Summary: A return-to-form that broadens the importance of the show’s world and not just its title character.
If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!
Oliver jumps right back into action as the Arrow, but a week after his return, he’s finding things in Starling City a bit different. Laurel is out in the streets as Canary, and comes to the aid of the Arrow and Arsenal. Oliver pulls her aside and orders her to stop what she’s doing, that she doesn’t belong out in the field. Diggle points out that Laurel is going to be out there whether they agree to it or not, and that she has something to offer.
Malcolm arrives to follow up on Oliver’s suggestion that they work together to figure out how to defeat Ra’s al Ghul. He tells Oliver that they need to bring Thea into the fold. Diggle cautions Oliver that he might lose Thea if he reveals his secret to her. Oliver does reveal the truth and his sister is surprisingly okay with it. In fact, she’s impressed and grateful to him. As they talk openly about his work as the Arrow, Oliver reveals that Malcolm knows the truth and that they need to work together with him to fight the League. Feeling betrayed by her father, Thea wants nothing to do with Malcolm.
Werner Zytle, the new Vertigo kingpin, stages an escape from police custody. Oliver and Roy run down a lead to the reporter who dosed one of the guards to aid in Zytle’s escape. Zytle has forced the man to wear a bomb vest in order to keep his family alive, wanting the man to sacrifice himself to kill the Arrow and Arsenal. Oliver unsuccessfully attempts to talk the reporter out of blowing them up, and Oliver and Roy barely manage to escape the explosion through windows. Zytle sees this explosion and believes they are dead.
Quentin drops records of the city’s cargo manifests off to Laurel. He asks if she’s heard from Sara and tells her about Sin letting him know the Canary running around is not Sara. He coyly nudges Laurel by saying he hoped he could talk to this new Canary. Learning of Zytle’s whereabouts at the docks to obtain a shipment of chemicals to produce more Vertigo, Laurel goes after him. Oliver planted a tracker on her to keep an eye on her actions, so the Arrow and Arsenal go after her. As Laurel tries to take down Zytle, he injects her with his brand of Vertigo, which causes her to hallucinate that Zytle is Sara. Laurel fights what she thinks is her sister, as the imaginary Sara denounces what Laurel is doing as the Canary. Before Zytle can kill her, Oliver rescues her, much to Zytle’s surprise.
They bring Laurel back to the Arrowcave to treat her Vertigo dosage. When Thea interrupts, Oliver barks at her and Roy jumps to her defense. Roy and Felicity both explain to Oliver that things had to change when he was gone and that they all get a say in what is happening now. Diggle sits with Oliver and explains that they all believed Oliver was dead and were unsure if they were going to carry the crusade on. They all found that this is bigger than just Oliver and that he needs to be okay with that now. Meanwhile, a recovering Laurel shares her doubts over being the Canary with Felicity. Felicity advices her that she needs to stop thinking of filling Sara’s shoes and do things for herself.
Thea tries to take a break from the craziness of her life by hooking up with Chase, the DJ from Verdant. At her place, she realizes that the wine he’s poured her is laced with cyanide. As they fight, Chase reveals he’s working for Ra’s. Roy intervenes, but when Chase gets the upperhand, Malcolm arrives, arrow pointed. Chase drinks a poison and kills himself.
Felicity tracks down Zytle again. With Roy unavailable, Oliver takes Diggle’s advice and asks for Laurel’s help. Going after him, they get separated and Laurel is left to face the villain on her again. She gets dosed with more Vertigo and imagines both Sara and her father fighting against her. She takes Felicity’s words to heart and pushes through, eventually taking Zytle down by herself. Felicity tells Oliver about Thea.
Oliver arrives to make sure Thea is okay. Both agree that they have to work with Malcolm. With them on board, he reveals that he’s got to take them out of the city to prepare. Oliver informs the team, who are stunned that he would leave again after just getting back. He assures them that the city is in good hands with all of them protecting it, including Laurel. Laurel goes to tell Quentin the truth about herself and Sara. Hours later, Oliver and Thea are hiking to Malcolm’s training spot, which happens to be on Lian Yu.
In the flashbacks, Maseo and Tatsu run with their son to escape Waller’s wrath. Maseo gives Oliver some money to make his own break. Oliver calls his mother to tell her he’s alive but gets her machine. As he leaves a message, he’s confronted and captured by Waller’s men. They torture him and Waller reveals that she’ll harm his family if he doesn’t reveal where Maseo has gone. Oliver points out that Moira is too visible for her to go after. Waller agrees and says she’ll go after Thea instead. Trapped, Oliver reveals Maseo was going to Shanghai. Later, Maseo is caught, but reveals to Oliver it was a fake out. He sent Tatsu and their son elsewhere, but came back to get caught once he learned of Oliver’s capture. Both are knocked unconscious and wake in a car much later. Waller reveals she has a mission for them … in Starling City.
