It’s becoming harder and harder to talk about the third season of Arrow without sounding like a broken record. The season keeps circling improvement but never quite manages to sort out its disparate pieces into a unified whole. “Suicidal Tendencies” is just the latest example of these problems. It’s an exciting prospect, revisiting the concept of The Suicide Squad, a concept that led to one of last season’s most enjoyable episodes, but “Suicidal Tendencies” only half commits to this idea, likely because the series has more characters to service this year than last. Where the previous episode dealing with the Squad turned over almost the entirety of the episode’s running time to Diggle, Lyla, and The Squad, here the time is split more evenly between Oliver’s adventures in Starling City and the Squad’s mission in Kasnia.
The split is emblematic of the problems that have plagued Arrow’s third season. Each storyline feels like it’s barely on screen before it’s almost over, and while each has its moments neither of them come into their own. The plots pinball from big moment to big moment but there’s precious little connective tissue and that makes it exceedingly hard to key into the thematic and emotional beats that credited writer Keto Shimizu is trying to hit. This has increasingly been the case as the third season has worn on, Arrow is drowning in plots and it has refused to pare any of them down in favor of focusing on what’s most salient in any given episode.
Look at how “Suicidal Tendencies” handles its flashback this week for a prime example. Rather than focus on Oliver’s past as usual the episode instead digs into Floyd Lawton’s history to try and tease out just what the consequences are of being a hero. The operating theme of the episode is the incompatibility of heroism and a normal life and using Lawton’s past failures to illustrate this theme isn’t a bad idea. The problem emerges from the fact that Lawton’s flashbacks amount to essentially three scenes that hit the broadest, most obvious notes in this story. It begins with him returning from war and realizing that his daughter doesn’t know him, then it transitions to him losing it and threatening his wife’s life, and then finishes with him in jail accepting a job as a hired killer and becoming Deadshot.
There’s no nuance and no time to dig in to the pathos of his story. When Lawton claims at the start of the episode that he wasn’t always the man he is now it promises an unexpected tragedy, but the story depicted here is essentially that of a man with PTSD who refused to see a therapist. There’s nothing interesting or unique about the plot and while it’s on message with the thematic core of the episode it only winds up weakening that structure because Lawton’s downfall doesn’t seem inevitable. If he had simply seen a therapist his entire issue might have been avoided. If his plot had more time, it might have been able to dig into the situation more effectively to contextualize Lawton’s inability to recover from the things he had done as a soldier, but because it fails to do so it makes Lyla and Diggle’s ultimate decision to retire from their respective jobs feel hollow.
It’s mostly the same story over on Oliver’s half of the episode. Ray Palmer decides that he’s going to bring the Arrow to justice after the sudden rash of murders being attributed to the vigilante thanks to Ra’s al Ghul. The episode mines some decent conflict out of this material when Palmer suddenly whips out some fancy tech that allows him to discover the Arrow’s true identity. It’s a surprising moment, coming early in the episode, and ultimately driving a wedge between Ray and Felicity while also setting up a fight between Team Arrow and Palmer.
Like Diggle’s half of the episode though, the relatively bare bones nature of the storytelling ultimately undercuts the resolution of the plot. The episode builds towards a fight between Oliver and Ray, The Arrow predictably bests The Atom, and when Oliver doesn’t kill Ray that seems to be enough to sway Ray to his side. It’s a little more complicated than that, but the resolution comes so quickly and so simply that it doesn’t feel particularly earned, and it doesn’t help that the fight between Oliver and Ray is a little underwhelming to boot.
Arrow’s usually exceptional at its fight sequences, pulling out great choreography and snazzy cinematography to punch well above its weight class, but Palmer’s Atom doesn’t really fit with the series’ overall style. The Atom relies on CGI to come to life and watching him zip around a mostly static frame doesn’t have the same amount of excitement that the usual, more practical, fisticuffs on the show contain. Much like the thematic material, it’s just a little empty and underdeveloped.
“Suicidal Tendencies” is one more episode in Arrow’s third season that fails to live up to its potential. It’s getting to the point where it’s hard to be too optimistic about the future of the season because there are so few episodes left. Coming towards the end may help things out once all of the season’s disparate elements are forced together for the season’s climax, but until then Arrow seems incapable of making a satisfying whole out of its myriad plots and characters.