Arrow TV Reviews

TV Review: Arrow, “Crucible” (S2,E4) – I React to the 3 Major New Storylines

To read our other Arrow episode reviews please go here.

  • Airdate: 10/30/2013
  • Director: Eagle Egilsson (Nikita, CSI: Miami)
  • Writer(s): Andrew Kreisberg (Arrow’s Co-Creator/Executive Producer) & Wendy Mericle (Arrow, Desperate Housewives, Everwood, Eli Stone)

All right.  Everyone take a moment to catch your breath.   Sooooooo:

  • Black Canary is actually Sara Lance, who did not die as Oliver said.  In fact, not only is she alive in the present she’s also shown up now in the past as his torturer on the pirate ship, making her the first character other than Oliver to transition from present day to island/pirate ship flashback scenes.
  • Laurel like-y the wine and pills and combining the two just a wee bit too much.  That makes her poor dad ever so “open up about it an AA meeting” sad.
  • Sebastian Blood watched Batman Begins, and wondered if he could do the Scarecrow mask but better.  Oh, and he’s a total full-on villain with a mysterious green serum he’s injecting into potential soldiers for his cause.  That cause?  We’ll have to get back to you on that one.
  • Diggle has a new-old love interest!

Since whatever they’re doing with Summer Glau’s Isabel Rochev appears to be a slow burn, these are our major storylines for the near future.  Well, minus that part about Diggle.   What do we think of these storylines?  Well, what we think of them probably goes a long way toward deciding whether or not “Crucible” was a good episode.

Black Canary

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It might take a while for this one to sink in.  The post-revelation scene in which an impressively anguished Oliver (kudos to Amell here) delivers precious few follow-up details to Felicity and Diggle is crucial in that the other members of Team Arrow do not just give Oliver a free pass on having lied about the specifics of when he thought Sara actually died.  But the decision to not just bring Sara back but to retroactively add backstory by a wave of the “oh, Oliver was just lying about it last season” hand might ask slightly more leniency than the show has earned.  This enters into unreliable narrator territory, which can captivate but also violate an audience’s trust.  Through the flashbacks we are usually filled in on the details from the past that present-day Oliver is unwilling to share, thus establishing him as a character who will lie to his loved ones but not Arrow as a show which will lie to its audience. 

Even if the writers planned this out from at least the halfway point last season, which is around when they threw in the line about Laurel’s dad having once bought a black canary as a present for Sara, this feels like a situation that called for retconning to cover for them having only just thought up the storyline recently.  So much of the first season was centered around finally allowing Laurel and her father the opportunity achieve some degree of closure over Sara’s death.  Introducing Sara as a character now allows us to see these familiar emotional beats from a different characters’ point of view, but until this point Sara wasn’t a character so much as she was a plot device meaning she wasn’t as importance as the effect of her absence was on her loved ones.  Getting her point of view doesn’t seem nearly as interesting.

Her backstory, though?  That’s where this seems like a stroke of brilliance that will force us to forgive their “Oliver was just lying the whole time” nonsense.  The island flashbacks this season have not completely justified their existence, often simply halting the momentum of episodes.  In general, you could argue that the further Arrow is removed from its early season 1 version of Oliver who was fresh off the island the less necessary it will seem to check back in on Oliver’s incremental progress on the island in the past, even if if his new prison buddy looks just Hugh Jackman at the beginning of Les Miserables.  By now more directly connecting the past and the present in the form of Sara the flashbacks suddenly have far more immediacy.

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The rest of “Crucible” seemed to somewhat struggle under the weight of its own “Sara’s back; that’s pretty heavy, right?” tone, with conversations between Oliver and Sara awkwardly paced as a result of some unnecessarily long pauses.  However, their costumed team-up at the end to rather easily take down The Mayor was well-choreographed, particularly the moment when the two seamlessly switch weapons (turns out she’s good with a bow and arrow, too).  The Mayor storyline in general was a return to the far more familiar season 1 villainy where Oliver could rather easily and logically bellow out “You have failed this city!” as opposed to last week’s serial killer who would mostly garner a “you have…freaked me the f out!”  With the Mayor and his gang being exclusively African American, I was nervous this might descend into awkward depictions of urban African American life as written and envisioned by upper-middle-class Hollywood writers who think all such characters should end every sentence with an outdated slang word.  Instead, it was more of a non-entity of a villain who provided a decent enough target at which to direct Oliver and Sara’s energies.