And we bounce right back.
After last week’s decided downturn, the show races right back with one of the strongest episodes of the season. That makes last week’s hour all the more baffling, but why waste time on the past when we can enjoy the fruit’s of this week’s labor.
Immediately, everyone seems far more engaged this episode, and one of the best elements of it is that everyone’s story ties into a single narrative. While that can certainly be detrimental to a series at times, this season of Arrow has felt like it needs a streamlining of focus to get it on course. When one thinks back, though, it’s not hard to recognize that all of the disparate threads have a common link.
Sara’s death is tied to the League. Malcolm’s use of Thea is tied to the League. Thea’s issues with her father and brother are tied to the League. Laurel’s journey is tied to Sara’s death, which is tied to the League. Team Arrow’s involvement is tied to the Thea, to Sara, to Malcolm, to Laurel, and directly to the League. Even the flashback timeline is tied to the League through Maseo. It might not be as complex or as elegant as all of Slade Wilson’s machinations last season, but there actually is a central target and direction. It’s nice when the show acknowledges it.
Thea was a glaring problem what needed to be solved. Given a thrust to start the season that made her more vibrant and worth devoting our interest as an audience, she was all but left in the dust after her return to Starling City. Revealed as Sara’s killer through Malcolm’s manipulation, something she has yet to find out, pretty well sealed a lack of motivation for the character going forward, and since she’s been nothing more than a pawn between Oliver and Malcolm. It was a similar situation as to what happened to Laurel between Oliver and Tommy in the first season, and it’s been just as disappointing.
It remains to be seen if bringing her into the fold actually sustains life and weight for the character, but it’s the kind of move that would’ve been bolder if it wasn’t so necessary. Still, while practically everyone knows Oliver’s the Arrow, there’s still some thrill to someone new finding out. What really energizes this one is that it isn’t an accident, or a life-and-death moment, or someone else trying to hurt Ollie by telling the truth. On top of that, Thea’s reaction is surprising in its acceptance.
What’s surprising is that Thea has had mostly the hate of a love-hate relationship with the Arrow. They haven’t had a supreme amount of interaction, but she’s certainly been negatively affected by her brother’s costumed actions quite often, and anger was certainly expected. Yet, she got it and she got why he would lie to her all this time about it. In fact, it was more of a relief because Oliver’s baffling behavior suddenly made sense. When any of us solves a puzzle like that in our lives, when it loses its power over our attention, that can be quite freeing.
In a sense, Thea was freed by knowing the truth, and it was a much more pleasing direction to take things in. Moments like their exchange about Oliver’s smelling like smoke because of a C-4 explosion and not Korean BBQ were welcomed and enjoyable in their honesty. It’s hard to say if this new direction is going to improve Thea’s character and relevancy in the long run, but having her “in” on the secret — and shunted off to Lian Yu — should make things more interesting for the time being.
More interesting is the fall-out from Oliver’s return. Not so much fall-out as his being confronted with just how things have changed in his absence. Felicity gets a standout moment in telling Oliver that things were different and he can’t expect it to just change back. Yet, one of the best exchanges of the episode was Oliver and Diggle furthering that conversation in Verdant. Oliver needed it made clear to him that they all believed he was dead not just gone. That’s an important distinction because it put into perspective just how much the mission means to everyone, how they had to choose it for themselves. That integrally changed the color and tenor of their lives going forward.
While it’s not surprising to see Oliver come back and immediately attempt to reassert his control over the team, it was a bit shocking to see Oliver bark at Roy like an angry stepfather. Kudos to Roy for standing up to his mentor, not just for Thea but for himself. Same to Felicity, even if her motivation for snapping back is, perhaps, rooted in something different. The reality is that they are a better team when Oliver is there. But they are a team not just a bunch of lackeys, and that shift in the status quo is actually a good thing for the series moving forward.
This is Oliver’s show and he should be the primary story. Having as solid of supporting players around him makes for a better experience. We can have tangents for an episode or two or three where the focus is on someone else that the audience is just as invested in without harming the series and Oliver’s story. That opens up strong possibilities for the future. Not to mention that franchising out his heroics in the narrative actually makes Oliver’s job easier and him better at it.
That’s why he can feel comfortable to return to Lian Yu at Malcolm’s request to train to take on Ra’s al Ghul. It’s not just lip service to his team; it’s accepting that he’s not alone in his cause and he can trust others in his absence. For someone who keeps the weight of the world on their shoulders, that’s a big step, particularly as regards Laurel for Oliver.
Oliver’s not altogether wrong in being concerned for Laurel’s safety as she takes to the streets in black leather. Even she knows that she still isn’t as properly trained as she should be to be out there. And his concern that she was trading drugs and alcohol for the adrenaline as a way to mask her pain over Sara’s death is a valid argument. Yet, Felicity got right to the heart of the matter.
