Arrow Season 2, Episode 21 “City of Blood”
Written by Holly Harold
Directed by Michael Schultz
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on The CW
It’s always difficult for a television show to build dramatic tension by dangling the life of its protagonist in front of the audience; often, the fabric of the show’s reality becomes stretched too thin, the veil of life-and-death situations erased by the common knowledge that a show can’t really kill off its titular character, or it wouldn’t really have a show anymore. It’s exactly what has made the second season of Arrow so damn effective: though Slade’s ultimate goal is to kill Oliver, this season’s been about Deathstroke taking aim at people who can (and do) die, attacking Oliver through his heart, rather than his physical body (although he’s made sure it hasn’t been a bruise-free endeavor along the way) – and by attacking the psyche of Oliver Queen rather than his life, has made the second season of Arrow a vastly more entertaining show. This season isn’t so much about Arrow saving Starling City (though it is a major plot point) as it is Oliver saving himself – a journey that comes full circle in “City of Blood”, to surprisingly effective results.
Why surprising? Because the first half of Arrow is all about Oliver preparing to sacrifice himself to Slade to stop the violence, a wholly ridiculous idea that involves Oliver broadly talking his way around Felicity and Diggle’s logic. When Arrow is trying to sell us a defeated Oliver, it naturally suffers: as Laurel later points out, being a hero is not about giving up when hope seems lost. In fact, it’s being hopeful in the face of constant, life-altering failure that makes a ‘hero’, something that Arrow has worked all season to convey to Oliver. And in those first twenty minutes, it appeared that “City of Blood” was going to spend the hour committing to the bit, to convince the audience Oliver was finally caving into Slade’s psychological torture.
And then, with a conveniently placed knockout dart, “City of Blood” finally begins to build towards its season endgame, catalyzing it all with the single weakest link of the series: Laurel Lance. No longer inundated by the show’s need for her investigative skills to be terrible at figuring out who the Hood was, Laurel makes her first appearance in The Foundry, and delivers the kind of powerful, effective call-to-arms speech that represents everything Arrow has needed Laurel to be, but not allowed her to, for various reasons (dating psychopaths, getting wasted, being emotional over Oliver and Tommy’s love… the list goes on and on). Finally unburdened by the intentional fog placed around her, Laurel’s able to exhibit some of the stronger personality traits that define the other members of the Lance family, and re-establishes her as an integral part of Arrow‘s world (and with the “eyes and ears” tease, possibly much more moving forward).
Up until Laurel’s confrontation of Oliver, it felt like “City of Blood” was stalling, reveling in the shockwave of Moira’s death, focusing on an abandoned Thea (who loses her mother, brother, and club in the same sentence) and Oliver’s absence in order to push certain pieces into place, like Blood’s underground army and Oliver’s re-dedication to his cause. In all honesty, it probably goes on a little too long: by the time “City of Blood” gets to its climatic moments, it’s rushing against the clock to get Oliver and Laurel underground and Blood’s army to the surface, the episode cut off at the knees when the screen suddenly goes to black with everything hanging in the balance.
Sure, there’s no resolution to be found with two hours remaining, but boy, does “City of Blood” find an awkward place to stop: Thea at a train station getting attacked by a Blood army member, Diggle getting jumped by not-dead Isabel (in full, alien-like Ravager gear), and Oliver and Laurel trapping themselves in rubble to stop a group of Blood thugs from closing in on them; these moments aren’t ‘cliffhangers’ as much as they are “oh shit, we ran out of time” moments, abruptly ending when Blood’s army leaks out into the streets of Starling City, where Diggle’s planted explosives can’t do much to stop them.
When people go back and binge-watch season two, I’m sure this won’t be an issue: but in the flow of a network television schedule, it makes the final moments of “City of Blood” a bit of an unsatisfying watch, especially given the drawn-out nature to a foregone conclusion that consists of the hour’s first half. Much of “City of Blood” certainly builds to interesting things to follow – but in trying to hold onto its big face cards just a little bit longer, “City of Blood” is sometimes a little too lean for its own good.
– “City of Blood” ends with literally every character’s life hanging in the balance: right down to Quentin, who is attacked by a Blood thug in the police precinct.
– Sara’s gone missing: methinks she isn’t going to come back alone. All season, Arrow‘s taught Oliver that he can’t do things alone: while he might want things to go back to being the trio of him, Diggle, and Felicity, he’s going to need some serious help to take down Deathstroke once and for all.
– on the island, Anatoli gets the sub rocket (which can only be shot manually, requiring a submariner to sacrifice himself? This doesn’t seem like very effective military technology) working, except that it only shoots out a few hundred yards before turning around and crashing right into the boat, leaving Sara (who Oliver put in a different part of the boat to “keep safe”) in jeopardy.
– secondary Foundry!
– “Do you know how this works?” “He fires. I steer. You pray.”
– I LOVE Felicity’s form of torture. “You bitch.” “Bitch with wi-fi!”