It is possible to course-correct during a season of television. For example, two seasons ago The Vampire Diaries had become a white hot mess with more doppelgangers (series regulars Nina Dobrev and Paul Wesley each ended up playing three completely different characters) than it knew what to do with. Then we started learning about some secret society on the college campus which was experimenting on vampires, Stefan had amnesia and then a blinding thirst for revenge (again…he does that sometimes), Bonnie was a ghost but then she was somehow living in both the corporeal world and the afterlife, and stop me before it gets even goofier or cliché-ridden. I was just about ready to give up on the show, thinking its habit of burning through storyline faster than any other show on television had finally left it without any good stories to tell. But then all of a sudden all of the really bad storylines seemed to go away, and the show seemed to conjure up a renewed sense of creative urgency which lasted well into the current season. They were able to do this because they had purposefully structured the season to consist of mini-story arcs which bled into each other, and thankfully the third and fourth mini-arcs they had last season were better than the first two.
Arrow’s bad storylines are not gone after “Canaries,” which probably marks the show beginning its third major story arc of the season after “Who Killed Sara Lance” and “The ‘Death’ of Oliver Queen”/”Brick Overtaking The Glades.” Ray Palmer is still on his Tony Stark-way to Atom land. Oliver is still partnering with Malcolm to learn how to defeat Ra’s al Guhl (ugh). Thea still appears to have no idea Malcolm manipulated her into killing Sara, thus making her turn against him in “Canaries” all the more confusing (She’s mad because he tried to push a wedge between her and Oliver when he took her away to Corto Maltese?). However, after the events of “Canaries” doesn’t a lot of the bad finally seem kind of behind us?
That stupid DJ is gone! Sure, his exit followed gratuitous sex with Thea, and his big plan turned out to be “Kill Thea whenever you want, bro.” Sure, it was somewhat unintentionally funny seeing both Roy as Arsenal and Malcolm as The Dark Archer file into the apartment to fight him. What, were they both just standing outside the door in their costumes, listening in? Does that mean Roy overheard his ex-girlfriend having sex with someone else? Forget all that, though, because that DJ is gone! This smacks of a “We have a long storyline planned out for you” – episodes finally come out, no one likes him – “Eh, screw it, let’s kill him as soon as possible.”
Thea finally knows that Oliver is the Arrow. Sure, it doesn’t completely follow that she’d be 100% okay with it, somewhat blindly trusting that she’s right when tells him, “All those times you lied to me you were off saving someone’s life.” Wouldn’t she want to ask something like, “Is you being the Arrow the reason Slade Wilson killed our mother right in front of us?” The answers more complicated, of course, but she doesn’t even ask; she just wants to know if Moira also knew Oliver was the Arrow. However, we finally get to see Oliver talk to Thea openly about his life, and the two and half seasons of build-up to this moment rendered this a bit of a seismic event in the history of the show, handled with far more grace than that time Katie Cassidy got like 10 second of screen time to react to the cliffhanger revelation that Oliver was the Arrow. The acting on display from Willa Holland and Stephen Amell during their first sequence down in the Arrow Cave and then in their apartment was surprisingly touching. I particularly enjoyed the tone in Amell’s voice when he explained how amazed he was that Malcolm had never spilled the secret to her.
Captain Lance finally knows the truth about Sara. It’s a good thing that Captain Lance got that “Cut it out, Harper. I know it’s you in that red hood” scene last week because other than that Captain Lance has been pretty well defanged on this show. Honestly, though, he’s been somewhat of a non-entity this season, placed on the outside of everything as the one left in the dark on a big secret much as Thea has been during the entire run of the show. So, watching him left uninformed about Sara for 11 episodes made us more sympathetic to him than the ones lying to him (Laurel and then Team Arrow), but it also made him seem like somewhat of a weak character. That’s why it felt so good to see at least some representation of him, albeit a hallucination, really tear into Laurel in “Canaries,” practically lifting his statements straight from internet comment boards debating this storyline, “Don’t you think I had the right to know? To grieve my daughter?” Watching the actual Captain Lance be devastated but not literally killed upon learning of Sara’s death was long overdue, although it remains to be seen if the show will just skip over, “Won’t he be mad when he learns exactly how long they’ve been lying to him about this?”
