Arrow "Streets of Fire" Review: City, City, Burning Bright

By Noel Kirkpatrick

May 08, 2014

Arrow S02E22: "Streets of Fire"

If there's one question I keep returning to with superhero narratives, it's why people even bother to stick around their respective cities. Like, in the Marvel Universe, I have no idea why you would continue to live in New York after everything that's happened there, between the Fantastic Four opening up wormholes and Spider-Man battling the Sinister Six. In the DC Universe, staying in Gotham City or Metropolis just seems like you're begging to be caught in a cloud of fear gas from the Scarecrow or suffer through an alien invasion that involves Superman punching another guy through every skyscraper in sight.

The citizens of Starling City, all 576,000 of them, are likely mulling this quandary as well. Last year it was an artificial earthquake; this year, it's a platoon of unstoppable and superpowered masked men flipping cars, killing municipal officials, and apparently setting fire to everything in sight. All I'm saying is, if you've got the means, moving might not be a bad idea. At the very least, insurance rates have to be lower elsewhere.

But of course, if all the citizens left, there'd be no reason to protect the city and there'd be no macro-level justification for superhero stories, so this is really just one of those genre conventions that we take at face value and don't question, along the lines of "Why do these people keep breaking into song, and how do they all know the choreography?" in a musical. 

In Arrow's case, I don't so much wonder "Why don't people leave?" as "Why is it so important to save Starling City?" It's a silly question, I know, since the answer is "Because otherwise there'd be no show, you dummy." But I thought about this during "Streets of Fire," an episode filled with solid action and some nice character moments, because I don't know that I've ever felt like Starling City is a place. What we see of it is so often alleyways, warehouses, scaffolding, and plastic tarps. We had the Glades for a nice chunk of this season in the wake of its partial destruction in Season 1, but we don't have a great sense of the city as a whole.

What does the town have to offer? Well, there are incompetent district attorneys, apparently corrupt mayors and business leaders, generally decent police, a prison, a local news channel, and Big Belly Burger. No one ever mentions a great park, museum, or landmark, or whether there's a regional theater company or even a third-rate orchestra (I feel like a zoo was mentioned once). You know, things a character can point to and say, "This is Starling City."

Maybe the lack of specificity is purposeful. Starling City is a blank canvas upon which Arrow's characters often paint their needs. Oliver sees redemption in protecting its citizens and honoring the memories of those close to him who have died. Blood sees an opportunity to make sure no other child is "plagued by nightmares" like he was as a boy. Malcolm saw a city that needed punishing, to atone for a personal loss. Slade sees a way to hurt the man who, to his warped and grief-stricken psyche, has dealt him an incredible pain. Sara, finally, has found the slightest glimmer of hope that she can be something other than an assassin. Starling City, then, is whatever the characters need it to be. It's not a place with a history and roots, but a catalyst for character and narrative development—and, of course, pyrotechnics. 

So the rush to save or destroy Starling City isn't so much about the city as an actual place; it's more about preserving (or destroying) what the city could mean and represent to any given character. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing, but when you toss out a specific population number like Amanda Waller did in this episode, it puts a different perspective on things. All of a sudden, there are quantifiable lives at risk that don't always feel like they exist when the show talks about its own setting.

So that's a broader response to "Streets of Fire," perhaps broader than many of you really care about, but you all should be used this sort of thing from me by now, I would think. On a more "Here's what happened in the episode" level, I enjoyed "Streets Of Fire" a great deal. Arrow clearly saved its budget for this episode (and likely next week's, if the promo was any indication). Even though not much actually happened—"Get to the the cure!" was essentially the driving force of the episode, and it mostly involved moving from Point A to Point B to Point C—I almost didn't notice because there was a very consistent chain of action sequences to propel things forward, from Malcolm fighting a mirakuru "jackboot" to Sara saving a girl from a building that exploded not once but twice to Quentin blowing up a mirakuru thug with a few grenades to Felicity hitting Isabel with that van ("What do you think? Hit her again?"). The episode never really flagged, despite the rather simple premise for its action.

Character-wise, we got the bit with Sebastian Blood that I mentioned last week I wanted to see. Blood's belief in Slade's arrangement was indeed rattled last week. The murder of D.A. Spencer (awww, who is Laurel going to blackma— oh, dammit, she's going to be the District Attorney next year, isn't she?) and Slade revealing that he never intended to leave anything of Starling City to rebuild gave Blood the moral clarity he needed to feel his tiny bit of redemption for the city he thought he was saving... before Isabel ran him through with two swords at the same time. That small speech to Oliver was exactly the right note for the character to end on, even if I'm sad to see him go.

