Arrow #1.22: “Darkness on the Edge of Town” Recap & Review

Matt Tucker May 14, 2013 3

Darkness on the Edge of TownSummary: A humdrum episode that appropriately continues to move pieces together for the season’s finale.

If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!

Recap

With Walter now home, Oliver keeps tabs on Moira and Malcolm to figure out what is going on with the Undertaking. With nothing turning up, Diggle, in disguise as the Hood, kidnaps Oliver and Moira and forces her to talk by torturing Oliver. Malcolm kills the minds behind a device that will cause earthquakes and takes the technology, so Team Arrow must break into Merlyn Global to hack their mainframe and discover the location of the device. Laurel realizes just how strong her feelings for Oliver still are, but he keeps her at arms length until he sees stopping the Undertaking as the light at the end of the tunnel. The two have a tryst, much to Tommy’s chagrin. Finally, Oliver goes after Malcolm while Diggle tracks down the device, which winds up missing. On to Team Arrow’s tracking, Malcolm confronts the Hood, only to discover that he is Oliver.

For a full recap of this episode, visit our handy episode guide.

Review

Sitting on this review for a few days and watching the episode multiple times still can’t shake that there is something very lackluster about it. It’s full of necessary part-moving to get to the finale, and offers the appropriate darkness of a middle chapter as the second of what is clearly a three-episode finale arc. There a fine moments scattered throughout, as well. But one can’t help but feel that there is a detached, moving-through-the-motions quality that ultimately draws from the whole episode.

Devoid of all tension of the recent rift between partners, it’s back to business for Team Arrow without skipping a beat, which feels like a missed opportunity. It’s perhaps the first time of the series’ first season where it feels as if a plotline was completely abandoned without recourse. Scratch that, second time following Tommy’s sudden break from Oliver in “Unfinished Business” following that weird period after “Dead to Rights” where it wasn’t clear whether or not Tommy was really affected by his discovery of Oliver’s alternate life except when it was convenient to a scene. In this case, you would never tell that Diggle quit the team or felt justified in doing so. It’s always nice to see the three of them — Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle — working together and the entire sequence of them breaking into the Merlyn Global mainframe is an absolute delight and highlight of the episode. Yet, it feels somewhat divorced from the reality that the show had recently set up, even with the reconciliation at the end of “The Undertaking“. There are bigger issues at hand, which is why they patched things up, but it discards an interesting layer to the relationship and doesn’t hold the same weight as a result.

Speaking of not holding weight, there really is no way of getting around the fact that there just isn’t that inimitable spark between Stephen Amell’s Oliver and Katie Cassidy’s Laurel that makes this pair memorable together or draws the audience in to care about. It’s safe to say they probably get along swimmingly on-set and behind-the-cameras, yet their chemistry doesn’t read very well on-screen at all and it hurts these latest and inevitable developments. Cassidy and Amell both do fine enough work on their own to try to make this a relationship worth investing in for the audience, but it just doesn’t sweep one off of their feet. This makes Oliver’s choice to give in to his feelings and their little hook-up have little resonance. It reads like something that was supposed to happen, particularly the all-too-convenient moment of Tommy spying them in embrace through the window at just the convenient moment, rather than something organically borne out through the story and the characters. This should have more impact and it simply doesn’t.

As for Tommy, it is clear they are doing everything possible to set him up to step right into his father’s shoes. (Though, as many have guessed, don’t be surprised to see some twists to this familiar trope.) Since he has joined Merlyn Global, his wardrobe mirrors his father’s, he has taken on a sullen look, and he’s living in a noticeable five-o’clock shadow. They make the specific point to give him a line of dialogue that clearly establishes which side of the line he’s on. The tough thing is seeing everything come down to jealousy over Laurel. The conversation he and Oliver have, though it’s essentially Oliver buying time for Felicity to do her thing, was a compelling and necessary exchange. Whereas their last conversation had Oliver admit that he isn’t pursuing Laurel because of his Hood quest without any concern over Tommy’s role, here he calls Tommy on to the carpet for giving up on her. Tommy knows it and that’s why he was going over to Laurel’s to talk, giving us the unfortunately scripted convenience of spying Oliver and Laurel en flagrante through the window. The upside to all of this is that it ties further into Tommy’s belief that Oliver has betrayed him, making it a multi-flavored cocktail. Remains to be seen how that will play out in the final chapter and spinning into the next season.