Laurel’s not trying to be Sara. Speaking of stealing lines from internet comment boards, much of what the hallucination of Caity Lotz’ Sara said in this episode has been argued by fans of the show since the start of the season and even going back to last season when we thought Sara might die in the season finale, e.g., Why did she have to die to let Laurel become Black Canary?, Why is she being pushed aside?, Laurel is not worthy of wearing that mask. As such, to someone who is hyperaware of the this kind of thing Laurel’s journey in this episode felt a lot like the writers were addressing the criticisms head-on and attempting, once and for all, to establish that Laurel is her own version of Black Canary now. Granted, Laurel kind of already learned during The Glades three-parter that she can’t dress up as Canary to honor Sara but instead because it’s the right thing to do and the people of the city need her help. As such, there was an element of Laurel addressing Sara’s proverbial ghost head-on which felt redundant yet somehow also necessary. We kind of needed to see Laurel get beat down by those questioning her right to even wear that Canary mask, and for her to come out of it stronger, convinced she can become a hero in a way Sara never cared for (Sara did immediately go back to the League of Assassins after learning the joy of pure heroism in the season 2 finale). Plus, we needed to see her stand up for herself and again not let Oliver get away with his autocratic way of ruling. There’s only so long this show can apologize that Laurel isn’t Sara. You’re either with it or you’re not, Katie Cassidy’s acting and all.
Team Arrow will not suffer Oliver’s dickishness anymore. Remember last season when Oliver forced Roy to break up with Thea because that would somehow keep her safe, and then like literally less than an episode later she’d been kidnapped by Slade Wilson? That resulted in one of my favorite Roy Harper moments on the show when he called Sara and Diggle out on blindingly trusting Oliver’s orders when his orders no longer made sense. I loved it because as the protagonist of the show Oliver is forever imbued with a somewhat unquestioned moral authority thus leaving us to question whether certain stupid things Oliver did were meant to be character defects or were in fact just flat-out lazy writing and messy plotting. Here was little Roy Harper pointing out that Oliver wasn’t always right.
They’ve extended that idea to the present, with both Roy and Laurel standing up to Oliver, Felicity egging them on, and Diggle acting as the somewhat calmer “You see, Oliver, things have changed” voice in the room. If Arrow has always just been the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy married to CW melodrama that makes Oliver Batman, and Batman does not work well in group settings in which he is not the unquestioned leader. So, really, Team Arrow petitioning for new operating procedures was always coming, and Roy’s defense of Thea was a perfect instigator for that argument. Well, it was if you forget the fact that just last week Roy was arguing in favor of joining Malcolm, and now here he was questioning Oliver’s judgment in light of his deal with Malcolm. Just the same way Felicity’s stance against Oliver’s moral flexibility in partnering with Malcolm last week worked fine if you forget that Felicity was arguing Oliver needed to exhibit increased moral flexibility if he had any shot of killing Ra’s al Guhl in the mid-season finale. Plus, the timeline is a bit fuzzy here. It kind of seems like Oliver was really only gone for two weeks. Is that really long enough for Team Arrow to suddenly have a new handle on how to do things, Oliver be damned? Angel did something remarkably similar during its second season (Wesley became the new boss, and Angel just a mere employee at his own company, Angel Investigations), but it spent more than two episodes building up to that.
Forget all that, though. Arrow’s not so good at consistency. Just embrace it in the moment, and Roy standing up to Oliver sure felt nice.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The messy plotting is far from gone, but “Canaries” got a lot of dead weight off of this show.
1. Seriously, who has sex on the couch of a loft they share with their brother? I hope Thea & Oliver have some kind of roommate arrangement worked out. I’m not sure what Thea might have placed on the door to let Oliver know not to come in, but I think we can all agree that whatever it was it was most definitely green.
2. Thea learned during her fight with stupid DJ that she’s not as strong as she thought she was, despite training so intensely with Malcolm Merlyn for months. Doesn’t that call into question Malcolm’s skills as a trainer, skills which Oliver and Thea are totally relying on now?
3. Emily Rickards’ way of saying, “You’re leaving again?” at the end was beyond perfect. Felicity was in full-on passive-aggressive mode for most of this episode.
4. It’s just too bad that this all ended with a silly “Oh, btw, Oliver was actually back in Starling City for a while during his flashback years” cliffhanger. He must have a bloody impressive postcard collection from all the places he probably ended up in while he was supposedly stranded on an island for 5 years.
5. Clearly, Oliver calling Thea Speedy so much must be building up to her actually becoming a full-fledged sidekick thus leaving Daddy Lance as the only normal person on the show (eh, I guess Felicity doesn’t dress up either).
AVClub – “That was kind of a mess. But my goodness-what a mess!”
Hushcomics.com – “Hush Comics gives “Canaries” a B. From physically kicking ass to making strong choices, the women of the Arrow-verse really took over this episode. All Team Arrow needed was the lubrication of communication to return to the well-oiled machine they were before Sara died.”