"City of Blood" was a bit of a place-setting episode to get things ready for the penultimate episode of the season and the finale. Quentin's in danger! Thea's in danger! Diggle's in danger! Oliver and Laurel are in danger! Staring City's in danger! Felicity's... getting a phone call from S.T.A.R. Labs! Okay, so it's not like everyone is in a life-or-death sort of situation, but you get the gist: It's time for Arrow to start picking up the season's various threads and tying them together.
While "City of Blood" did that, it also devoted much of its energy to dealing with the fallout from Moira's death at the end of last week's episode. That allowed Arrow to give itself the space to actually deal with Oliver and Thea's pain, and in a way that also served to get us to those last 10 minutes that established multiple little cliffhangers.
In Oliver's case, it was basically hiding out in a second, previously unseen Arrow Cave while everyone else attended Moira's funeral or went about looking for him. While it was awfully convenient for this backup hideout to come into existence in the same episode that Isabel took control of Verdant—and thus the Arrow Cave—I like that Oliver has a place where he goes to be alone. For so much of this season, Oliver's been helping so many people cope with their problems that it's easy to forget that Oliver is likely still dealing with problems of his own. So the gesture to the idea that Oliver needs a place of refuge, even if it's offscreen, is a good reminder that he may not be as over things as he's letting on to those around him, or even to himself.
It's entirely likely that this is true. Oliver's decision to surrender to Slade was an emotional grab-bag of motives, though it was mostly indicative of simple self-loathing. In the same way that Oliver's risky vigilantism last season put him in dangerous positions as a result of him sacrificing his identity and personal connections to serve his father's wishes, Oliver's sense of responsibility for Moira's death put him in the position of thinking that if he followed her lead and offered himself up, Slade would stop. Both mentalities ignored the potential ramifications of his actions, especially with regard to how his family and friends would respond to the loss. But a return to his lone-wolf mentality has illustrated to Oliver that he does need allies. And considering that Oliver's been driving home these ideas to Sara, it just shows how much he doesn't listen to himself.
That it required Laurel to convince him to get back under the hood instead of just giving up on himself and his friends shouldn't be all that surprising. No matter how fast and loose it was sometimes structured, Laurel's arc has been a story of clawing her way back from a great loss and coming to terms with that. All season long, she's been where Oliver found himself in "City of Blood," except she didn't have a super villain mastermind to surrender to, just alcohol and pills, which are no less insidious than Slade's plan to destroy Oliver's life.
The extent to which this worked for you may hinge entirely on how you feel about Oliver and Laurel as a... whatever they are at this point (and judging from early comments, you folks are already all over the map on this). From a structural standpoint, I'm all about it, as the paragraph above likely made clear. From a character-relationship perspective, I'm not really on board. The notion that the Oliver who existed prior to Lian Yu—the Oliver Laurel knew and loved—was an Oliver who never gave up... I don't buy that for a second. His experiences on Lian Yu rubbed him raw and made him look at his own bones. Slade has steadily broken those bones, hence Oliver's willingness to quit. But the idea that Laurel was able to see this Oliver before? Eh. The assertion relied too heavily on past experiences that we don't know about and haven't seen, and was undermined even more by Flashback Oliver being a pretty serious jerk.
So while Laurel's pep talk might've been enough, it was really her, "Oh, and by the way, Slade and Sebastian Blood are totally in cahoots" that got Oliver back on his horse. If there was a weak link in this episode, sadly, this was it. Laurel went back to suspecting Blood because he briefly mentioned the loss of a parent; that got the conspiracy wheels turning in her mind after not worrying about it since "Blind Spot," and that's all it took. It's silly, and when it comes down to it, I didn't even need to say "briefly mentioned the loss of a parent." The simple because would've been enough, since that's really all the justification Laurel offered to Quentin when she cited her gut. Arrow needed to connect those dots, and didn't have a more organic way to do it.
