After twenty-three episodes that ranged from very high highs to some dreadfully low lows, the third season of Arrow came to an end with last week’s “My Name Is Oliver Queen.” Now, with five months of hiatus until the premiere of Season 4, fans are left trying to make sense of nearly two dozen installments that changed the foundation of the show forever. For better or worse, there’s plenty of material to cover; therefore, in the name of ongoing examination, rumination, and extrapolation, each Wednesday will feature an in-depth look back at certain aspects of Season 3 of Arrow. This week’s installment will examine the handling of Original Team Arrow.
Once upon a time, Arrow was a show about a broody serial killer with little more than abs and a tragic backstory to commend him to the audience. The series was named for him, and his victims were all disreputable folks, but…Oliver Queen was still a serial killer. The terrible voiceovers certainly didn’t help to endear him. The occasional moments of humor as he came up with awful cover stories and repeatedly escaped from the watchful eyes of his bodyguard weren’t necessarily enough to make viewers want to root for him.
Then, something wonderful happened. An assassin shot Oliver’s bodyguard with a poison-laced bullet, forcing Oliver to bring Mr. John Diggle into his lair to save his life. A fundamentally good man, Diggle decided to join the crusade to try to keep Oliver tied to his humanity. He deserves the “hero” moniker just for putting a stop to those voiceovers. Thus, a partnership was born.
Ten episodes later, another something wonderful happened: Moira Queen shot and nearly killed her son. With no other choice, Oliver in his Hood gear broke into the back of the car of one Miss Felicity Smoak. Already the IT girl who had broken several of his cases for him, Felicity’s role in helping Diggle save Oliver brought her into the crusade as well. Thus, a team was formed.
Team Arrow quickly became the heart of the show, with each of the three members bringing unique skills that quickly made it apparent that all were essential to their missions. They were different people of different ages with different backgrounds and different talents, but they fused into a family so quickly that Oliver was no longer just a handsome serial killer in a hood. He was a hero.
Team Arrow hasn’t exactly remained static over the years. By this point, several characters have gained admission to the Arrow Cave. Sara Lance even lived in the foundry for a time, and Roy ended up with a glass case of his own for his Arsenal gear. Nevertheless, the trio that makes up Original Team Arrow remained the heart of the show for many viewers. So, here is a look at what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen next for Original Team Arrow after Season 3.
What Worked: With news that Roy would officially be taking the vacant space as Oliver’s sidekick and that Laurel would be more involved in Arrow business now that she was in on the secret, there was some concern going into the premiere that the dynamic of Original Team Arrow would be thrown off balance. After all, Sara’s arrival had ended up marginalizing Diggle and Felicity for a decent chunk of Season 2.
Fortunately, the Season 3 premiere highlighted Original Team Arrow in the best way. Oliver and Felicity shamelessly flirted while Diggle tolerantly looked on. Oliver made a present for Diggle’s daughter and listened to a lecture about his love life. Oliver and Felicity were the only two people that Diggle called to the hospital to meet the Digglette for the first time. Oliver and Diggle bro hugged. Oliver looked at Felicity looking at the baby like he was seriously considering whisking her away to make one of their own in the first supply closet that they found. It was beautiful and wonderful and tragic all at once.
Well, the parts that weren’t Oliver screwing it all up by making their decisions for them were beautiful and wonderful. The rest was just tragic. Still, starting off Season 3 with a decent dose of Original Team Arrow was a good way to reassure the audience that the writers hadn’t forgotten how to write the trio over the hiatus.
Season 3 also went out of its way to highlight the importance of Felicity and Diggle individually. Season 2 often saw them lumped together while other characters ate up screentime for their own stories, and seeing them expand their reach was refreshing. The point was made on more than one occasion that Team Arrow is basically helpless without Felicity. The boys were all forged into weapons capable of beating thugs into submission, but even the deadliest weapon is useless without being properly aimed. Their unfaltering trust in her ability to point them in the right direction and keep them as safe as possible helped soothe the sting of Oliver’s rejection of her. She’s a hero in her own right, and heartbreak was not enough to drive her away from her teammates and their mission.
