Whoever holds Sara Lance’s black leather jacket, if she be worthy, shall possess the power of…Black Canary!
Oy, if only it were that easy. The moment Sara’s Canary mask fell at Laurel’s feet we knew that meant the baton had been passed, that some point soon Laurel will metaphorically lift that mask off the ground and become Black Canary. Sara’s death not only created a vacancy in Starling City’s butt-kicking gal crime fighter quota, but it also potentially gave Laurel motivation, an extra push toward the way of the vigilante since Sara’s killer is clearly not going to be answerable to the traditional justice system. However, Katie Cassidy is simply not the stuntwoman that Caity Lotz is, and her character doesn’t have Sara’s back story of being trained by an international terrorist organization to become a ninja-like assassin. That means someone somewhere is going to have teach Laurel how to fight, with this journey too important to simply be glossed over the way they sort of admittedly dropped the ball with Oliver’s “training” of Roy last season.
“Corto Maltese” was the true start of that journey, following up Laurel’s willingness to empty a gun into Sara’s presumed killer last week to attempting to stand up for a battered woman this week. There is potentially a believability gap here, though. I say that knowing full well that this is a show where we’re just supposed to believe Sara nearly drowned after the Queen’s Gambit sank, spent a year palling around on a boat with a mad scientist, spent another year palling around on an island with Oliver, and then was somehow saved by the League of Assassins who turned her into a well-oiled killing machine. However, because Sara was introduced to us pretty fully formed, i.e., she was already in full-on Canary costume, and we got that back story slow-dripped to us through flashbacks there was less reason to second guess why exactly she was running around Starling City bringing justice to any man who would dare raise his hand to a woman, especially Sin. We’re watching a far more linear progression with Laurel. As such, we’re far more directly faced with the classic comic book conundrum: Does it truly make sense that that person would put on a costume and fight crime? Can we accept the fact that within 1 full episode of her sister’s death Laurel’s method of dealing with her grief would be to put on a ski mask and use a wooden bat to sneak attack a girlfriend-beater in an alleyway? Are these the actions of a recognizable human being, or is it simply something someone would do on a TV show which wants them to become a vigilante down the road?
You can be similarly skeptical of “Corto Maltese”’s introduction of a new and improved (love the new haircut) Thea Queen Merlyn, who has now learned that pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional. She could have learned that same basic lesson by listening closely to the poet Patrick Swayze’s words of wisdom in Road House, “Pain don’t hurt,” but this way was cooler because it meant she no longer appears to feel it when hot coffee is spilled on her hand. Would Thea’s response to her pain from last season really be to allow her biological father to train her just as the League of Assassins trained him?
Actually, yes, on both counts; Laurel’s actions are fairly believable within the context of this show, and the same goes for Thea. These are two women dealing with considerable personal loss, Laurel with Sara and Thea with her mom, the best way they know how. For Laurel, her instinct in this instance is to simply do something, anything, that can keep her from hurting. So, in a move likely meant to resonate with Sara’s initial shtick as a “protector of women” Laurel strikes out at a genuinely bad guy, fully admitting afterward that it was a stupid decision she didn’t think through at all. However, it was her Kick-Ass or Amazing Spider-Man 1 moment where the hero epically fails in their first time out, lucky to walk away alive albeit with nasty bumps and bruises afterward. Even the pain Laurel felt in that moment was probably a relief because it was something different than what she had been feeling while trying to deal with Sara’s death, unable to reach any kind of catharsis without the emotional support of her father or closure without the capture of the killer. Thea’s transformation felt somewhat more like she’d been inducted into a cult, broken down at her most vulnerable and built back up in Malcolm’s image. However, her desire was to never be weak again, which her dad provided in the most extreme way possible.
Of course, Laurel and Thea weren’t the only things going in “Corto Maltese,” which sort of reminded of last season’s Russia episode in its “Let’s get most of Team Arrow into a different country, have some fun seeing them in new surroundings.” In fact, this episode was filled with light moments, such as Roy admitting he’d never been on a plane before, the introduction of Oliver’s hotel-made archery gear, and pretty much every single second Felicity was on screen, giving the impression that they felt the need to laugh again after spending a week mourning Sara. I was particularly amused by Felicity’s attempt to juggle the calls from everyone on Team Arrow, with her quick little, “Are we favor friends now? …Are we friends?” to Laurel being a clear highlight.
