Arrow TV Reviews

TV Review: Arrow, “League of Assassins” (S2/EP5) – Past Imperfect

To read our other Arrow episode reviews please go here.

League of Assassins

THE PLOT

Sara’s whole “I can’t tell you about my past because it’s so shameful” hand is forced when Al-Owal (Navid Negahban) from the League of Assassins attacks her and Oliver in broad daylight at Queen Manor.  Oliver’s super-confused why a guy dressed like Malcolm “The Dark Archer” Merlyn attacked them, and sets about assigning tasks to Felicity and Diggle as part of his investigation before Sara finally fesses up about her past with the League.

League of Assassins
In a more innocent time, Sara’s response to meeting Felicity might simply have been to inquire about her gorgeous black dress with pink and white flower patterns.

Because of course they have, both Diggle and Oliver instantly understand the reference, Diggle explaining the League of Assassins to Felicity (and, by extension, the audience) while Oliver stews in anger.  When Oliver and Sara attack Al-Owal at his hideout, they get their butts whooped, and have to Batman-grappling hook (just with a trick arrow) their way out.  They split up to protect her now-threatened family members, Sara with her father and Oliver with Laurel (who has a seriously embarrassing “wait, this wasn’t a date, or at least a hook-up?” end of evening moment with him).

League of Assassins
Al-Owal, catching unseen arrows from hitting the back of his head since 1997.

Sara and Oliver eventually defeat Al-Owal and his fellow assassins with an assist from Quentin, who then has to watch his long-lost daughter run away again with vague “I have to go for your own good, and for their own protection you can’t tell my sister and mother I’m alive.”  Tough night for ole Quentin.

Meanwhile, the District Attorney seemingly laughs at conflict of interest by placing Laurel as the second on the legal team against Moira.  Laurel gets the DA to offer Moira a plea of life in prison with the possibility of parole, which Moira is going to take until her kids convince her to fight for her freedom regardless of what new secrets a trial might uncover.  This level of stress can’t be helping Laurel’s emotional issues, which have now eliminated alcohol and gone to pure pill addiction.

6 years ago, after the Queen’s Gambit crashed Sara was discovered afloat in the ocean by the same Amazo pirate ship Oliver would find himself on a year later.  We see Sara taken in by Dr. Anthony Ivo (Dylan Neal), who is not the Captain of the ship but has a position of authority.  He makes a vague reference to doing research with human subjects on the ship that will save the human race.

THE REVIEW

For better or worse, Arrow‘s storytelling this season has become so hyper-charged that I didn’t even bat an eye when a freakin’ assassin propelled through a window into the main foyer of Queen Manor.  While an assassin infiltrating Queen Manor is not unprecedented on this show (“Home Invasion”), something about a man dressed like the Dark Archer practically dropping in from the sky to interrupt Sara and Oliver’s conversation in the main foyer of the mansion felt completely out of step with what the show was but totally in-keeping with what it’s becoming.  And what is that?   A show that fully embraces soap opera (i.e., the long lost dead ex-girlfriend/sister returning) while loosening their once firm adherence to Batman Begins’-aesthetics.

For the most part, it’s working.  Oliver looking up and seeing someone dressed like Malcolm and having no clue what was going on was a thrilling moment, and not just because the ensuing Sara/Oliver/Al-Owal fight scene was Raid: The Redemption-style awesome.  It was the rarest of rare Arrow moments where Oliver was caught utterly off-guard and operating several plot points behind the audience.  The rest of the episode was mostly devoted to catching Oliver up with the rest of us on Sara’s connection to the League, and finally giving us Sara’s background, although anyone expecting her entire tutelage under the League to be depicted here walked away disappointed.  Instead, poor Caity Lotz was asked to wear nothing but a nightgown and bra and panties for all of her flashback scenes and still come away looking dignified, and they managed for it to never seem exploitative.

In the present, Lotz brief reunion with her father was touching, although I can’t be the only one who thought Sara and her father were about to be attacked as soon as they hugged.  Their diner scene together was particularly exceptional, from beginning to end.  Paul Blackthorne’s acting was on full display here, and the way he registered his resigned disappointment when he quickly deduced that Sara was Canary and would have never told him she was alive if not for the threat on his life was effective.  The highlight was arguably when Sara jumped to their defense based upon a stray noise, turning around to a father she assumed would judge her but who, while confused, persisted in loving her no matter what.

The idea behind the entire episode was to use Sara’s story as a lesson for Oliver about the downside of keeping so many secrets from loved ones.  This lead to a rather lovely end-of-episode conversation in which Oliver appeared to start opening up to Diggle about his past.

