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'Arrow' 'Three Ghosts' review: The dead return and a blast from the hero's past

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'Arrow' 'Three Ghosts'

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Jaw-dropping. Epic. Shocking. Better than last week's. Those words can be used to describe every episode of "Arrow" season 2 so far, and they're also true for Wednesday, Dec. 11's episode, "Three Ghosts."

It seems like we say it every week: "Arrow" couldn't be better than it is right now in its second season. It's not showing any signs of slowing down, and instead, we get episode after episode of mind-blowing moments, award-worthy fight scenes, and endings you can't stop talking about days later. This is what you want to see in a show do for its second season after a strong first one, and "Arrow" has found a way to balance character development, action sequences, and surprises in a way that works, and those shocking moments aren't just done for the "shock factor." There's a reason for each one.

"Three Ghosts" may not have ended with a big cliffhanger – what happens to Barry and Oliver donning the mask were both inevitable – but instead, the episode featured several moments that will drive the story forward when the series returns in January. Oliver's big foe this season was revealed. Roy has been put on a journey that should mean big things for him for the rest of the year. The door on Oliver's guilt over Tommy's death was closed in the only way it could have been and he was told by the one person he needed to hear it from that he was a hero. So much happened, but did you expect anything else from a show that has established itself as appointment television?

Really, the only downside of the episode was that there wasn't more Colin Donnell. (Who else still isn't over Tommy's death?) However, that's one more thing the show does: it gives the fans what they want in a way that makes sense for the story. Oliver needs someone to tell him to keep fighting, to tell him he's a hero, and they bring back the person both fans want to see and fits in with the rest of the season.

Side effect or just in his head? Picking up where "The Scientist" left off, Barry got to work on finding a cure for Oliver, and it was fortunate that they had a rat problem and rat poison lying around because he used that to thin Oliver's blood enough to get it circulating again. Cue Oliver's first hallucination, of Shado telling him to let go and stay with her. When he came to, he immediately went after Barry and when he learned why he was there, he argued that he was the one who decided who found out his secret. He had looked into both Diggle and Felicity before bringing them to Team Arrow, and he didn't trust Barry. Barry stepped in and defended Felicity, and after Oliver left, Felicity commented, "Never meet your heroes, right?"

When Oliver saw Shado for a second time, she told him she had to warn him he couldn't fight what was coming. He should put down his bow and stop fighting, or everyone he loved would die. Barry told him the hallucinations were likely a side effect of the cure he gave him and took some blood for a test, and with Oliver not "all there," it was Diggle who went to check out Cyrus' hotel room, with Oliver stuck playing back-up in the car. Cyrus attacked, and while Oliver played getaway driver, he had Felicity call in backup. He turned the case of Cyrus over to Lance, explaining that he'd been compromised and not to hesitate to kill Cyrus, all while seeing Slade standing behind him.

When Oliver was next alone in the lair, he saw Slade again, and Slade wasn't there to offer him a warning. Instead, he was there to place blame on Oliver. He said his "crusade" wasn't about making up for his father's sins, it was for atoning for his. He wasn't a hero, a friend, or a brother. He was nothing. The island didn't make him strong, it showed him to be weak. It was time for Oliver to join Slade, wherever he was, and their fight did quite some damage to the lair, ending with Oliver crashing through the display holding Arrow's outfit. However, as it turned out, the hallucinations weren't from the rat poison Barry gave Oliver to save him. His blood was clean, and it was psychological, all in his head.

Lance was able to convince Hilton to track down the lead on Cyrus, but it got the detective killed and landed Lance in the ICU. Arrow visited him, and while he blamed himself for Hilton's death, Lance told him that not every death in the city was on him. He also had a clue to help him find Cyrus: a key he took off him. Before Oliver set out to take care of Cyrus, Diggle offered him some helpful advice: when he saw ghosts after Afghanistan, it had been because of survivors' guilt. He had to figure out what they were trying to tell him, and that was exactly what Oliver did when he saw his third and final ghost in the middle of yet another intense fight against Cyrus when Tommy told him to get up.

"You didn't let me die," his best friend said. "You fought to save me. Because that's what you do, what you've always done. You fight to survive. I know I called you a murder, but you are not. You're a hero. You beat the island. You beat my father. So fight, Oliver. Get up and fight back." Those words were all Oliver needed to strengthen his resolve and after that, Cyrus didn't stand a chance.

And he thought that arrow was bad… Oliver ended up taking care of a wound he inflicted when he found Thea hiding Roy in her room, the arrow still in his leg. He pulled out the arrow and called Diggle to patch him up before suggesting that the vigilante was just trying to keep him safe. Thea didn't agree and decided it was time to do things her way. She turned to Laurel to look into the blood drive, and when Laurel told them that donors were given psych evaluations, Roy broke into the office to get Max's file. However, his curiosity landed him in even more trouble, as he was injected with Miracle. He survived, which meant that Team Arrow was going to have to keep an eye on him.

The past comes back to haunt Oliver – and not in the form of a ghost. Well, not a dead one. Well, not a truly dead one. Blood was working for someone, and that someone turned out to be Slade – wearing an eyepatch! Slade was going to provide him with another sample of his blood so he could get back to mass-producing his serum (and creating an army) after the vigilante destroyed it and his centrifuge, and yes, Slade knew who was under that hood. It was his friend, he explained, and death would be a release from this life he didn't want Oliver to have. But he did have a plan: "I am going to tear everything he cares about away from him, destroy those who choose to follow him, corrupt those he loves. Once he has lost everyone and everything he values, I will drive an arrow through his eye."

As the island flashbacks revealed in this episode, after Ivo and his men found Oliver and the others on the submarine (and found the serum), he told Oliver he had to choose who lived between Sara and Shado. When time was up and Ivo aimed at Sara and Oliver dove between her and the gun, Ivo killed Shado. After Slade came to on the submarine and found them and killed Ivo's men while Ivo himself escaped, he swore whoever killed Shado would suffer. Sara just told him that Ivo shot her and didn't say why, but he obviously finds out the truth at some point.

Even heroes with secret identities get Christmas presents Barry had mentioned that the face paint wasn't the best identity cover for Oliver, and when Oliver shot back with a remark that he would need a mask that fit his face and didn't slow him down, Barry got work and left him a gift before returning home: a mask. In the final moments of the episode, Felicity put it on Oliver and told him he looked "like a hero."

Late or right on time? Barry was able to pick up on the Olicity vibe (her comments about beautiful island girls were a dead giveaway), and he said he could see why she'd like him. Billionaire by day, saving the city by night. "Sounds like you want to date him," she commented. He told her he had experience with unrequited relationships, and later on the phone once he had returned to Central City, he let her know that if she ever wanted to go out with someone else, he was available.

Barry may have made it back to Central City in time, but he missed the cut off for the line at S.T.A.R. Labs, so he went to his lab instead to watch it on the news. However, the storm caused a malfunction at the lab and they couldn't shut down the accelerator. Cue a blackout, an explosion, chemicals floating, and a lightning strike, and with that, Barry's life changed in a flash. (So, uh, CW, about that series order for next year... It's coming this week, right?)

"Arrow" season 2 airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on the CW and returns Jan. 15. What did you think of the midseason finale, episode 9, "Three Ghosts"?

Read more about Arrow.

© Meredith Jacobs 2013

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