Amidst the fun there were some clear attempts at gut-wrenching emotional exchanges, such as Quentin pleading with Laurel at the hospital, Oliver telling Thea the quasi-truth about Robert Queen’s death, or Oliver rebuking Laurel’s request to train her to fight. As a result, Amell was called on to really deliver, and dang if he didn’t break your heart with the way he told Thea about Robert sacrificing himself to save him just as their mom sacrificed herself to save both of them. Of course, we know he didn’t actually tell her the full story, i.e., Robert killed another man on that lifeboat before killing himself, and you can question how pure it is that Oliver seems to simply want Thea back because he needs her with no attention to whether or not she actually needs him anymore. However, you can definitely see why Thea was swayed by his speech.
The Bottom Line
A table-setter through and through, “Corto Maltese” was the episode that had to get Laurel’s ill-fated first foray into vigilantism out of the way while also explaining where Thea had been before returning her to Starling City with the rest of the cast. The fact that it featured Laurel donning a ski mask and wielding a baseball bat and Thea going toe-to-toe in a sword fight with the former Dark Archer is the type of thing that happens to the formerly “normal ones” in a comic book TV show once it gets into its third season. However, despite being an episode whose plots simply served to set up future events there were more than enough rich character moments to elevate this above a run-of-the-mill “table-setter.”
1. “What is it with your family and islands?”
2. Lyla seemed way cooler with sending Diggle into potential danger than I expected, although I did enjoy her brief comment near the beginning in response to Diggle’s announcement that he’d be home for the weekend, “Why, did you quit Team Arrow again?” He did just quit like 2 weeks ago.
3. At the hospital, when Quentin begged Laurel to tell him what was up with her I was pleasantly surprised that the show didn’t resort to having Quentin cut her off at the last moment because he needed to take his heart pills or something. Instead, she remained silent, and Quentin left angry, the show resisting the urge of forcing in some “She can’t tell him about Sara ‘cuz it’ll kill him” reminder.
4. The first time we saw Ted Grant (R. Ramirez) he was shirtless. He should fit right in on Arrow, although Laurel’s reason for initially meeting him seemed fairly half-assed.
5. There was a part of me that thought, “Remember when she was just a lawyer?” or a “drug addict?” while watching Laurel assault someone ala-Kickass or Thea showing off her sword-fighting skills (as well as her bare midriff) with daddy Malcolm.
6. So, um, did Oliver kill all those guys he shot with that gun? Or did he just nick their legs, Terminator 2-style? Because if he killed them then doesn’t next week’s “Will he break his code” marketing angle seem like complete bullshit?
7. You might have noticed that I pretty much didn’t talk about Diggle’s storyline with Manhunter. That’s because there’s not much to say, despite the solid action scenes and solid acting from David Ramsay. This was simply one of those things they felt they had to do to set-up some shady goings-on with Amanda Waller and ARGUS down the road.
8. How did Oliver afford those airplane tickets? That hotel room? Did ARGUS simply cover that for them? But he was already going to go before Diggle tagged along. So, he clearly was going to have some way to pay for it, right?
9. It’s probably best that Oliver’s pitch to Thea for her return home didn’t include, “I should point out that I have no idea where you’ll sleep, and whether or not Verdant is even our’s to run anymore is anyone’s guess.”
10. Something I shouldn’t admit: I’d kind of forgotten that Thea still doesn’t know that Oliver is the Arrow.
TV.com – “Both [Laurel and Thea] are on similar paths; they’re trying to deal with their respective pain and to figure out who they are as a result of their losses, so Arrow is setting up something of a parallel track for the two characters. It’s rather exciting to see the show start to develop these sorts of structures and then apply them to characters who aren’t Oliver.”
AVClub – They gave it a B, concluding, “Like ‘Corto Maltese’ as a whole and the first three episodes in general, the great virtue of the Laurel plot is that at least it’s moving fast. I’d just love a little more clarity as to where it’s moving in such a blazing hurry.”