On the D/L – Arrow
Season 3 Episode 3 – “Corto Maltese”
Team Arrow heads to the island of Corto Maltese in search of Thea who hasn’t been entirely truthful about where she’s been. Lyla uses the opportunity to arrange for Diggle to check on a missing A.R.G.U.S agent while Laurel seeks an outlet for her grief.
I had been curious as to how Thea running away with Malcolm Merlyn would be used in the show and the cameo appearance from the previous episode only added to that intrigue. What we get follows logically from what was set up last season where Malcolm was very impressed with Thea’s quick instincts so naturally he would want to train her and pass on the knowledge he has.
Her training is shown through flashbacks that actually tie into the plot of the episode organically in contrast with the first two episodes of the season where the featured flashbacks didn’t complement the story in any measurable way. Here they are relevant and complement the story slightly but there’s something of an emptiness to them. They don’t amount to much more than a couple of moments between teacher and student designed to look cool. A genuinely interesting moment exists within that framework though, Malcolm embraces Thea as a father would embrace a daughter then immediately follows it by hitting her. He tells her that he wanted to try a different approach and train her while still showing her support as her father but has realised that she has to be trained like he was. He forces her to tap into the rage she feels inside and defend herself and when she does John Barrowman plays the moment with an obvious sense of pride. He is clearly impressed with Thea’s tenacity and feels that he has a child worthy of his love in her. Malcolm understands that Thea is obstinate and combative so the only way he can get her to focus is by hurting her. Never has the adage of hurting the ones you love been truer.
Their relationship is a fascinating one as you never know if Malcolm is going to support her or hurt her which I suspect is deliberate as it keeps Thea on her toes as well as teaching her that nobody can really be trusted. Thea initially reacts hostile to these lessons but she quickly sees the value in them when she notices how much stronger it’s making her and how quickly her skills are developing. I find this a good direction to take Thea down and hopefully it will amount to her using these skills constructively. It will be curious to see how Malcolm’s influence has clouded her perceptions of the world and the people around her.
This episode should really have been focused on the relationship of these two characters but it never really felt like the central story and gets somewhat buried by the rest of the plots going on which lessens the dramatic and emotional impact. Elements of the episode like the Diggle story could have been cut entirely to spent more time giving real depth to this.
Oliver in Corto Maltese was really good to see. It’s fun to see Oliver outside the backdrop of Starling City and operating outside his comfort zone. His skills come in handy for an impressively staged action scene involving makeshift bows and arrows for him and Roy. The episode cleverly takes Oliver being outside his comfort zone a step further when we see him fire a gun with pinpoint accuracy revealing that’s he is a great shot with just about everything. It’s all but confirmed that he uses a bow and arrow because he thinks it’s cool and for no other reason.
The reason for Oliver being in Corto Maltese is to find Thea and bring her home so it’s only natural that these episodes form the emotional core of the episode. Stephen Amell proves himself to be more than up to the acting challenge set out for him with a particularly powerful moment between Oliver and Thea where he opens up to her about their father’s sacrifice on the life raft as well as the great regret Oliver feels at the things he had to do on the island to survive.
He is also cleverly selective with the truth after a reality check from Diggle after announcing that he’s going to tell Thea everything since it was lies that pushed her away in the first place. Diggle reminds Oliver that it’s very likely that revealing the truth to her would be confirming that Oliver has been lying with “almost pathological sincerity” ever since he returned and that would do more harm than good. Diggle proves his usefulness with this unique insight being something that would never occur to Oliver who mostly rushes in with plans half formed. The compromise is to open up about some things but omit most of the others which may not be the right thing to do but it strikes the right emotional chord and has Thea return home with Malcolm Merlyn in her wake.
Diggle’s story is fairly awkwardly forced into the story with no real connection to the Thea/Malcolm Merlyn plot. I found myself not really caring about what was going on as there wasn’t enough information to be truly invested in it. All we really find out is that A.R.G.U.S have a mission that’s went somewhat pear shaped and Diggle is sent in to clean it up with some help from Oliver and Roy. This plot wasn’t at all necessary and could have been excised entirely for all the difference it made to anything. We also don’t learn anything new about Diggle as it merely reinforces things we knew about him already. It’s unusual for this show to have such clumsy structure and stories that don’t complement each other.
Laurel is used really well in this outing by building on the pain and grief she feels upon losing her sister. I like that she turns to Alcoholics Anonymous to get some things off her chest since she can’t open up to her father as he doesn’t know about Sara’s death yet out of concern for what it’ll do to his heart. Through the meeting she learns about a girl being abused by her boyfriend and this sparks a desire to find justice. When her father tells her that the police are powerless in this instance because of the anonymity associated with attending this group.
Her first attempt at seeking vigilante justice by attacking the abusive boyfriend does not go well. She has the best intentions and wants to do good but she is really bad at it and gets badly beaten. It’s interesting how she doesn’t tell her father about Sara’s murder because she fears what the news will do to his fragile heart but it never considers what strain seeing her badly beaten will cause. Funny how blinded she is by her obsession. If Laurel is going to become the next Black Canary then she will need someone to train her. Her first choice is Oliver but he tells in no uncertain terms that he’s not going to do it. This makes a lot of sense as Oliver’s is tired of people he cares about being in danger so doesn’t want to help add another to the potential body count. Laurel goes to Ted Grant aka Wildcat (J.R.Ramirez), a boxer willing to pass on his skills.
Laurel’s story is the most interesting it has ever been on this show and it has lots of potential to build to something great. The idea of her being the second Black Canary who is inspired by her sister has lots of potential and giving her a different base skill set with a boxing background as opposed to the elegance of the League of Assassins should be a visually interesting contrast when she finally dons the costume. I hope this training is played out gradually instead of rushing to the endgame.
Thankfully the heavy emotional themes of this episode are tempered with some lighter moments involving everyone’s favourite IT expert Felicity who starts work at Queen Consolidated under Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer who has set her up in Oliver’s former office, given her a personal assistant and lots of responsibility befitting her genius. Her job for the episode is to reconstruct the data from a charred hard drive found in the wreckage of the Applied Sciences division back in season 2’s “The Man Under the Hood”. Ray and Felicity are great together and I love how much she takes charge in their scenes together, especially when she keeps him waiting to deal with personal issues and proving that he needs her far more than she needs him. Aside from a fairly clumsy segue that has her run off to Central City to visit the recently awakened Barry these scenes were great and Brandon Routh remains a great addition to this cast.
All told this was a fairly uneven episode. Seeing what Thea and Malcolm had been up to in the time since the end of season 2 was pretty interesting but there was a sense of emptiness to the flashback scenes save for a really intriguing moment involving Malcolm’s mentality when training his daughter but ultimately there’s a lack of focus on this plot and relationship in general. I really like how Laurel’s story is being progressed this season and so far her journey towards becoming Black Canary is moving forward naturally while giving her character plenty to do. Felicity’s scenes bring a much needed sense of levity as she continues to work really well with Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer. The weak link of the episode is the forced plot involving Diggle investigating a missing A.R.G.U.S agent which does give rise to some really exciting action moments but ultimately sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the episode. With it being a significant part of the story it really hurts the flow of the episode.