Arrow’s third season finale is, for the most part, what one might expect out of a season finale from the show. It’s big, nearly apocalyptic, and features more than a few fights and heartfelt speeches. It’s a formula that’s worked for the show in the past but doesn’t quite gel here. The nuts and bolts of “My Name is Oliver Queen” are still sound, but the episode’s resolution and thematic work give things an odd feeling that undercuts the rest of the proceedings even as the episode is making its points and bringing things to a close.
The problems result largely from the last ten minutes of the episode once Ra’s plan has been foiled and he has been killed by Oliver. Once he’s gone the episode starts wrapping up its various plot threads, sending off Oliver and the cast into the future but in such a way that the finale plays more like a series finale rather than just the end of a season.
Oliver’s arc in particular is hard to grasp hold of. The central story of Arrow has always been about Oliver’s path back to humanity, and at the end of this season it looks almost as if he’s gotten back to that point. Oliver abandons his role as the hero and protector of Starling City, trusting his friends to soldier on for him, and runs off with Felicity, ending the episode declaring that he finally feels happy. It’s the kind of moment that’s schmaltzy but might have worked as a conclusion for the character at the very end of the show.
The issue here is that there’s another season of Arrow coming in about four months. It’s impossible to believe that Oliver’s out of the hero game for good and that lends a hollow air to his victory over the darker sides of his personality. Plausibility isn’t the only reason the conclusion doesn’t work though, the episode itself directly contradicts this happy ending. The flashback story features the conclusion of Oliver’s time in Hong Kong and culminates in his brutal torture of General Shrieve in retaliation for his part in killing Akio.
The plot builds itself around this moment as Oliver gives into his baser instincts and becomes something akin to a monster. Oliver’s work is gruesome here, and the show doesn’t flinch away from that fact, so it makes sense when he tells Tatsu that he can’t go back to Starling City after what he’s done. He’s far too broken to go back to his old life, it’s a story that begs for continuation, with Oliver moving towards the point where he does eventually return to Starling and it directly contrasts with the finality of Oliver’s retreat from Starling in the present day. What the viewer knows about the show and its continued life as well as the construction of the episode itself are struggling against what the story is trying to sell. It feels disingenuous rather than triumphant and leaves the final moments of the episode empty.
It’s not all problems and unsuccessful plot gambits though, as mentioned before the action on display here continues to show just how much Arrow manages to do with a CW budget. It’s nearly wall-to-wall fights and throwdowns here and they’re all exciting to watch. Starting with Oliver and Nyssa’s fight against the League on a plane and culminating in a rematch between Oliver and Ra’s over a moodily lit dam in Starling, Arrow’s fisticuffs look as good as ever and do a whole lot to keep things moving forward.
What’s more, the episode also brings together its burgeoning cast of heroes to fight this battle. The third season of Arrow has worked hard to move all of its cast closer to Oliver’s quest; turning both Laurel and Thea into fighters in their own right and dispensing with the unknown secrets that have kept certain characters at arm’s length from the core of the series. With Laurel firmly established as Black Canary, Thea taking over the role of Red Arrow, and Diggle being counseled on taking a masked identity should he continue to fight alongside the rest of Team Arrow the show is transitioning to a more fully fleshed ensemble of capable heroes rather than just Oliver being supported by those around him.
It’s a structure that almost allows for Oliver’s exit to become believable since the series has legitimately worked to establish a crime fighting community who is capable of standing up for Starling in Oliver’s absence. It’s why the episode feels like something other than a season finale in its last moments even as it’s establishing plots to be picked up in future episodes like Malcolm’s ascension to the role of Ra’s al Ghul, Nyssa’s quest to seek vengeance on Malcolm, and Ray Palmer’s seemingly explosive end after tinkering with the A.T.O.M. suit. All of the plots get their own little bow and the sheer amount of plots that need resolving here speaks to some of the issues that have continually plagued this season.
It’s not entirely surprising that “My Name is Oliver Queen” seems to be fighting against itself and its myriad of plots because the third season of Arrow has been marked by just this tendency. While season two had a laser focus on its central plot and arc the third season flailed about in search of a cohesive core to build its story on, throwing an abundance of characters and digressions into the mix in a way that never resolved into a clear story. It’s what we see at the end of the episode as the series works to tie off a multitude of plots that were introduced over the course of the year. Some of these elements would work from time to time and the series would spring to life, suddenly seeming as if it was moving towards a specific goal only to eventually slide back into a confusing mix of stories.
“My Name is Oliver Queen” is a finale that’s an appropriate cap to a messy year of storytelling. Hinting at future possibilities and excitement and closing off plots while still failing to feel like a cohesive story of its own. It’s not an unexciting or unenjoyable finale, but it can’t escape the problems of the season that preceded it. Perhaps with Arrow’s newfound core of heroes next season will gain focus and specificity, but for now we’re left with a scattered finale that capped off a scattered season. It’s not ideal, but both the finale and the season had enough of what makes Arrow such an exciting show to hold out hope for what’s coming next.