Review: The light of ‘The Flash’ has cast an unflattering shadow over ‘Arrow’ this season

“Arrow” ended its third season last night, and I have some thoughts on the season (and a bit on the finale) coming up just as soon as this place has a hot tub…

Early in “My Name Is Oliver Queen,” the Flash shows up to liberate Team Arrow from their captivity in Nanda Parbat, then runs back to his own show(*), because having the world's fastest plot device around would make defeating the League much too easy. But what really struck me about his exit was how much more I was enjoying watching “Arrow” for those few minutes Barry was there than I had for much of this season's second half.

(*) Yesterday, I noted that I watched the latest “Flash” before I had seen last week's “Arrow,” and was thus confused by Oliver's behavior, and even his ability to get to Central City. Having now caught up, it actually makes less sense, and you have to chalk it up as one of those comic book crossover things that just doesn't fit properly into the continuity of one title or the other.

Obviously, “The Flash” benefits from being shiny and new, but the lighter approach to its characters and world – while still allowing room for plenty of serious things to weigh on our heroes – seems to work much better than the material. It's apples and oranges to a degree, since as both series are fond of pointing out again and again, Oliver is a grim urban vigilante and Barry is a godlike superhero. But letting the light in more frequently on “Flash” gives that show more creative wiggle room (I find myself more forgiving of plot points that don't make sense there) and also plays more to several of these actors' strengths. (Laurel has never been remotely as appealing as she was in the “Flash” episode where she got Cisco to design some gear for her.)

When you're brooding 90% of the time (with Felicity and Ray accounting for virtually all of the other 10%), it not only can get monotonous (and at times self-parodic), but it means you're asking the audience to take you very seriously. So when things don't work it feels like an even bigger misstep. And season 3 unfortunately had a lot of things that didn't work, including an incredibly forgettable flashback story arc, the amount of time spent on Laurel, Ra's not being charismatic enough to work as a seasonal big bad, and the exhausting number of rug-pulling twists in the second half. (And that's not even mentioning more minor annoyances like DJ Turn Down For What, whose status didn't particularly improve when he was revealed as a League member.)

There were things “Arrow” did well this year, of course, particularly in showing Diggle adjusting to more responsibility both at home and on the hero job, and in letting Roy take the fall for Oliver. (That was both a good character moment for him and led to a necessary pruning of the cast.) But the season never really kicked into gear like either of the previous ones. I don't know if that's the larger creative team being stretched too thin (even though Marc Guggenheim remained focused entirely on this show), or “The Flash” shining an unflattering light on its parent series, or if “Arrow” just picked two big storylines this season (in both the past and present) that sounded better in concept than they turned out to be in execution.

Down seasons happen. It's not an anomaly. And I like where we left things, with Diggle unequivocally in charge of the group (now with Thea as Speedy/Arsenal/Red Arrow), and Oliver and Felicity finally getting to be a happy couple for a little bit. Obviously, something next season will force him to put the costume back on, but maybe it won't be in quite as relentlessly tragic a fashion as before. Stephen Amell can smile. He's good at it! And look how strongly the fans have responded over the years not only to Felicity, but to how Diggle and Laurel and Roy have behaved when they get to hang out with the STAR Labs nerds. I wouldn't want “Arrow” to reinvent itself as a tonal copy of “The Flash,” but I do think it could learn a thing or two from the new hero in town.

What does everybody else think? Did season 3 work for you? Do you hope for more or less angst when Oliver returns in the fall?