Unfortunately, the overall episode was slightly clunkier than the season average so far.  Why exactly Al-Owal and his men so easily walked into Sara’s trap when they could have easily attacked at any prior moment is a question the episode prefers you not ask.  It also retroactively weakens Oliver’s first season quarrel with the Dark Archer if it only takes Sara one episode to dispatch of the man who supposedly trained Malcom Merlyn.  There was also a slightly higher quotient of awkwardly written dialogue than normal, e.g., Oliver advising Sara how she can’t get forgiveness without actually asking for it, Sara’s overly expositional explanation for why Diggle would be no match against League of Assassins members.  Plus, what on Earth are they doing with Laurel?  Maybe it’s a natural progression to transition from guilt to self-pity, but Laurel’s “why do people keep leaving me?” speech felt dangerously close to the writer’s having lost grasp on the motivations behind her descent into self-abuse.  Also, I’m sorry, you already played the “Moira has a huge secret which threatens to undo this family” card all of last season.  Please don’t hinge her entire trial story line on the promise of new secrets this season.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Last week was all about revelations, i.e., Black Canary is Sara!, Sebastian Blood quite likes Scarecrow-like masks.  This week was more about explanation, on the Black Canary part at least.  However, while that arguably could have occupied the entire episode there was some table setting to do with Moira’s storyline, which while not horrible is simply not as compelling.  There was arguably more to nitpick about the plot than usual (why did the Assassins wait until Sara had reached her safe space to attack?), but the strong performances from Caity Lotz and Paul Blackthorne made for an ultimately entertaining episode of Arrow.

THE NOTES

1. Comic Book 101: Professor Anthony Ivo

professor-ivo-and-amazo
Professor Ivo and Amazo, as depicted in the animated series Young Justice.

First Appearance: 1960

Background: Oh, just your run-of-the-mill comic book mad scientist who is clinically terrified of death so he devotes his life to cybenertics in search of an immortality-granting breakthrough. This leads him to create the superpower-mimicking android Amazo to either collect specimens for him or collect so many superpowers Ivo might be able to harness an immortality serum.  Amazo is the more notable character of the two, and the rest of Ivo’s story mostly involves building more robots, finally getting immortality and then wishing he hadn’t, and being other characters (good and bad) go-to guy for robots expertise.   The New 52 continuity has maintained Ivo’s fear of death and status as the creator of Amazo, but it has switched the location of his actions to S.T.A.R. Labs.

The version of Dr. Anthony Ivo on Arrow is still a mystery, although we know his ship is named Amazo and that he believes his work will help save the human race somehow.

2. Comic Book 101: Ra’s al Guhl, Talia al Guhl & The League of Assassins

league+of+assassins

First Appearance: 1971

Background: If you’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy you know the gist of the Ra’s al Guhl story – terrorist leader seeking to return balance to the world by killing most humans.  The comic book version of Ra’s is pretty much immortal, rejuvenated for over 100s of years by the life-giving liquids of the Lazarus Pit.  In the comics, he did not train Batman but did deduce his secret identity (i.e., Bruce Wayne) on his own.  As with the films, Ra’s has a daughter named Talia who engages in a love affair with Bruce Wayne, except Talia is far more of a conflicted character in the comics than in The Dark Knight Rises.  In fact, in the comics, Talia and Bruce have a son together named Damien.  It’s worth noting that although he is a Batman villain, the comics have made Ra’s so powerful he has been a villain to the entire Justice League on occasion.  Heck, he’s even had a consensual one-night stand with Black Canary before.

It’s unclear if Ra’s al Guhl will ever actually show up on Arrow.  Tonight’s episode introduced a new wrinkle with Al-Owal telling Sara “the child of Ra’s Al Guhl awaits your return.”  A reference to Talia?

3. The Shado-Slade Stuff Won’t End Well

It’s been over a year since Oliver has returned from the island, and he has yet to mention either Shado or Slade to anyone in the present.  Clearly, crap went down, and those two are either dead or villains out there who might show up to seek vengeance or friends who became villains who are now dead.  Sara dropped two pretty big hints tonight when she observed Oliver’s hood and said, “I remember when I first saw that hood. Shado was wearing it.”  Amell’s slightly melodramatic headturn in response to this mention was kind of unintentionally hilarious.  Plus, of Felicity and Diggle Sara observed “Oliver is lucky to have you both as friends.  He hasn’t always had the best luck in that area.”

4. If Your Ship Crashed and Stranded You on an Island for 5 Years, Would You Keep a Framed Photo of That Ship in the Main Foyer of Your Home?

Well, Oliver did, mostly just because the writers wanted Sara to see it and wince when snooping around Oliver’s mansion during the episode’s first act.

5. Who’s Tougher, Patrick Swayze from Road House or Sara Lance?  

road-house-01-4

Famously, in the cult classic 1980s action film Road House Patrick Swayze sagely observes that “pain don’t hurt” when asked by a female doctor if the procedure she is performing on him without any anesthesia hurts.  Tonight, when Felicity marvels at Sara’s complete lack of reaction to any apparent pain she should feel from Oliver’s stitching of a wound on her back she observes, “Pain and I came to a little understanding a few years back.”  Who’s the bigger badass in this scenario, Swayze or Lance?

6. What Was that Mini-Episode with Bose During the Commercial Break?

For those who didn’t see, there was a mini-episode featuring Felicity and Roy during one of the commercial breaks.  It mostly involved Felicity listening to music through Bose earphones at work, and getting interrupted by Roy who’s there to talk to Oliver about Thea.  It was odd in that it had no apparent connection to the plot of tonight’s episode, but the plot it began will be continued in another mini-episode next week.

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

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