Laurel

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Much of Laurel’s storyline this season gets a pass because she’s a woman in grief with pretty severe survivor’s guilt thus explaining her irrational behavior.  While her anti-vigilante rhetoric was minimal this week, she took a new turn for the worse through an alcohol and pill dependency that so concerned her father he went to Oliver for help (awkward!).  Her journey, of course, rather closely parallels her father’s from the first season.  His storyline, though, was arguably handled better than Laurel’s has been.  There was more nuance to a drunken Quentin being escorted out of a bar by Laurel during an end of the episode montage about the collateral damage caused by Oliver’s actions than there is in having a bottomless glass of wine in Laurel’s hands at most points in “The Crucible.”  Plus, they didn’t have to work as hard to feature Det. Lance’s vendetta against the vigilante.

There is a Black Canary-light at the end of the tunnel where we know this is all about ultimately tearing Laurel down before building her back up again.  However, it is difficult to make a character seem aimless and distraught without making the storyline seem that way as well.  So, there is risk with this route.  Laurel is also paralleling her sister now, with “The Crucible” arguing Oliver cannot yet save her from her time of trouble but he can pull Sara back from the proverbial ledge.  The Laurel-is-just-like-her-dad arguments, which have taken a semi-tragic turn this season, didn’t seem nearly as pronounced last season.

Sebastian Brother Blood

BrotherBlood

That last scene with Sebastian worries me a little, particularly since I had enjoyed his interactions with Oliver prior to the “he’s secretly a villain!” ending.  My fear with Arrow is that it will lose touch with its grounded-in-reality approach and eventually just become Smallville (no offense to Smallville, but that was a very different kind of show).  A villain like Malcolm Merlyn having been trained by a mysterious figure on how to become an assassin, and then funneling his new expertise to deal with grief by destroying half the city should alarm me more but it didn’t.  However, Sebastian being a man of the people above ground, and a Scarecrow-mask-wearing administrator of mysterious green liquid designed to do something nefarious to a potential soldier in his Church below ground seems just a little closer to “oh, I forgot I am  watching a comic book show” territory.

NOTES

1. With Great Powers Comes Great Abs…

Unless I’m mistaken, no man found themselves freed from the ab-covering shackles of their shirts this week although we did so all of those gunshot wound scars on the prisoners on the boat.

2. That Opening Scene Was Phenomenal

“The Crucible” started out on fire.  It opened with an impeccably edited and generally fun back and forth sequence in which Oliver takes down some street thugs bearing higher-powered guns while Felicity struggles to pacify a rather icy Isabel Rochev who is none too pleased Oliver is late to a Queen Consolidated fundraiser.  Once Oliver arrives at the fundraiser, in quick succession the episode re-establishes Sebastian Blood as a man of the people, hints at an emerging drinking problem for Laurel, introduces us to The Mayor, gives Felicity a nice a-ha! moment when she figures out Black Canary is following Laurel and not Oliver, and then gives us Black Canary’s real identity all before the first act (commercial) break.

3. Comic Book 101: Sebastian “Brother” Blood

Faces_of_Evil_Brother_Blood_01

First Appearance: 1982

Sebastian “Brother” Blood is a villain to the New Teen Titans, a junior version of the Justice League originally consisting of Robin, Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Cyborg, Starfire, Raven, and Beast Boy.  He’s the manipulative leader of a religion/cult known as the Church of Blood, which operated in the fictional nation of Zandia for centuries before expanding to America.  He’s invulnerable, ages at an incredibly reduced rate, and is incredibly strong.  His backstory involves an ancestor named Brother Sebastian who 700 years ago killed another priest to obtain Christ’s prayer shrawl.  However, this action brought with it a curse whereby Sebastian was granted invulnerability and long life with the shrawl but guaranteed to be killed by his son before his 100th birthday, a curse his son would inherent.  As such, the Sebastian Blood the New Teen Titans encountered was actually the 8th ever Brother Blood.  He was eventually murdered by another Sebastian Blood, who became the 9th Brother Blood as part of a relaunch of the character which gave him more vampiric attributes (derives power from blood) and the looks of a teenager.  In adapting the character, the animated series Teen Titans created a new Brother Blood who was a literally hypnotic Headmaster of  school for young supervillains he turned into his cult.  

