Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Arrow 3x03 "Corto Maltese" (A Rescue is a Rescue Until It's Not)

"Corto Maltese"
Original Airdate: October 22, 2014

I may argue with them, I may not see eye-to-eye with them, and sometimes they may just downright frustrate me, but being the oldest of two other siblings, I can say with certainty that I would do just about anything for them. My sister and I are the closest. She's a sophomore in college, so she's about seven years younger than I am, but we talk and text all the time. We talk about the shows we're binge-watching on Netflix, the new Taylor Swift album, and food (we talk about that last one a lot). My brother and I aren't as close, even though we're closer in age. He's the left-brained one of the family: an engineering major who thinks about things analytically and scientifically and who constantly challenges the world around him. As a right-brained creative writer who is sensitive, I don't often understand him or his beliefs. But that doesn't mean I don't love him and it certainly doesn't mean I wouldn't protect him if the opportunity arose.

In Arrow, we've seen relationships form between Oliver and a lot of people. We've seen him fall in and out of love with Laurel. We've watched his bond forge with Sara. We've seen his close friendship with Tommy, admiration and respect (and eventual partnership) with Diggle, and his admiration-turned-love of Felicity. One relationship has always intrigued me, though, in how it's developed, and that's the relationship between Oliver and his sister Thea. When the series began, Thea was a pretty flat character: she was the young party girl of the family without any real trajectory in life. We've seen these socialites on E!, so watching Thea Queen spiral into the same orbit that we've seen Lindsay Lohan fall into wasn't really surprising. What did surprise me, however, was how Thea went from being a relatively stagnant character to one who was extremely dynamic -- the Thea Queen we met in the first season was bitter and angry and jaded and though season three Thea Queen still possesses those qualities, what makes her dynamic is everything that happened in between that time period. She fell in love. She gained responsibilities (she was running Verdant by herself, guys) and a position of authority and instead of slouching under the weight of it, she made that job her own and excelled at it. She reconciled with and forgave her mother, in spite of everything Moira had done. Oliver and Thea have something in common: they are survivors.

But these siblings also have something else in common apart from their resilience. They - unfortunately - let what the world has done to them and what PEOPLE have done to them color their perception of humanity and, as a result, break them. Oliver is a hero because he was first a killer and a vigilante seeking revenge. He's a hero because he was first dark and brooding (and often still is). Thea Queen is who she is in "Corto Maltese" because the darkness of the world and abandonment of her by the people who were supposed to love her the most made her that way. Remember what I said last week? Grief cannot change you -- it cannot make you a bitter person. Bitterness isn't something that just randomly takes up residence in your heart. No, bitterness is a weed that latches onto a single event in your life, magnifies it, and then invades every piece of your heart with its poison.

So let's talk about that poison and that anger as it relates to the events that unfold in regards to our Arrow characters throughout "Corto Maltese," shall we?


As I noted above, Oliver and Thea are really good at being guarded, jaded people. And though that often protects them from the world around them, it also divides them from the people they love most of all. Oliver's refusal to accept a life worth living cost him (momentarily) Felicity in the episode prior. And Oliver's refusal to be open and honest with his sister has cost him her trust and respect. The Queen siblings had always been taught that looking put-together was more important than BEING put together. And when you live your entire life like that, suddenly you begin to doubt your own authenticity and the authenticity of others. Thea partied and lived wildly because it was the only way she knew how to feel alive; Oliver puts on a mask because it's the only way he feels he can be seen. I mean, let's just pause for a moment to reflect on the complexity of these two, shall we? Oliver and Thea's relationship has been peppered with lies and secrets and it's driven their walls higher and higher and -- in turn -- has led to them growing more distant.

Thea is such a delightfully complex character in "Corto Maltese" and if this is an indication of her stories to come in season three, I'm thrilled. We get the opportunity to hear the conversation she apparently had with Malcolm in "Unthinkable" and it's so good and utterly painful, too. Thea wants to stop feeling things. She's felt so much already -- anger, bitterness, elation, love, joy, incalculable loss -- that all she wants is to just... stop feeling. Anything. Have you ever reached that point? Have you ever desperately wished that there was an off button in your brain or heart that you could press and suddenly your pain and bad memories and feelings of intense depression or anxiety would dissipate? (I have. I have wished I could shut my brain down some days.)

