I can admit when I’m wrong. At the end of last week’s episode of Arrow, when it was revealed that Thea has been training on the island of Corto Maltese1 with her biological father Malcolm Merlyn, I thought the follow-up episode would be a slog to get through.
Fortunately, episode three — titled, fittingly, “Corto Maltese” after the fictional island nation in the DC Universe — was a pretty great hour of television and moved a lot of plotlines forward for what is increasingly looking like an action-packed season of superheroing.
In an interesting twist to the show’s typical episode structure, the cold open of “Corto Maltese” actually sets up the flashback narrative for this week. Much like The Flash did the night before, Arrow’s flashback device is used to travel back only a few month’s prior and fill in the details of a supporting character’s backstory. This time we see the conversation between Thea and her father in the back of Malcolm’s limo that led to her learning kendo at the end of last week’s ep.
Smash cut to another high-energy chase through the streets of Vancouver Starling City2 as Ollie is still on the trail of Canary’s murderer. Unfortunately, the lead is a dead end, and Team Arrow is no closer to avenging Sara. Since they can’t seem to make any progress on that front, Ollie and Roy decide to book a flight down south to bring Thea home. Diggle, hoping to get some quality time with his kid, is instead sent by Lyla to tag along with Ollie and check on an A.R.G.U.S. agent who may or may not have gone rogue.
Meanwhile, Laurel is working a case that takes her to a boxing gym where she questions Ted Grant about a witness. And if you were wondering, yes, he is supposed to be that Ted Grant, aka Wildcat. Whereas the Wildcat of DC Comics lore is an elderly member of the Justice Society, Arrow’s version — played by J.R. Ramirez — is much younger and browner3.
As Team Arrow arrives on the island, we flashback to Thea’s first training session with her father, and of course it’s insane. Malcolm pours boiling water on his own hand like it’s nothing and expects Thea to do the same. Mind you, we’re still in the cold open. After the first commercial break, brother and sister are reunited at an outdoor cafe. Apparently, Thea traveled thousands of miles only to keep waiting tables. And in another nod to the comics, Thea is going by “Mia” while on the island. This is significant because Ollie once had a sidekick named Mia Dearden, and like Thea, she also went by the name “Speedy.”
Back in Starling, Felicity starts her first day on the job at the new Queen Consolidated where she’s greeted by her new boss, an over-caffeinated Ray Palmer.
Felicity, assuming she will be Ray’s administrate assistant, is actually caught off-guard when she’s introduced to her own assistant. Turns out Felicity’s new position at QC comes with a cushy office and an executive’s title. And if you needed further proof that the DC/CW Universe is going all in on Firestorm, Felicity’s assistant is named Gerry Conway, the comics writer who co-created Firestorm in 1978!
In Corto Maltese, Diggle and Ollie do a little role reversal as Ollie plays back up during Dig’s meeting with Shaw, the missing A.R.G.U.S. agent. It seems that someone has hacked into A.R.G.U.S.’s database and is going to sell that information — including soft targets like agents’ family members — to the highest bidder. Diggle accompanies Shaw to the site of deal and is betrayed, and Ollie isn’t quick enough to stop the agent before he gets away.
Meanwhile, at an AA meeting back in Starling, Laurel is still dealing with Sara’s death. When she overhears a woman describing her abusive boyfriend, Laurel’s attitude quickly changes and you can tell she’s getting bit by the hero bug. We then flash back to Thea’s training session with her father, and remember how I said it was nuts? Yeah, it gets way more nuts because Malcolm starts beating the crap out of Thea.
At Queen Consolidated, Felicity starts doing her Oracle schtick in the middle of her meeting with Ray. Simultaneously, fielding calls from both Diggle and Laurel, she basically reveals her “secret identity” to her new boss. Speaking of revealing secret identities, Ollie decides that the only way to get Thea back is to tell her the truth about himself, including his superhero persona.
As night descends on Starling City, Laurel tries out her own superhero persona and confronts the abusive boyfriend in a back alley. Wearing her sister’s jacket and a ski mask, Laurel looks a lot like Bruce Wayne did on his first outing as a pre-Batman crimefighter.
Also like Year One Bruce Wayne, Laurel’s first outing as a crimefighter doesn’t go so hot. The boyfriend not only fights back, but he leaves Laurel bloodied and beaten on the street. When Captain Lance finds Laurel in the hospital, he makes her promise she’ll stop trying to be like the Arrow or even her sister. Laurel promises, but a quick glance at the Canary jacket proves she doesn’t mean it.
Laurel isn’t the only one with daddy issues at this point, though. Thea is still upset that Ollie lied about who her father was. And while we were led to believe he was going to reveal his identity, the only secret he tells Thea is about their father’s suicide. After telling Thea he needs her, Ollie is needed by Diggle to help prevent the A.R.G.U.S. intel from falling in the wrong hands.
Ollie and Roy, armed with makeshift bows and arrows MacGyver’d from their hotel room, Team Arrow get ready to ambush the bad guys but end up getting in a firefight with a bunch of mercenaries hired by Shaw. And once again, Arrow executes another one of the best conceived action sequences on television. When Diggle finally confronts Shaw, we learn that the rogue agent wasn’t just out for a payday, but instead blamed A.R.G.U.S. for turning him, and others like him, into a monster.
Speaking of monsters, Thea informs Merlyn that she’s returning to Starling City, but not before father and daughter have a sword battle in the living room (how did you spend your childhood?) to determine whether she can stay or go. After forcing her father to submit (though he let her win), Thea joins the boys at airport. When they return to Starling, Laurel asks Ollie to train her to be Canary 2.0. He refuses, so she goes to Ted Grant for help. And just like in the comics, it looks like Wildcat will be mentoring Black Canary! To be honest, I’ve been dreading the eventual transformation of Katie Cassidy’s Laurel into Canary — especially since Caity Lotz has been so good on the show — but I must admit that the producers are hitting all the right notes on the transition.
The episode wraps up with Felicity asking to take a week off so she can guest star on next week’s The Flash. After she leaves, Ray looks through the Applied Sciences specs found on the hard drive that Felicity has been restoring. To Palmer’s dismay, it looks like QC’s been developing pretty advanced weapons on the D.L. And even more concerning — especially to eagle-eyed comics fans — the weapons seem to be part of a project named O.M.A.C.! Holy shit.
You’d think that would be enough of a holy shit moment to wrap up the episode. Instead, they up the ante even further. As Roy and Ollie are having a bonding moment in the Arrowcave, Nyssa Al Ghul crashes the party demanding to know where Sara is! The previews for next week intimate that Merlyn may be behind Sara’s murder. Plus, we get another tease for Ra’s Al Ghul.
And once again, DC’s TV universe — on The CW, at least — is batting a thousand in the live action superhero game.
- Last week, I bemoaned the fact that live action Batman is so beholden to Frank Miller. For what it’s worth, Corto Maltese — as a location, at least — is another of Miller’s contribution to canon. ↩
- One of the most refreshing things about Arrow is that it still shoots on location — though I wonder where in Vancouver did they find the place that doubled for Corto Maltese! One of the more disappointing aspects of latter season Smallville was the budget cuts that forced the show to use backlots instead of location shots. Here’s hoping that’s a fate the Arrowverse will never have to endure. ↩
- This actually isn’t the first time Wildcat has been portrayed as a Latino character. Back in the late 90s, Hector Ramirez briefly wore the mantle in a one-off Wildcat/Batman story. Unfortunately, he died in the same issue. So, there’s that. ↩