Arrow "Crucible" Review: To the Pain

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Oct 31, 2013

Arrow S02E04: "Crucible"

That the believed-dead Sara Lance is the masked woman—a.k.a. Black Canary—who's been keeping an eye on the Glades was pretty much the worst-kept secret of Arrow's second season. After all, Mark Pedowitz, The CW's president, let slip her identity in July at the Television Critics Association press tour for goodness's sake! Perhaps wisely, Pedowitz and Arrow's showrunners didn't try to talk it back, which would've just stirred up more press and attention that it actually ended up receiving, especially if some of your comments last week regarding her identity were any indication about how widely that bit of news didn't spread.

I was hoping that Sara would stay dead back in Season 1, as her apparent death functioned as a nice source of pain and tension between Oliver and the Lances. Of course, as more than a few of you pointed out in our discussions last season, superhero comics and daytime soaps have a similar rule regarding the deaths of characters: If you don't see the body, there's a very good chance that the character is not dead.* Since Arrow blends the superhero with the (primetime) soap, it likely should've been a foregone conclusion that Sara would resurface. Shame on me for ignoring my genre knowledge.

*And in the case of superhero comics, even if you see a body, there's still the possibility that the body is actually a robot, replicant, Life Model Decoy, or clone.

In any case, Sara's now alive status and how the show dealt with it in this episode only served to rather explicitly reinforce the idea that Arrow is ultimately using the trappings of the superhero narrative to think about trauma, what it does to us, and how we attempt to cope with it. Oliver put on a hood, shot arrows into people, and then crossed names off of a list. Helena went on a revenge-centric killing spree. Quentin turned to alcohol, Laurel threw herself into her work, and Dinah launched into an at first blush pointless search for Sara. Malcolm abandoned Tommy and then decided to destroy a portion of the city with an earthquake machine. All of these actions, regardless of their various justifications, were for about these characters trying to find some measure of peace and stability in a world turned upside down by hardship. They were all destructive though, in their various ways.

Season 2, thus far, has both remained steady with this idea, while attempting to refine it as well. Oliver's change of tactics represent a shift in his priorities to be sure, but also a way of him coming to terms with his father's dying wish and suicide, and his five years adrift. The loss of Tommy, spurred that on, of course, so in a way, Oliver's still working through some stuff, but it's more constructive than destructive, both in terms of bodies in a morge and in terms of his own psyche, something Diggle and Felicity made noises about in Season 1, but were never really heard. 

"Crucible" shifts that focus away from Oliver and puts it over to Sara and Laurel. Some of Sara's story will be saved for next week it seems, but what we can glean from her behavior and words indicate that her suffering may have had a particular focus on her gender. Her  attention to criminals that target women and her dislike of the word 'bitch' expressed in this episode lead me to that conclusion, but I'm just spitballing. Factor in her mention of Slade (!!!), her presence on the freighter, and her connections to the same group that trained Malcolm, and it's clear that, like Oliver in Season 1, she's also struggling with a sense of identity different from who her family remembers from before the Gambit's sinking.

Laurel's copious consumption of alcohol in the episode, and then the use of prescription drugs toward the end, have her repeating her father's self-destructive spiral as she deals with both her experiences with the Dollmaker and now blaming herself for Tommy's death. I'm glad that the show isn't sweeping any of this under the rug for Laurel, even if a lot of played like a Very Special Episode of Arrow about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse, complete with patented "I'm fine!" and "You're one to talk!" throwbacks at the people who are worried about her. Her behavior here represents a way to survive, in the same way that Oliver and Sara all did horrible, painful things to survive. It transformed them, and Laurel's actions are transforming her. The difference, however, is that Laurel has people to help her where Oliver and Sara had few, if any, alternatives.

Arrow is also expanding this notion of survival and trauma to Starling City itself, which I'm all for. The Glades have created a space for violence, opportunism, and redefinition of self. The copycat vigilantes we saw in the season premiere followed Oliver's Season 1 model, but carried it beyond a list and focused on ineffective public officials. The Mayor (Clé Bennett) in this episode was as self-described nobody before the quake, but saw a way to establish some power and identity for himself in the wake of the disaster. Both sets of characters were trying to turn something horrible to their advantage to survive. Sebastian Blood appears to be doing something similar -- thanks for not dragging out that reveal, show -- as he is using drugs (maybe a version of Vertigo, given its green color?) in some way to create an army of people "ready to serve." His motivations, of course, remain a mystery for the show to explore as the season continues.

