Arrow 2-05: League of Assassins

Well. That was a sodden, limp, snot-soaked Kleenex of an episode last night. Let’s get through this quickly.

For reasons that are never explained, Sara Lance—Black Canary—is crashing with Oliver at the Queen mansion. You know what I said last week about how Arrow has been doing a nice job with Black Canary’s development? Turns out I was wrong. Sara spends the episode being a dreary, teary mess. I’m disappointed both in the character and in the show. Sara was fantastic last episode in that scene where she and Sin discussed how women should never suffer at the hands of men. It was clear she’d been through hell—was probably still in hell, in fact—but there was a grim, intelligent, world-weary competence to her that compensated a lot for the way Arrow likes to turn its ostensibly-strong female characters (Laurel, Moira, Helena Bertinelli) into neurotic wrecks.

When I complain about the weak portrayals of women on this show, this is what I mean: We see in flashbacks that, six years ago, Sara and Oliver were both fun-loving, shiftless, shallow party kids. Both went through grueling hell following the shipwreck of the Queen’s Gambit, and both were forced to commit unsavory acts and develop ferocious fighting skills in order to survive. As vigilantes, they’re equally skilled and competent… but in terms of personality, Oliver is now stoic and distant, whereas Sara is fragile and high-strung. This falls in along hackneyed gender lines, and that’s a problem. Here’s a tip for writers looking to write fresh, believable female characters: Never define your characters by your ideas of gender. If you wouldn’t depict Oliver as a teary mess after his island experiences, it’s a bad idea to depict Sara as one.

A black-garbed figure, dressed identically to Malcolm Merlyn’s Dark Archer (come back, Malcolm! The show needs you!), breaks into the mansion and attacks Sara and Oliver. Sara, who is a bona fide ass-kicking badass when she’s in Black Canary mode, rips down a strip of crown molding from the mansion wall and uses it as a weapon. Despite the combined efforts of Sara and Oliver, the attacker escapes unscathed.

Meanwhile, Moira is still awaiting trial. Assistant District Attorney Laurel is now sitting in second chair for the prosecution, despite her deep and long-standing ties to the Queen family (Moira’s attorney raises the extremely valid point that this is a clear conflict of interest; instead of worrying about the very real possibility of a mistrial, the district attorney scoffs at her concerns). The prosecution offers Moira a plea bargain: In lieu of the death penalty, they’re willing to give her life in prison with the possibility of parole. Thea and Oliver want their mom to take her chances with a trial, but Moira wants to accept the deal: “I am not confident that I can win over a jury, and I’m not altogether sure that I should.” Good call, Moira. You’re a billionaire who conspired with other billionaires to kill a whole lot of poor people. Winning the hearts of a jury might be an uphill battle.

Outside the jail, mad sparks continue to fly between Oliver and Laurel. Sizzling chemistry, these two:

I’m sorry. That was mean. This episode has made me foul and cranky. There’s just so much great potential with this show, and then it keeps stumbling over the easy stuff. It’s maddening.

Oliver takes Sara to his secret lair and introduces her to Digg and Felicity, in a weird, low-energy scene in which everyone indifferently mumbles expository dialogue while looking bone-tired and glum. Sara explains that their attacker, a man named Al-Owal (Navid Negahban), was targeting her, not Oliver. For four years, she was a member of an ancient sect of deadly warriors known as the League of Assassins. Now that she has retired from the League, they’ve sent some of their best killers to take her down.

Oliver and Sara track Al-Owal and his henchmen to his hideout. A big, splashy fight ensues. The fight sequences on Arrow are always snazzy—well shot, well choreographed, fun to watch. Play to your strengths, Arrow! More fight scenes, less ineptly-handled interpersonal drama!  Overwhelmed by assassins, Oliver and Sara are forced to retreat.

Convinced that Al-Owal will attack Sara’s family next, Oliver heads out to protect Laurel, while Felicity tries to convince Quentin to leave town for a few days. Quentin refuses to believe he’s in danger… until Sara comes forward and reveals herself. He’s shocked and overwhelmed to discover his daughter is still alive.

Meanwhile, Oliver takes Laurel out for dinner, then escorts her back to her apartment. He’s trying to protect her from assassins, but Laurel (understandably) mistakes his attention as an attempt to rekindle their relationship. When she tries to kiss him, Oliver rebuffs her advances, which sends her wallowing into a cesspool of despair: “What is so wrong with me that everybody leaves?”

Oliver notices that Laurel’s door is ajar. When he investigates, he discovers the assassins have left a big old knife embedded in her wall. Instead of hustling Laurel to safety, he pockets the knife and cheerily tells her, “All good!” before scampering off, and all of a sudden, I’m feeling a lot more sympathetic toward Laurel’s complaints about always being abandoned. Alone in her apartment, Laurel madly gulps down a bunch of prescription pills.

Sara takes her father to her hideout in the clock tower. Three assassins, led by Al-Owal, show up and attack. Oliver, disguised as the Arrow, crashes through one of the clock faces and joins the fray. Quentin manages to shoot one assassin, then Sara snaps Al-Owal’s neck before sending the lone surviving assassin back to Ra’s al Ghul with a warning to leave her the hell alone.

Quentin urges Sara to come back home, but she insists on leaving to keep him and Laurel safe.

The island flashbacks this episode are all Sara-centric, beginning with the explosion on the Queen’s Gambit that swept her out to sea. Adrift and near death, Sara flags down a passing freighter, which is crewed by the same men who will eventually capture Oliver. The crew members treat her roughly and stick her in a cage below deck, until she’s rescued by Dr. Anthony Ivo (Dylan Neal), who takes her to his private quarters.

It’s… problematic. Arrow doesn’t always have the deftest handling of nonwhite characters—witness the business with The Mayor and his gang of thugs last episode—and this whole sequence, in which a young blonde white woman in skimpy lingerie is brutalized by a cluster of savage dark-skinned foreigners before she’s rescued by an outwardly-civilized white American, drifts into queasy waters. Yes, yes, it’s obvious Ivo will turn out to be a dangerous villain himself, but still: Tread very, very carefully, Arrow. When Sara, distraught and terrified, tentatively asks Ivo about the prisoners in cages, he coolly informs her that he needs them for his work: He’s going to save the human race.

And then the episode ends on the freighter, with a captured and wounded Oliver being brought before his torturer Sara, and I don’t know, Arrow, but for maximum dramatic impact, maybe you shouldn’t end an episode exactly the same way the previous episode ended?

There was no Roy anywhere to be seen, by the way, unless you count the one-minute installment of “Blood Rush”, a new Bose-sponsored minisode (“minisode” is apparently a word, go figure) that ran during a commercial break, in which Roy tries to see Oliver at the Queen Consolidated building and gets stonewalled by Felicity, who yammers on about: a) the awesomeness of Bose’s headphones, and b) the hotness of Roy.

It is the best thing about this episode.


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