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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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