Not all opportunism could be perceived as negative, of course. Oliver's fundraiser and this week's cash-for-guns program are both ways to help the Glades but also to rehabilitate and redefine his and his family's image. It's genuine attempt to provide aid, but it also has the halo effect of being good public relations as he attempts to rebuild Queen Consolidated,* even as Isabel was disinclined to go along with the cash-for-guns idea. All of it is still motivated by a desire to help a city cope, in the same way he wants to help both Sara and Laurel through their current crises.

*As KhasOpelo pointed out in the comments, this is factually incorrect since no one knew Oliver was behind the program. I've amended the idea in a comment thread, but left it as is in the review so as to keep KhasOpelo's comment valid.

Despite all the good thematic work, I did find "Crucible" to be a bit of a dull episode, especially after the compelling and exciting three episodes we've had before it. Between Laurel's burgeoning addiction problem, the Blood reveal, and the stuff on the freighter, it seemed very much like an episode intended to set up things for the future. The search for the Mayor was handled with relative ease, and so never felt all that pressing, even after his crashing of the cash-for-guns events, though that entire sequence, from people running into the bullets to that event being held outdoors like it was a flea market, was sort of ridiculous. So long as there's some meat to it, though, I won't complain.


– "You are noticeably unarmed, son!" The Mayor continues Arrow's bad habit of not defining its villains of the week all that well, though its especially frustrating here as the Mayor actually seemed like an interesting, different sort of personality for the show. Ah well.

– "Do you have any happy stories?"

– "Look, I know I’m skinny, but I can eat two of these, and I will." 

– "Lyla, you and I went to Afghanistan to try and bring law and order to a country overrun by warlords and weapons, right? Should we do any less for our own cities?" 

– "Old school weapons! Respect!"

– Another mention of the S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator on the news, and with protesters now! Why people would be protesting a particle accelerator I have no idea.

 – Comic book bits: Camp Kirby was likely named for good old Jack Kirby. I also appreciated them keeping Black Canary as having a wig as part of her costume. I wouldn't have cared if they hadn't, but it was a nice nod to the character's history.

What'd you think of "Crucible"?

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  • terminaltrip421 Nov 08, 2013

    I would imagine someone already said, it may have even been said on the show, but isn't the large hadron collider a particle accelerator? and the fear, again think they even said on the show, is that they'll smash two particle into one another creating a black hole.

  • JT_Kirk Nov 06, 2013

    I forgot that I actually watched this episode last week, I had a really busy week.

    "The Mayor" had possibly the best friggin' teeth I've ever seen on a TV actor. They were beautiful, and light shone through them proving they weren't merely veneers or caps. And they were evenly ultra-white, not "white up front and yellow around the back" like most actors. Damn, those were some great teeth.

    So the cat was out of the bag on Sara, and I'm glad I missed that for a while. It's disappointing that they backtracked on the character, nobody staying dead in the comics universe is already a frustrating trope, but for it to infect the "realistic!" tv-verse is just annoying because if we're stuck with one comic trope, why not better ones as well?

    I liked this episode overall, the fight choreography and cinematography still sucks, and Laurel's pettiness about her addiction didn't really fit well, but at least characters were driven to interact and do things, they had reasons to get out there and it made for a better episode.

    Geez, Sara's domino mask looks really bad in that still, why did they put on those sculpted lines? Just put a mask on someone's face, stop trying to be cute, what's the logic here that she sat around sewing on wrinkles???

    I am nervous that they're going to make Sara too damaged by her focus on women-specific matters, it's going to make her backstory too sexual-assault-oriented for a show this light. Also, it's kinda lame, that's another comic trope but one that got left in the silver age - women heroes battling women's issues.

