Sometimes, Oliver Queen has to leave Starling City for the climes of distant lands, usually played by other places in Vancouver dressed or shot differently. Last season, it was the snowy coldness of Russia, and this year it’s the tropical temperatures of Corto Maltese. Fun fact about Corto Maltese: it isn’t a real place. It’s apparently off the coast of South America, though where exactly is anyone’s guess. At any rate, “Corto Maltese” is the name of this episode of Arrow, but the whole of the action certainly doesn’t take place there. In fact, there’s a lot going on in this episode back in Starling City; every character’s got something going on. A bottle episode this isn’t. So, I guess we better dive right in, like it’s a Corto Malteseian freshwater spring. They might have those; I have no idea.
Unlike the previous two episodes, the flashbacks in this one aren’t to Oliver in Hong Kong. In fact, for once the flashbacks aren’t about Oliver at all. They show a little bit of what’s been going on with Thea these last five months. If you’ll remember, she got in the car with Malcolm Merlyn. We now get to see what happened once she got in that car. He wonders why she chose now to take him up on his offer, and says that if “anyone” knew where he was, it would be very, very bad. Thea says she won’t tell anyone, but needs to get out of Starling City in order to stop being hurt or hurting anyone else. She’s been lied to real bad. So, Malcolm decides he wants to learn her in the ways of being like him. He was hurt and angry when his wife died and so devoted himself fully to being an archer and a member of the League of Assassins; now it’s just daughter’s turn to do the same.
He starts by teaching her how not to pull her hand away when he pours hot water over it. A valuable skill, I suppose. This is to show her that pain isn’t the worst thing in the world, that she can manage and even control it. After a few weeks of this, Malcolm decides he’s been too lenient with Thea because she’s his daughter and will instead start teaching her like a student. What could that mean? Well, he promptly clocks her in the face and says you can only forge steel by tempering it in fire. She sits up and grabs a sword, calling Malcolm a sonofabitch, which is what he is. He chuckles and says, “We can begin.” Real good dude, this Merlyn fella.
The Arrow catches a guy he thinks might have some information about Sara’s murder, but it turns out just to be a wino who didn’t see anything after seeing a woman “who looked like she could handle herself,” referring to Sara. The trail’s gone cold and Oliver’s at his wits’ end. He asks Felicity if she’s gotten closer to tracking down Thea in Italy, and it turns out she’s not in Italy at all – she’s on Corto Maltese (“What is it with people in your family and islands?” says Diggle). Oliver decides he’s going to leave right away, and Roy decides he wants to go with, picking up his bow. Oliver asks what he’s doing and Roy gives a really impassioned speech about why he has to go to try to set things right since it was because of him she left in the first place. Oliver clarifies – what’s he doing with the BOW? You can’t travel with a bow and arrow. Roy then admits he’s never been on an airplane before. Can I just say how much I wish this episode had just been Roy flying on a plane for the first time?
Diggle returns home to his daughter and Lyla and prepares for a week away from Oliver, but Lyla encourages him to go, both to support Oliver, but REALLY because an ARGUS operative named Shaw stationed in Corto Maltese has gone AWOL and she’s worried about him. It’s probably nothing major, but she’d love it if Dig would go check it out for her. Real nice. So, it’s Oliver, Roy, and Diggle to the magical land of Corto Maltese, where the men smell like fish and the girls are Thea.
Elsewhere, Laurel is tracking down a street hood and ends up in a gym owned by boxer Ted Grant. Grant tells Laurel that he’s not going to give up a good kid who got a tough break, even if she’s the District Attorney. Laurel doesn’t like this news at all, but Grant can tell she’s mad about something else. If she ever wants to get out her anger, she should come to a thing he teaches. He hands her a flyer that says, “Learn to fight.” I wonder what this will mean…
Oliver heads to the house where Malcolm has been teaching Thea and knocks. A gardener arrives and asks if Oliver is looking for “Mia.” He says Oliver and Mia look like they’re related and tells the big brother where to go. This is good, because if Oliver had opened the door, Merlyn would have shot an arrow into his head, chest, or throat. So… good move, gardener. Oliver goes to the cafe where Thea works and she looks genuinely happy to see him, but she’s totally not coming back to Starling City. She does have a sweet new haircut now, though, so that’s something.
