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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.



FROM THE QUIVER

– 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"?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 5/14/2014

Season 2 : Episode 23

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