  • ILoveTVandDDsBB Nov 04, 2013

    I really thought that was the Scarecrow at the end and whatever he injected the Mayor with looked like Bane's venom serum

  • TomWayne Nov 06, 2013

    Nope, Scarecrow's alter ego is psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane, who lacks Brother Blood's capacity for persuasion and lust for power as a cult leader, in favor of throwing everyone around him into a fear-filled hallucinogenic state for his own observation and enjoyment. (However, the voice portayal was very similar to that of Crane whenever he wore his mask in Batman Begins.)

    But yes, a lot of us agree that the drug (and its effects) bears disctinct similarities to what you thought it was. Time will tell. :)

  • ILoveTVandDDsBB Nov 07, 2013

    Good to know not really familiar with Brother Blood

  • anar Nov 03, 2013

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Sara Laurel's identical twin in the first season? Wasn't her mom looking for a brown haired girl?

  • TomWayne Nov 06, 2013

    Not twins--Sara is a litttle younger (hence Laurel placing the blame more on Oliver than her sister for the betrayal, along with the Thea-Sara parallels that were made). You'll notice that Caity was dressed during her final scene in this episode in getup similar to that of the girl in Dinah's photo (complete with ball cap), regardless of Laurel's discovery that it wasn't Sara--obviously another effort to replace the mental images we have of the previous actress with Caity Lotz.

    (Which they can do all they want, IMHO, as Caity is pitch-perfect in the role.) :)

  • 377221 Nov 04, 2013

    They recast her. I think that flashback to Sarah on the Queen's Gambit was a reshoot of a flasback from season 1. I guess it makes Dinah look pretty stupid now. But they were never identical.

  • 377221 Nov 04, 2013

    This comment has been removed.

  • Copioli Nov 03, 2013

    I want Sara telling her family. Not doing so is extremely cruel.
    In other topics, the green drug of Brother Blood looked like all the crappy things from Smallville, it would be fun if they said "it is done with powdered meteoric rocks". I know that is not going to happen, I am just saying it would be fun,

  • mad-pac Nov 03, 2013

    Methinks Oliver chose the wrong time to adopt a no-killing policy. The fight is gonna get much meaner.

    Aren't there any honest politicians anymore? Way to ruin a good character. Somehow I think the idealist politician would be a richer asset for the story than another psycho behind a weird mask.

    "*And in the case of superhero comics, even if you see a body, there's still the possibility that the body is actually a robot, replicant, Life Model Decoy, or clone."
    ... or an alien, a shape-shifter, or a person's version from a parallel earth, or the person's future self, or a hologram, or the Specter brings the guy back, or it's all an illusion/dream/premonition, or a spell, or an incantation, or the Blackest Night, or... And in the case of Superman's big death event of the 1990s, it was none of the above and the guy still came back from the dead! LOL!

    Oh, and Malcolm Merlin's plan to "cleanse" the Glades of its "filth and corruption" was really moronic, because things not only remain basically the same (with poverty, gangs, crime and all the things he didn't like), but also it created problems like the Mayor. So, Mr. Supervillain, next time you decide to totally destroy something and kill millions, go ahead and obliterate it. Or don't even try. Muwhahaha!!!!

    Oliver is surrounded by beautiful women, but each is more broken than the last, so I imagine the shippers are having the hardest time doing their thing. Well, Felicity doesn't seem broken, to tell the truth, but she seems to love her Surface tablet above any man.

  • RaveIle Nov 02, 2013

    Really loving the show, just wish Ollie would adopt his comic book code name instead of " The Hood". I don't want this show to become like Smallville where Clark Kent was called " The Red and Blue Blur" for about 10 years.

  • pstrickland Nov 02, 2013

    I like the Laurell character less each time she shows up. Is it the actress or the way the character is written or both? So unlikeable!! I dread the thought that she would ever be Black Canary. I think that would kill the show

  • jonkeriksson Nov 01, 2013

    Omg... Arrow has always been redicilous, but that's ok because, well, it's supposed to be. But this episode, come on, enough is enough...

  • RimaAbraham Nov 02, 2013

    i already dropped the show when i saw the first episode of this season , still the same silliness sh!@ , i tell people when you watch it make yourself stupid..

  • ogechiwosu Nov 01, 2013


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