Graham Shiels as The Acolyte in ARROW - Season 2 - "Three Ghosts" | ©2013 The CW/Cate Cameron

Graham Shiels as The Acolyte in ARROW - Season 2 - "Three Ghosts" | ©2013 The CW/Cate Cameron

Stars:  Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Paul Blackthorne, Susanna Thompson, Willa Holland, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, Manu Bennett, Colton Haynes, Celina Jade, Summer Glau, Caity Lotz, Kevin Alejandro, John Barrowman
Teleplay by
:  Geoff Johns & Ben Sokolowski
Story by
:  Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg
Director
:   John Behring
Network:
The CW, airs Wednesday Nights
Original Telecast
: December 11, 2013

I’m impressed with “Three Ghosts,” the mid-season finale of ARROW’s second season, both for putting a Dickens reference into the show’s de facto Christmas episode, and for greatly exceeding the expectations I had coming in, based on last week’s underwhelming set-up episode.  “Three Ghosts” actually features the strongest, most compelling moments of the season so far.  Not only that, but it gives us a much welcome ARROW first:  The two timelines were finally connected for the viewer, in a way that makes sense and is dramatically satisfying.

When we last left Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) he was near death after losing a fight with the brute known as Cyrus Gold (Graham Shiels), who gained superhuman strength after being injected with “Miracuru,” a super-soldier serum that Alderman Blood (Kevin Alejandro) is using to create an army.  Oliver’s friends, Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) and John Diggle (David Ramsey) now find themselves in a race against time to save Oliver from the mystery drug he was injected with during the fight, and to help them help their friend they’ve obtained the services of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) a crime scene analyst who has enough scientific training to create an antidote.  Barry is able to figure out that Oliver’s blood is coagulating to a deadly degree and decides to give him rat poison to thin his blood out.  This actually works, and Oliver’s life is saved, but he’s not happy that Felicity and Diggle chose to sacrifice Oliver’s secret identity this way, and is grumpy with them, and says he doesn’t trust Barry.  Felicity’s not happy with Oliver’s ingratitude, so this becomes the least warm and fuzzy life-saving scene this show has yet featured.

After returning home at the behest of his mother, Moira (Susanna Thompson), Oliver is then called upon to figure out why his sister, Thea (Willa Holland) is holed up in her room and won’t let anyone in.  He quickly learns it’s because she’s standing guard over her boyfriend, Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), who’s been shot through the leg with an arrow by the hooded vigilante (a.k.a. “The Arrow,” a.k.a.  Oliver himself).  In a strange, out-of-character moment last episode, Oliver shot Roy to keep him from acting as a vigilante himself, although this was a pretty horrific way to do it.  To help Roy now, Oliver abruptly yanks the arrow out of his thigh, (no one really asks why he’s so good at doing this), and then calls Diggle over to administer first aid so Roy won’t have to go to the hospital and answer questions.

Afterwards, Oliver meets the first ghost of the evening.  He sees Shado (Celina Jade), with whom he was romantically involved during his time stranded on Lian Yu Island, in the hallway.  He reveals to the audience that she’s actually dead, (the flashback sequences haven’t shown us that yet, so this is news), and is befuddled because she can’t possibly be real.  She tells him he doesn’t need to wear the hood and fight crime with arrows anymore, and that if he doesn’t stop fighting, everyone he loves will die.  Thea distracts Oliver, and when he looks back, Shado is gone.  I’m not sure whether she was the ghost of Christmas past, present, or future, but she’s a pretty big downer either way, and Oliver struggles mightily with the implications of the strange thing he’s just experienced.

ARROW wastes no time flashing us right back to the Island timeline and showing us the immediate aftermath of Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) taking the miracuru serum in order to save his life.  It looks at first like Slade has died, as the serum was too dangerous to consume in his weakened state, and the psychopathic Dr. Ivo (Dylan Neal) has captured Younger Oliver, Younger Sara Lance (Caity Lotz), and Shado to boot.  Ivo has the vials of serum he wanted, but now has to decide what to do with his prisoners.  He gives Younger Oliver a horrible choice:  He’ll shoot either Shado or Younger Sara, but Oliver must choose which – otherwise he’ll shoot both.  Oliver has just seconds to decide which one of his former love interests means more to him.  Since we know Sara’s alive in the present, we know how this is going to go, unless Oliver or someone else is able to save them from this predicament at the last minute.  But no one does.  Oliver chooses Younger Sara and Ivo shoots Shado.