And when Oliver, Diggle, and Roy show up in Corto Maltese to "rescue" Thea and bring her back home, we (and they) realize something. A rescue is only a rescue if someone wants to leave. Thea doesn't want to return to Starling City and with pretty good reason: that is a city full of lies. And worse, it's a city full of lies told to her under the guise of "protecting" her. Moira and Oliver and Roy lied to Thea and they told her it was love. Understandably, Thea scoffs at this notion. All she's really known in the past few years to be true is that if someone loves you, that means they will hurt you; if someone says they care about you, they'll break your heart and your trust in half. And Oliver makes the decision in Corto Maltese to tell his sister one truth at a time. He tells her about how their father really died and tells her that he needs her. And I believe it to be true, because Oliver's entire world is falling apart. Literally everything he knows or thinks to be true about himself has been questioned already (and as a reminder, we are only three episodes into this season). There are very few foundations in his life and I love that the one foundation that is still true is that Oliver and Thea love each other.

Thea and Oliver are such unique and complex characters that I could bore you with a 5,000 word essay about them and their pains and struggles, but all you really need to know about them in "Corto Maltese" can be summed up by an alien from Lilo & Stitch:
This is my family. I found it all on my own. It is little and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.

There are two different categories that long-distance runners fall into when it comes to motivation. Some runners are motivated by very Jillian Michaels-esque techniques. The more you yell at them, the more work they accomplish and the harder they will run. Some people respond quite well to that sort of threatening tone, and you'll hear running pairs during races spur each other on like that. Me? Well, if you tried to yell at me while I was ten miles into my first half-marathon, I probably would have burst out into tears or shoved you off the course because I respond better to gentle encouragement. I respond to cheers and high-fives and smiles, not threats. But that's my personality, really, and I think that what kind of encouragement motivates you says a lot about your personality.

Thea responds well to threats and harsher techniques because she's fiercely stubborn and also very angry -- angry at the world, angry at herself, angry at the people who have wronged her. When you bottle that anger up for too long, you find that it manifests itself in surprising ways. In "Corto Maltese," we see glimpses into the dysfunctional relationship between Malcolm and Thea. Like a rider breaking a horse (which is how you train it), Malcolm is similarly training Thea by breaking her. And if you thought YOUR family tree was full of dysfunction, this episode will make you want to hug your loved ones and thank them for being normal in comparison. What I find to be so intriguing is this: Malcolm loves Thea, in a very warped sort of way. And Thea needs Malcolm in a very warped sort of way. I can't recall exactly who it was, but in an interview recently the Malcolm/Thea relationship was discussed and it was noted that though Malcolm is an arguably a terrible person, he's also the only person that hasn't lied to Thea yet in her life and that trust -- however warped -- is so foundational at the moment for her. She NEEDS to have someone in her life to trust. The problem is that when you're so desperate, as Thea is, to find someone in your life who will not lie to you or hide things from you or betray you... you latch onto people in unhealthy ways. Think about it: everyone in Thea's life has lied to her (Moira, Roy, Oliver) recently and though the one person who has not lie to her cannot be trusted, he also CAN be trusted because of that. Malcolm may be a lot of things -- ruthless, vindictive, morally bankrupt at times -- and Thea is afraid of him because of who he is, but she also trusts him because of who he isn't. He isn't a liar. And that is the kind of person Thea needs most in her life at the moment.

(It's also terrifying, really, because when you've hit rock bottom, what happens when the only hand to pull you out is that of a man with a murderous alter ego and nothing to lose? What kind of person do you turn into under that influence?)

I could write another novel about Thea Queen and her relationship with Malcolm -- how it's clear that Malcolm really does care about Thea as both a student and a daughter, how they are so similar in the way that they handle grief and anger (as demonstrated in that car flashback) -- but I am sure I'll have plenty of opportunities as the season progresses. For now, just know that Malcolm let Thea return home but... well, I think that he knew the woman who was returning was a force to be reckoned with and definitely not the same woman he met five months prior.

Team Lance (Laurel + Quentin)

There was a lot of Laurel Lance in "Sara," and not as much in "Corto Maltese" (which is fine because this episode was primarily about Thea and Oliver anyway). The scenes with Laurel in this episode, however, were significant. The first time we ever saw Sara-as-Canary (may she rest in peace), she was defending a woman against a mugger -- a protector of women. That's important to know because the trigger that sets Laurel off on a miniature rampage of bad decisions involves a woman in her AA group who is being abused. Laurel Lance is not a superhero, but she's always had the heart of one (and the decision-making skills of a teenager, to be quite honest). As I've stated multiple times in multiple places, I don't hate Laurel Lance. I actually think she is a pretty complex and intriguing female character. She's a bit brash and doesn't think before she does a lot of things, but there's such a great parallel in "Corto Maltese" between her and Thea that it begs to be made note of.