In closing, let's hear it for the ladies this week. Laurel was more put together than she's been all season, as if discovering Oliver's identity and then learning Sara's made her own sense of self suddenly click into place after spending so many episodes adrift. Her little pep talk to Sara worked a bit better than the pep talk she gave Oliver last week, even if it was in response to more of Sara's "I'm not worth anything"/"I'm a monster" attitude. Hopefully, between Laurel believing in Sara and that random cop lady thinking she's a hero, Sara will finally feel more comfortable with her new place in the world and everything will come to a head in the finale.

Felicity, meanwhile, was back to her regular strong-willed and awesome self. Compare her "I believe in you speech" to Oliver this week to Laurel's from last week, and there's a very clear difference in either how we're supposed to view Felicity and Laurel's respective grasps on Oliver's psychological self, or the writers just have a much better understanding of Felicity's perspective than they have of Laurel's. Probably both. It was a very strong scene for Emily Bett Rickards, especially as she hit caring and tough love, and the decision to have her go for the hug was far superior than to have her go in for a kiss.

Finally, there's Thea, who had to deal with Malcolm showing up to protect her at the train station. If there's one thing I wanted this episode to have more of, it was that sequence. Arrow quietly rehabilitated the character of Thea from a whiny, entitled, and self-centric teen into a confident and emotionally aware young woman; that way, her anger toward Roy, Moira, and Oliver wasn't motivated by a "Why is everyone so horrible to me?" attitude, but was instead spurred by a truthful "If you all were more open, we wouldn't be having these issues in the first place" point of view. So Thea shooting Malcolm—this horrible secret—wasn't shocking to me; rather, it was the obvious result of the wringer that the last few episodes have put her through. She's experienced so much that she's willing to take aim at the last apparent connection to her old life. Of course, that last connection is going to shrug off the bullets, so what happens next is going to be very interesting indeed.


– Lian Yu flashbacks were mostly just "Get us to the point where Oliver decides not to cure Slade in the finale." Nothing else of note beyond the fact that David Nykl is dead set on making sure his scenes are, at least, fun.

– Not only did taking over Queen Consolidated deprive Oliver of his fortune, it gave Slade a great place from which to view the destruction of the city. I'm sure that was the main reason he took over the company. I mean, what good is burning a city to the ground if you don't get to watch and bask in the glow?

– "Why does every secret formula have to be a color? Whatever happened to good old-fashioned clear?"

– "You're out of arrows!" "You're not!" Stabbity-stab!

What did you think of "Streets of Fire"?

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  • cinthy_11 May 14, 2014

    -felicity is awesome!!!!!
    -why did thea shot merlin?? come on, he came to save you
    -can't wait for the next episode but what am i going to do without arrow??? T.T

  • KateSullivan May 12, 2014

    So, just a general pondering to put out there. I know we have all assumed Laurel will eventually become the Black Canary, but we also kind of thought that Tommy was eventually going to take up the mantle of the Dark Archer and he didn't. First, I like Sara and like the role she represents so this might be entirely justification to keep her around. But, what if Laurel doesn't become the Black Canary, but with Kate Dawson's death, takes over the role of Manhunter, but one totally grounded in reality (so no aliens). But, instead of just being like the fourth or fifth incarnation of the role, she creates it. Like, just the experience of Malcolm and now Slade and then she will start to learn about, well, everyone Felicity lists off. And then maybe learns about Barry Allen and his story. And then maybe she asks Diggle to teach her how to fight (and Diggle uses it to work on Felicity's fighting techniques) and then some other supervillain makes his or her prescence known. She sees Team Arrow in their villain of the week mode and how they have to move outside of the law, but that they do try really hard to stay within spitting distance of it. And she starts to realize as a prosecutor, she has access to a lot more criminals who might slip through the cracks that might not seem important enough to bring to Team Arrow's attention. So...she decides to do something herself.

  • aktarian May 11, 2014

    One has to admire Japanese engineering and manufacturing. 60 years under water and everything on a submarine still functions perfectly. :)

  • greasy82 May 11, 2014

    It's a submarine, not a Casio watch. :)

  • aktarian May 11, 2014

    quite. In submarine there is a higher chance of seam or weld giving way and flooding it, instruments failing due to lack of maintenance, corrosion, rust etc.

  • greasy82 May 11, 2014

    I know. :D If you can't make stupid jokes on the internet, then what's the point of having it at all?

  • aktarian May 11, 2014

    Porn and cat pics?

  • ILoveTVandDDsBB May 11, 2014

    It was good to see Dark Archer back even if it was for a few minutes.

  • Svanehjerte May 10, 2014

    There are so many things I don't like about this show now... It's entertaining, but it's also very irritating.

