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Arrow: Season 3

Warner Bros. // Unrated // September 22, 2015 // Region 0
List Price: $60.10 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 31, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The line at DVD Talk last month to review the first season of The Flash was something like seven or eight writers deep. Meanwhile, no one had the third season of Arrow on their wish lists, and this Blu-ray set wound up collecting dust on our headquarters' shelf for more than a month until I fished it out. Even though I hadn't watched the series live this past season, that sounded about right. Pretty much all of my favorite comic and pop culture blogs routinely snarked about what a misfire this most recent run of Arrow had been, and even though I was keeping my head out of message board discussions, there was still no escaping that very vocal disappointment. I knew I'd get around to watching this season no matter what anyone said, though, so I took a deep breath, put the first disc of this Blu-ray set in my PS4, and...well, I actually really dug it. Lesson learned: if you're dead certain you're going to watch something regardless, nothing anyone else says matters.

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With as almost universally acclaimed as Arrow's second season had been, most any other series would've settled in for more of the same...more of what's been proven to work. Arrow instead boldly upends practically every defining aspect of the series. As the season opens, Oliver has lost nearly everything. His half-sister Thea -- the only surviving member of his family -- is who knows how many thousands of miles away, dropping off the grid entirely after learning the truth about her parentage. His fortune is gone. He's lost his home. His family's company has not just been snatched from his hands but renamed, wiping away the last vestige of whatever legacy the Queens could otherwise have left. The identity of Oliver Queen no longer has anything of consequence to offer him, shedding that dead skin to commit himself exclusively as The Arrow. The death spiral of Queen Consolidated has Felicity toiling away as just another cashier at an off-brand Radio Shack. John Diggle is all of a couple of days away from being a father, and the prospect of his secret life as a vigilante one day leaving his daughter short a parent may prove to be more than anyone on Team Arrow can bear. It's a very different story for Roy Harper, who, in the months since the previous season ended, has fully integrated himself into the team as the costumed archer Arsenal. After the departure of her sister, Laurel Lance has taken the mantle of Black Canary. Laurel's tenacity rivals the many other heroes in her life, but her lacking prowess as a fighter leaves her beaten and bloodied. The Arrow can't rightly call Quentin Lance "Detective" any longer; newly-promoted to captain, Lance has abolished the Anti-Vigilante Task Force, joining Starling City in celebrating the man who's saved them all time and time again. Everything is different, but before anyone has a chance to settle into this new status quo, it's all about to change again...

Flashbacks to Oliver being stranded on the hopelessly remote island of Lian Yu -- of being shaped into the hero he would one day become -- had been a staple for the two seasons prior. No more. Arrow takes so much off the board that the Arrow himself is missing in action for several episodes, letting us see how the rest of his team, believing its leader has fallen, fares in protecting Starling City. The struggle of Team Arrow to figure out who or what they are without...well, The Arrow is another of the many ways in which identity forms the core of this season. Sometimes that's explicit: say, grieving billionaire industrialist Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh, no stranger to comic adaptations) molding himself into an armored hero in his A.T.O.M. suit. That theme is nearly always at the forefront, such as in "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak", in which we see a college-aged, almost unrecognizable Felicity at a crossroads as a hacktivist ravaging government servers with her supervirus. (Just don't her hear you call it that.) Arrow even introduces her mother (Charlotte Ross) for the first time, and she is not at all what you'd expect in the best possible way. ...and although Mom is played for laughs early on, the episode does quickly show where Felicity gets her strength, resolve, and heart from.

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I'd struggle to pick a favorite episode this season, although "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" would certainly make my shortlist. Among the other standouts is the mid-season finalé, "The Climb", in which Oliver duels to the death against Ra's al Ghul (Matt Nable), the centuries-old leader of the League of Assassins. Though it's a battle that takes place on a snowy mountaintop rather than a desert, this homage to the iconic swordfight in Batman #244 is brilliantly executed and eclipses anything I could ever have hoped to see. I'm also a sucker for "The Brave and the Bold", the second half of this season's crossover with The Flash. This episode stands on its own so well that, if not for a couple lines of dialogue referencing what'd gone down in Central City, I'm not sure I would even have guessed that this is a 'part two'. Too fun for words, "The Brave and the Bold" makes me ashamed that I still haven't picked up the first season of The Flash on Blu-ray, and I'm in awe of how spectacularly well Captain Boomerang (Nick Tarabay) translates to live action. I might even go as far as to say that he's the season's best out-and-out villain. The first half of this collection is teeming with highlights, from archers dueling on motorcycles to, at long last, a boxing glove arrow.

