Sara’s death has the Arrow team grieving while chasing a murderous archer across Starling City.

The second episode of season three, “Sara”, brings Arrow back to a sensible pace and feels a lot closer to what I’ve come to expect from the show. It delivers a lot of introspection that helps make up for the plot-heavy premiere. The premiere ended on the sudden and unexpected death of Sara Lance, a.k.a. Black Canary. She had just returned to Starling City for an unspecified reason when someone put three arrows neatly through her chest. Laurel, overwhelmed with grief and unable to bring the body of her vigilante sister to anyone else, goes to the Arrow’s hideout. Oliver is determined to catch Sara’s killer, and he fights to keep one step ahead of his grief by throwing himself into investigating her death. Diggle returns, as always the keel to Oliver’s emotional boat, insisting that he’s back on the team until the killer is caught. The archer that took out Sara seems to be making it easy on the team, because he’s out skewering other Starling City residents.

Diggle and Lila use the A.R.G.U.S. database to get some leads on the killer’s identity, eventually picking out Simon Lacroix (played by Matt Ward). Going by the alias Komodo, Lacroix is a Québec-born international assassin, and Felicity tracks him down by finding burner cell phones in Starling City that have been making calls to the small Canadian town where Lacroix’s mother lives. The ensuing motorcycle fight between Oliver and Lacroix is not as energetic or exciting as some other Arrow fight scenes. I’m sure that what the stunt drivers are doing on the motorcycles is difficult and technically impressive but it doesn’t look as fantastically cool as the later climactic fight. The motorcycle fight scene adds variety to Arrow‘s action sequences, and despite not resonating with me, it’s good to see that the writers are continuing to deliver creative fight scenes.

Laurel is starting to take justice into her own hands in this episode, not content with Oliver’s promise that he’ll stop Komodo. It’s this shift from being willing to support the vigilante, to being willing to be a vigilante herself, that is going to drive her character this season, and it is already building some needed tension between her and Oliver.

Overall, the dynamic of Team Arrow is starting to change, with Felicity feeling disconnected from Oliver over his reaction to Sara’s death and wondering about the direction of her life. Oliver has been a huge source of emotional pain for Felicity in this episode and in the premiere, so it makes sense for her to pull away from him, but the direction she’s going doesn’t necessarily offer a better path. Dr. Ray Palmer, the new head of Queen Consolidated, continues to try to manipulate Felicity into coming to work for him, sending her flowers and going as far as buying up the retail chain where she works. Ray Palmer seems like he’s genuinely committed to making the city a better place, but if he’s willing to go that far just to get someone to work for him, what else is the man Felicity calls “the creepiest form of stalker I’ve ever had to deal with” capable of?

Arrow airs Wednesday nights at 8/7c on The CW. You can also watch the latest episodes on The CW’s website and Hulu. Spoilers ahead!

Felicity’s skills have always been broad and undefined, but it’s odd to see her doing forensics on Sara’s body in this episode. It’s made a little cringe-worthy when she wipes a tear from her face with a gloved hand in complete disregard of lab safety standards, but I digress. With Felicity deciding she wants to work for Ray at the end of the episode, some of the other character’s new roles for the season become clear. Diggle got some key intel from A.R.G.U.S. to help track down Komodo, and while Oliver is still concerned about subjecting Diggle to the dangers of his vigilante operation, using him to replace Felicity’s role as information broker is a good compromise. Roy is also a good candidate, since he seems to have at least figured out how to use Felicity’s computers to scan FBI databases for Thea. Felicity also laid on the technobabble a bit more in this episode, so I expect we’re likely to get a few good scenes of Diggle and Roy struggling to comprehend her computer system and the technical complexities of the work she’s been doing for the team.

Laurel is also finding a new place in the Arrow Team. Her strong arm tactics (literally) uncover the link between the archer’s victims. It’s a triumph for unconventional, illegal methods and she rationalizes it because it succeeds. It turns out that the victims of the archers are connected by a plot to build an oil pipeline, though that doesn’t really seem like something Sara would be involved in. Sara has done wet work in the home country of the company involved in the pipeline, however, so Laurel latches on to the theory. Oliver and Roy’s coordinated takedown of Komodo brings us to a fantastic fight scene. The close-quarters combat, in the middle of Ray Palmer’s fundraiser for the city, is followed by Oliver leaping backwards out of a window. That reckless pursuit of Komodo tells us everything we need to know about Oliver’s state of mind. The fight ends with a duel between the archers, and Oliver executes a perfect finisher, catching one of Komodo’s arrows, spinning, and sending it right back at him to pin him to the wall in a move that has comic book action hero written all over it. Laurel interrupts The Arrow and Komodo with a gun, ready to kill the archer for killing Sara. She goes so far as to pull the trigger, but Oliver has removed the bullets. It turns out that it’s a good thing, because Komodo didn’t kill Sara. His alibi checks out, and though the characters don’t comment on it, it makes sense: Komodo doesn’t use the signature close grouping of three arrows that ended Sara’s life. Someone else had it in for Sara, and Laurel was ready to kill a man, who, despite being an assassin, was innocent of her sister’s murder.

Roy Harper finally gets to talk a bit about the end of this relationship with Thea, revealing the letter she gave him at the end of season two to Oliver. He’s torn up over it, and seems to have thought it best to give her some distance. Felicity’s prompting, and Oliver’s love and worry over his sister, lead Roy to reveal the letter. Now that Oliver knows that Thea doesn’t intend to return, he’s determined to find her, setting up another emotional and plot driver for Oliver this season.

“Sara” is an effective setup for Oliver’s character arc this season. He doesn’t want to end up dead on a slab like Sara. He needs to know if, or how, he can stop being The Arrow some day. I’m hopeful for where the season will take this, but right now Oliver’s motivation, despite being an important and interesting question, feels shallow. The premiere didn’t give the characters enough space to feel much of what happened, only to act. Diggle gets grounded, and he comes back to the team after Sara’s death, but he wasn’t gone long enough to be missed, or to feel like he really has something to lose by coming back into the fold. Laurel’s in pain over the loss of her sister, but we barely spent any time with her in a level emotional space before she is plunged into grief. Felicity is working retail, but we don’t see it grating at her and her dreams and expectations for herself for long before she joins up with Ray. Splitting the premiere into two episodes, or even three, would make those emotional beats louder and more meaningful. “Sara” starts to make up for that speedy delivery of plot.

Bottom Line: “Sara” is back to the style of Arrow episodes I expect, with a lot more emotional depth than the premiere. Laurel is the one to watch here, with her development towards being a vigilante likely to be a major story this season.

Recommendation: Arrow has regained my confidence with this episode, delivering solid action and giving the characters space to feel. Let’s hope the show keeps it up.

[rating=3.0]

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