Leading us to major questions regarding resident season Big Bad, Malcolm Merlyn. First, it should be noted that Malcolm flat out has Oliver’s number. Twice they’ve faced off and twice Oliver has had his ass handed to him, in specific the nasty way Malcolm tends to kick him as Oliver rolls along the ground. Fates are possibly being sealed now as Oliver’s identity is revealed to his nemesis, as well as Moira’s full disclosure to both Oliver and Walter of her activities. Malcolm’s gasp of “Oh no” to end the episode was fascinating one. He knows what he’s just stepped into and yet his plans will not be sidelined for anything. It’s an interesting character beat that ties right back into the complex man that we witnessed in flashback during “The Undertaking.” He really is a man who cares but his expression of that has been perverted into this unthinkable act to come. His conviction could wind up getting him killed, and many would say the moment he saw Oliver’s face that ensured it. That would seem the most direct outcome, but as with Tommy, twists could be abounding with the Merlyn family.

Moira herself could be facing swift justice of the sword coming out of all of this. Walter smartly serves her with divorce papers, having spent enough time over his six months of captivity to deduce that his own wife had a hand in his ordeal, paying off his suspicions just prior to being abducted. It’s a simple and effective way to take the character out of the show, while keeping him in reserve, but more importantly it collapses Moira’s world further. This after her son discovered her dark secrets and shunned her. It seems a given that most of the genuine emotion in the episode lies with Susanna Thompson.

The one real surprise of the episode is, of course, Yao Fei’s execution on the island. The fact that Oliver seems to be all alone on the island after five years and is wearing Yao Fei’s hood when found all but foretold that it was likely to happen, but it was rather unexpected here and quick. Again, it proves Fyers’ dangerous quality and ups the stakes for everyone on the island. The plan to destabilize the Chinese economy by shooting down commercial airliners is a rather straightforward but effective one, playing well off of real-world fears and fitting into the five-years-hence timeline. Yao Fei’s importance as a scapegoat becomes clear, and yet the quick disposal of him was quite the shock. After Oliver’s discovery of the soldier who pretended to be another castaway in “Dodger“, the last look we are left with on Oliver’s face shows how the emotional one-two punch is beginning to transition him from spoiled kid in a heap of trouble to the stony man we were first introduced to on his return to civilization.

What’s disappointing about this episode is not what occurs. Including Roy’s hunt for the vigilante and his and Thea’s drama over it, this is dense with a lot of storylines going on. It’s certainly not a reflection on the actors, who all do their now commonplace terrific jobs. It’s that there is a perfunctory quality to the whole affair. Aside from Yao Fei’s death, there are no real surprises and everything clicks into place as it should with very little beyond a few laughs and those couple of scenes of true emotion featuring Moira. For an episode with as wordy and promise-filled a title as “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” as well as the penultimate chapter of the season, it should’ve elicited so much more than that.

Odds & Ends

  • Your requisite DC shout-outs: Hero Geo-Force is relegated to a bit doctor role (Dr. Brion Markov) and promptly executed by Malcolm; the judge Thea got her court order from to investigate police files as a cover was named Grell after Green Arrow artist and writer Mike Grell; and Ferris Air is a nice reference to the world of GA buddy Green Lantern Hal Jordan.
  • Speaking of Ferris Air, the reference here makes little sense. Ferris is an aerospace company that makes planes not an airline. It would be like saying I’m flying Boeing instead of I’m flying in an American Airlines Boeing 737.
  • Who is the mysterious woman Fyers is working for? And is she tied into Malcolm’s plans in the present time?
  • How in the world did Diggle (as “Andrews”) get a job at Merlyn Global so quick, especially in security>
  • Felicity was a wonderful ray of sunshine again with the mouth that just works quicker than her mind. The giddy fun she and Diggle have when he comes to bail her out of trouble with the security guard was a great touch.
  • How in the world did the cops’ IT guy make the connection to Felicity? Seems extremely sloppy if she left a trail or footprint to her IP address.
  • Oliver’s “revelation” about stopping the Undertaking is rather weak, as it just restates what he’s already been doing.
  • Nice to see Diggle back in the hood, after he swore he wouldn’t again.

