Arrow "Darkness at the Edge of Town" Review: Hitting All the Important Targets
Here we are at the penultimate episode of the season, and I think it's the first episode in a while that I've very much enjoyed. I mean, sure, there was the romantic triangle, and I'll talk about it, but that's an element of the show that's been a weak spot for a while now, so I've learned to expect that and generally compartmentalize it. It affects the show narratively (oooh boy, did it this week), but it's having less and less of an influence on my enjoyment of any given episode. You know, so long as the episode is good.
Which was the case here. "Darkness on the Edge of Town" did benefit from a lot of things, not the least of which was that we're at the end of the season and the big story regarding the Undertaking was at the forefront. It wasn't a Moira B-plot and it wasn't tangentially related to the case of the week somehow: It was the A-plot and it was the case of the week. That made the episode exciting and gave it the momentum that Arrow has been trying to build, admittedly in fits and starts.
One reason "Darkness on the Edge of Town" just worked was that all of Team Arrow was on the field for the episode's big centerpiece, as they infiltrated Merlyn Global to gain access to their mainframe. Felicity was back in the game, this time as a Big Belly delivery girl; Diggle was posing as a security guard to monitor the situation; and Oliver was there as Oliver to run interference. It was something that I think many of us had been waiting for, and to finally have it felt really good. There was an ease to their teamwork that allowed the hour to move along at a brisk and enjoyable pace, with a bit of a heist feel to it.
Was it too easy and too smooth? Sure. This was only Felicity's second time in the field, and she was pretty much a natural ("One of Merlyn Junior's bimbos." "But I love him! He's my man!"), beyond the elevator shaft grappling and swinging ("I should mention I'm afraid of heights. Which I just found out."). Any lingering resentments Diggle may or may not hold because of Oliver not supporting him in his vendetta against Deadshot went unmentioned and unacknowledged. I just didn't care, though. It was fun, it popped, and it was entertaining in a way Arrow just hasn't been for me for a number of episodes, and I was able to not get caught up on character inconsistencies because of that.
Even Oliver's showdown with Malcolm at the end of the episode tickled my fancy. It was sort of comic book-y—Malcolm's bit about discovering the virus in his mainframe—but, again, I sort of relished that it hit a comic-book tone instead of a contrived one. Malcolm felt super villain-y here, and I was really delighted by that. There was the brutality of the fight that I found really exciting, and then to have it upended by the very genuine "Oh no." he muttered hit a note that I honestly wasn't expecting. Malcolm's been very serious in how he deals with people so far that I fully suspect that, had Walter not looked into things, he wouldn't have been abducted, and him finding out that Oliver is the Hood put him into a position that I don't think he really wants to be in.
The interrogation of Moira was also a nice sequence. There was the bait-and-switch in the abduction that was fun, but I liked the emotional impact and symmetry it had as well. Oliver had his mother kidnapped and questioned in the same way that Moira intended for Oliver to be in the pilot, and so to have that vibe come back at the tail end of the season was pretty great. It was Oliver's disappointment in her, and her breakdown as she confessed everything, that helped to give the episode some emotional heft outside of the romantic element. I've said time and again that Susanna Thompson is great on this show, and this episode was an example of it.
Even Walter serving her with divorce papers hit harder than I was expecting, and I chalk a lot of that up to Thompson and Colin Salmon being able to do a lot with only a little time. They both expressed their respective characters' heartbreak and disappointment in ways that just tugged at me: Moira's pleading tone and wide eyes, Walter's barely restrained calm ("Considering the circumstances, I find it somewhat reserved."), with only the licking of lips to betray his real emotions. Between the two of them, Thompson and Salmon managed to sell the complete breaking of a loving marriage in the course of three minutes.
This, sadly, leads me to the less compelling romantic entanglements. I didn't care that Roy and Thea broke up since I didn't care about them being together; if anything, it was probably the single worst thing about the episode. Their relationship, the lack of time spent developing it, and its dissolution demonstrated just how fully Arrow contorted itself to introduce Roy Harper into the series, and to put him on this track to find the Hood. The show would've been better off saving this arc for Season 2 and giving it more time to grow.
Then there's the whole Oliver-Laurel-Tommy thing. I try to meet shows on the level where they want to tell a story and then work through my responses to that story (this is why I very rarely ever dismiss things completely out of hand, which I'm sure has infuriated many of you), and so when Arrow wants me to believe there's been a "dance" between Oliver and Laurel, I want to see if I can buy into it. Regular readers know that I don't, and I didn't here. With the exception of the past few episodes, there's been no real dance, no real tension.
Instead, this triangle has served to drive Tommy to the dark side, and I'm okay with that, even if it all happened a touch too quickly. Tommy is now without anyone he can trust. The two anchors in his life drifted away from him and toward each other, and that left only Malcolm to fill the void. ("What exactly do you do here?" "I work closely with my father.") I do think that the rift between Tommy and Laurel was mostly of Tommy's doing as a result of his insecurities, but it's pretty hard to see the forest for the trees when the very guy who explained that to you went and slept with your ex-girlfriend hours later.
On Lian Yu, the plot unfurled for us at long last: Fyers' job was to blow up passenger planes coming into China so as to destabilize the country's economy, and Ferris Airlines Flight 637 was up first. There wasn't much in terms of craziness here. Yao Fei was shot by Fyers following the former recording one of those "I take credit for this violent act" videos, the beaten-up guy in the cave with Oliver waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the season was indeed a member of Team Fyers, and we found out that Fyers' employer was a pair of female legs. Maybe they have a body attached to them, but I'm betting we'll have to wait until Season 2 to find that out.
In any case, I'm very excited for the finale next week, probably more than I was even last week, and certainly more than I was two weeks ago. See you all then!
FROM THE QUIVER
– I feel like Arrow has named-dropped Ferris before, but in case it haven't, or you've forgotten, Ferris Aircraft is from the Green Lantern comics, and its CEO is typically Carol Ferris, the love interest of Hal Jordan, aka Green Lantern.
– "I got to play doctor with you."
– "I thought you were going to pull your punches." "I did." Okay, so, maybe a little bit of acknowledgement of Diggle's frustrations with Oliver?
– "I imagined you saying that under other circumstances. Very platonic circumstances."
– Tommy's starting to grow out the Beard of Evil, so that path's been pretty much decided upon.
– Another nice bit of symmetry exists in the word choices of Oliver and Malcolm in terms of cleaning up the city: disease, symptoms, etc. Two sides, same coin.
– Look, Arrow, I'm fine with product placement. I get that it's a handy way to supplement your budget, but C'MON. Roy had a Surface tablet. Roy. Did he illegally borrow that, too? Did Thea give it to him? I'm willing to look past a lot of inconsistencies, but that was just too much. Anyone else on the show having one I can accept. But him Noooooooooooooooooooope.
– Speaking of Microsoft Surface, the producers got into the act this week, telling us how much the tablets help them balance their work lives and their personal lives. Factor that into your next tablet purchase. At least it led to Marc Guggenheim saying this nugget: "I think everyone would like to invite Stephen Amell into their homes."
What'd you think of "Darkness on the Edge of Town"?
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