Arrow takes an astonishing number of risks, some of which pay off spectacularly well and others that...well, don't. The reveal at the end of season two that the then-still-thought-dead Oliver had left Lian Yu and been taken to Hong Kong made me gasp. As is snarked about in one of the extras elsewhere on this disc, how many times could some rogue army storm onto a tiny island and threaten the world at large? Three seasons in, a change of scenery for Arrow's flashbacks was desperately needed. Unfortunately, this season's woefully uninvolving departures to Hong Kong too often feel stapled on. They're rarely incorporated well, the pacing of this secondary storyline is glacial, and it takes so insufferably long for the past to have any meaningful bearing on the present that the whole thing is kind of a waste of time.

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Considering what a prominent role the League of Assassins played in the previous season, it makes sense that they would be at the core of Arrow this year. In the early moments of the season, culminating in "The Climb", the shadowy organization -- particularly regal, ominous presence of Ra's al Ghul -- inspire the perfect balance of awe and dread. The more of them you see as these episodes progress, though, the less of an impact they leave. The League itself seems to have no aim or goal. An offer is extended to Oliver that would empower him to dismantle the group from within, and even before he's made aware of the dire consequences of accepting, his continued refusal -- as well as Ra's' relentless pursuit -- is almost baffling. It's intriguing to center a season around a villain whose ultimate goal is for his nemesis to thrive, but it ultimately does head down the exact road as ever.

There are some outstanding moments along the way betwen Ra's and Oliver, but I can't really delve into them without careening head-on into spoilers. I can say that it climaxes in a final battle that, bizarrely enough, is less of an adrenaline rush and not nearly as intense as their first confrontation fourteen episodes earlier.

Some of this season's more lackluster moments come down to personal preference more than anything else. As much as I adore John Barrowman, it does feel to me as if the character of Malcolm Merlyn would have been better left in the rear view mirror, although the threat of what's to come established at the end of the season absolutely has my attention. I'm over Vertigo, and I wish Arrow could say the same. I love that the series brought in Peter Stormare as Count Vertigo Mark III or whatever we're up to now, and it's intriguing that he's basically the Scarecrow this time around, tainting Arrow's street drug of choice with a fear toxin. Aside from being sick of this overused plot device, his performance is so cartoonishly over-the-top -- even on the Stormare Scale of Scenery-Chewing -- that it feels out of step with everything going on around him. Speaking of drugs, one of the audio commentaries on this set says that there really is a concoction that'll put its victims into a highly suggestive state that they'll have no memory of afterwards, but an amnesiatic mind control drug still seems like a contrivance that's beneath Arrow. Despite the fact that one character's demise is the catalyst for nearly everything that happens this season, it's puzzling that Arrow makes it a point to diminish the gravity of near-fatal injuries and even death. I'm not just talking about the introduction of Lazarus Pits to the series' mythos, but of willpower healing all wounds, magic glasses of tea, blood-clot blasting nanites, and whatever it is that allows newly-minted crimelord Brick (Vinnie Jones!) to walk away from being hit by a half-dozen arrows or a full clip of bullets. Whatever. I guess it's no different than a few month's worth of MMA lessons empowering someone to singlehandedly taken down armies of assassins who've devoted lifetimes to their training. This is the first season of Arrow to fully embrace mysticism and meta-humans, among them a turn by Doug Jones as the plasma-blasting Deathbolt, and I have to admit that it doesn't gel anywhere nearly as well as I'd hoped.