Ever since Sara's death, Laurel has tried to feel alive and failed. The one thing that makes her feel alive in the episode is when she channels her energy into beating up the boyfriend of the girl in AA. While Laurel wants to START feeling something Thea, conversely, wants to stop feeling. Both are understandably angry women and I just think it to be so interesting that they diverged the way that they did -- Laurel's anger fueling her desire to bring a sliver of justice in an unjust world, Thea's anger fueling her to shut down and hurt the people who have hurt her. Like I noted above, Laurel genuinely wants to do good but the problem is that angry people aren't rational people either. She wants Oliver to train her and he refuses, so she seeks out help from a man named Ted Grant (Wildcat) instead. Laurel is so desperate to control something -- anything -- and just wants the little corner of the world that she exists in to be just, even if the rest of the world is not. I admire her for that, though I obviously agree with Quentin in that her reckless decisions need to make way for some more rational thought.

Angry people do stupid things sometimes. And a leather jacket, as Laurel is destined to find out, does not a superhero make.


I talked a lot about Oliver/Felicity in the past few weeks, so let's talk about my feelings regarding Ray Palmer and our favorite Team Arrow techie, shall I? I don't really care for Ray Palmer because he seems like he is one of those "too" guys: TOO friendly and trying TOO hard (and at the end of the episode, I'm adding "TOO sketchy" to the list). And while I agree that Ray is aggressive toward pursuing Felicity for her knowledge, I also know why he is pursuing her: because he sees how intelligent, how amazing, how resourceful she is. And he doesn't hire her as his executive assistant. He hires an executive assistant FOR her. And I, for one, am glad that he did this. I know a lot of people have problems with Ray's treatment of Felicity and Felicity's willingness to accept a job from him at the end of "Sara." Let me explain, momentarily, why I do not have a problem with her decision whatsoever.

Felicity Meghan Smoak is a strong woman. She wasn't wooed by Ray's invitation or him as a person -- the lack of smile and enthusiasm upon accepting a job offer from him indicated that. But what Felicity said in the foundry earlier in that episode to Oliver was that she is not going to it by and pine for him while he broods over her and his life and his alter ego. Felicity decided that she's not going to be that stereotypical female trope -- you know, the one who waits and waits for her love to come around. Because that would be an easy choice, but it would be a cowardly one. To be brave is to look the man you are in love with in the eye and then have the strength to walk away from him. Strength is knowing that EXISTING is not LIVING; knowing that Oliver loves Felicity but he's going to have to earn her. Oliver Queen is going to have to get out of his head and out of the freaking foundry if he is going to pursue Felicity the way that she deserves to be pursued. That is what she meant when she told Oliver that she wanted so much more out of her life than what he was giving her. Because life doesn't mean waiting around for Oliver Queen. No, life means doing things -- everything -- whether it's pursuing a career at Queen Consolidated or visiting Barry Allen in Central City. Felicity Smoak wants to be alive. And being alive means being challenged by people and challenging them right back.

And Ray hires Felicity not as his assistant but as an integral member of the team. And it's startling to Felicity because she's just accepted the fact, I think, that Oliver will keep her at arms length so she expects everyone else to do the same. But Ray gives her a corner office and an executive assistant and what I love is that Felicity is still herself. And she can still walk away from Ray at the episode's end and not look back at him. Because she wants everything out of life and doesn't want to miss a moment of it. She doesn't know how often or if she'll be able to see Barry again, so she decides to visit him while she can. Felicity is embracing the fullness of life this season because that is the legacy Sara left her.

Everyone needs rescuing in Arrow at some point and everyone needs to be rescued -- from someone or something. But the question that Oliver begins to ponder at the end of the episode and one that we should too is this: what happens when the person you rescue isn't the person you remember losing?

