If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!
Sara is staying with Oliver at the mansion to lie low, avoiding her family at all costs. Returning home after Oliver discovers that Laurel is sitting in on the prosecutor’s team in her mother’s trial, he and Sara are attacked by a man named Al-Owal, dressed in similar garb to Malcolm Merlyn’s Dark Archer. They are able to fight Al-Owal off, and believing the man is after him, Oliver takes Sara to the Arrowcave at the Foundry. Introducing her to Diggle and Felicity, Sara reveals that the man was after her and that he is part of a whispered about group known as the League of Assassins. While Team Arrow tries to figure out why, Sara explains that she was a member of the League and escaped, and that the only way to leave the League is to be killed. Oliver and Sara track Al-Owal to an abandoned factory to confront him but other members of the League appear and they flee. Fearful for the safety of the Lances, Oliver attends to protecting Laurel, while Felicity attempts to get Quentin to leave town. When she’s unsuccessful, Sara goes to speak with him and reveals that she is alive. She takes Quentin to the Clocktower, where they are attacked by Al-Owal and his men. With Laurel safe, Oliver appears at the Clocktower as the Arrow to help. Sara manages to best Al-Owal and kills him. She lets one of the men guy to relay a message to the League’s leader, Ra’s al Ghul, that she will not be returning. Sara leaves town to protect her family, and Oliver opens up to Diggle about his time captured on the boat from the island. In flashback, Sara survives the sinking of Robert Queen’s boat and is picked up by the crew of the Amazo. When the crew threatens her, their employer, Doctor Ivo, takes her away and asks for her help with experiments he is running on the men being held captive on the boat.
For a full recap of this episode, visit our handy episode guide.
There’s something not quite working about the Sara Lance-as-Canary story. It’s hard to tell if it’s actress Caity Lotz in the part. She has some great moments throughout the episode, but some overall shakiness keeps it from landing a full punch. Or, if it’s the sense that it’s overwhelming the show a bit too much. Sara is a key part of an event that helped to alter Oliver’s life and shape and mold the man he would become, but the main narrative seems to have shifted to her story rather than his. Or, if it’s the tremendously soap operatic development of the story behind her journey back to Starling City. By itself, her survival of the Queen’s Gambit wreck and eventual indoctrination into the dark underbelly of the world through a clandestine organization are quite compelling.
That it directly ties into Oliver’s story from the past is what feels forced and false, significantly undercutting the trauma and tragedy of Oliver’s experience as related to the audience in the first season. It’s one thing for Oliver to betray the other characters in the story, but far different to feel as if he’s betrayed the audience, which feels like an unfortunate and unexpected result of this story decision on the parts of the showrunners and writers. For me, it represents a big misstep on the season.
Most of that related to my experience with last week’s episode, “Crucible,” but it’s mentioned here because it now colors and taints everything moving forward with the season. That’s unfortunate because, much as I was against the idea of bringing her “back” from the dead, Sara’s survival, rescue by Doctor Anthony Ivo (Dylan Neal) and the crew of the Amazo, and eventual joining of the League of Assassins all make for a helluva story. That story, despite my overall unease, also helps to tell a rather effective episode this week.
There was something really gratifying and electric about Oliver’s response to Al-Owal first attacking Sara and him at the mansion in thinking it was Malcolm Merlyn. Anything deepening that Ra’s al Ghul-Nanda Parbat-Malcolm connection is good, even despite certain fan criticism that the show feels like it’s leaning a bit too hard on The Dark Knight in this second season. Strangely, for an episode titled “League of Assassins,” we really didn’t see much of them, let alone any time spent in the den of the group perhaps seeing Sara get initiated or train. What we did see of Al-Owal and his warriors was terrific, save for an oddly brief encounter at the abandoned factory that felt like a bit of odd writing rather than an overstep by Oliver and Sara. (As if an introduction needed to be tucked in to give the final throwdown more weight and consequence.) Those moments maintained the air of threat that persisted throughout the episode, a feeling necessary to really drive home the threat to the Lances.