If nothing else, Season 3 proved one thing: absolutely everything is better with John Diggle. As Oliver said in the finale, Digg has always been the rock of Team Arrow. He spent the season managing to keep Oliver functioning even as he tried to disappear into the Arrow part of his persona, and it took something as serious as the kidnapping of his wife and abandonment of his baby daughter by assassins to alienate him. Digg stepping up to lead the team whenever Oliver was dead or departed just felt right. Felicity moving out of the slightly ambiguous friendzone into the role of romantic lead opposite the hero ran the risk of forcing Diggle into the background; Season 3 did a good job of keeping their importance more or less equal to the mission. Even in the doom and gloom of a mostly miserable season, the continued emphasis on their importance to Oliver and the crusade worked.
Of course, not everything in Season 3 was all doom and gloom. Despite efforts to turn all of Ray and Felicity’s scenes into a bizarre romantic comedy spliced in with regularly scheduled programming, the most fun and funny scenes came from moments in which Team Arrow was allowed to interact as they had in seasons past. There are three big moments that come to mind.
This reviewer is going to cheat a bit and use the Flash half of the Flarrow crossover extravaganza for an Arrow article, simply because the scene in which John Diggle witnesses superpowers for the first time was worth a rewind or twelve. It perfectly encapsulated everything that is Team Arrow: Diggle trying to justify superspeed as something that actually existed in the real world, Felicity trying not to seem too excited about all of the metahuman hijinks of Central City, and Oliver just immediately exhausted by all of it. Felicity patting Digg’s arm, Oliver sending Felicity a “Really?” look when Barry goes off on a tangent about boomerangs, and Diggle questioning if Barry literally running off with Felicity in his arms didn’t freak Oliver out incorporated humor without compromising any of their established personalities.
A second fabulous Original Team Arrow scene is the moment that saw Felicity walking up to the boys before Digg’s wedding. Admittedly, Ray Palmer was there as well, but he actually made the scene better. Felicity being not particularly sneaky as she checks out Oliver in his tuxedo, Digg smilingly pulling Ray aside and threatening him with death should he offend Felicity, and Oliver alternating between moonily gazing at Felicity and trying not to smile at Digg’s threat was pretty great. It was an example of the show highlighting each of the three individual relationships – Oliver and Digg as best friends and brothers, Oliver and Felicity as love interests, and Digg and Felicity as BFFs who totally meet up for coffee on the side to complain about the craziness in their lives – without marginalizing any proved that the writers are capable of striking a balance.
The very best Original Team Arrow scene of Season 3 also involved an outside party as Felicity is forced to introduce her mother to the boys. Despite Donna Smoak’s assertion that Felicity lit up like Christmas when Oliver walked into the room, Oliver and Donna looked so thrilled to meet each other that it’s almost surprising that they didn’t start discussing Felicity’s dowry right then and there. His gleeful call to Digg to meet Donna was a delightful contrast to the immediately forthcoming dourness as Oliver declared that baby Sara was not welcome down in the Arrow Cave. Between Diggle’s exasperation at whatever emergency scenario that Oliver’s concocted as unfolding with an infant in the foundry and Felicity’s resignation to the entire affair, Original Team Arrow was as fun as they have ever been.
Feel free to take a break from this review and rewatch those scenes again. A good mood would probably help with the next segment.
What Didn’t Work: Despite the awesomeness Team Arrow meeting the Flash, Team Arrow meeting up at the wedding, and Team Arrow interacting with Mama Smoak, the happy moments for them were few and far between. In fact, those three happy moments are…pretty much it for Season 3. The schism initiated when Oliver decided that he could be himself with every person in his life other than the woman that he loved kept them mostly separate; since the show is called “Arrow” and not “Smoaked,” the schism favored the hero, and Felicity suffered from the fact that Oliver clearly got Diggle in the divorce.
It can be argued that Oliver quite literally needed Diggle as a stabilizing presence far more than Felicity did, but seeing her excluded from so much of their time together was painful. The moment in which Diggle asks Thea, Roy, Laurel, and Felicity to allow him to discuss plans with Oliver privately was heartbreaking, and poor Felicity looked like she’d been slapped. No wonder she scampered off and slept with Ray.