Laurel’s innate desire to fight for the downtrodden is something I’ve talked about numerous times, and it’s at the heart of what Felicity’s touching advice to Laurel was getting at. Laurel’s had to deal with tragedy in her life, the kinds of things that can and do scar people emotionally. Yet, she hadn’t been through the same kind of hell that Sara and Oliver lived through. Sara was, in a sense, broken, forever searching for a way to atone for the evils she’d perpetrated with the League and yet never knowing if she really was worth it. The mask to hide her demons as much as her identity, as Felicity put it.
For Laurel, she’s not built of that same soul-scarred tissue. It is something that makes her Canary uniquely different from Sara’s and even from Oliver. Oddly, she’s actually closer to Roy in that regard, which seems to account for why the Arsenal-Canary pairing in the field worked well. (Still, there’s always a thrill to see Arrow and Canary working together on their own on-screen.) Laurel needed to recognize her worth to move forward, and in that regard, using Zytle and his super strength Vertigo made great sense. Stormare’s inherent kooky screen persona aside, there’s still not much to Zytle yet, but this issue with personal identity has benefited from his appearance here and in the “The Calm.”
A true bonus of accepting herself was Laurel finally being able to tell her father about Sara’s death. It’s a lingering plot point that had continued to defy reality, so its resolution is very welcome. It’s a reminder that when Arrow seeks to solve an outstanding issue, they quite often attend to it immediately. Lance learning from Sin last week that this latest Canary wasn’t Sara opened that door and they got right to business with it. Have to enjoy the fact that Lance quickly put together that the new Canary is Laurel, just as was fun his revelation to Roy about his secret identity last week. If he doesn’t know Oliver Queen is the Arrow, then it is ignorance purely by choice. The man knows how to put things together.
That’s what made Laurel’s admission about Sara drive home even more. The signs were there to know something was wrong, and he even picked up on them, which is why he’s been uneasy about Sara for weeks. Some part of him had to know his exchange with “Sara” in the alley two or three weeks ago was off, yet he let himself believe everything was okay. To now be confronted with the truth is a gutpunch on top of the heartache. Paul Blackthorne is wonderful here, and it truly is heartbreaking to hear him mutter “Not my baby, not again.”
Another high point of the hour was actually the flashbacks, something that can’t be said that often this year. All due respect to Karl Yune, Rila Fukushima, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, and Amell, who have all done fine and/or serviceable work, but we just haven’t had too many reasons to really care much about the past timeline. Here, though, we get a piece of the story that’s affecting and engaging, even a bit humorous. Oliver being waterboarded to rat on his compatriots, only to cave when Thea’s life was threatened reinforces Amanda Waller’s moral flexibility while giving us an emotional reason to connect to the past timeline. It also helped to inform the present storyline in a less in-your-face way than other attempts to do so this season. It also offered more of a brotherly connection between Oliver and Maseo that adds color to everything going on with the League in the present. And that ending — Waller escorting Oliver and Maseo into Starling City — provided a nice symmetry with Oliver and Thea leaving Starling City to train.
What really works about “Canaries” is that everything feels genuine, which allows the emotional aspects of the story to hold more resonance. Last week, it was hard to buy into what was happening because it felt like many were going through the motions and not very connected to the material. Here, the opposite is quite true and we’re better served as a result. Laurel’s acceptance of herself is an important stepping stone for her future, as is Oliver accepting that it’s not just his mission anymore. For perhaps the first time this season, all storylines feel part of a whole, and here’s hoping that’s the catalyst to really engage the rest of the season.
Odds & Ends
- Why did Diggle put down coasters for he and Oliver to use? That was a funny bit of actorly business, and yet it was a great little character moment. Made even more fun by the fact that Oliver placed his drink on the coaster right after.
- Another good character moment was when Laurel places her oversized bag on the table in the Arrowcave to begin suiting up and Oliver turns with that look of “What the hell?”
- Maybe intentional or not, that moment Zytle watches the explosion that’s supposed to have killed the Arrow and Arsenal felt very Khan from Star Trek.
- “You know, the one with the boy hair.” Nice one, Quentin. Want to be a little more grizzled old man in that instance?
- So, Chase the DJ, agent of the League, goes out with a whimper. The character would’ve been much more effective if we’d seen more of him and they’d paid a little more effort into making him more of a normal part of Thea’s life. The “surprise” that he was set to kill her would’ve had more bite.
- I like how Roy stands up to Oliver, Felicity gives Oliver some of the business, and Diggle just gives him the eye. Of course, he would come up to the club to talk to Oliver about it more just after, but the sagely eye is a Diggle special.