Likely the single best moment of the episode was Sara confronting her father to get him to run to safety, primarily because it was unexpected. Once again subverting standard television practice of dragging out a plotline in perpetuity — Sara spending episode after episode coming up with excuses and conveniences to avoid revealing herself alive to her family — the lighting trick in the street to make it appear the Canary was going to tell Officer Lance to beat it out of town only for an unmasked Sara to step into the light was simple and yet quite shocking. That moment shared between Paul Blackthorne and Lotz when Quentin embraces his youngest to make sure everything is real and end a long-standing nightmare was touching and more than a little choking.
It’s these aspects of Sara’s story that really make it work. Like her recounting to Team Arrow of her assassination of the official in South America. Or just what Ivo intends to do with her in the past. The persistent threat of the League against her family, even with her taking out Al-Owal. It’s still quite odd to have what essentially amounts to a full-fledged Black Canary in the series and it not be Laurel. (Though, keeping it in the Lance family at least bears some resemblance to the comic source.) Yet, the turmoil of Sara’s life over the last six years, which in many ways appears to be more horrific than that of Oliver, is an honestly fascinating story. As said earlier, though, putting Sara on that boat, and worse, making her an antagonist against Oliver in the past, adds a pall over the proceedings that keeps intruding on the narrative.
It’s still a bit hard what to make of Laurel right now. In a fashion, that really works for the character. She’s in a bit of a freefall, getting lost and trying to feel her way through a life which doesn’t make the greatest deal of sense to her. That this ennui is stretching on for some episodes gives a more solid base, something that can’t quite be said of the very unsubtle ways they’ve expressed this travail with her. The out-of-nowhere boozing (and ham-fisted traffic stop scenario) from last week really felt cheap and forced, and the pill-popping that’s carried on to this week isn’t much better. At least give us something more graceful than Laurel ferreting through her purse for the bottle the moment the latch on the door catches as Oliver steps out of the apartment. This felt like the worst of the Lifetime movie cliches. Not to mention being rather inattentive to some strong work Katie Cassidy was doing at other points in the episode. In particular, the scene between her and Blackthorne, where she truly looks consumed by confusion, was a standout. His work with Quentin trying to rescue the one daughter he still has in his life and with whom he still has some sway enriched Cassidy’s.
Adding to that adrift feeling is Laurel serving on the team to prosecute Moira Queen. It’s meant to drive a further narrative wedge between Oliver and Laurel, but it remains to be seen what kind of impact it will truly have. As it stands in this chapter, there’s a rather abrupt and fairly pat resolution to that tension, with Laurel dismissing this as something she’s forced to do by her work and Oliver seeming to accept that without further discourse. To some degree, this might be Oliver just picking his battles, especially as he seems quite sensitive to Laurel’s current emotional state. It’s quite possible he also didn’t feel much up to fighting Lances on two fronts, as he’s trying to be there for Sara as well, while simultaneously hoping to guide her to reconnect with her family. In either case, it came off a bit odd, but in a weird way later helped with the awkwardness between Oliver and Laurel when he takes her to dinner as a means to protect her from the League. Laurel’s misguided lean-in for the kiss shows just how jumbled everything is for her, and it was interesting to see Oliver pull the reins on it, as despite his reclusion to the island following Tommy’s death, the nix on their relationship appeared to be more on her end.
There’s a distinct challenge to this legal storyline, though, that it feels as if the show is handling capably, if there isn’t much flash to it. Moving Moira through the waiting process for her trial really doesn’t offer a significant amount of pot-boiling plot development. One has to be a bit surprised that we haven’t seen any attempts on her life in prison yet. The most we’ve had is the struggle over Moira willing to accept the death penalty because she didn’t want the ugly truths of her dealings with the Tempest group to come to light for her children. In one regard, it’s quite commanding of the show to just let this story play out in rather plain, unobtrusive fashion. (The other regard is that it does read a bit boring at times.) Susanna Thompson — Willa Holland to a degree, as well — is given a thankless job of just existing as Moira through this slow march to her court date and she does it well. Though the platitudes about her offering her children strength seem a bit counter to the relationships we’ve seen on the show so far, the Queens have a nice moment when they band together to support the matriarch. It gave a sweet counterbalance to the tumult of the Lances.