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The way Arrow juggles its cast this season is awfully hit or miss. Until adopting another mantle altogether, Oliver Queen is no more, devoting himself wholly and completely to vigilantism as The Arrow. Conceptually, that's a tremendous way to explore his identity: to see what's left when so much is stripped from him. In practice, it results in a lead who has no life outside of punching, kicking, and skewering bad guys, limiting some of the storytelling possibilities and flattening out the character dynamics. On the other hand, Roy's ascension to a proper hero is realized spectacularly well, and this third season takes Thea and Laurel out of the sidelines and in as two of the series' most essential, skillfully-drawn characters. Meanwhile, it's a crushing disappointment that Arrow never really seems all that certain what to do with Dig anymore other than have him leave, rejoin, and deliver inspirational speeches. Felicity remains Arrow's standout character, but the dark and dour tone this season does prevent her spark from beaming as brightly as it has in the past, and she deserves more than this seemingly endless "who is she gonna fall in love with, huh? who? who? who?" arc. I'm not sure how deliberately hysterical it's supposed to be that Felicity, despite being a newly-minted Vice President of Palmer Technologies, never goes to work, not to mention that seemingly no one works at this multi-multi-multi-billion dollar corporation other than her and Ray. As for Mr. Palmer himself, I'm already a fan of Brandon Routh's, and this still ranks as my favorite not-Scott Pilgrim thing I've seen him in. Though some of his net-speak and Felicity-style rambling feel really forced at first, it doesn't take long at all for Ray to come into his own. His version of The Atom is pretty much Iron Man -- no shrinking or anything, at least not yet -- but he's still at the core of some of my very favorite moments this season. I have no idea why a tech CEO is standing at the podium for every friggin' police and mayoral press conference, and it seems like a bit of a cheat to rob Oliver of his wealth only to bring in another billionaire to throw money, jets, helicopters, or whatever at any given problem, but Brandon Routh brings so much else to the table that I'm not complaining. I haven't tuned into the episodes of season four that have aired thus far, but it'll be interesting to see what happens now that seemingly everyone Oliver has ever known is aware of his dual identity, and nearly all of 'em are costumed vigilantes themselves.

If I had to pick a worst episode this season, the winner (loser?) hands-down would be "The Return". Although the island of Lian Yu isn't visited in flashbacks this time around, Oliver and a certain someone are dragged there to duke it out with Slade. It's a battle royale that's completely unnecessary, the most intense thing about Slade's return is how aggressively devoid of any interest it holds whatsoever, and to add insult to injury, you're treated to another flashback with Tommy Merlyn. In a season that largely wants to shed the weight of the past, I cannot fathom what brought the writer's room to think that essentially anything in "The Return" was a winning idea. As sick to friggin' death as I am of Slade's "Shado Shado Shado Shado Shado Shado Shado Shado Shado Shado Shado Shado Shado Shado Shado", the way in which Arrow brings back actress Celina Jade elsewhere in the season made me want to just mash the 'Stop' button and never look back.

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Hey, let's brighten things up a bit! As someone geeky enough about the DC Universe to have a complete run of Who's Who in longboxes in my closet, I couldn't get enough of how overflowing this season of Arrow is with Easter eggs and nods to the comics. There are shoutouts to such legendary talents as Gerry Conway, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, and Denny O'Neil, along with writers like Chuck Dixon and Jeff Lemire who, in more recent years, have left their own marks on Green Arrow lore. (...and Brad Meltzer, but the less said about anything related to Identity Crisis, the better.) Nods to Opal City, Daggett Pharmaceuticals, Impulse, Ferris Air, Starro, OMAC, and even Mia Dearden are there waiting for you if you keep your eyes and ears open. More explicit are appearances of and references to the original Manhunter, Wildcat, Brother Eye, Murmur, Deathbolt, Damien Darkh, H.I.V.E., Cupid, Brick, General Shrieve, Corto Maltese, and even the Lazarus Pit. Batman and the Outsiders was one of my absolute favorite comics growing up, so Katana, her husband Maseo, and even a blade that could pass as Soultaker playing such a prominent role this season pretty much blew my mind. ...and Felicity Smoak practically cosplaying as Death?! There aren't words.