    1. Oliver is so unlikable, egosentric, whiny and full of guilt all the time to the point where it is super annoying + he's a slut with poor decisionmaking. Every problem is thanks to him it seems.
    2. Sarah is a portrayed by a poor actress, her lines are dumb and she's trying too hard to be the badass girl character, her actions are irritating, she's murderous and a cunt, she's also whiny and full of guilt, she's a slut they turned bi for no good reason other than to have the obligatory "gayness" in a show, she is super annoying and I HATE that she is the canary which means we might be stuck with her for a while.
    3. Laurel is the better character, but she doesn't get that many good lines or that much relevance on the show, she forgave Oliver and Sarah too easily IMO.
    4. The exaggeration when they are supposed to be human and not superheroes.
    5. That no one recognize(d) Oliver and Sarah when they wore their small masks, make-up or wigs... It was so silly.

  • Gia_P May 10, 2014

    The last scene was great. I didn't believe they would actually go through with it, but they did and it was great.

    Laurel's character is better-written in these last few episodes, but the rest of the season was a mess.

    And I just love Felicity. The hug was the perfect reaction for her, she is strong and at the same time she is the only character in the show that is not somehow morally compromised. Part of the greatness is the writing and part the way the actress delivers it. No surprise here, she is everyone's favorite.

  • greasy82 May 11, 2014

    I actually shrieked in a girlish voice, "She did it! She killed him!"

  • Pnascimento May 10, 2014

    "The fire rises"... This famous quote of Bane fits perfectly in this season finale. Sure it'll be a hell of a night, and in the morning we'll see the birth of a city of heroes.
    Starting with Oliver when he goes one on one against Wilson. For starters how did he know that the men surrounding the city was ARGUS? Does he have a crystal ball in the tip of one of his arrows? Anyway, I think he'll end up in the same position he once was in the island. Specially after what Blood told him it's obvious that Wilson is going to force Oliver to choose between Laurel and Sarah, as he was forced to choose between Sarah and Shado. The question is: will he choose someone else this time or he'll choose her again? On the other hand I can't wait to see the mix of fights between them, their flashback fight in the freighter and their actual fight in the present. It'll be so cool!
    As for Sarah somehow (made because they're both connected to the League) she is going to be used as bait by Wilson, specially given that he's already used to be one step ahead of Oliver all the time and Oliver still doesn't know she got back. The million dollar question is where she was, my guess: she tried to get back to the League and was rejected by Ras Al Ghul and Nyssa. That's why she came back feeling even more worthless and beyond repair than before. But saving that child from that burning building made her feel like she can still do something good with her life. Maybe we'll see her becoming a hero from now one.
    I'm wondering what will happen to Roy. Will he wake up cured? Better? Even worst? The only thing Olver doesn't need right now is another mirakuru monster in his hands.
    Well, I think next season will be a season of journeys. The journey of the hero for Oliver, Roy and Sarah, a journey of self discovering for Thea and ajourney of rebirth for Starling City. Although I still have the feeling that the League of Assassins is coming to town, which means that peace is still a distant dream.
    In that direction I think it would be cool if Bruce Wayne appeared in Arrow, since he was trained by the League as Sarah was. Anyone else thinks a meeting between Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne (not Batman, Bruce Wayne) would be the coolest thing?

  • Gully_Foyle May 10, 2014

    A) Not the season finale
    B) Like the penultimate episode of season one, the title is a Bruce Springsteen reference

  • DrAries May 10, 2014

    Great episode ,I don't think Thea shot Merlin, she probably shot the masked freak that he was fighting and was coming from behind Merlin maybe . And as I said before in the comments about Sarah leaving to get help from the League of Assassin's ,the promo for the finale confirmed my thoughts and the credits puts Caity Lotz as a guest star so Sarah probably will leave with the LOA and may be appear in a couple of episodes in the next season or she will fake her death to disappear as Merlin did

  • YawOwusuAchawJr May 09, 2014

    It's better to focus on what actually is presented in an episode rather than waste too many syllables dissecting what's lacking or what appears to make little sense. The episode was fairly exceptional and that much relatively irrelative criticism detracts from what viewers received by watching.

  • MichelleHood24 May 09, 2014

    :) what a great episode I loved when felicity ran over bitchface that was brilliant. Overall great episode I'm so glad Sarah's back and Merlin :) :) :) I hope Thea didn't shot him.

  • greasy82 May 11, 2014

    "What do you think? Hit her again?" Felicity is either my number two or three favorite thing about this show with the overall mythology my number one.

  • MichelleHood24 May 11, 2014

    :) funniest thing ever.

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