The third season of Arrow is starting off in a subtly different fashion than the previous two years. In a strange and compelling way it’s almost managed to transform itself into a more modest show. Now, I fully expect to be eating those words in the very near future, but unlike the previous years where it was clear that big things were underway and huge developments were incoming from early on, the first two episodes of this season have narrowed the series’ focus directly onto the core cast of characters while limiting the large scale plotting.
This week it manages this trick by sketching out a murder mystery for the team to solve. It’s not necessarily that out of character for the heroes to go after a murderer like they do here, but since they’re set into motion by the events of last week’s cliffhanger ending that resulted in Sara Lance’s death, everything has a bit more momentum and gravitas about it even as the overall scale of events is rather small. Yes there are inklings of a greater, business related conspiracy (all the better to eventually tie in Ray Palmer’s portion of the ongoing story as it looks like he’ll be firmly ensconced on the business side of the show based on tonight’s episode), but what we get here is pretty simple, meat and potatoes mystery solving.
It’s miles from the massive, outlandish finale that so satisfyingly capped off the second season, and it strikes a surprisingly unique feeling for the show, one that I think it manages by having made the bold decision to kill off Sara in the third season premiere. Killing Sara was a move I was skeptical of; she was a clear, breakout character last season and Caity Lotz’s performance was nothing short of fantastic. It’s a rarity for a TV show to throw away a performance and character like that so quickly, but in doing so it’s managed to find a real sense of purpose to animate this early portion of the season. Losing Sara was a shock, both to the characters and to the viewers, and I was surprised to find just how much it managed to invest me in the relatively rote act of tracking down her supposed murderer, an archer assassin named Simon Lacroix.
By the end of the episode it’s unsurprisingly revealed that Lacroix, whose super villain alias is Komodo, was not responsible for Sara’s death, and it looks like we’re in for at least some form of extended chase after those who are truly responsible for Sara’s murder. It’s a new form of long term storytelling for Arrow, the murder mystery, and while it isn’t exactly a new form of TV storytelling, it’s interesting to see the murder victim that motivates the story be a truly beloved and vital character. It’s something I can’t quite think of occurring before.
Other shows may have brought us to care about the characters who have died after the fact or given us just an episode or two with the character before bumping them off, but Sara’s been given an entire season of development and interaction with the world of Arrow which makes everything feel that much more important. It’s a relatively minor difference overall, but it still feels like a fresh spin on this well-worn concept, and by aligning the audience’s sense of loss with the characters’ loss, it brings the story to life in a way that I didn’t quite expect.
It also opens up new avenues to explore within the characters. Sara’s death rips into the cast and manages to both bind them together while subtly dividing them at the same time. For every teary sequence where Oliver comforts Laurel there’s an equally pointed moment where Felicity balks at Oliver’s seeming lack of emotion over the death of someone so important to him. By the end of the episode Felicity has decided to take Ray Palmer up on his offer of a new job, Roy has come clean about Thea’s departure not being quite what it seemed, Oliver is distraught at the thought that his life seems bound to take the same path as Sara’s, and Laurel’s unable to decide how or when she should break the news of Sara’s death to her father.
Surprisingly, I ended up enjoying Laurel’s storyline in this episode. While the second season struggled mightily to figure out how to give Laurel plot lines while still keeping her mostly removed from the core group, here Laurel’s obstinacy and poor decision making are logical choices fueled by grief. We’ve seen her struggle to rebuild her family, and it’s understandable that having it ripped away so suddenly would cause her to enter a mini-spiral like the one we see here. She doesn’t go too far, thanks to Oliver smartly unloading a gun that she tries to use to kill Lacroix, but she’s on edge again. Thankfully this time it’s due to grief though rather than a tritely portrayed booze and pill addiction.
As doubtful as I was about Arrow taking a vital, exciting character out of the mix “Sara” has proven that it very well may have been the right decision. It even managed to make one of the show’s most frequently problematic characters, Laurel, worth paying attention to. Sara’s death is a blow to the series in a way that resonates with the story being told within the show, and that has allowed the series to dive into a new form of storytelling in an exciting and meaningful fashion that’s charged with some real emotions and has fueled new and interesting character examinations. It’s still early yet, but for now “Sara” is an incredibly promising sign, it takes the pieces that the premiere put in place and sets them into motion with confidence.