HAD to be the most maddening for her is that they both made her leaving about THEM as opposed to her need to save HERSELF. Oliver, being Oliver, made it about his guilt for all the lies he had told her (He kept saying it was for her own good, which also must have made her nuts, knowing that no one aside from Malcolm ever believed in her toughness). Roy naturally made it about him betraying her trust. “I didn’t leave just because of YOU, Roy,” she implored…and yet I still don’t think Roy fully believed her. I loved how Thea kept saying to both of them that it wasn’t entirely ABOUT them, even if they couldn’t understand it. The whole thing REEKED of mansplaining (#notallsuperheroes) and GOD BLESS Thea for just looking at them with an ambiguous smile instead of ripping them to shreds.
I do enjoy that what finally convinced Thea to come back to Starling was when Oliver STOPPED apologizing and simply stated that he NEEDED her…even if she didn’t need him anymore. I think at her core, Thea just wants to be NEEDED as opposed to constantly being “protected”, so Ollie’s open and honest confession (paired with him telling the truth about how their father died) was the one thing she needed to hear. Thea may have a lot of anger towards Oliver and his actions since returning from the Island, but her LOVE for him has never wavered (“I’ll always see you as my big brother.”). I love that Oliver allowed himself to get truly vulnerable with Thea, as he said “If we’re not together, we’re not really alive.” (If ONLY he could apply that sentiment to his love life. AHEM.) Stephen Amell used those big blue eyes to his advantage in this scene, as you truly saw Ollie’s pain and desperation to have his sister back in his life. He and Willa Holland have always had oodles of chemistry (sometimes too much chemistry, if you know what I mean) and it made total sense that this is what would convince her to come home.
What’s truly terrifying about this storyline is how closely Thea is holding her cards to her chest. Not once does she give away that she is with Malcolm. Not in Corto Maltese, and not when she returns to Starling City. Let’s give her a round of applause for her poker face when Oliver tries to warn her he is back in town. She doesn’t even FLINCH. She doesn’t give away a thing, even Malcolm is obviously the angel on her shoulder, giving her the money to reopen Verdant (“Thanks for always looking out for me, Dad.”). Now SHE is the one with secrets…and she is empowered by it.
Speaking of women trying to empower themselves, let’s talk about Laurel Lance. She is still reeling from Sara’s death and she’s channeling her grief and her rage into all the wrong places. I realize that the show is setting her up to pick up the mantle of the Canary, but they are doing it in the most maddening way possible. When Laurel attends an AA meeting (which good on her for not allowing herself to fall back down THAT well), she hears a fellow attendee talk about the way her boyfriend beats her. Laurel, who has ZERO training but thinks that Sara’s jacket empowers her to do so, takes it on herself to seek justice and attack the bad boyfriend. Naturally, she gets her ass handed to her. I KNOW we’re supposed to view Laurel’s actions as brave and that we’re supposed to root for her to take Sara’s place, but instead I just find it infuriating. Laurel has her OWN power as a Lawyer to take that bad boyfriend down if she wishes…but she is so blinded by her grief that she just gets in her own way. She is foolish, she impedes investigations (see also her actions at the end of “Sara”) and she needlessly puts herself in danger. “For one night, I needed the world to be different,” she says to her father from her hospital bed. Look, I completely understand Laurel’s pain. Sara was more of an anchor to her than she realized, and now that she’s lost her she feels like she is adrift. She wants the world to be a better and just place…but becoming the Canary is not the way to do it (YES, I realize that Laurel being the Canary is Comic Canon). Starling City needs both its masked vigilantes AND its kick-ass attorneys, and I wish Laurel saw that. It’s like having Gotham with no Jim Gordon.
Laurel’s amateur attempt at being the Canary DOES lead to her asking Oliver to train her. Oliver, bless him, refuses, stating that Sara would never forgive him. Here’s what Laurel doesn’t understand…Sara never WANTED to be the Canary. She NEVER wanted to be trained by the League, but she did it because she had to SURVIVE. Laurel lacks the true understanding about what both Sara and Oliver went through on the Island and that they only became the heroes that they are because they were forced to. She’s putting too much meaning in Sara’s jacket, mainly because she wants Sara’s death to MEAN something.
Let’s not even discuss the fact that she’s still keeping Sara’s death a secret from her father…thus leading him to SAY things to her (“You’re not your sister”) that only stoke the fire of her foolishness. I know she is terrified that Quentin learning about Sara’s death will LITERALLY kill him but by denying him the knowledge, she’s not only cheating her father (give him some credit, yo. He’s Quentin Lance BAMF. He’s not going to keel over and die) but she’s cheating herself out of a partner in grief. Oliver can try to understand all he wants, but the only person who can truly understand LAUREL’S specific journey in losing a blood relative is one of HER blood relatives.
