Note: My sincere apologies for coupling these two reviews together. I was incredibly busy last week and am now playing catch up. Thanks for understanding.
2×17, “Birds of Prey”
Like the previous episode “Suicide Squad,” Birds of Prey gets its title from a classic DC Comics entity. The Birds of Prey were an all female team that consisted of Batgirl, The Huntress, Black Canary, and Lady Blackhawk. After the success of Smallville, The WB tried their hand at a Birds of Prey TV series in 2002; that show featured The Huntress and a descendant of Black Canary. This episode of Arrow sees the return of mobster Frank Bertinelli (Jeffrey Nordling), who we haven’t seen since the first season. Of course, with Frank comes his daughter, Helena, aka The Huntress. In season 1 of Arrow The Huntress was a pivotal part of Oliver’s transition into a hero; in fact “Vendetta” was the first great episode of a show that has now had many great episodes. Thus, this episode gets its title from the fact that both The Huntress and Black Canary are featured but rest assured… they are not a team.
Birds of Prey, like many episodes of season 2 of Arrow, is about what it means to be a hero. In “Suicide Squad” we focused on the heroics of Diggle. Similarly, many other episodes throughout this season have studied the individuals in Oliver’s life and their evolution into hero: Roy, Sarah, Felicity, Quentin Lance, even guest star Barry Allen. The line between vigilante and hero is thin, and Oliver himself made great strides towards hero with his no-kill policy and enhanced involvement in cleaning up the city of Starling after the earthquake. One might think that seeing Helena again would stir up old feelings inside Oliver or became a point of contention between Oliver and Sarah. The show avoids that easy route, however, and instead has something else on its mind. Helena has a one track mind and she intends on killing her father no matter what as revenge for her boyfriend’s death. When Frank is being brought to trial in Starling (and with Laurel being asked by assistant DA Adam to return to her job to try the case), tensions are high and Oliver and his team make preparations in anticipation of Helena’s return to Starling.
As it turns out, assistant DA Adam Donner used this knowledge to set a trap for Helena; Laurel was simply bait. Alas, Adam’s plan fails and The Huntress, expectedly returning to kill her father, takes hostages. I am sure I sound like a broken record at this point, but what evolves is a terrifically tense, fast paced, and action packed episode of television. Throughout this season Arrow has found a groove in a big way and each episode the team improves on the intensity, action sequences, and stunts. A fight between The Huntress and Black Canary is a comics’ fan dream, and it is executed wonderfully, with a stunning free fall as its conclusion. Later, when Arrow, Black Canary, and Officer Lance usurp the SWAT team and make a deal with The Huntress to trade Frank and Laurel (who is one of the hostages), it evolves into an epic back alley fight filled with machine guns, hand to hand combat, and many twists and turns. As an action show, Arrow now excels above almost anything else on television.
Yet the greatness of Season 2 of Arrow extends far beyond just the incredibly fun but admittedly superficial pleasures of great action. Time after time throughout Birds of Prey the characters are forced to make choices that question their morals. Where is the line between hero and villain? What are the right choices? How do these choices affect those in their life? Sometimes being good means hurting the people you love, as Roy is only now learning. He knows, as Oliver tells him, that as he comes to terms with his new powers and his aggression that he must keep a distance from Thea. To do this he must hurt her, but does that ultimately make it the right choice? Then, of course, there is the darkness. We see the darkness in Helena, and as she tells Laurel once you let the darkness in there’s no going back. We see the darkness in Slade, as the limited island flashbacks show his continued evolution from hero to villain. If Season 2 of Arrow is about what it means to be a hero, then it is also slowly revealing itself to also be about what it means to be a villain. As the episode ends with Slade offering Thea a ride home (oh no!), I am left wondering how thin the line is between the two.
Towards the end of my review of “Birds of Prey” above, I wrote that, among other things, one of the questions the episode asks is, “How do these choices affect those in their life?” The actions of a “hero,” particularly one that operates under a shroud of secrecy as Oliver Queen does on a nightly basis, are riddled with a bevy of potential implications and moral quandaries. Oliver’s goal is to make Starling City a better place and protect those that he loves, while also keeping his identity a secret and operating outside of the confines of the law. It is a risky game, and he is lucky to have assembled such a terrific and capable team of friends/allies in Diggle, Felicity, Sarah, and Roy. In “Deathstroke,” the team is put to one of their most difficult missions yet as Slade Wilson kidnaps Thea Queen. Slade provides to be the most formidable enemy any of them have faced as he is able to maintain one step ahead of them at every turn.
How far does Slade’s reach go? Not only does he thwart Oliver’s team’s attempts to rescue Thea, he has quietly and carefully been manipulating almost everything we have seen this season. His presence in Starling City was not known (first by the audience and secondly by Oliver) until more recently in the season, but as is revealed in this episode his impact extends as far back as the first episode of season 2, “City of Heroes.” Isabel Rochev, as it turns out, is working with Slade, and her involvement in Queen Consolidated was purely at the behest of Slade. Summer Glau gets to flex her acting muscles and show off her ass-kicking skills in Deathstroke, and she is awesome playing a villainous character. Isabel has manipulated Oliver, slept with him, and now coyly convinced him to make her temporary CEO of the company. She is then able to convince the board to make her permanent CEO and the fate of Oliver’s company is no longer in his hands. As the season continues it becomes more and more clear that certain seemingly disparate elements are actually part of the larger design and as the twists and reveals come I continue to be thrilled.
Oliver’s choices are the name of the game, though, and for the first time a member of his team begins to question his authority and decision making skills. Roy is, of course, the most tenuous member of Arrow, Inc. (TM), but the points that he brings up about Oliver’s poor leadership skills aren’t necessarily bad ones. He lost his company, is failing as a hero, and his too-sharp focus on Slade Wilson has precluded him from seeing the big picture. Oliver’s secrets come back to haunt him as well, as not only does Slade Wilson reveal to Thea that Malcolm Merlyn is her father (a secret she blames Oliver for as she expected more from him) but in the episode’s closing moments he tells Laurel that Oliver Queen is the Arrow. My mouth sat agape at this moment as I could not believe the show’s tenacity.
Slade Wilson is destroying Oliver Queen. This is his goal. As is revealed in the island flashbacks, he sees a hallucination of Shado and she is influencing his choices and his decisions. Slade, whether because of the Mira Kuru or his own psyche, has lost his grip on reality. Manu Bennett continues to be fantastic and increasingly terrifying. He’s putting it all out there, assembling an army and manipulating Sebastian Blood (long time no see!) to lead them in the fight for Starling City. He has even made his masked presence known, as he ambushes a Mayoral debate between Blood and Moira Queen with a video of him, adorned in his orange and black mask, holding Thea captive. Oliver tells him, “”They’re calling you Deathstroke,” to which he replies, “It’s a bit flamboyant. I like it.”
There are 4 episodes left of Season 2 of Arrow, and I cannot wait to see how they unfold. The pace, intensity, action, emotion, relationships, and moral questions continue to be fantastic and I hope they can bring it home in a way that ties the Slade Wilson arc together in a satisfying bow. Based on what has come thus far, I have faith that it will deliver. The next episode returns in 2 weeks, so until then I leave you with this wonderful quote from the great Felicity Smoak, “Do you remember where you put your business suit or do you keep it in a cool glass case too?”
Note: due to my schedule, as opposed to the usual episode by episode coverage of the past few weeks, I’ll be closing out season 2 with a review of the final 5 episodes of the season after the finale airs on May 14th. Stay tuned!