Watching last night’s episode of Arrow unfold, one has to appreciate the re-emergence of the series narrative gusto, a quality that’s been sorely lacking in much of the season so far. A great many ongoing elements of the show came together to push the story and the characters forward, capitalizing on the somewhat meticulous maneuvering of deck chairs that characterized much of the last 12 episodes. In the wake of Oliver’s return to Starling is the realization that things have changed pretty profoundly for Team Arrow, and in the shadow of Vertigo’s return – the man and the drug – some awful truths are revealed, and even accepted.
Although the episode is called “Canaries,” and the marketing has leaned pretty heavily on the hallucinatory return of Caity Lotz as Sara Lance, there’s a lot more going on then just Laurel’s identity struggle as she keeps fighting the good fight as the new Canary without Oliver’s approval. But Oliver had bigger fish to fry this week – as it were – taking Malcolm’s advice to finally show Thea the basement of Verdant. The three of them have to be a united front to confront Ra’s al Ghul, says Malcolm, so Thea must come to terms with the fact that her big brother isn’t the “reformed playboy and failed businessman” she thinks he is.
So how does she take it? Despite Diggle’s concerns, Thea actually takes the news quite well. I thought that the show might take the whole episode, having Oliver would weigh the pros and cons of telling Thea, only to have him do it just before episode’s end, but the show wisely revealed things band-aid style, right off with one decisive strip. Admittedly, Thea was laying it on so think with pride in her brother, I thought that she might have been faking and that Malcolm had spilled the beans earlier, but nope, Malcolm held his Ps and Qs.
Poor Malcolm. By encouraging Oliver to be honest with Thea, he gets put into the penalty box for his own dishonesty. Weirdly, it seems that Thea can’t have a constructive relationship with one member of her family without giving the cold shoulder to the other. Malcolm manipulated her, and she’s pissed, perhaps justifiably. In the crosshairs of the League of Assassins, it’s perhaps understandable why Thea would embrace the knowledge that her brother’s the Arrow, having a guardian archer, or two if you count Roy, has to be a good thing if a mob of killers is out to get you.
We didn’t really get a chance to see how Moira Queen processed the knowledge of Oliver’s dual identity, really it was just a way to accentuate the character’s coming sacrifice and loss. So seeing Ollie and Thea discussing his night job had its moments, like the very Joe Friday way that Oliver says “It’s my job,” about evading an exploding building. With so many people running around in costumes now, we might lose track of the underline lunacy of the world of Arrow where guys in masks and armed with bows and arrows effectively police the city against people and threatens that are getting more unbelievably over the top. Earthquake machines? Super-powered thugs? Criminal takeover of a whole city borough? All in a day’s work, ma’am.
Which brings us to the case of the week, the return of Count Vertigo version 2.0 played by Peter Stormare. I’m not sure Stormare got a fair chance to shine as the new Count in “The Calm” as there was so much more going on in the season premiere, but despite this episode being busy with more personal development for the main cast, Stormare definitely got to make an impression with The Count this time, and in just one episode proved himself scarier, crazier and more charismatic than he was allowed to be in the entire first half of The Blacklist‘s second season, where he was supposedly the Big Bad.
The return of The Count also means the return of Vertigo, which means that someone is going to deal with personal issues through drugs. Laurel, as you may recall, has a past with drugs, and Oliver points out that one of his objections to Laurel suiting up as the Canary is because she’s using crimefighting as a way to not deal with her grief, like a drug. A fair point, one that Laure doesn’t listen to. But Oliver isn’t listening either, because as much as his “death” was a setback for him, it became an opportunity for his partners to test themselves and their commitment to the cause. As Diggle pointed out, using the full authority of his Mr. Rogers sweater, “We weren’t fighting for you [Oliver], we were fighting for ourselves.”
As much as showing Laurel as an incomplete Canary has had its merits, like Luke Skywalker leaving Dagobah half-cocked in The Empire Strikes Back, the episode doesn’t do much to assuage the opinion that she’s not yet Team Arrow ready other than the fact that, in the end, The Count was pretty easy to beat. Perhaps it was also the wrong choice to bring Lotz back as they’re trying to build up Katie Cassidy as Black Canary, since Lotz was so instantaneously magnetic in the role. But the point, supposedly, was to draw attention to the idea that Sara was a dark Canary trying to cover her demons with heroism, while Laurel has no demons to account for, and can just be heroic. Interesting theory, and as nice as it is to see Laurel and Felicity continue to develop their small sorority in the greater Team Arrow fraternity, the way Laurel wears her Canary costume doesn’t say “I’m the sunnier sister.” Not yet anyway.
We can be thankful though that Arrow decided to off Thea’s doofus DJ boyfriend who was inexplicably a League of Assassins spy. First of all, he was an extremely average disc jockey, and way too cocky about it. Secondly, well you can’t like someone named Chase, and Austin Butler makes Colton Haynes look charismatic by comparison. It says something that Chase is such a terribly ineffective member of League that Roy could almost kick his ass, but it kind of feels like the show wanted to pack him away before we start asking too many questions about how slacker dude made it to Nanda Parbat and became a member of the all-star killers. Unless he’s a legacy.
Overall, the hour leaned more on emotion than action with Oliver and Thea able to connect in a way they haven’t been able to in a long time, Roy getting a promising peck on the cheek for being Thea’s Arsenal in need, and Laurel finally coming clean to Quentin about Sara. Considering how badly everyone’s been screwing Quentin around, it would have been nice if it was made more of a moment than just being sandwiched in with the other last minute developments, but we can at least be grateful that the time for making Quentin look stupid is over.
Next week’s episode looks promising with Thea and Oliver taking a trip to Lian Yu and confronting Deathstroke, while the flashback will feature that time Oliver came back to Starling halfway through his time “away.” Hopefully, such a provocative look back won’t cause Arrow to hit a wall because it feels like we’re actually working towards something now.