After twenty-three episodes that ranged from very high highs to some very low lows, the third season of The CW’s Arrow came to a close with “My Name Is Oliver Queen” on May 13. Now, with five months of hiatus until the premiere of Season 4, fans are left trying to make sense of nearly two dozen episodes 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 what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen next with regard to Lazarus Pits in the series mythology.
What Worked: The concept of the Lazarus Pit is pretty extreme for a show such as Arrow. Despite being the founding franchise in the comic universe on The CW, Arrow was always more or less rooted in realism, and naturally occurring pools of resurrection waters are awfully far-fetched. Fortunately, the show dropped hints throughout the third season that something so fantastical could – or even had to – exist. From Ra’s al Ghul’s assertion that he had not been challenged to a duel for more than sixty years to his pitch to Oliver about the prolonged lifespan that would come with acceptance of the title of Demon’s Head, the relatively gradual introduction of the properties of the Lazarus Pit was not as ridiculous as it could have been.
The Lazarus Pit brought a bit of retroactive relief. As difficult as it had been emotionally to accept seeing Oliver thoroughly trounced in the mountaintop duel with Ra’s, it was even harder to accept it practically. The narrative may have constructed the conflict as a duel between a vigilante archer and the Demon’s Head himself, but the visual presented the audience with a battle between Stephen Amell’s Oliver and Matt Nable’s Ra’s. With Amell visible throughout the entire sequence and the camera more or less concealing Nable’s double…well, it didn’t seem like a sequence that would have ended with Oliver as the man being kicked off the mountain. Matt Nable is a fit guy who would definitely have most people running in the opposite direction of a duel, but Stephen Amell is basically a man carved out of marble to be the physical ideal. There had to be a reason why Ra’s would so easily defeat Oliver when Oliver had fared decently up against the Dark Archer and even the Mirakuru-ed Slade Wilson. It couldn’t just be middle-aged Matt Nable besting Stephen Amell on a mountain.
With the introduction of the Lazarus Pit, the audience could just go right ahead and accept Ra’s al Ghul having mastered so many forms of fighting over his centuries of existence that of course he would defeat Oliver. It didn’t necessarily matter that Nable’s musculature is more meat than tone; he had the knowledge and the skills accumulated over hundreds of years as an assassin. Of course he could win.
The Lazarus Pit also allowed the plot a semi-organic way to raise the stakes high enough to justify Oliver joining the League of Assassins. Oliver was willing to allow himself to be framed and chased and even imprisoned rather than agree to join the League; it had to be something drastic for him to cede to Ra’s’ wishes…and for nobody to be able to talk him out of it. Even his lady love and his brother in all but blood couldn’t have changed his mind, and both Felicity and Diggle knew better than to try. One of the only two things that Oliver was sure of in the world was that he would do anything to save his sister; Thea was getting dunked in that pool of resurrection juice even if Oliver had needed to strap her to his back and climb another mountain to do it. Well played, Ra’s.
Of course, the existence of the Lazarus Pit meant that Oliver would have a chance to reaffirm that second thing that he was sure of in the world after finally hearing a reciprocation in the flickering candlelight of a gorgeously appointed Nanda Parbat set of rooms the night before he would sell his soul to the devil.
That’s a fancy way of using an examination of Lazarus Pits to refer to Oliver and Felicity’s love den shenanigans. Why not? It’s hiatus.
In the grander scheme of The CW’s DC comics universe, the Lazarus Pits will apparently play an essential role in validating Sara Lance’s inclusion in the cast of characters for the upcoming Flarrow spinoff. The first look at Legends of Tomorrow featured Caity Lotz rather awesomely bursting out from beneath the surface of a Pit. All things considered, this was actually the least contrived way to bring both Sara and Lotz back to the land of the living on The CW.
What Didn’t Work: Despite the show doing its best to set viewers up for the introduction of resurrection waters into the canon of the universe, the Lazarus Pits are still a smidge too mystical for Arrow. All of the past elements that have at all approached the supernatural have been attributable to science gone wrong. A pool bringing the definitively dead definitively back to life is magic.
Magic surely has its place on a comic adaptation for the small screen; it just should not have been on Arrow. This show is dependent upon the actions of a very human archer, and incorporating fantastical elements that dwarf him in significance seems to be happening far too often. Why should viewers care about a guy in green leather with a bow and arrow when there is a pit that restores life to the dead? It’s disrespectful to the established tone of the series and opens the door for more mystical elements to further move the spotlight away from the human hero.
Quite aside from the tonal dissonance of a magical hot tub of life-restoring fluid, the Lazarus Pits represent a gigantic problem for the future of the entire series. As with time travel over on The Flash, the availability of the Lazarus Pit will cheapen any deaths in upcoming seasons. The deaths of Tommy and Moira and even Shado in the flashbacks were all heartbreaking because there were no alternate universes or resets in Arrow to make their demises anything less than utterly final. The rejuvenation of Thea and upcoming resurrection of Sara have opened the door for doubt. The first question out of fans’ mouths after the deaths of their favorites is going to be “…but why can’t somebody just use a Lazarus Pit?”
Arrow introduced one massive deus ex machina for the sake of an admittedly epic “Gotcha!” in Season 3; the series may pay a hefty price for the spectacle in the long run.
What Needs To Happen Next: The show needs to establish a set of unbreakable rules for how the Lazarus Pit actually works. Nyssa doesn’t need to export a sample for analysis, but there are some practical concerns that need addressing to help put a lid on the question of why not everybody should be exposed to the waters of the Pit. Is there a window of time after which a person cannot be brought back? If the corpse is already decomposing, would the waters restore it to perfect shape? If a body had been embalmed before burial, is that person beyond the possibility of resurrection?
Arrow needs to establish a reason why the characters don’t have easy access to Lazarus Pits. Ideally, the reason would be because somebody sent a link to this roundup to Amanda Waller and prompted ARGUS to just blow Nanda Parbat off the side of the mountain and remove Lazarus Pits from the equation entirely, but something less drastic could perhaps work as well.
If a major character from the past of the show is brought back for a “Gotcha!” twist, that character needs to be Tommy. His funeral was offscreen and his injuries were due to overall trauma rather than any set organ being shredded; add in the facts that Malcolm was secretly alive and a complete madman, and it’s feasible that he would have smuggled Tommy’s body out for a dip in the pool before too much time had passed. The show really shouldn’t set a precedent for bringing back individuals long dead, but if that line is to be crossed, Tommy needs to be the one. He can even be evil.
Thea needs to show some side effects of her dip. The writers made a point that people who go into the Pit come out different; they need to follow through. Whether producers draw on comic canon or invent their own guidelines or use “find” and “replace” on their laptops to rewrite Pet Sematary, Thea needs to be a cautionary tale that there are repercussions to resurrection in the Arrow universe.
Somebody on the show needs to wonder why Ra’s didn’t use the Lazarus Pit on all of the minions that he killed in training exercises. It can be Malcolm criticizing his predecessor’s management policies or Felicity thinking out loud or a handful of minions gossiping about how things might be different for them on the immortality front with a new guy in charge. If the ridiculousness is addressed on screen, viewers can laugh with the show instead of at the show.