It's funny that I can write at such length about how Arrow falters this season: its generally lackluster slate of villains, the way that Team Arrow goes back and forth between Nanda Parbat so many times that it seems like it's two states over rather than a grueling journey through the mountains of Tibet, the whole thing about how the Lazarus Pit darkens souls but...errr, doesn't, and a way-too-long subplot about the raging douchebag DJ at Thea's club that does kind of payoff but doesn't come close to being worth it. Episode by episode, though, I genuinely enjoyed this season of Arrow. To be sure, it's flawed, but I don't think it's substantially worse than even the heavily-praised second season, which was bogged with with Laurel's dreadful addiction storyline and my reflexive "ugh" whenever someone says "mirakuru". Try it! "Mirakuru." "Ugh!" "Mirakuru." "Ugh!" That plotline really was the worst. While it's true that this is the most dour season of Arrow yet, it feels like a natural progression given what a dark and gritty show it's always been. It's an appropriate tonal shift given that death is the catalyst for nearly all of the plot and character arcs this year, and it's that sense of loss that causes the series' characters to better evaluate who they are. They ultimately prove to be all the stronger for it, and the darkness of season three opens the door for a brighter, more optimistic fourth season. Recommended.

At its best, the visuals throughout this third season of Arrow can be jaw-droppingly impressive, delivering a level of clarity and detail most series' season sets could never hope to match:

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The less light that Arrow's digital photography has at its fingertips, though, the more and more noise begins to swarm in. After three seasons now, none of that should catch much of anyone by surprise. Still, with more than four hours of video per disc, the AVC encode does sometimes buckle under the strain:

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By and large, Arrow tends to fall somewhere in between those two extremes. Though noise inherent to the original photography is frequently visible, that lends a grittiness to the series' visuals that works very much in its favor. Its use of color is frequently striking, and the clarity and rich detail showcase just how masterful Arrow's production design so often is. Though I do wish its AVC encode could more ably shoulder all of this video noise and not struggle under extremely quick motion, this is otherwise a terrific presentation that readily bests what I'm used to seeing on The CW.

This third season of Arrow spans four dual-layer Blu-ray discs, and each of its 23 episodes are presented at their original broadcast ratio of 1.78:1.

Better still are Arrow's 5.1 lossless soundtracks, delivered here in 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio. The season's dialogue is reproduced flawlessly just about from start to finish, with only a few loudly shouted lines in "The Calm" and an early exchange in "My Name Is Oliver Queen" marred by any clipping. The LFE doesn't summon the sort of foundation-rattlingly low frequencies a big-screen superhero adventure would, no, but bass response remains every bit as substantial as it's been throughout the series' two previous Blu-ray outings. The extensive use of the surround channels impresses me the most, though. Any time gunfire is exchanged, it's always reinforced brilliantly in the rears. I can't help but smile every time I'd hear that thwiiiiip! of an arrow soar through the night sky -- and from one speaker to the next. Among the many other standout effects attacking from behind are a Predator-style death trap left behind on Lian Yu that violently swings away from the screen, debris scattering from an exploding military truck, a near-miss with a subway car, and Oliver tormented by drug-induced hallucinations. If you're not watching this season of Arrow in 5.1, you really are missing out.

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Also included are Dolby Digital stereo dubs (192kbps) in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Subtitles, meanwhile, are offered up in English (SDH), French, Spanish (traditional and Castilian), Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.

  • Making-Of Featurettes (47 min.; HD): Semi-ironically, Brandon Routh is interviewed in-costume for "The Man Beneath the Suit: The Atom's First Flight" (7 min.). This featurette charts the development of Arrow's version of the Atom, which draws deeply from the comics without being slavishly beholden to them.

    Speaking of costumes, this season set also includes the seventeen-minute "Second Skins: Creating the Uniforms of Arrow". Seeing as how pretty much everyone is wearing a costume this season, there's quite a bit for designer Maya Mani to run through. From concept to design to construction, Mani speaks at length about how these heroes' and villains' outfits came together, with my favorite note being the very inspired use of placemats, of all things, in Ra's al Ghul's clothing. If you're anywhere near as enthralled with the Atom's power suit as I am, this one's definitely essential viewing.

