Arrow "League of Assassins" Review: Keeping Secrets
As primetime television has come to favor serialized drama—even with shows that would've been episodic to the core 30 years ago, and especially with broadcast shows, since they generally run for 22-24 episodes per season—I've often felt it would be to most series' benefit to borrow from the serialization practices of older media. Superhero comic books come to mind; typically, they had self-contained story arcs that would span a number of issues. So you'd have a run that would cover a story like "The Trial of Peter Parker," and each issue within that run would be Part 1, Part 2, and so on until the arc's conclusion. These stories could still be part of a larger narrative—my example is from Spider-Man's never-ending Clone Saga in the mid-1990s—but the setup would help build that larger narrative with discrete chunks.
While some television shows have sort of toyed with that idea—the third season of Veronica Mars comes to mind—common practice dictates that the television season as a whole is the "discrete chunk" in a series' narrative. We know from experience that that doesn't always work, since the "big" story is often dragged out, stuffed with too much filler, or paused during a sudden return to those pesky "standalone" episodes. Arrow had this problem throughout much of its first season, in that its standalone episodes were never quite as interesting as the onesdevoted to the Undertaking, or as compelling as the flashbacks grew to be once they found their narrative momentum.
At some point in my Season 1 reviews, or possibly in the comments, I suggested that Arrow would benefit from breaking up its season into miniature arcs, like the comic books from which the show draws so much. It could still engage in and set up longterm narratives—stories involving Oliver's non-costumed activities, and the establishment of a Big Bad, for example—while also doing a better job of telling its self-contained tales.
So imagine my pleasant surprise when "League of Assassins" turned out to be the end—for now, I have to imagine—of Sara's arc on Arrow. Call it "Cry of the Canary" Part 4 of 4, if you want.
And what a satisfying end it was, in that it answered the questions of why Sara decided to return to Starling City (to check on Laurel and Quentin), how she ended up on the freighter (they found her), and where she got all that sweet ninja training (the League of Assassins). There are still plenty of blanks to be filled in, particularly with regard to her year on the freighter with Anthony Ivo (Dylan Neal), her training with the League in Nanda Parbat, and why the child of Ra's al Ghul is so eager for her to return, but at this stage in the narrative, it makes sense to fill in those blanks at another time. After all, we've just learned some new things about Sara and seen the scope of Oliver's world expand with the introduction of some members of League (and their connection to Malcolm). We now know the complete story of Sara's return, even if we still have plenty of questions about her past.
While Sara's past is important both from a narrative and a character perspective—especially since it's linked to some of Oliver's past as well—this episode's emphasis on her present situation likely matters more for the time being. While last season had lots of villains who were intended to serve as parallels and foils to Oliver as the vigilante or the Hood or the Arrow or whatever we're calling him now, Sara's return put her in that all-too-familiar place of keeping secrets from people, a place that Oliver continues to inhabit to varying degrees, and also that's created trouble for him that's been one of Arrow's larger concerns.
So I was glad that not all the secrets were kept, and that one of the Lances was informed that Sara was still alive. I was gladder still that it was Quentin who learned the truth. His reunion and reintroduction to Sara ran a nice gamut of tearful joy, from concerned parent to acceptance that his daughter is a different person now, and to such a degree that he's willing to carry the burden of Sara's secret without question. It's a nice contrast to Oliver's experience in revealing his identity to Tommy, which went from "Best friend and drinking buddy is back!" to "You're a murderer and a horrible human being!" and which weighed heavily on both men.
It's obviously too soon to tell whether Arrow will stick with this mini-arc approach, but I feel like there's a decent chance of it as the show moves forward. While we have larger plots waiting to be expanded upon—Isabel with Queen Consolidated and Blood with his dual identities—Moira's trial has picked up steam over the past two episode, making it the most likely story candidate to next demand our attention. How Arrow has handled the progression of her trial by actually giving it a progression has been a real treat. I feel like the Arrow we knew in Season 1 would've gone from the DA seeking the death penalty in one episode to the trial in the next, if not in the same one altogether.
Some bad habits do die hard, though, and in this case, it was Laurel being assigned to Moira's case. I appreciate that the show made a deal out of the obvious conflict of interest, but I have a sinking feeling that Laurel's still going to be at the prosecutor's table when the proceedings begin, for no reason other than to have all of the drama. However, at least Moira's plot still fed into the episode's point about the burden of secrets, as well as her concern as to how Oliver and Thea will react to whatever it is that she's worried about them reacting to. That helped to soften the ridiculousness of Laurel being second chair.
FROM THE QUIVER
– I enjoyed the fight sequences much more this time around, especially Sara and Oliver's first fight with Al-Owal in the mansion. They weren't cut up into teeny-tiny rapid shots in order to give the illusion of a fight.
– So Thea's staying at Roy's place more than she's staying at the mansion. And Roy is living where, exactly?
– Lots of talk of Malcolm being dead in this episode. I would like for him to stay dead. Have him come on back in flashbacks all you want, but let him stay dead in the present timeline.
– "Gee, I didn't get you a bag of dirt."
– "It's your funeral, Sara." "Wouldn't be my first."
– I hope someone's going to explain to Sin what happened to Sara.
– Dear Laurel: I know you're going through a hard time and all, but hot pink pants are not appropriate for the DA's office, even on the most casual of casual Fridays.
– "So, you were right." "Yeah, I usually am, Oliver." Arrow isn't the kind of show to do this since it loves its cliffhangers, but if every episode could end with Oliver and Diggle drinking vodka and talking in the Arrow Cave, the way Supernatural ends its episodes with Sam and Dean talking next to or in the Impala, I would be a happy camper.
– This community post went up last Thursday, so I'll make sure everyone sees it here: We're looking to rename the Arrow community, and there's already a poll running. Voting ends at noon on 11/7, so take some time to vote if you haven't already.
What'd you think of "League of Assassins"?
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