Another fine moment brings us back to the foundation of the show in the relationship between Oliver and Diggle (David Ramsey). With so much going on this season, this core dynamic has been somewhat shunted off to the side. It was a superb use of the built connection to have Oliver ground himself by finally opening up to Diggle about his time on, or rather off, the island. Though there are times when Diggle’s moralizing can be a hair preachy, the show doesn’t forget that he was brought in as a moral compass for Oliver as he stumbles along his path. It was an all-too-brief scene, but an important one, as much for the audience as for the characters. There are so many balls in the air at the moment that touchstones like this help to center us amidst the chaos.
Though “League of Assassins” is a bit light on the assassins, it manages to give the group its due importance and teeth. The palpable sense of dread chasing everyone is deftly handled, and despite winning the battle, it sets a tone for the season going forward. The one drawback, though, is that ending that mirrors the ending of the last episode. As always, you have to be willing to let something play out before deciding on the whole. That coupled with the goodwill engendered by what the creatives have done with the show so far has earned a lot of currency and leeway with yours truly. For now, though, Oliver and Sara interacting in the past post-Queen’s Gambit sinking doesn’t go down so well. It feels like you could’ve still had each storyline without the intersection, but it remains to be seen how things shake out.
Odds & Ends
- It’s been mentioned before but Arrow is in a precarious predicament. On one end is this concept that the show exists in a world unto itself. The other side is this tantalizing idea that the world of the show will evenly mesh with the nascent DC Movie Universe, meaning this Oliver Queen would conceivably fight shoulder to shoulder with Henry Cavill’s Superman and Ben Affleck’s Batman. A third side also exists, which is this ever-present influence of the Christopher Nolan Bat-verse, something a line like “Mind your surroundings” said by Sara while fighting Al-Owal in the Clocktower is clearly meant to reference. You wouldn’t think so, but it makes for kind of a confounding viewing experience at times.
- While the flashbacks to Sara’s surviving the boat wreck were apt and welcome, having the Canary fly in was just a bit too on-the-nose. Of course, it could’ve just been a hallucination.
- Speaking of the boat, one has to wonder when these scenes were filmed. Was it prior to the start of the season or part of filming for “Crucible?”
- Not quite sure what to make of Quentin’s response to see his baby girl snap the neck of a man with little remorse. It took the Arrow having to renounce his killing ways for Lance to get on-board with is methods, after he chewed the Hood’s ear off on a number of occasions about just how wrong is killing as a vigilante. Certainly, it’s a moment of mixed emotions as his youngest daughter is alive and safe, but it seemed a bit peculiar that Quentin wouldn’t have reacted in some fashion to seeing her do this.
- Just what are Ivo’s experiments on the boat? In the comics, we know the Professor Ivo created the android Amazo as a means to prolong human life. His obsession was in trying to find immortality. Does the show’s version share a similar interest, and could that possibly play another role in the introduction of superpowers into this world?
Special: Blood Rush, Episode 1
This episode featured the premiere of a new six-part short web series entitled Blood Rush that features Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards).
While Felicity rocks out to some music at her desk at Queen Consolidated, Roy comes by to speak to Oliver, presumably about Thea. As Oliver is otherwise detained, Felicity insists that Roy wait down in the lobby. As Roy leaves, Felicity’s phone rings; it’s Quentin Lance stating that there is a problem.
While there’s not much to review about just over a minute of footage, this little snapshot gives us now-vintage Felicity. Managing to always find ways to put her feet in her mouth, Rickards is as charming as always. There’s not much to this episode other than finding a way to cross the paths of Felicity and Roy, which if you’re going to do so, this about covers it. As the web series is sponsored by Bose, the product placement is extraordinarily heavy, demonstrating various uses for the Bose earbuds Felicity uses to groove away. It’s no more dangerous than the shameless plugs for Windows 8 and the Surface that Microsoft has paid for in various episodes. Here’s hoping that further installments are longer.