Excluding Felicity from certain discussions would not have been so troubling if she hadn’t spent so much time outside of the Arrow Cave to facilitate the rise of another hero rather than supporting the heroes that she knew and loved as family. The personality transplant that she seemed to receive whenever she was twisted by the contrivances that drove her into Palmer’s arms only made the disconnect between her character and the other two members of Original Team Arrow all the more apparent.
The tension between Felicity and Oliver took its toll as well. The threesome stopped feeling like a trio so much as disparate legs of a broken triangle. In the past, conflicts between any two members of the team were usually resolved within an episode or two. The unending discomfort of Oliver trying to distance himself from Felicity, Felicity trying to find a safe port in the harbor, and Diggle spending most of his time trying to keep Oliver from getting himself killed, the lightness of Team Arrow that had saved the show from becoming one giant angst-fest was almost completely absent. They weren’t fun to watch anymore.
Team Arrow in Season 3 wasn’t helped by the constant sacrificing of consistent characterization for the sake of convoluted plot twists. Season 3 felt as though producers had planned out the big moments and then written the narrative backwards to facilitate big “Gotcha!” beats that stopped working as soon as the thrill wore off and viewers realized that the episode didn’t really make sense. The relatively subdued reactions to Oliver’s reappearance after his presumed death as well as the fact that neither Diggle nor Felicity seemed too concerned about how Oliver’s experiences had effected him so much as how they had inconvenienced them did not ring true with the Team Arrow that had been established in previous seasons. Digg joined the crusade to keep Oliver from losing himself to his traumas and Felicity had been working through the various stages of grief after word of his demise had reached them; their antagonism and even vitriol was contrived in the worst way.
What Needs To Happen Next: Season 4 needs to see a return to the Original Team Arrow that viewers had come to know and love through the first two seasons and the occasionally glimpsed in the third. That’s not to say that Team Arrow cannot come to include others; Thea and Laurel seem semi-permanent additions. There’s nothing wrong with expanding the team, but there’s a lot wrong with sacrificing the dynamic of the original trio for the sake of legitimizing new arrivals. Arrow is staffed by professional television writers. They should be able to do both.
Season 4 needs to honor the bonds of each of the pairs of characters within the trio as well. Oliver and Felicity are certainly going to get their share of screentime as a couple as they build a life together and commit and never ever break up for any reason whatsoever, but Felicity and Diggle need some time together just hanging out. With Felicity having driven off into the sunset just as Oliver and Diggle go on a break, Arrow needs to go out of its way to establish that Diggle can separate his friendship with Felicity from his falling out with Oliver.
Season 4 needs to write Oliver and Diggle’s relationship with some nuance. Diggle referred to Oliver as his brother and asked him to stand with him at his wedding; Oliver reaffirmed their fraternity as they tearfully said goodbye in Nanda Parbat…yet Oliver still pulled a massive long con on his friends that involved kidnapping Diggle’s wife and abandoning his baby daughter. The conflict can’t be black and white. These characters are adults. Season 4 needs to allow them to act their ages.
Season 4 needs to feature Felicity and/or Diggle making fun of Oliver for turning thirty. No real reason. It would just be funny.
Season 4 needs to include an episode that somehow forces Oliver to interact with baby Sara. Whether it’s Felicity being pulled away for a work emergency while they’re supposed to be watching her together or Diggle and Lyla forced to go on the run and leave Sara in the care of somebody capable of protecting her or Oliver gets injured and left on babysitting duty because he can’t do anything else, he needs some time with baby Sara so that Digg and Felicity can giggle at his discomfort. Of course, the discomfort would melt away at the sheer adorableness that is baby Sara’s superpower, but the shenanigans in the interim would be entertaining.
Season 4 needs to involve the creation of a secret handshake for Team Arrow after they get stuck in quarantine or locked in the new Arrow Cave or stuck in the drunk tank together with nothing to do. Would them inventing a secret handshake make sense or necessarily jive with the assertion that these characters need to act their age? Maybe not. But it would certainly bring some fun back to the group.