You always hurt the ones you love, even when—or especially when— you try to help them or protect them from themselves. Such was the case in "Birds of Prey," as many of Arrow's characters found themselves helping other people keep their worst impulses in check, for everybody's sake.
The notion of worst impulses has been a recurring element of Arrow since the start of the series, as people's worst impulses are often brought on by—you guessed it!—some sort of trauma. The characters on this show give in to their impulses as a way of coping. They believe that putting arrows into someone would make you them better, that leveling a city with an earthquake machine will ease their guilt, that consuming pills and alcohol will make the pain go away, that they don't deserve to be anything other than a killer, that making a former friend suffer horribly will make up for their own suffering (and the loss of an eye).
Oliver's attempt to be a hero to honor Tommy's memory has in turn been the stated core of Season 2. While his no-kill rule has been mostly followed—putting aside the Count, Russian prison guards, and an attempt on Slade's life—the real challenge for Oliver hasn't been to not kill people so much as it's been to help those around him not be shrouded in the guilt, darkness, and rage that affected him so profoundly in Season 1.
Helena's return to Starling City, and her subsequent hostage-taking of Laurel, put this into a great deal of relief. Helena is Oliver's biggest failure since he returned to Starling City—a woman who's hellbent on revenge for revenge's sake, instead of, as Oliver wanted, for justice's sake. Murky differences aside, as Arrow has always struggled to make heads or tails of these motivations, Oliver gave Helena the tools and some of the knowledge necessary to carry out her vendetta, and he is responsible for the lives she took, even if they were a bunch of mobsters.
Oliver's in a similar position now, a position he acknowledged in this episode. While he's steadily improving himself by using the "baby arrows," he's also trying to keep Roy and Sara from being consumed by their own personal darknesses, even if Sara has already devoured her up to her eyeballs. In Roy's case, it's keeping the mirakuru's rage-inducing aspects in check. Of course, it's not easy when something as mundane as someone bumping into you sets it off (I can understand getting all "ROY SMASH!" when someone puts a bullet through your hand though). Roy at least had the presence of mind to realize that he is a threat to Thea like this and figured out a way to end things with her to protect her. I also like that Thea, while broken up about it, is also aware that he's not doing it because he doesn't care about her, but that he's hiding something. Good for her.
While's Roy's problems are more chemical than psychological, Sara's darkness at least a more predictable and easier to manage. It's basically, "If you want to stop thinking of yourself as a killer, and therefore someone you think your family should love, you need to stop killing." Getting that through the skull of a highly-trained and guilt-ridden assassin isn't the easiest thing in the world, but Sara may be on her way.
The Lance sisters engaging in some bonding time may have been more useful for both of them than Oliver's lecturing and AA meetings, even if one of them didn't know she was helping the other one come to grips with inner-demons. It's by no means an uncommon situation in narratives with secret identities—though Sara seemed insistent on giving it all away—and like with Shakespeare's plays, hidden identities allow people to speak more freely to one another as strangers than as people who know one another.
In Sara's case, Laurel's confession that she thinks Sara is strong and that she wants to show Sara that she's strong—and show herself that she's strong as well—is the kind of affirmation that a woman who thinks her only value is in killing people needs to hear. It's a little strained when Laurel yells at her that she's not a killer as she's about kill Helena, but the phrasing combined with Laurel's earlier words did their job, and stayed Sara's hand. It's a big moment for her, even if the show hasn't always played up Sara's ruthlessness since her return.
The Lian Yu flashbacks again privileged Sara, and it may be for the best the show gives these scenes over to Sara a bit more when appropriate. Like seeing Oliver as a barely-surviving rich boy contrasted with the vigilante in Season 1, we saw the start of the Sara that would go onto join the League of Assassins and question her self-worth as she gave up Hendriks to in an effort to save Oliver from Slade's torture. It's the start of that darkness creeping up her soul, and we getting to see it pushed back down by her time in Starling City.
Of course, the bonding time may not have been for the best thing for Laurel. On the one hand, Laurel's little heart-to-hearts with both Adam Donner and Helena demonstrated degrees of self-awareness that I think Laurel needed to voice for both her development as a character and for us as an audience. That Laurel acknowledged her problems showed that she's getting stuff out of the support group meetings, and that she has turned a corner in accepting her role in her predicaments and her emotions that got her there int he first place.
On the other hand, Laurel found some...let's call it confidence as she blackmailed DA Spencer into getting her job back in what was a pretty damn ridiculous scene right down to the DA admiring her for it doing. Laurel quoting Helena came off as equally silly since blackmailing the DA to keep your job isn't as dark as planning to kill your father and then taking hostages. Hell, it's not even as dark as turning a recovering addict into a bit of window dressing to help sell a sting operation so you can—for some totally unexplained reason—capture a murderer who has been out of the country for at least a year. I'm glad Arrow is at least giving Laurel some agency, even if it's sort of at very mixed speeds, and through really dim-witted scenes.
– "I was a frat boy." "I rest my case."
– "During the attack, unfortunately, I decapitated the engineer."
– "Oh, I think if the Huntress shows up, you should totally kick her ass." was a great enough line on its own, but Diggle's nod of agreement gave the scene that extra spin.
– Very crafty, Oliver, having Moira's picture as Quentin's caller ID photo.
– Fight cinematography and editing were decent if only because it wasn't cut to ribbons, but the shaky camera was distracting. If there was one shot I loved in the entire episode, it was the slow pan to the left side of the frame as Felicity told Oliver that Sara wasn't in the Arrow Cave. I appreciate a good cinematography expectation joke. Makes up for re-using that Sara reaction shot from "The Promise."
– Also really liked the bit of sound design that bled the shriek of Sara's Canary Cry device into a noise that sounded a lot like a weather siren. At first I thought it was the building's fire alarm that was triggered, but it appeared to be non-diegetic. Neat stuff.
– Your DC Comics connections of the week! The title of this episode take from the comic series of the same name in which (originally) Barbara Gordon, Black Canary, and later Huntress and then a slew of other female heroes from the DC Universe fight crime and all that good stuff (the line-up has changed a bit since the New 52 relaunch). The series's most well-regarded run was written by Gail Simone who, of course, was named dropped in the episode as the location of the machine shop: Gail Street and Simone.
– Oh, and one more connection: Hugo Mannheim. It was a reference to the Superman gangster Bruno "Ugly" Mannheim, though why they just didn't call him Bruno is beyond me. Did Bruno have a son or something and I've just forgotten?
What did you think of "Birds of Prey"?
AIRED ON 10/19/2016
Season 5 : Episode 3
AIRS ON 10/26/2016
Season 5 : Episode 4