Arrow "League of Assassins" Review: Keeping Secrets

By Noel Kirkpatrick

Nov 07, 2013

Arrow S02E05: "League of Assassins"

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.


– 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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  • MatthewMurphy4 Nov 12, 2013

    arrow is turning into everything i wanted from smallville. in smallville it was all about clark learning to fly over like 20 seasons or something. in between filled with krypto enhanced sub villians and a horrible mess of introducing dc universe into the story line...but this arrow starts with the nigha trained and just goes at it. season 2 is amazing. black canary. bronze tiger, red arrow/arsenal, league of assassins which was created by Ra's al Ghu, professor ivo the mad scientist and soon the flash(barry not wally) will join the frey...coming from a marvel fan boy... its outclassing shield

  • ILoveTVandDDsBB Nov 11, 2013

    that arrow catch was badass!!!!

  • Copioli Nov 11, 2013

    I liked the episode I am glad Quentin knows Sara is alive, but I still don't like the fact that truth is hidden to Dinah and Laurel. They deserve to know. They could have imagined a way to tell the women the truth, that they will put Sara in danger if they try to find her, so, to protect her, they have to let her alone.
    About Malcolm, I am very confused. Oliver told Tommy he didn't kill his dad and I thought he was telling the truth, so why is everybody now insisting Malcolm is dead?

  • ElisaDiaz Nov 11, 2013

    I just catched up with this episode - it was great! Lots of new information, lots of action, the emotional part with Lance and daughter, and I even enjoyed the flashbacks this time (not always my cup of tea).

    I felt a bit sad that Sarah's arc was over, but Noel is probably right and mini arcs work better. Now we can move to focus on a different plot for a while.

  • vcivi Nov 09, 2013

    Loved this episode...lot's of action in it. Lot's of puzzle peaces fell into place.
    Like the flashbacks of Sara.
    Now finally Quentin knows the truth about his daughter...i just wonder if he will be able to keep it secret when we will see how Laurel will fall apart..unfortunately a bit slowly to my taste...she should have the big meltdown already, so she can be saved etc..etc..etc..

  • Aesandil Nov 08, 2013

    Possibly the most enjoyable episode of Arrow so far this season, as far as I'm concerned. The preceding installment had already shown signs of improvement, and this one took things further.

    I would very much love it if the crew of Arrow followed Noel's suggestion and focused more on smaller arcs that build into a larger narrative. And perhaps let some storylines last longer than a season. The "standalone" episodes of this show are generally the most boring and insufferable for me to watch.

    I must admit that I wasn't fully on board with Sara as a character (nor with Caity Lotz's portrayal of her) until now. If this Sara-focused showing meant to convince non-believers and demonstrate that they chose a proper actress for the part, it certainly did its job in my case.
    I think it's the first time we had flashbacks that weren't fully focused on Oliver? I thought that they largely worked at polishing the youngest Lance's traits and filling in some of the blanks. They even retconned the "Gambit" sequences, which lessened my disconnect of having another actress take over the role. In the end, I was left wanting to see more.

    Sara also did good things for the modern narrative of Arrow. A lot of high points.
    The fighting scenes were a joy to watch for a change (especially the mansion one where our vigilantes didn't even have their costumes on; as well as Sara & Oliver's escape from Al-Owal's temporary base).
    Paul Blackthorne was allowed even more quality material; and what a turnaround this is: so far everything is making Quentin a much more compelling character this season.
    Oliver also shared a few good calmer scenes with Sara, and it only stood to demonstrate how much better than Laurel she could be. Perhaps there is a tiny chance at more retconning, one that would involve Laurel dying and never donning the mask of Black Canary? Please, please, please.
    By far the only thing Sara should get scolded for is her treatment of Diggle. Unacceptable, miss.

    On a side note: I would've expected the League's assassins to be trained a little better than that, but I suppose that goes into nitpicking territory.

    So now with Sara taking off again, I'm starting to worry that we might be back to more fillers of questionable quality. But I'd very happy if that turned out not to be the case.
    Moira's trial is progressing at a fine pace, but it doesn't have the potential of becoming anything more than a side-story, in my mind. Blood and Rochev have yet to become compelling in my book.