Back in the present, Oliver’s in no shape to fight, and so Diggle volunteers to be the point man in the effort to bring down Cyrus Gold.  Felicity is able to track the villain down, (she always is, so I won’t get into the details about how), but the effort obviously backfires because Cyrus has superhuman strength and Diggle does not, and the ensuing fight between the two leads to Cyrus escaping and Diggle hurt.  The real point of that scene, however, was to deliver a loud dog whistle from ARROW to its hardcore DC Comics fans that another popular comic book villain is coming soon, and apparently the weekday of his birth will be of interest.

Meanwhile, not having learned from his the failure of Diggle’s efforts to bring down Cyrus, Oliver, (dressed as the Arrow), arranges a rooftop meeting with Officer Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), and gives him all the information about the danger Cyrus poses to the city, in hopes of getting the Starling City PD to go after him with a SWAT Team.  At this point, The Arrow’s relationship with Lance is good enough to get him on the trail, but Lance isn’t able to recruit many other cops into this effort.  And that’s too bad, because the effort is a disaster that winds up getting one of the few who do go with him, Lance’s former partner, Det. Lucas Hilton (Roger Cross), killed.  Cyrus also puts Lance in the hospital.

And now Ghost # 2 is up, and this time it’s Slade Wilson.  ARROW hasn’t revealed Slade’s death either, so this is also a surprise, and it’s also a bit of a surprise (although not really) how malevolent Slade’s ghost is; accusing Oliver of perpetrating a charade with his vigilante crime fighting gig.  Slade’s angry and they get into a “fight,” (which is a real fight only in Oliver’s mind, apparently).  When Felicity, Diggle and Barry return to their secret hideout underneath the nightclub, they find that Oliver’s trashed everything in the room himself and that no other person is present.  Oliver had asked Barry to analyze his blood and see if he’s hallucinating because of the rat poison, but Barry tells him there’s nothing wrong with his blood.  Whatever’s happening to Oliver is psychological.  Diggle explains to Oliver that his ghosts are not unlike the ones that visited him, post-Afghanistan, and that it’s up to Oliver to try and figure out what the ghosts are trying to tell him.  Then Felicity chimes in that she’s located Cyrus, and Oliver is quickly on his way to stop him.

Oliver’s timing is good, because Roy has gone by himself to investigate Alderman Blood’s mobile blood drive offices.  (By the way, it really is ridiculous that the Alderman/Mayor-Candidate’s last name is ‘Blood,’ his super-villain/scary mask alter ego is called “Brother Blood,” and that he runs a blood bank in order to capture people and alter their blood, but I suppose it’s no sillier than “Goldfinger” being really into gold).  Anyway, Roy, still gimpy from the arrow wound, is captured by Cyrus and Blood, and injected with miracuru, with the idea that it will either kill Roy or make him a part of their secret evil army (although I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work).   Oliver shows up too late to stop the injection, and Roy appears to be dying, (it should be noted that everyone ARROW has given this drug to appears to be dying but never actually dies).  But Oliver does get to have a fight to the finish with Cyrus this time.

Of course, Cyrus beats him senseless at first, and Oliver is still demoralized from hearing Ghosts # 1 and # 2 tell him he should stop fighting and/or is a lousy human being.  But Ghost # 3 now appears, in the form of the late Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) who gives Oliver a pep talk about being a hero and getting off the canvas to fight.  Inspired by seeing his dead friend, who no longer hates him for being the vigilante, Oliver takes the fight to Cyrus and manages to beat him when he explodes a nearby piece of equipment with an arrow and Cyrus is subsequently covered in acid.  Then Oliver performs chest compressions on Roy, who also manages to survive his brush with death via super-soldier serum (as if there were any doubt).  Brother Blood gets away.