The version of Sebastian Blood on Arrow is adapted to apply the Church of Blood to the political arena, using Blood’s power of persuasion in a very different context.  I had originally guessed they were going a pre-Two-Face Harvey Dent angle with him, but I was wrong.

4. Comic Book 101: Anatoli Knyazev aka KGBeast

KGBeast_0015

First Appearance: 1988

A Batman villain who was a KGB-trained assassin who once assassinated 9 high-ranking U.S. officials, failing to kill his 10th and final target (then-President Reagan) due to Batman’s interference (Batman protecting Reagan based upon what happens in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns seems wrong).  Batman declines to kill Knyazev, but he does bury him alive in the end (this Batman loves technicalities).  In subsequent appearances, Knyazev became increasingly cybernetic but less important as Russian bad guys became increasingly passe.  He was eventually murdered by another villain, and then later reanimated as part of a collection of Green Lantern villains.  

Knyazev was name-checked last season on Arrow as someone who’s life Oliver once saved, thus anointing Oliver an honorary lifetime captain in Knyazev’s particular branch of the Russian mob.  Now, we have finally met him in “The Crucible” as the man in the prison cell next to Oliver’s, a storyline in which he thus far functions somewhat similarly to Bruce Wayne’s two prison mates in Christopher Nolans’ The Dark Knight Rises.

5. Is It Totally Fine That Laurel’s Boss Hit On Her at Dinner?

Isn’t he the district attorney?  Shouldn’t he know better?  Wait.  I’m remembering the endless sex scandals over the past couple of years from people who clearly should have known better and changing my mind.

6. How Did Oliver Pay for the Guns-for-Cash Swap AND Sin’s Medical Expenses?

Of course, it would have come from his trust fund.  I liked that Isabel Rochev dropped some real world “how are you actually going to pay for this?” knowledge on Oliver’s booty toward the beginning.  However, because she made such a big point of it I thought it was being set-up as a potential plot obstacle for Oliver, and would have been more surprised to see it never again referenced if so many other major things hadn’t gone down after that.

7. Was Oliver Killing Everyone in The Mayor’s Gang at “City Hall”?

Another storyline I thought had been introduced that actually had not was when Oliver attacked The Mayor and his gang at “City Hall” to secure the first crate of guns it sure seemed like he was killing every single person he shot seeing as they went straight down.  This seemed important, but was never referenced so I guess he was just knocking them out somehow.

8. Roy is a Pretty Stand-Up Guy

Sin has been nothing but sarcastic and rude to him the two times he’s met her, most likely having established an awkward “So, who the heck is this girl to you?” conversation with Thea later on, and Roy rushes to save her life.  Good on you, Roy Harper, but what it puts it over the “any good person would do it category” is that he stayed with her the entire time in the hospital and was there when she woke up.

9. And the Award for “They Totally Predicted Sara Showing Up on the Boat Goes To”….

AppleFour, who has their own Tumblr blog, in the comments section on my site registered a prediction – I was skeptical of – this past week that Sara would undoubtedly show up on that boat in the flashbacks.  You were right, I was wrong.

“Next Week on Arrow.“:

What did you think?  Like it?  Hate it?  Let us know in the comments section.

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4 comments

  1. This episode was definitely different than last weeks but I found myself very interested in all the potential story lines that can come from “Sara was on the island too”. Having Sara there, being interesting and contributing to not only the story line but the crime fighting, made it even more obvious to me that Laurel is THE worst…ever.

