As expertly set up in the season-three premiere, the driving force this year on Arrow has been Oliver Queen’s identity crisis: Can he be both himself and the Arrow? But there’s been a secondary theme lurking in the shadows: What does it mean to deceive the ones you love?
In seasons one and two, secret identities and the cover stories that come with them were played as a necessary evil, sometimes to comic effect (e.g., Oliver’s “bad neighborhood” coffee shop as an excuse for his bullet-ridden laptop). Most of those lies originated with Oliver, although he was also on the receiving end at times, courtesy of his mother. (Walter’s abduction, the Undertaking, Thea’s paternity: Bow down to Moira Queen, la grande dame of deception.)
This season, the lies – and their consequences — have spread. Everyone has been keeping something from someone: Until recently, Thea kept her relationship with Malcolm Merlyn a secret from Oliver; Laurel has taken on a new secret identity, deceiving her dad in the process. Felicity is keeping Ray Palmer in the dark about how she spends her nights with Oliver (“Three ... two ... one.”). Roy was dishonest with Thea about Oliver’s “death,” and Malcolm, in all likelihood, is lying to everyone about everything. The only person operating above-board is Diggle, which is in line with his role as the moral compass of Team Arrow. But, hey, there’s still a lot of episodes to go this season, so who knows what skeletons may come out of Dig’s closet.
The lie with the biggest emotional fallout will likely be Thea learning that she not only killed Sara, but that Big Daddy Merlyn was the mastermind behind it. Understandably, no one is jumping at the chance to let Thea in on that little detail just yet. Besides, baby truth steps, right? First, Oliver has to decide whether to let his sister know that his green-leather pants collection isn’t just a fetish. (Though one could argue that superhero-ing is, in itself, something akin to one.) Finally, it’s time to drop some Arrow truth-bombs on Thea. Let’s recap!
It’s been a few weeks since Oliver’s return to Starling City, and boy, are things different. First, Laurel has gone rogue, donning her Black Canary leather suit and beating up bad guys, even though Oliver has kicked her out of the foundry clubhouse. “You’re not a hero,” he tells her bluntly after she interrupts his and Roy’s parkour vigilanting. (Is vigilanting a word? IS NOW.) Second, Oliver is learning that Team Arrow is feeling more “Team” than “Arrow” these days, as Roy, Diggle, and Felicity give him some much-deserved straight talk this week about his my-way-or-the-highway mentality.
For example: Early on in the episode, Oliver and Team Arrow butt heads over whether to tell Thea about Oliver’s secret identity. Oliver’s “new BFF” Malcolm thinks bringing Thea into the fold is going to increase their chances of defeating Ra’s Al Ghul, but Diggle warns Oliver that if Thea learns Oliver has been lying to her all this time, she will never forgive him.
When it becomes clear mere minutes later that Oliver is going to tell Thea the truth, I winced, because ignoring Diggle Advice™ is usually not the wisest choice. But Oliver tells her anyway, and it is one of the sweetest, most heartfelt scenes of the series so far. The dialogue is minimal; Oliver can show more with the flip of the foundry light switch than he can explain with words. Willa Holland’s understated performance in this moment is powerful as well; she gets across more emotion with a subtle swallow than other actresses do with a tearjerking confession. Plus, Oliver’s admission opens up more meaningful interaction between their characters — to say nothing of the fun, teasing dialogue that comes with brother-sister dynamics (“I did kind of kick your ass,” says Thea, recalling how she attacked the Arrow in “The Climb” earlier this season).
Personally, I’m super-psyched by this whole development. I’m also relieved that Thea didn’t get angry or hurt about Oliver’s secret. It would have felt so redundant, echoing the tail end of season two, and the last thing Oliver (and the series) needs right now is more estrangement. (I’m going to chalk up her very Zen reaction to all the “no suffering” boiling-water training Malcolm gave her in Corto Maltese.)
Thea may be all forgiving of Oliver’s deception, but she can’t quite let go of the fact that Malcolm knew Oliver was the Arrow and tried to push her away from Oliver. She’s uncomfortable working with Malcolm to defeat Ra's now, which we learn because somebody (Roy) actually bothers to ask Thea what she thinks. As I said last week, Roy is really stepping up his leadership game, even standing up to Oliver when the latter asks Thea to leave the foundry after Laurel is hurt. This scene leads to a blowup of sorts between Oliver and Co. Felicity is especially displeased with Oliver’s insistence on running a dictatorship: “You don’t have a right to come back here and question everyone’s choices.”