Having escaped, Blood, goes to his mystery benefactor, the one who gifted him the super-soldier serum in the first place, and we discover how he came to have it.  The person pulling Blood’s strings is none other than Slade Wilson, alive in the current timeline, (and, thus, not a real ghost), and he’s planned elaborate and personal revenge on Oliver, with Blood only serving as the first wave.  Slade is going to give Blood another sample of his blood to reverse-engineer more serum, and it looks like he’s going to be building that private army again after all.

In the final island flashback, we see that Slade (obviously) survived his ordeal, is now super strong, and has just ripped the heart out of one of Ivo’s men.  Ivo has escaped, however, and when Slade discovers his unrequited love interest lying dead and flies into a rage, Younger Sara speaks up and tells him that Ivo was the one who killed Shado, but purposefully leaves out Oliver’s role in it.

Barry Allen’s storyline on ARROW apparently ends this week, (although he’ll be back on his own “Flash” show on The CW next year), but it ends precisely how everyone assumed it would end, with Barry being zapped by the Central City particle accelerator when it malfunctions.  The logistics of this didn’t make a ton of sense, though, as Barry has returned to his lab in Central City, but the particle accelerator apparently blows up off in the distance, which we see through his window, but then there are several waves of confusing post-explosion CGI that some how reach his lab and eventually zap him directly.  So now he’s The Flash, I guess.

“Three Ghosts” ends with one small, and kind of silly, change for Oliver, too.  Oliver finds that Barry Allen has gifted him a tiny, eye-covering mask as a Christmas present because it’s supposed to be a better identity concealer than what he uses now, and still allows him the peripheral vision needed to shoot arrows.  This mask is not really big enough to conceal his identity, however, but since we’ve suspended disbelief about this hood and greasepaint thing being sufficient to keep otherwise intelligent people from figuring out that The Arrow is Oliver Queen until now, I don’t think it’s right to start nitpicking on this point.

I suppose if I were going to nitpick about this episode, however, I’d probably go off on how ridiculously comic book-y Alderman Blood’s super soldier civic takeover plan appears to be.  I assume the federal government in ARROW-land would still frown upon a bunch of super soldiers placing an American city under siege, and that a reasonable, real-life criminal mastermind wouldn’t actually think this effort was likely to have a positive outcome, or be a good use of his time and resources.  It’s also strange that someone who thinks of themselves as a civic hero and champion of the common man would come up with a costume that’s just a scary ghoul mask.  That sounds like something a villain with low self-esteem would do.

But overall I liked this episode because, while nothing that happened in it was in anyway surprising, (Slade and Barry’s transformations were about as telegraphed as they could possibly have been), I was gratified that they finally connected the two timelines in this way, which really rewards the audience for a lot of their patience.  After spending chunks of thirty episodes with Younger Oliver on that island, and experiencing diminishing returns from each one, at least now we know what ARROW’s creators were building towards, and it pays off in a satisfying way.  Had Slade Wilson not become a villain, his character really had no point.  Previously, he had just been the character who abruptly nudged Yao Fei out as Island Oliver’s Yoda in the middle of last season, but that switch seemed unnecessarily clunky at the time, and Slade would have remained superfluous if his character hadn’t turned into something else.  So now it has.  And we now know why Shado was important, too.

The thing that pleases me most about these developments is that the second half of ARROW’s second season will come back and include a formidable and charismatic antagonist for Oliver, (Manu Bennett seems like an actor who can really excel in the villain role).  That’s a good thing, because Alderman Blood’s secret evil plan really wasn’t impressing me, and bringing back Malcolm Merlyn again so soon to play the big bad for another season, as ARROW seemed to be threatening to do recently, would have brought about a palpable sense of anti-climax. So while the first half of this season was definitely not perfect, it had about as strong an ending as could be hoped for, and was great at raising anticipation for ARROW’s return in a month.

AGREE? DISAGREE? LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD – COMMENT BELOW

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