    Clocking in at twenty-three minutes, the lengthiest of these three featurettes is "Nanda Parbat: Constructing the Villain's Lair". Through interviews, concept art, illustrations, design sheets, and the visual effects artists at work, explored here are the research and artistry that the talented crew behind Arrow invested into creating the League of Assassins' Tibetan base. The attention to detail in this featurette is extraordinary, highlighting innumerable touches that make Nanda Parbat feel that much more real without drawing undue attention to themselves. "Constructing the Villain's Lair" examines every phase of realizing these sets, spanning both the physical and digital domains. Every key location in Nanda Parbat has the spotlight shone its way: even the cliff on which swords first clash between Ra's al Ghul and Oliver. This is a remarkable making-of piece and easily the best of this season's extras.

  • Audio Commentaries: Executive producers Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle chime in with commentary for two episodes: the season premiere, "The Calm", and mid-season finalé "The Climb".

    In the premiere, Guggenheim and Mericle chart the course for this third season -- including the themes of identity and trust -- while also providing a great deal of insight into Arrow's cinematography and set design. It's teeming with all sorts of other fantastic comments, such as how Emily Bett Rickards had so much chemistry with Brandon Routh that they had to get her to dial it down a bit leading up to Felicity's date with Oliver, filling up the seats in the arena with inflatable dummies, and how "dangling maybes" sounds dangerously close to "dangling babies".

    The commentary for "The Climb", meanwhile, delves into the interplay between the show's score and sound design, how the introductions of magic and of Nanda Parbat prove how flexible a series Arrow truly is, the casting of Ra's al Ghul, and a helpful reminder that the nocked arrows all have digital heads.
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  • Deleted Scenes (15 min.; HD): Nearly half of this season's episodes feature at least one deleted scene: "The Calm", "Sara", "Corto Maltese", "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak", "The Climb", "Midnight City", "The Uprising", "Suicidal Tendencies", "The Fallen", and "My Name is Oliver Queen". Among the highlights are Laurel tormented by a hallucination during an AA meeting, Malcolm reflecting to Thea about 'the undertaking', some awkward family time with a briefly-returning Alex Kingston, and Thea breaking up a bar fight. The deleted footage from "My Name is Oliver Queen" is particularly fascinating: a truncated version of that scene is used as a coda in the episode, but here it's part of a dream sequence.

  • Arrow at Comic Con 2014 (29 min.; HD): Executive producers Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, and Greg Berlanti join nearly the entire cast of Arrow -- Stephen Amell, John Barrowman, Colton Haynes, Paul Blackthorne, David Ramsay, and Willa Holland -- for last summer's Comic Con panel. Since season three hadn't actually premiered yet, it probably goes without saying that you're not going to hear too much about the episodes in this collection. There are some fun teases at what's to come, though, with far and away my favorite being the entire audience booing when it's hinted that Ray Palmer might have eyes for Felicity. To spout off a few other highlights, Amell recites the Arrow opening (with a hysterical tag at the end!), we learn how talented an archer Amell really is, and it's spelled out that, no, Dr. Ivo is not Felicity's father. Definitely worth a look.

  • Gag Reel (4 min.; HD): The cast tripping over their lines, clowning around, and...wait, you know what a gag reel is, right? I guess that means I can stop now.

This third season of Arrow isn't a combo pack as the two previous seasons have been, and dropping the DVDs allows these four discs to fit comfortably into a standard-width case. This set does come packaged in a slipcase, and an episode guide and UltraViolet digital copy code are tucked inside.

The Final Word
For whatever reason, I didn't tune in live this past season, but everywhere I turned, I'd see another message board post groaning about how dismal these episodes are or another pun-ny headline about how aimless Arrow is these days. I braced myself for the worst when I tore the shrinkwrap off this Blu-ray set, and instead, I...really liked it. This run of Arrow is uneven for sure, but I'd honestly say the same thing about the two previous seasons as well, at least to some extent. While it's true that the flashbacks this year are poorly paced, the payoffs to a couple of key storylines kind of just fizzle out, and there are more headscratchingly "wait, what? why?" moments than we've been subjected to in the past, Arrow still kept its hooks embedded deeply inside me. Admittedly, I'm sure binge-watching smooths over a lot of its roughest edges, but for my money, this season of Arrow hits its marks more than enough to still come Recommended.
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