Laurel’s impulsiveness continues in “The Magician” when she pounces on the idea of killing Malcolm Merlyn based solely on Nyssa’s word. She doesn’t ask questions, she just automatically accepts this as truth and then demands that Oliver kill him (damn those “I don’t want to kill anyone” vows he took). All evidence POINTS to Malcolm, given the fact that Sara had been tracking him for an unknown reason, but Laurel doesn’t stop to think about the logic behind it. Neither does Nyssa, who like Laurel, is channeling her grief over losing her beloved into a blind rage. The two of them, in their need for justice, have lost all capability to listen to reason. I appreciated seeing these two women bond, and the progression that their relationship made over the course of the episode. They went from outright enemies at the top of the episode, where Laurel blamed Nyssa for bringing Sara into the League (“I did not show Sara the darkness, Laurel”), to tentative allies (“You have to do whatever it takes”), to a definite respect for each other, as Nyssa gives Laurel training tips (“Don’t forget to turn your hips, it’s where the power comes from.” #LADYPOWER). Arrow has always excelled in portraying female relationships, rarely pitting the women AGAINST each other in a typical way (IE fighting over a man. This show shatters the Bedchel Test). (The Felicity and Sara relationship is another great example of how Arrow plays with Female friendships, as they very easily could have been adversaries for Oliver’s affections). However, as much as I enjoyed the two women together, they were an incredibly dangerous combination, as they focused in on Malcolm Merlyn as Sara’s assassin.
(Let’s just take a moment to appreciate how PERFECT this role is for John Barrowman. He is clearly having a ball on the show and it shows in every moment that he chews the scenery to shreds. He has the PERFECT level of camp in his performance, yet keeps it very grounded and it’s all wonderful.)
Malcolm had ZERO reason to kill Sara. Why would he court problems with the League after he had made such strict arrangements to LEAVE them, and had been living by those accords for years? Like he says, it’s illogical. Oliver has enough clarity, even in his grief, to see that and he stands up for him, much to the dismay of Laurel and Nyssa. Malcolm, as fucked up as it is, has a sense of honor, despite the vast amount of blood on his hands. So when he swears to Oliver on Thea’s life that he had nothing to do with Sara’s murder, Ollie believes him and spares his life (“I will honor Sara’s memory by finding and punishing the person who did this. The real person”). He not only believes Malcolm, he goes as far as to put himself between Malcolm and the League of Assassins, as he tells Nyssa that as long as he stays in Starling, Malcolm will be under his protection. For his own part, Malcolm implicates Nyssa’s FATHER, Ra’s Al Ghul, as Sara’s assassin. Thus, we meet our Big Bad for the season (sadly not played by Liam Neeson), as we see Nyssa reporting back to her father. “Oliver Queen courts war with us,” he says forebodingly, after Nyssa informs him on Ollie’s stance regarding Malcolm. Uh oh….
ODDS AND ENDS:
– My friend Maggie wanted me to point out that Flashback Oliver killed an old man eating an Ice Cream cone because it’s very important to her. (I tend to ignore the flashbacks in these recaps because A) I have no idea where they are going, therefore I don’t understand them. And B) I don’t care.)
– How long till Laurel hooks up with super hot fighting guy?
– Not much Felicity in these two episodes, as she was off living her life in Central City exploring her feelings for Barry Allen. (Good News, Olicity Shippers: They’re just gonna be friends, despite being perfect for each other.) What we DID see of Felicity was Ray Palmer buttering her up for some unknown purpose at Queen Consolidated. She’s got a corner office (Ollie’s old office actually) and her own Executive Assistant to bring her lattes whenever she wants. Ray wants her digging into the Applied Sciences Division, which we all know she was behind blowing to pieces last year. Uh oh.
– Note to writers: give David Ramsey better material, but never lose snarky moments like this…
– “These streets were mine LONG before you laid claim to them. This is still my city.” BARROWMAN. (Also this scene reminded me a bit of the scene in Breaking Bad where Jesse demanded that Walter meet him out in a very public forum.)
– Did Malcolm succeed in planting ANY sort of doubt in Nyssa’s head regarding her father? He blatantly said that Ra’s never accepted Sara fully. I expect that we will definitely see this play out over the course of the season.
– Also the three-way fight between Nyssa, Oliver, and Malcolm was BAD ASS. Here’s hoping awards bodies start playing attention to the Arrow stunt work this season.
– ABSOLUTELY NOT.
And that’s it for these two episodes! This week, we’re FINALLY getting the origins of Felicity Smoak. I can’t wait. Till then, leave all your Arrow related thoughts in the comments!