Observations & favorite moments:
  • MVP for this episode is a tie between Stephen Amell (who has shown over the past few weeks that he can BRING the acting) and Willa Holland. Thea Queen isn't often my favorite character, but she was in "Corto Maltese." Willa did a fabulous job of balancing the emotion and bitterness within the youngest Queen. I can't wait to see the rest of her journey unfold.
  • (For the record, I like Thea's new hair, too!)
  • I didn't get a chance to talk about Diggle's minor story this episode with Lyla, but I really enjoyed how having a family has already started to change Dig as both a man and a combatant. It's clear that he would do a lot to protect his family, and I loved that we got the opportunity to see the kind of man that he still is while the team was in action in Corto Maltese. It'll also be interesting to see, as this season wears on, how Dig and Lyla will handle their demanding jobs and Dig's waning trust in Amanda Waller and A.R.G.U.S.
  • I need Felicity's colorful dress that she wore in the foundry/to Queen Consolidated and I need it now. I also love jealous Oliver in the foundry.
  • "What's up with your family and islands?"
  • "You can't travel with that." "... I've actually never been on a plane."
  • "Pain is inevitable and suffering is optional." Barrowman, y'all. I'm so stoked he's a series regular and I get to talk about him all the time on this show because he's amazing.
  • "I've got him." "And I've got you."
  • "Are we favor friends now? ... Are we friends?" I want a Laurel/Felicity friendship please and thanks!
  • "You're not The Arrow. Or your sister." REMEMBER THAT QUENTIN STILL DOESN'T KNOW ABOUT SARA? Yeah. So that line hurt me.
  • "If we're not together, we're not really alive." I wish Oliver would apply this to his romantic life, you know?
  • "... I never said I didn't know HOW to use a gun."
  • "I tried to do good... it didn't work out."
Whew, thank you all for reading this review! I'll see you back here next week for another Arrow review. Until then, hit up the comments with your thoughts on the episode. :)


  1. "And it's startling to Felicity because she's just accepted the fact, I think, that Oliver will keep her at arms length so she expects everyone else to do the same." HMM this! Ray is definitely sketchy and a "too" guy as you said, but yeah Felicity's been so used to being kept at arms length in the past 2 years, so now she's taking the attention she's getting and working it to her advantage either with Ray or visiting Barry (i'm sure this will tie in to her background in 3x05 and presumable stalker college boy). Also I think she was given Oliver's old office? Which is hilarious to me. Also I loved all the references to the blown up Applied Sciences division and Felicity's fake curiosity as to *why* someone might want to do that "I'm a bomber..."

    I feel like this was the least Oliver episode since Suicide Squad (more so than it not being his flashbacks; I feel like we spent more time with the other characters away from Oliver as well--Felicity at QC, John w/Lyla, Roy w/Thea, etc) and I'm so proud of the show that we're at a point where I noticed this but it didn't detract from the flow or movement of the story. I am so happy to have felt invested in every scene even the ones not including Oliver (and Felicity, you can never be bored when Felicity is in a scene). Every scene and every character is bringing it (even Laurel, who frustrated me so much last season. Here, I understand her pain and her journey and even her mistakes, which are more sensible than her foolishness last season).

    I wonder what Thea plans to do with herself now that she's back home. She doesn't seem interested in Oliver's secret as the Arrow just yet and she doesn't exactly have anything to do back in Starling. And she still doesnt know (unless Malcolm told her and she really doesn't care) that Oliver is the Arrow; will she find out? Will she be mad or want to join in? Will she want to work somewhere? What exactly made her choose to go home, aside from Oliver's admission about Robert?

    Poor Oliver. He has so many people to take care of; only original Team Arrow can handle themselves without his reluctant mentorship... Dig and Felicity are capable, but now Oliver has Roy and Barry and Laurel and probably future Thea as people he needs to watch over and clean up their messes and he's still only just coming into himself as a hero... I'm really excited for that aspect of his story this season. "i had a good teacher. a judgmental, occasionally temperamental one." "those are the best kind." CURMUDGEON!

    Next week looks so juicy! So many character interactions! ah! #isitnextwednesdayyet?

    1. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention how much I LOVED the scene where fifty different people (ok two-ish) called Felicity for help. Because she's a genius BOSS who handles things, even when at work (I half wanted Barry to call and that be the segue to her appearance) but also it's great because it set up her identity crises for the season as well.

      She's on a mission (if not Team Oliver in general (bc she wants to live and not pine about the boy who refuses to be with her) but at least to find Sara's killer--I know she's certainly committed to that) but this is the first job not owned by Oliver Queen she's had since she started on Team Arrow, so she's gonna have to choose which is more important. And sometimes she's gonna have to choose her work at Ray's QC (is he gonna change the name at all, I wonder... or keep it as sweet torture for Oliver lol) instead of Team Arrow, and there will be repercussions. Or vice versa in a moment when it won't be so convenient/Ray won't be so chill about it.