Felicity starts her new job with Palmer a bit uneasily. She isn’t sure what her jobs are going to be, and Palmer’s wired on espresso when she comes in the first day. She puts her foot down immediately: No late night emails, no personal errands, and no no no getting Ray any coffee. Ray says that’s fine, but would she like her own personal assistant Jerry to get her a coffee? Well, this is certainly not what Felicity expected, nor was getting the entire office to herself. Well done, Smoak!
Diggle tracks down Shaw and confronts him. The agent is paranoid that Diggle is another person out to get him. Dig proves himself by handing Shaw a decoder. Shaw tells Diggle that he hasn’t checked in because something real bad’s happening: someone’s stolen ARGUS Actual, which means it has files on every single agent as well as all their families and where to find them. There’s going to be a buy later that day, so Shaw asks Diggle to be his backup. Unfortunately, Shaw double-crosses Diggle and steals Diggle’s decoder so that he can use the ARGUS Actual himself, and sell it to the highest bidder. Not good.
Laurel goes to an AA meeting but can’t talk about why she’s upset (since no one’s supposed to know Sara’s dead) and she really clams up when her dad comes in. Then a girl named Erica talks about her boyfriend who hits her, and Laurel gets angry. She calls Felicity for a favor (while Felicity’s in the middle of a meeting with Ray and helping Diggle get intel on Shaw) to track down the boyfriend. Laurel then puts on Sara’s jacket and a balaclava and goes to beat him up with a piece of wood. Unfortunately, he punches her in the face and goes on his merry way. She’s not trained yet at all.
Roy goes to see Thea himself to ask if she might come back and she again turns down the offer, but he doesn’t argue with her. He knows he did wrong by her and wishes he could make things right, but he gets it. Oliver decides the best course of action is to tell her everything, about his time on the island, about him being the Arrow, all of it. Diggle persuades him not to, though, because her knowing he’d been flatly lying to her for two years might push her away forever. He does talk to her, though, and tells her a beginning of the truth, which is that their father Robert Queen sacrificed himself to save Oliver, just as Moira did to save Thea.
Oliver, Diggle, and Roy find Shaw and witness a buy going down for the Actual. Oliver quickly takes out two makeshift bows and quills of arrows he made using crap he stole from their hotel rooms. This is genuinely impressive and Roy is kind of amazed. But, before they can engage Shaw, they’re beset by militia men Shaw hired as backup. Oliver unloads all of his arrows and is forced to use a gun, which he does phenomenally. (“Hey, I never said I didn’t know HOW to use a gun.”) Roy starts taking out guys while Diggle runs after Shaw. Shaw tells him he only did it to try to get out from under Amanda Waller’s thumb, which seems to be a bad place to be. Shaw pleads with him to tell Waller he had to shoot him. Diggle punches him again in the head, but agrees. The Actual is recovered.
Thea decides she wants to fly back and has to fight Merlyn to get permission, which she does. Oliver can tell she’s a little weird at the airport, especially when some oaf spills hot coffee on her hand and she doesn’t even wince. Curious. Back home, Laurel tells Oliver she wants him to train her to fight, but he staunchly refuses. She is then forced to go to Ted Grant for that help. Capt. Lance, who told Laurel in the hospital not to fight, because she’s not Arrow or her sister, sees that an “anonymous” tip brought Erica’s boyfriend in on charges from Coast City. Diggle becomes worried that Lyla might be doing some terrible things like Shaw had to, just because Amanda Waller said so.
Felicity asks Ray Palmer if she can leave for a few days because a friend of hers who got struck by lightning and was in a coma was awake. Palmer is dubious of another of Ms. Smoak’s long stories, but agrees to let her. After all, she decrypted an impossible to break file, which turns out to be Queen Consolidated’s plans for military weaponry.
Oliver expresses concerns about Thea to Roy just as Nyssa breaks in, holds them at arrowpoint and demands to know where Sara is… GULP.
Way too much stuff going on here, but the crux of things is this: Everybody wants to be a superhero. We can assume Thea will eventually become Speedy, Laurel will eventually become Black Canary, and somewhere down the line Ray Palmer’s going to become the Atom. These are things that are inevitable. What’s not inevitable is just exactly how Nyssa’s going to take Oliver’s news that Sara’s dead. Probably not well.
But, next week Felicity will be in Central City and our heroes in Starling have Nyssa and Malcolm to deal with in “The Magician.” Ohhh heavens, it’s good to be an Arrow fan.