I take back what I said about last week’s “The Scientist.” Such is the difficult part about reviewing TV. At times, you feel as though you’re reviewing a single book one chapter at a time. While individual chapters may have their own ups and downs, they are all ultimately part of a larger whole. Part of my complaints about “The Scientist” stemmed from the fact that I was only seeing half a story. In that regard, “Three Ghosts” not only excels as a great Arrow episode but also retroactively justifies the set-up that “The Scientist” provided.
The overarching story of this installment finds Oliver and his team finally facing off against the behemoth that is Brother Cyrus. The more personal story, however, is Oliver coming to terms with the ghosts of his past. (While at first it can be assumed that his visions are due to the aftereffects of being poisoned, Barry later clarifies that they are purely psychological in nature.) The titular three ghosts are, in order of appearance, Shado, Slade and, in the show’s emotional crescendo, Tommy Merlyn. While I’m sure most viewers knew that Shado would not make it off the island alive, I was surprised that the writers decided to unveil her fate by first showing her as a ghost. Though this takes a bit of the tension out of a later scene, it definitely made for an impactful pre-credits button. Slade … well, as you’ll see, that’s a different story.
Also, for being all in Oliver’s head, these ghosts are nothing if not handsy. Not only can Oliver touch and caress the Shado hallucination, but he also enters into a full-out brawl with the Slade vision. Part of me is curious to see what such a thing would look like to a casual observer.
Overall, “Three Ghosts” is driven more by emotion than spectacle. The episode’s climax consists of little more than Oliver getting a pep talk from his vision of Tommy and subsequently beating Cyrus down. Though not particularly ambitious on paper, the combination of sharp writing, a stellar performance from Stephen Amell and some great fight choreography makes this an episode worth remembering. Oh, there’s also the fact that Oliver must also resuscitate a kidnapped Roy, who has been injected with the Mirakuru serum. Looking like we’ll be seeing a superpowered Roy sooner rather than later.
Besides having a great main storyline, “Three Ghosts” also finally makes good on connecting Oliver’s flashback world to his present situation. (Quick note: perhaps my favorite line of the episode comes when Felicity learns about Shado and asks Oliver, “How many women were you marooned with? Are you sure this wasn’t Fantasy Island?”) Whereas, in the first season, the Island flashbacks appeared to serve as parallels to Oliver’s Starling City conflicts, the second season has gone about linking the Island events to the growing threat that’s gripping the city. It remains to be seen whether the show will incorporate such a structure for future conflicts (or if, indeed, they do continue to employ flashbacks at all), but it’s a direction that has helped this season feel much more cohesive than the last.
Here, we have one of the meatier flashback scenes of the season. Captured by Ivo and his cronies, Oliver is soon given a Sophie’s Choice of sorts. Ivo points his gun at both Shado and Sara and forces Oliver to chose which one will live and which one will die. As we know from Oliver’s visions, Shado is the one who bites the dust. In yet another twist to the situation, however, Slade, having presumably been cured by the Mirakuru injection, jerks away and runs to their location, where he proceeds to tear apart Ivo’s forces like the Incredible Hulk. The result is both exhilarating and horrifying. It also raises the question of why Oliver sees Slade as a ghost in the future.
Furthermore, the last stretch of “Three Ghosts” acts as the best kind of comic book fanboy service. Near the episode’s conclusion, we are finally afforded the image we’ve been hoping for since that Australian guy on the island first claimed that his name was Slade: Oliver’s former Island friend is revealed to be one of the current ringleaders in the conspiracy to overtake (destroy?) Starling City. His Mirakuru-rich blood is even being used to make the serum. He has, for all intents and purposes, become Deathstroke. Huzzah.
Then, because we need the proper set up for the upcoming Flash TV series, the episode’s final moments have Barry returning to his Central City lab just as a major malfunction with the city’s much-hyped particle accelerator sends some kind of electric blastwave crashing through the metropolis. Barry is hit by some kind of jolt and promptly falls to the floor. We are left to believe that, when he comes to, he will find the prospect of running a mile significantly easier.
Finally, there’s the item that Barry leaves Oliver as a parting gift: a legit domino mask. Though I initially accepted Oliver’s greasepaint-around-the-eyes approach as being an attempt by the creators to make Arrow’s costume more military-like and less comic-book-y, the mask works perfectly as both a practical new accessory and a gem to all the comic book fans who love the show. (Now let’s see if they ever decide to throw in that Robin Hood cap.)
Mostly due to its subject matter and genre trappings, Arrow will never be talked about in the same breath as prestige programming like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Americans or, heck, even The Walking Dead. And it’s probably best that it isn’t held to those standards. A better comparison would be Scandal. Like that Shonda Rhimes soapfest, Arrow knows what kind of populist show it is and where its strengths lie. Furthermore, it plays to those strengths with great fervor. Are there occasional missteps? Of course. With 20-plus episodes to produce, it’d be all but impossible for the occasional dud storyline not to slip by. Arrow is a show defined by the moments where it can transcend the demands and restrictions of being a network show and craft addictive, wonderful television, which it does with great frequency.
“Three Ghosts” acts as an ideal mid-season finale. Like the final song in a musical just prior to intermission, it leaves the audience with a powerful song to hum while still conserving the major grandeur for the big closer.