Arrow’ season 3 lets loose its first installment of the year with season premiere “The Calm,” as Oliver's increased acclaim in Starling City is threatened by a new Vertigo (Peter Stormare), while Queen Consolidated falls to billionaire Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), and Oliver remembers his time in Hong Kong.

Last season's finale installment “Unthinkable” saw Oliver rallying his friends and allies for a final confrontation with Slade Wilson for the fate of Starling City, so what does the first episode of ‘Arrow’ season 3 bring? Can Oliver be both himself, and the 'Arrow' vigilante?

Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘Arrow’ season 3 premiere “The Calm!”

I have a confession to make. I hadn’t been looking forward to ‘Arrow’ season 3 as much as I'd like to have. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been enamored of the show’s meteoric rise from humble beginnings, and the second season knocked it out of the park on most every occasion, but something about the “new beginnings” vibe to season 3 had me a bit uneasy. Whether that had something to do with ‘The Flash’ placing ‘Arrow’’s tone into a slightly different context, or the seeming insistence on “going big” with the incorporation of Ra’s al Ghul or Ray Palmer, I couldn’t say, but ‘Arrow’ season 3 hadn’t felt quite like the series I’d come to know.

That’s more or less what tonight’s premiere confirmed, for good or ill, as ‘Arrow’ season 3 remains determined to enter a new realm of storytelling, that while intriguing at some points, proved consistently heavy-handed in others. “Identity” can be a powerful theme to explore, but without any sort of clear perception of what a hero has to gain from such self-awareness, “The Calm” ends up navel-gazing its characters a bit, or at least attempting to rehash ideas the heroes have more or less already come to grips with over two seasons.

On the surface at least, the season opener works like clockwork with its team in place, as Oliver, Roy, Diggle and Felicity’s crime-fighting tactics have drastically cleaned up Starling City, and even earned the vigilante an honorary pardon of sorts from the Starling police department. The episode’s introductory action sequence neatly eases us back into its thrilling heroics and witty banter, ending on a more hopeful and progressive note as Oliver seriously contemplates his relationship with Felicity. There’s a lot of promising setup throughout, making it all the more frustrating to see Oliver ultimately retreating into his shell in calling off their attempts at courtship, a larger sign of the series’ apparent unwillingness to follow through on its organic discoveries.

To its credit, “The Calm” rather elegantly parses out its exploratory theme, giving some strong (if again, heavy-handed) moments for Oliver to confront the toll of his dual identity, as well for Diggle to contemplate his impending fatherhood, and Lance to consider the image of himself as a heroic field officer. Keeping along with the theme, the “Vertigo” identity falls to Peter Stormare’s menacing Werner Zytle, a neat little reflection of the idea that mantles and personas only have the power and gravitas that we ourselves give them. Why ‘Arrow’ seemingly insists on assigning its “Vertigo” villains a one-note riff on Chirstopher Nolan’s Joker, I’ll never know, though “The Calm” at least poses its narrative queries in a sufficiently entertaining manner.

Keeping along the idea of change, our flashback setting has taken a drastic move to the bustling Hong Kong, though “The Calm” only spares enough room for an introductory approach. Stephen Amell manages to effectively convey in just a few short beats how the overall experience changed him, and affected Oliver’s ability to trust, though we’re not given much to go on beyond Amanda Waller’s vague insistence on utilizing him for nefarious purposes. It smacks of destiny a bit, and feels like the series leaning on the trope of its hero being the “chosen one” rather than provide any organic reasoning to counter questions of logic, but there remains plenty of time to flesh out the new device and characters along the way

The same generally goes for Brandon Routh’s arrival as Ray Palmer, billionaire visionary behind “Star City,” new Queen CEO, and potential Felicity love interest. Routh proves plenty likeable and energetic in the role, though without many specifics to go on, the appearance feels a bit like change for the sake of change.

"Ain't nothin' horrible gonna happen today, Ollie!"

And then…the other thing happened. Look, your mileage will vary as to whether or not you saw it coming*, but the writing had essentially been on the wall for Sara from the very beginning. ‘Arrow’ well learned a few lessons in its willingness to run with change, much as how Emily Bett Rickards’ initial appearance as Felicity completely grew the role beyond a one-time appearance, but boy, when ‘Arrow’ doesn’t want to change, it digs in. Eternally insisting on Laurel as the true leading lady of the series, cue some tragic pathos for Laurel to inevitably take up her fallen sister’s mantle.

*Even with Sara put on a bus boat last season rather than killed outright, it was extremely hard to ignore the warning signs of a seemingly unconnected premiere return, next week’s “Sara” episode title (with photos lacking its titular star), and our knowledge of TVTropes.

Much as we might have felt the moment inevitable, it’s still extremely disappointing to see ‘Arrow’ leaning into such an ignominious end to its arguably strongest female role to date, and while it certainly sets a bit of mystery in motion, Sara’s death brings full circle my feelings that ‘Arrow’ wants to course-correct to its established arcs in season 3, rather than foster the growth of its most interesting aspects.

Oh, and Barry Allen popped up for a second, to do the thing we already saw him do last night. Synergy!

AND ANOTHER THING...

  • I neglected to mention Colton Haynes' elevation to the "Arsenal" role, snazzy red costume and everything, which certainly registers among the team dynamic (with Roy in the field, Diggle wasn't needed as backup anyway), though seemed a bit glossed-over by the premiere. Also, he's flippy!
  • Love the casual confidence with which Felicity accepted Oliver's invitation, and about every other interaction of theirs throughout the episode, right down to that bittersweet kiss. It's unfortunate that the overall story refuses to move beyond (figurative) lip service to the pair's chemistry.
  • We met Rila Fukushima's Katana, however briefly, and was that J.R. Ramirez's Ted Grant in the boxing ring?
  • Felicity's chemistry works with the show's dour tone as a sort of positive-negative attraction, so I'm not certain the positive-positive pep between she and Ray Palmer will prove as effective in subsequent weeks.
  • Obviously we're meant to presume that Ra's al Ghul had something to do with Sara's death, if not directly the voice we heard, though hopefully the writers have something slightly more complicated in mind.

Well, what say you?  Did ‘Arrow’ hit the mark with its first season 3 installment? How did you feel about the new faces and twists? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and check back next week for our review of ‘Arrow’ season 3′s latest, “Sara” on The CW!