I’m kind of irritated that, during this great confrontational moment, Diggle doesn’t get to offer anything to the debate except crossed arms and a bemused expression. But this is quickly remedied in a one-on-one scene between Diggle and Oliver, who is drowning his co-vigilante sorrows at Verdant’s bar. Diggle explains to Oliver that when Oliver died, they all had to make a choice to continue on with the fight for themselves, and that it’s not about what Oliver wants anymore. Diggle! The man doles out counsel masterfully. I want to sit at a bar with David Ramsey and have him explain to me ways I can improve my life. I WILL LISTEN, DIG.
Thea could use a little Diggle counseling herself. After her upsetting confrontation with Ollie, Thea runs into DJ Assassin outside Verdant and, looking for some solace, she decides to take him to bed. Or should I say couch, as they are casually cuddling half-naked in the loft living room and all I can do is think, Get a room! Literally. Your brother lives there. He’s probably going to walk in at any moment. Thea and DJ Assassin finally put on some clothes (whew!), and DJ Assassin offers Thea a glass of red wine, and all of sudden her Malcolm training pays off, because she gets a whiff of cyanide and goes all assassin on DJ Assassin. Cheese-plate knives have never been so dangerous. But when DJ Assassin gets the better of her, Roy-as-Arsenal barges in to save her. He's quickly taken down but, as luck would have it, now Malcolm is suddenly there in his League of Assassin suit and corners the DJ. (Having your ex-boyfriend and your dad, both dressed up in vigilante costumes, waiting outside your door just in case your hookup tries to assassinate you with cyanide? Nope, not creepy at all.) When DJ Assassin decides to takes his own life right there in the loft, Thea’s shit-just-got-real revelation is palpable. Thea decides that maybe it’s better to have Daddy help her defeat Ra's after all. Malcolm’s big plan? Send Oliver and Thea to conquer Oliver’s “fears” in Lian Yu.
I know this episode is called “Canaries” and thus being promoted as a Laurel episode, but it was really Holland and Thea who owned this episode. Speaking of Laurel, she gets doped up with Vertigo when Werner Zytle escapes from prison. Like Vertigo did when we last saw it in the season-three premiere “The Calm,” the drug reveals a person’s true fear. Laurel sees both her sister, Sara, which leads to some decent Canary-on-Canary fighting scenes, and her father, Captain Lance. Of all of the secrets and lies this season, I have struggled the most with Laurel’s ongoing lie to her dad about Sara’s death. Lying to a parent about a child’s death is particularly egregious, and this one was perpetuated too long. More important, the initial justification for the deception — Lance’s sensitive ticker — grew thinner each week, in that he was clearly no longer on desk duty. So finally, tonight Laurel grows a pair and tells her dad the truth, which, as it so often does, hurts.
HONG KONG FLASHBACK: Tatsu and Maseo are on the run from Amanda Waller. Maseo encourages Oliver to tell the world he’s alive, so Waller will have a harder time making Oliver “disappear.” Oliver tries to leave a message for his mom to let her know he’s alive, but Waller deletes it before it can be played (cold, Waller!) and captures Oliver in the process. But because Maseo and Oliver are bros for life, Maseo returns to try to save Oliver, only for Waller to assign them both to a new mission in … Starling City, 2010-style!
- Really dug creepy, Vertigo-y Sara. Miss you, Caity Lotz!
- No more DJ scenes, thank goodness.
- Oliver + Maseo bromance. My eyes got all teary when Maseo came back for him.
- Sara’s friend with “boy hair” —Captain Lance’s description of Sin.
- Roy and Arrow doing a double window jump out of a fiery building — exciting and thoughtfully composed.
- Felicity didn’t have many lines this week, but whenever that girl opened her mouth, she delivered: Her flat, super-loaded reading of “So, you’re leaving again?” to Oliver at the end was delightful.
- I am thinking more and more that Amanda Waller may be this season’s real big bad; Ra's just feels too obvious.
MISSING THE MARK
- A prisoner is able to hold a press conference en route to jail? Hahahaha. Um, no.
- Diggle at this point might as well be playing FreeCell on the foundry’s computers during missions, or up at the Verdant bar. Man has nothing to do.
- I don’t buy that Felicity would think that Laurel had a “light” in her. Does Felicity even know Laurel that well? That line also cheapens the show’s many attempts to cast Felicity as the “light” Oliver needs. Unless they’re passing that torch to Laurel. And if so, pass the remote, because I can’t watch that happen.
NUMBER OF SHIRTLESS STEPHEN AMELL SCENES: 0 (Cruel!)
NUMBER OF EPISODES SINCE STEPHEN AMELL WAS LAST SHIRTLESS: 2 (The countdown begins …)