    Kudos for having Oliver and Diggle share a drink in the Arrow Cave! That ought to become a semi-regular theme.

    P.S. I was hoping for an elaborate commentary from Noel with regards to Anthony Ivo, but perhaps it would be too soon? And I probably shouldn't be expecting comic book references every single time.

  • noelrk Nov 08, 2013

    re: Ivo -- I felt it was just too soon. I felt bad about the Blood background I gave when he first showed up after it turned out he had himself a mask and some drugs that played more into his comic incarnation. I honestly was not expecting Arrow to go that route with its version, so now I'm a touch gun-shy about it; it was on reason I was very glad they didn't drag out his identity under the mask in that scene. If/When we see more of Ivo, I'll circle back to him.

    And, yes, those were our first not-Oliver flashbacks, which was narratively exciting. I was hoping we'd get more than what we got, but I would not be at all surprised if we start getting flashbacks within flashbacks. I'd prefer that to Lotz delivering lots of expository dialog in the flashbacks, anyway.

    As Gully pointed out below, the show isn't unwilling to allow storylines to last more than a season, like the Deadshot/Diggle stuff. It's still a young show, and as such is building those threads. I feel like this season is all about building those threads of recurring antagonists, so we'll see how successful they end up.

  • TomWayne Nov 09, 2013

    Speaking of recurring villains (and in view of Gully's comments), a look at the synopsis for a coming episode reveals the second return of someone--but no, it's really real this time, even despite the ending from last time. Or is it?

    I just hope they don't keep up the "return" teases just because they've name-dropped Ra's al Ghul. I felt the same twinge that Noel did with the ample "Malcom Merlyn is dead" references--the same kind they kept making about Sara before the unmasking.

    Leave the Merlyns in the ground, please--both of them. (We really don't need either a slasher-film-unkillable-villain or a Jason-Todd/Red-Hood situation here. Really.)

  • SarahHagen2 Nov 08, 2013

    Exactly what I was thinking about pink pants in the workplace, srsly? Also starting to hate Laurel, popping pills "I'm not a drunk, see?", and being such a tease with Oliver, "I can't be with you! Let's make out"... ugh. Stop being a whiny, bitchy, prosecuting mothers sucky person.
    Also, I found Quentin and Sara's reunion rushed and forced. "Hey, I'm alive! Gotta go." I knew they wouldn't keep her character around permanently, but only 1 episode for all of this to play out? Plus, was it just me or was Quentin's ominous comment to the Hood about keeping secrets a hint that he knows the truth? It wouldn't be that hard to put two and two together since he knows Sara was with Oliver on the Gambit. Since secret identities are important in Arrow I understand not everybody is going to know about Oliver, but let's not Superman draw this out people; it always make the smart, capable cops, lawyers and reporters in these stories look like idiots.

  • carlyspade Nov 08, 2013

    I really enjoyed this episode however being a long time HUGE Green Arrow/Black Canary supporter I'm not 100% on board yet for the story of Black Canary that they're doing not only is being portrayed by Dinah Laurel Lance's SISTER the one who SHOULD be Canary but her past is also completely warped from the comic version. Usually I am okay in them changing things for the sake of the TV show case in point...Lois Lane meeting Clark Kent BEFORE Daily Planet on Smallville...but they're changing Black Canary's background quite a bit.

    I DO however still love what they did for her "Canary Cry" that was good, love it. I'm not dissing it completely trust me I am ecstatic I get to Fangasm over a show again since Smallville's end, looking forward to EVERY week now with Arrow and it just keeps getting better :)

  • bendylegsnick Nov 08, 2013

    Oh no! Abu Nazir! I hope no-one on this show has a pace maker...

  • mad-pac Nov 09, 2013

    That's about what I was going to say, but then I thought someone must've already mentioned the surprise attack of Abu Nazir. So Arrow should be careful NOT to kill him, because Nazir has his best terror moments AFTER he's dead (which is part of his brilliant plan).

    OK, any more Homeland jokes?

  • azazzlenic Nov 08, 2013

    So they did change the Sara actor?

  • noelrk Nov 08, 2013


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