    I’ve held off up until about last on just hating Laurel because there was always the chance that she would become Black Canary. Then last week she finally realized that it was her fault that Tommy died because she was in danger…during and episode where she got kidnapped! The drinking and pills and all of the attitude, I don’t know, if she is being torn down to be built back up into some other Black Canary form then maybe it’s worth it but damn she is the worst part of this show for me right now when everything else seems to be clicking.

    I agree that the opening scene was very well done. My wife and I were immediately drawn in and surprised that Oliver confronted, and found out the identity of, Black Canary before the first commercial break. We had both guess that that particular moment would come at the very end up the episode.

    Arrow continues to surprise and defy my expectations. I am still cautious about getting my hopes up for Barry Allen/Flash to be characterized correctly and to have a fantastic costume that looks good on screen. I liked the second easter egg they planted for the Flash in this episode saying that there were protesters at the S.T.A.R. Labs Particle Accelerator. It makes me think that there will be an attempt to sabotage the project at the same time Barry Allen is tracking down a suspect in S.T.A.R. labs and he will end up having his particles accelerated.

    Great review and break downs of the characters/story lines! I look forward to next week!

    1. Glad you liked my review/break down of the characters/story lines. Will keep doing them all season.

      There is definite potential with re-introducing Sara to the show. It is genuinely exciting and intriguing to now have a different pathway to the flashbacks, that they need be exclusive to Oliver’s P.O.V. anymore. When Sara asked Oliver what happened to Slade I was surprisingly excited that someone from the present not only knew Slade’s name but cared to ask about him. Like I said in the review, it makes the flashbacks seem more immediate. My reservation with the Sara storyline is not that she’s back (which as a by-product of running this site I’ve known about since late July and had plenty of time to process) but that they’ve had to retcon things and say that Oliver was merely lying about her all last season. It annoys me and gives me pause, but I can work past it depending on how it plays out from this point forward.

      As for Laurel, I will often defend her character and Katie Cassidy’s acting if for no other reason than feeling bad for how rudely stated so much criticism of her is (lots of “she’s stupid and ugly” type of stuff). Even now, I feel bad for Cassidy because coming into this season the deck was seriously stacked against her with an ever-increasing contingent of Felicity-Oliver fans disliking Cassidy. Then they gave the role of Black Canary to a new actress, put Cassidy to the very back of the season 2 cast photo, and proceeded to give her the type of storyline in the early going of the season that typically only results in annoying viewers and causing hatred of the involved actor(s). The result is exactly what you stated – she is arguably the worst part of a season that has otherwise been elevating the show to a new level.

      The basic idea behind all of this ties back to the producers stated intent for the destruction of the Glades and death of Tommy to have long-lasting personal consequences for most of the characters. However, in truth, the only two who seem seriously effected by it beyond a mere episode (other than jailbird Moira) are Oliver and Laurel. Oliver gets to to use Tommy’s death as a positive force to motivate him to change for the better whereas they are using Laurel (and her father by extension) as the primary source of the emotional destruction wrought by the Glades. I get that – not a horrible idea but poorly executed so far. To me, the fact that Laurel’s re-directing her anger at the Hood because she was suppressing her guilt over Tommy was so COMPLETELY obvious to everyone (viewers included) that they should have owned it and had Laurel acknowledge it right away, arguing that it doesn’t matter because the Hood is still a murderer. Instead, they stretched it out over 3 episodes which wasn’t long at all, really, but still probably at least 1 episode too many (and you’re right having her reach that realization when she did was poorly written). Now, she’s an alcoholic and pill-popper, with no groundwork whatsoever and a flimsy “well, her father became an alcoholic after Sara, so……” explanation? Oh, please end this soon.

      Based on how fastly they’re burning through their other story lines, though, maybe Laurel will be on to something else within 2 weeks. As you stated, I, too, was stunned at how quickly they played the “Sara Lance is Black Canary” card – before the freakin’ opening title card and first commercial break?!? Damn, that is some compelling television.

      Your prediction for what all of these STAR Labs easter eggs might lead to mirrors my own.

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