Thea had significantly fewer options than Oliver, however, and, in fact, they'd been reduced by the end of the episode. With Queen Mansion packed and its furniture covered in sheets, and Isabel kicking her out of Verdant in a couple of days (which seems, legally, unlikely to me, but Arrow doesn't give a damn about conflicts of interest with lawyers or how the selling of stocks works, so par for the course, I guess!), Thea had nowhere to go. Walter, bless him, was ready to take her in, and it was a testament to how strong of a rapport was established between the two of them in Season 1 that it didn't feel forced or even passingly ridiculous that he would do this for her.
It was also a testament to how far the show has progressed with Thea since Season 1 that she would decline that offer. For all the horrible stuff she's gone through in the tail end of the season with Roy's behavior, the reveals about Malcolm, and the loss of Moira, Season 1 Thea would've OD'd on vertigo and called it a night. Season 2 instead saw the loss of everything as an opportunity to start over, to get away from the toxicity that brought about all this suffering. It's a remarkably healthy self-centric thing to do as opposed to Oliver's more destructive self-centered decision to turn himself over to Slade. Having Oliver acknowledge and encourage that decision had to be rewarding on some level, even if she still hates Oliver on a number of levels. (And how good were Stephen Amell and Willa Holland in that scene? So good.) Of course, with Slade's mirakuru thugs taking over the entire city, she may not be able to get away from it just yet.
A quick note on Blood to close things out for the episode. The whys and the hows of Slade and Blood's partnership remain a bit murky for me, and I've largely given the pairing a pass because it's been pretty exciting. I've also enjoyed Kevin Alejandro's work a great deal this season. As things wind down, however, some additional information would be helpful. So it's small things—like Blood acknowledging that he's working with Slade to destroy Starling City so as to save it—that I appreciate and also want more of.
The other reason I bring this up, apart from the season wrapping up, is that the episode offered little glimpses into how Blood is thinking. So while that bit about ancestors looking at you from beyond may have been just for show and for eavesdroppers at Moira's wake, between that and Oliver's discussion with him at the restaurant, it felt like Sebastian's resolve might have been shaken a smidge before he addressed the mirakuru soldiers, like he had to get into character of the man in the skull mask. It was a decidedly contemplative moment from a character hasn't been given one at all prior to this, one that could've easily been cut for the sake for a few seconds more of Isabel beating up on Diggle. That it wasn't is (hopefully) significant.
I do want it to be significant, though. Season 2 started so focused on the Glades and then drifted away from it for a long while, so to have Blood mulling his actions and whether his ends justify the means brings us back to the less reflective citizens of the Glades who saw the quake as an opportunity to rebuild themselves as something more than they once were.
– Lian Yu flashback: Oliver learned about sacrifice and heroism, and Anatoli can fix Russian submarines. The Lian Yu flashbacks have been crawling along since "The Promise." They have to get off the damn island.
– Not entirely sure why Oliver needed to go down into the sewers, let alone linger down there. I guess to confirm the location of Sebastian and the mirakuru troopers? But when you're dropping a sizable portion of real estate on top of them, it seems like a really big fly swatter that maybe you don't worry about getting caught in.
– Forget the Suicide Squad. Diggle and Felicity should just open up their own private eye firm and be awesome together all the time. They're the best. "Pal, you're gonna wish I beat you." "Hi, I'll be your interrogator." Slightly later: "Bitch with WiFi." Related: I loved that Sebastian's bodyguard/assistant/whatever was more worried about his parents' retirement accounts than about his Cayman Islands nest egg.
– At this point, only Quentin and Thea don't know that Oliver is the Arrow, right? Odds on one or both of them making it to the end of the season and still not knowing? I figure Thea has to find out.
– Thea doesn't understand the concept of traveling coach.
– Hey, Isabel! Look at you in your outfit! It does not look that great, but then, I never liked the Ravager costume from the comics, on which Isabel's getup is based.
What did you think of "City of Blood"?
AIRED ON 5/25/2016
Season 4 : Episode 23