When Arrow was first being pitched as a concept offering a fresh spin on the Green Arrow legacy, I wasn’t really buying into it. Christopher’s Nolan’s vision of Batman was a new direction for the films, but not a drastic change from what had been happening for years in the comics. So how different, really, would this television series be from the typical origin of the emerald archer?
Turns out, quite different, and to more success than I initially imagined.
What’s happening on Arrow isn’t simply an adaptation of a comic book character and his adventures, but rather a weaving and manipulating of established characters and motifs into a world and a show all its own. It’s precisely what they set out to do and it wasn’t until this episode I realized they were achieving it.
Like episodes before it, “League of Assassins” is peppered with DC Comics lore. Most obviously in its title and in the continuing development of Canary, Sarah Lance (Caity Lotz), but also with ‘listen closely or you’ll miss it’ mentions like “the child of Ra’s al Ghul.” (Talia!)
What’s really sold me, though, is their choice to take a character so integral to the Green Arrow mythos, split her into two characters (three if we were to count their mother), and have both new characters be rounded and well developed, not simply ornaments filling a role to further the hero’s story. Laurel (Katie Cassidy) and Sarah are both aspects of Dinah Lance, the comics’ Black Canary, but neither is a true adaptation of that character. Laurel is the jilted lover and passionate crusader, while Sarah is the trained martial artist with a shadowy past looking to do right; all qualities associated with DC’s Black Canary at one point or another. Sarah, especially, gets a hefty bit of screen time this episode and Lotz expertly delivers whatever’s asked of her, be it grief, fright, anger, or solemn determination.
We learned a great deal about Sarah’s past, though surely not all of it given how much we’re still learning what happened to Oliver (Stephen Amell) during those five years. In flashback there was again the sinking of the Queen’s Gambit, Sarah’s presumed drowning followed by her discovery by the crew of the Amazo. Oh! And while adrift on a bit of wood in the ocean she was visited by a pretty, yellow canary. How cute and not like foreshadowing at all. While on the Amazo, and before she becomes a League recruit, Sarah is introduced to Professor Ivo, the man experimenting on the Amazo’s captives. Comic book fans will likely remember Ivo as the creator of androids who could absorb superpowers and were part of his quest for immortality. His most famous android was called, Amazo–a hint so obvious I can’t believe I missed it! But considering Ivo’s search for immortality and the fact he’s apparently in cahoots with the League of Assassins, or soon will be, it’s a given Ivo will somehow come to work with Ra’s al Ghul, right? Both are interested in everlasting life, and if Lazarus Pits are too out there for the Arrow-verse, the Demon’s Head will likely seek out Ivo instead. I don’t know, I’m just speculating here, what do you think?
Side note, what happened to Slade (Manu Bennet) and Shado (Celina Jade)? I had assumed they were abducted when Ollie was, but it’s been a couple episodes since we’ve seen them. Sarah does mention Shado while in the Arrow-cave, something about The Arrow’s hood reminding her of Shado, so clearly they’ve met at some point and it must come after Ollie first sees Sarah again aboard the Amazo. Hmm…
Opposite Sarah for many of her scenes is her father, Quentin (Paul Blackthorne), as the series takes a genuinely surprising turn of events and has Sarah reveal herself to her father in order to keep him safe from the League of Assassins, now targeting their family. This was unexpected. I really figured they would drag out Sarah hiding her being alive from her family for much of the season, waiting for a more climactic moment to show herself. But actually, it’s abruptness served the moment really well, and again provided wonderful dramatic moments for both Lotz and Blackthorne to work with.
Also, Lance gets to prove what a swell detective he is as pieces together Sarah’s backstory and reasoning for becoming the Canary. Sure, it was all neatly laid out for him, but he did a fine job connecting those dots.
During the episode Oliver and Sarah must face multiple attacks from the League’s assassins, the most deadly of which is Al-Owal (Navid Negahban), The First, who’s revealed to have trained Macolm Merlyn. (Remember him?) The fight choreography this episode is top notch, with a particular favorite moment of mine being when Canary is fighting dudes on a second tier platform and Ollie’s fighting below. In that scene in particular a few of the moves looked slow and perhaps a bit too choreographed, but they were cool looking, no doubt about that. During their final confrontation in the Clocktower (To which Olives arrives by busting through the clockface. Dude, you gonna pay for that? Perks of being a billionaire vigilante, I guess.) Sarah executes some nicely laid traps and – GASP! – kills Al-Owal. In front of her father no less, making their reunion all the more messy.
With the League hunting for Sarah, the Lance family isn’t safe if she remains in Starling City. And in a heartbreaking moment Quentin must let go of the daughter her just learned was miraculously alive. It’s an almost tear-jerker, one Blackthorne plays expertly. The emotions he displayes are a mixed bag: happiness for his daughter be alive, horror over the skilled killer she’s become, and sadness over having to say goodbye all over again.
Quentin decides to keep Sarah’s secret and not tell Laurel her sister is alive. A decision I’m sure will have consequences down the line, especially as Laurel still teeters on the edge of substance abuse. A plot line I was almost convinced they’d dropped in favor of Laurel joining the prosecution for Moira’s (Susanna Thompson) case–I know! WTF? Conflict of interest, much?
Let’s just say the Lances steal this episode and Ollie is hardly more than voyeur for their family drama. What he observes, however, convinces him it’s time to be truly honest and he finally admits to Diggle (David Ramsey) there was more time spent off the island than on in those five years.
Arrow airs Wednesday nights on the CW at 8pm EST.