      OR it'll be more high stakes and secrets will fly out of her mouth as she searches for important Arrow things while Ray is in hearing distance. No matter what, this sets up some great identity themes&things and potential conflicts. (man these writers are so great with establishing a clear theme and then having every episode and nearly every moment tie in in such great and varying ways.)

    2. CONNIE. I love your comments, first off, because you're so intelligent and they're always well-thought out. 1) I love Felicity more than words can say and her little "yeahhhh" about the Applied Sciences division was hilarious. I'm so happy my bb is getting the chance to succeed at something she's doing, even if Ray is being a weirdo sketchball, lol. 2) YES. I'm glad this show can survive without Oliver being the focus of every story. He's definitely the anchor of the show, but this episode focused so much more on Dig and Thea and Malcolm, so that was really welcome. 3) I AM super curious about Thea returning to Starling City and what it means for her. She can't go back to Verdant so I wonder if she's going to try to go to school or become a vigilante? That seems to be the family business, after all. Haha. 4) You know, I never really thought of the fact that now everyone Oliver's taken care of has kind of dispersed and are now pretty self-sufficient. Dig's got Lyla and the baby; Roy learned how to control his rage; Felicity has a new job... it's like all his bbs have left the nest. 5) I LOVED THAT FELICITY SCENE. It's so evident of how much she's needed by EVERYONE. They rely on her, like Oliver once told her. And it was nice to see Oliver try to stiffly avoid talking about her but still needing her help for things.

      I am so excited for next week and especially the week to follow, with Felicity's origin story. This season is shaping up to be pretty stellar already! AND NYSSA IS BACK.

    3. ::blushes:: aww thanks! i always feel like i'm rambling and have no order or sense, so I'm glad I come off intelligent! haha! Thanks for having a great space where I can ramble and seem smart and get my Arrow feels out and engaging with them lol!

      (side note: how in the world do you prepare your thoughts so fast, i feel like you must have screener access, but i've seen you tweet that you want them... you have these posts up so FAST after the episode has aired and are so detailed and thought out! I am amazed.)

      Yes to the call back on relying on Felicity but also getting the fandom wish to see her interacting with people other than Oliver. We know she and Diggle have a friendship (that I need to see more of like I need air) but she's also developing these more overt relationships with Roy and Laurel (and maybe even Thea?) and obviously Ray, but also the Central City team. Oliver needs Felicity, but everyone else does too, and that might be an interesting part to their developing dynamic as he sees that, yes, other men want her, but other people want her beyond that, they want her brains and her company, which is great for her character, but also good for Oliver to see. He sees Foundry Felicity, who works and tracks people and is funny, but it's only a portion of who she is and he hasn't really met the other parts of her fully yet. So being able to see glimpses of it as she chooses to live will probably further his resolve to 1. not die in the foundry and 2. finally suck it up and work towards being someone who can be with Felicity (and be the Arrow and Oliver Queen and whoever else he's becoming this season).

      This season is truly starting off fantastically and usually episodes 2 and/or 3 of a lot of series are filler (before the November sweeps period of the year where things pick up) but not Arrow! Everything has tied in to the overarching story and the theme of the season in a major way. I fall more and more in love with the writers and this show every week.

    4. I'm so glad you feel comfortable chatting here. That's what I hope this site can be -- just a place for some really great discussion! ;) (And in regards to your review question... I'm magic! Kidding, but I wish I had screeners. The secret is that I draft up a LOT of meta throughout the week in regards to what I know the episode will be about and the characters and when the show airs, I edit during commercial breaks. lol.)

      Your paragraph about Felicity is so perfect and everything I ever want to say about her, that all I have to add in response is this: *slow clap* I'm so glad that the Oliver/Felicity dynamic is going to get angsty and complex because Oliver is going to need to step up, wake up, and realize that Felicity is wanted BY EVERYONE. And, like you said, not just by men either. UGH, I AM READY FOR THE COMPLEXITY.

      I really am impressed by how sharp this show has been in the few episodes that have aired, which means big bangs for November sweeps ahhhhh. I cannot wait. :)

    5. Ohh that's so smart! I keep wanting to get back into reviewing things (besides Castle which I do for another website) but this month since TV has started back has been lacking in time, but maybe in November I will again and you've given me a great idea/way to not be up until 2 in the morning with the writing process! #bloginspo