A SECOND OPINION

by Derek B. Gayle

It took a whole season, but it looks like Arrow has truly, truly found its legs. “Darkness on the Edge of Town” is probably the most consistent and close to flawless episode to date. It utilizes every single main and recurring character in the best ways, and moves along every single plot thread thus far. That’s quite a feat for a show with so many characters—ten!—but even with the screentime divided amongst them all, everyone was relevant to the plot at hand. Even ensemble shows like Lost often had trouble keeping every single character relevant, and “Darkness on the Edge of Town” does it while keeping their central character in the forefront.

Arrow has also managed a feat by functioning as a legitimately good show while also fulfilling the CW-guilty pleasure quota. In all honesty, the Laurel/Oliver hook-up with Tommy watching has every right to be groan-worthy. It’s cliché and it’s dumb, but we’ve seen such a long-term build-up and knowledge that the consequences will surely be dire, that it’s exciting. That we can transcend the gut reaction to critique in favor of enjoying the melodrama spilling out is a testament to the show. Admittedly, the oft-overused song “Radioactive” as the score to their big sex scene might not have been the best fit, but at least the song is good and subverts the “sexy Coldplay” stereotype.

But even if you couldn’t get past the soapy elements, there was a ton of meaty developments to love this time around. This is clearly part one of a two-part finale, but the episode’s time is used wisely throughout, with lots happening without it feeling overstuffed. Oliver’s “Damaged”-esque staging of a kidnapping to get Moira to confess was inspired, and a much more noble turn on what was previously a fairly selfish type of ploy. Walter was also a highlight here, as he stuck to his guns about leaving Moira; his chilling stab of a line about wondering how he got through captivity without a loved one to think of was brilliant. Moira’s story has turned out to be a true tragedy, and the writing and Susanna Thompson’s portrayal have painted a truly great picture of someone both sympathetic and misguided.

There seemed to be a lot of hits dropped about the possibility of Thea’s death, but whether or not that comes to fruition, using her as a way to create both a connection and tension between Oliver and Roy is intriguing. While she admittedly is not much more than a plot device at this point, it’s much better use of the character than earlier in the season. Tying Roy and Thea into the main story was also a welcome development, and the explanation of Roy’s obsession—that he wants the Hood to teach him to be like him—is inspired. The break-in Felicity, Diggle and Oliver staged was also lots of fun, and a cool type of sequence the show hadn’t really tried before. It did seem like we missed some parts of the plan (how did Felicity get a keycard? How did Diggle get to post as a security guard?) but those are very, very minor quibbles.

And of course, John Barrowman continues to shine as the Big Bad. The Dark Archer has proved to be a formidable opponent, and the fight sequence at the end was one of the show’s best. Malcolm’s reaction to Oliver’s identity, though, was a great surprise. He’s been colored as a much more interesting and sympathetic figure in these past two episodes, and seeing his vulnerability and regret here showcased a character more fleshed out than some kind of pure evil mastermind. Mistakes are real, and the fact that he’s actually afraid of the consequences of Oliver being the Hood—whether it be for the sake of his son, Moira, or both—is a great springboard into the final episode. It’s another part of a fantastic episode, what ought to be level of quality the show should strive for in its next season.



3 Comments »

  1. Adrian Smith May 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    I don’t like Laurel with Oliver I don’t know why I just don’t like it. I personally think Laurel should have stay with Tommy and needs to like get back with Tommy. Other wise it was a very mind blowing episode :) keep up the awesome work! <3

  2. Linda P May 14, 2013 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    I agree with both reviewers: it was a lackluster but somehow fantastic episode. Thank you for acknowledging the lackluster chemistry between Oliver and Laurel. They had to get thru that scene purely for Tommy to see them. But the sex scene just about ruined Radioactive. Instead of adding an emotional quality to the scene, I just wanted to gag. Now that it’s over, hopefully the writers will move on from Oliver/Laurel. Susanna Thompson has been outstanding, and I was so glad Walter was not killed.

  3. bbussey May 15, 2013 at 12:03 am - Reply

    Regarding the “Odds & Ends” comments:

    FerrisAir is the commercial airline subsidiary of Ferris Aircraft Inc.

    Oliver had his “Undertaking” revelation shortly after learning what the “Undertaking” was and realizing it and not the list of names was what his father was referring to.

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