Arrow 2-21: “City of Blood”
Ah, yes. My love-hate relationship with Arrow seems to inevitably drift more toward the “hate” end of the spectrum with every passing episode.
The promo department at The CW has been whipping up a lot of folderal about the three-part Arrow season finale, of which this is the first installment. Problem is, nothing much happens here. Basically, it’s an episode in which Oliver shirks his duties for an hour, then finally decides to get his head back in the game; it’s a grotesquely inessential hour of television. I suspect the Arrow creative minds realized they had a dud on their hands and thus shoehorned this episode in under the season-finale awning so they could have a handy excuse for the lack of forward momentum: “It’s okay that nothing happens! It’s the build-up to the season finale, guys!”
We open at Moira’s funeral. Oliver is MIA, as he has been for the past several days. The graveside ceremony is intercut with scenes of Sebastian Blood being sworn in as Starling City’s new mayor. Sebastian, who is a whiz at multi-tasking, then pops up at the Queen mansion for the post-funeral reception. “Your mother was a good woman,” he lies to Thea about the woman who conspired to murder five hundred people. “The loss of a parent changes you,” he then solemnly tells Laurel, speaking with the authority of a man who murdered both of his parents. This is a pretty dismal episode, but Sebastian is on fire.
And then the reanimated corpse of Isabel Rochev also pops up at the reception. She slinks up behind Digg and Felicity and overhears them fretting about Oliver’s prolonged absence. “Maybe he’ll attend your funerals,” she reassures them. Isabel, too, is on fire.
Island flashbacks. Even duller than usual! Sara and Oliver, along with Anatoli and Peter, another escapee from the freighter, board the ancient Japanese submarine. It won’t move, so Peter, who is dying of radiation poisoning from one of Dr. Ivo’s medical experiments, climbs into a manually-operated torpedo and detonates it to dislodge the sub from the ocean bottom, thus teaching Oliver a lesson about the value of noble self-sacrifice.
Laurel finally convinces Quentin that Sebastian Blood is a bad penny. As Moira’s death benefited Sebastian the most—after all, he’s now the mayor—Laurel suggests there might be a link between Sebastian and Slade. With Quentin’s aid, Laurel snoops around Sebastian’s computer and finds a press release expressing condolences for Moira’s death. Only Sebastian, the dumb bunny, wrote it the day before Moira died. And then he time-stamped it under his signature line.
Oh, Sebastian. Not your brightest moment, honey.
Felicity and Diggle hang out at the lair, moping and fretting about Oliver. Roy is there as well, sprawled across a table, still kept unconscious via an intravenous administration of pit-viper venom. They still haven’t removed his sneakers, or thrown a blanket over him, or done any of the million little things you probably should do when you’re keeping someone in an induced coma for days upon days. At least someone stuffed a rolled-up towel under his head as a makeshift pillow, so… I guess that was a nice gesture?
Isabel drops by Verdant to serve Thea with an eviction notice. Sure, this is sort of Thea’s own fault, thanks to her refusal to execute the paperwork protecting the family’s assets. In Thea’s defense, though, it’s tough to imagine any set of circumstances in which the entire Queen fortune would hinge upon obtaining the signature of the head-of-household’s teen daughter.
Unable to find Oliver on their own, Felicity and Digg throw themselves on the mercy of Amanda Waller and her formidable resources at A.R.G.U.S. Amanda yawns and shrugs and finds Oliver in a heartbeat: He’s holed up in his top-secret backup lair.
So Digg and Felicity pay him a visit. Oliver, naturally, is in super-dick mode, having abandoned the following parties: a) his younger sister in her time of deep grief, b) his loyal associates at a time when they’re in grave danger (Isabel did obliquely threaten to kill them at the reception, after all), and c) the city he swore to protect. Felicity tries to give him an inspirational pep talk, full of platitudes about how Oliver “…showed me I could be more than just some IT girl.” Yep. He showed you how you could also be his secretary.
In general, I try not to make negative comments about actors and their performances, because acting is far too subjective of a field to draw definitive conclusions. There’s a concrete set of criteria that can be used to determine good or bad writing, for example, but there’s not an equivalent set of criteria to determine good or bad acting. Thus, in the case of a weak episode like this, my default is to be hard on the writers, not the actors. For his performance as Oliver, Stephen Amell has his detractors, and he has his defenders; I don’t fall into either camp. I will say, though, that I think he makes some exceptionally poor choices in this episode. He’s naturally a very low-energy performer, and he dials his energy back still more to portray Oliver in his time of grief. In other hands, that strategy could be effective, but it’s disastrous here. Instead of seeming like someone who’s exhausted to the core of his being by trauma and grief, he seems… disinterested. Over it. Almost annoyed. It makes Oliver seem curiously repellant; I had a difficult time watching his scenes in this episode.
Then again, as I said, acting is wholly subjective. The AV Club has a thoughtful, intelligent write-up of this episode in which the reviewer goes out of his way to praise Amell’s performance. He’s not wrong, and neither am I.
Oliver calls Isabel and announces his intention to surrender passively. He shows up at the docks, expecting to find Slade. Instead, Felicity and Diggle knock him out and drag him back to the lair, where Laurel tells him she knows he’s the Arrow. This revelation should be a significant moment—Oliver has spent the past two years hiding his secret identity from her—and yet, like everything else in this episode, it’s lifeless and weirdly anticlimactic.
Laurel presents him with proof that Slade is conspiring with Sebastian. Thus, Slade’s murder of Moira was less about seeking vengeance on Oliver and more about ensuring that Sebastian would become mayor. It’s odd how Slade keeps using vengeance as a misdirect: When he kidnapped Thea (the first time he kidnapped Thea), it turned out to be all part of his plan to distract Oliver while he waylaid the busload of dangerous convicted criminals. In all this, ruining Oliver’s life appears to be merely a fringe benefit, not his primary goal.
Oliver crashes Sebastian’s dinner party to drop a pair of bombshells: a) He knows Sebastian is in cahoots with Slade, and b) he’s the Arrow. Sebastian is appropriately nonplussed by both revelations. Meanwhile, Felicity and Diggle kidnap and harass Sebastian’s security chief. Felicity gleefully starts electronically draining his bank account, until, in a panic, he spills the beans about Sebastian’s evil plans for the city. It’s a fun scene. Oliver’s a dud this episode, but Felicity and Digg do their best to pick up his slack.
Armed with the information extorted from the security chief, Oliver raids Slade’s lair, where Sebastian is rallying his army of mirakuru-enhanced escaped convicts, all of whom wear adorable matching Deathstroke masks. They’re set to sow chaos and destruction throughout Starling City, which is all part of Sebastian’s plan to… well, that’s not entirely clear. Make himself look like a really good mayor by firmly leading the city post-destruction, I guess. While Diggle wires the lair with explosives, Oliver is attacked by one of the Deathstrokes (could be Slade! But probably isn’t!). The Deathstroke gets the upper hand… until Laurel pops up out of nowhere and bashes him over the head.
Hooray for Laurel being proactive and awesome! Knew you had it in you, girl.
Before Diggle can blow up the lair, Isabel jumps him. She’s wearing her very own Deathstroke costume. It looks pretty ridiculous on her. Sorry, Isabel.
The army of Deathstrokes invades the city. One Deathstroke attacks Quentin at the police station, while another causes violent chaos at the train station where Thea is waiting, having decided to skip town and start a new life in parts unknown.
Now that things are finally starting to pick up, now that stuff is actually happening, the episode abruptly ends. Two more to go before the end of the season.