Arrow Ep 1.22 ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ proudly flaunts its flaws in an entertaining, action-packed episode

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Darkness on the Edge of Town

Arrow Season 1, Episode 22 ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’
Directed by John Behring
Written by Drew Z. Greenberg & Wendy Mericle
Airs Wednesday nights at 8pm ET on The CW

Serialized network dramas are so damn frustrating. There’s a reason the only thing left succeeding on networks (for the most part, save for shows like Scandal) are procedural shows: it’s too difficult to come up with 24 hours of one consistent narrative, and there’s bound to be stretches of episodes where writers are twiddling their thumbs and waiting for sweeps week to arrive. Arrow‘s been a textbook example of this through the first season, biding its time with lame, powerless enemies for the Hood to execute, holding back on the details and distracting viewers with silly, short-lived relationships.

There’s a noticeable (and welcomed) urgency to everything in ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’; interactions and plot points aren’t full of long, dramatic glances (save for Laurel, who still takes a deep breath every time someone walks away from her), or generally dicking around with their feelings or intentions. The Undertaking is about to happen, and the episode opens with the dark Hood starting to close off all his loose ends. He murders the research team behind his seismic device (by the way: how the hell does that thing shift tectonic plates?) he needs to destroy the Glades, and then heads off to the Queen mansion to check in on Walter, who is not quite acting “normal” (as Oliver and Thea comment to each other).

The massacre naturally draws Oliver’s attention, and after some crossing of the dots, he figures out he needs to get into the high-security Merlyn building to get the location of the borough-destroying equipment. What it leads to is Arrow‘s take on Ocean’s Eleven, complete with long, sweeping shots circling characters and undercover sidekicks. I couldn’t help but feeling it was a bit unnecessary – if Diggle could get himself a job in the building (again, what the hell?), don’t you think he could just walk in and handle it himself? – but it brought Felicity into the field again, which is always a joy. She’s all-in on her superhero crush now, busting out euphemisms and staring into Oliver’s eyes before he swings her safely over the least-dramatic gap in cinematic history. But it gets Felicity out in the field – and if there’s anyone I want to see teased as a possible costumed sidekick next season, it’s her.

Roy Harper’s obviously going to play a role in The Undertaking (more at the end, where my crazy finale speculation is), but the writers are also setting him up to be a sidekick next season. He’s going about it in a dumb way, though, following people around in a stolen car, thinking about buying Vertigo to attract his attention. I think the show’s having a little too much fun teasing Roy with his red sweatshirts, because they still haven’t nailed his character down to anything yet. Is he the bad boy with a soft side? The way him and Thea break up (in yet another painful, out of nowhere scene of trite female emotion), he certainly doesn’t seem to have quite the soft side we saw as he cowered on camera a few weeks back, thinking he would die and how he’d never see Thea again. If they’re trying to set him up as Oliver’s pupil, he has to be something more than a lower-class prick; otherwise, nobody’s going to give a crap what he’s after (which is someone he lost who “doesn’t matter”… at least not this season, *wink wink*).

If I may sidetrack for a moment, none of the relationship stuff in this episode works on any level – whether with Thea and Roy’s breakup, the divorce Walter tosses at Moira – or worst of all, the one they’ve been setting up all season, Oliver and Laurel. Tommy and Oliver’s pursuit of Laurel drums up unnecessary conflict between the two, and leaves Laurel as the girl who sleeps with guys, despite not knowing how she feels about any of them. She’s upset about her and Tommy – but she wants Oliver. No she doesn’t. Yes she does. N…. will you people just make up your mind already?

After some undressing to some emo-pop-dubstep (complete with Tommy glaring from 50 feet away, but with a clear view of them sexing it up in front of the open window), we can finally get back to business, and everything builds to a second confrontation between the Hood and Malcolm – and again, Malcolm beats the crap out of him, leaving him bloody on his office floor. The conversation before their fight is fascinating, as Malcolm catches an arrow out of mid-air and sneers at the Hood to “make up his mind” whether he wants to help Malcolm or kill him.

It unintentionally speaks to a number of other larger conflicts the show’s faced in its first season: is Oliver a criminal serial killer or a vigilante hero? Is this a superhero show with a mind – or melodrama wrapped in fancy costumes? Is Thea a character – or just a whine machine? Both Oliver and Arrow have fought with their internal demons in the first season, and the inconsistencies are personified in a single, beautiful phrase from the Big Bad. Just as Oliver can’t make up his mind about women or his goal, Arrow hasn’t made up its mind what it wants to be.

Their subsequent fight is followed by Malcolm unmasking an unconscious Oliver, presumably realizing what he catalyzed by having Oliver’s father killed in service of his plan (“what have I done?” he says, in the final shot of the episode). And for the first time all season, I found myself wanting more. More Felicity and Arrow on missions, more Walter hitting Moira with truth bombs, and of course, more Malcolm walking around and sneering like a badass. That’s what Arrow is supposed to be, and for the most part, that’s what they delivered in tonight’s episode.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– So what will happen in the finale? It appears most of the romantic crap that never works will be largely absent, with Oliver now in Malcolm’s grip, and other characters scrambling to understand what’s around them. Speculating wildly, it appears that Malcolm has finally seen the errors of his ways, and the devastation he’s caused, and is about to cause. Oliver’s proven he can’t defeat him (getting his ass knocked out twice), so either Roy is going to help him take him out, or Malcolm’s going to sacrifice himself to save the city and redeem himself (unlikely). Either way, Arrow gets blamed for Malcolm’s death, which gives Tommy more Angry Face and puts him in position to take over the company (despite working there for all of ten minutes).

– Could they have done a worse job with the inevitable Laurel/Oliver hook up? That was supposed to be the big emotional moment of the season, and its so flat and forced.

– nice little mislead at the beginning, with Diggle’s abduction of Oliver and Moira to get the truth out of her.

– “I can’t do this!!!!” Thea, shut up.

– Yao Fei takes a bullet to the brain on the island, where the goal is to shut down the entire Chinese economy by shooting planes out of the sky. Everyone knows I don’t care about what happens here – it has no discernible weight in the real world (at least, not this season.. those red heels will probably provide us with season 2’s big antagonist).

– so when’s Oliver going to tell Laurel who he is? The more people that know, the better (in my humble opinion).

– remember when Oliver spoke Russian a lot, and had a Russian boss?

– why does the dark Hood wear a full mask? I’d assume to make inserting a stunt double earlier, but Colin Donnell handles his non-costumed action scene quite well.

– so this season, let’s count who Oliver’s fought as the hood: he’s got a large collection of W’s against generic hoodlums, powerless bad guys, and dudes in suits. He actually hasn’t beat up anyone that’s his physical equal (save for the Huntress): he’s come to a draw against China White and has gotten whipped by Malcolm twice. If we’re supposed to believe he’s this powerful physical specimen, he’s gotta start showing up for the title fights.

– everybody is just SO SICK of going through a lot.

– Yonodaki Industries – I assume there is a comic book connection to this, but I didn’t have time to hunt it down before writing this review. If you know, feel free to share in the comments.

– Oliver makes a point that Laurel doesn’t quite embody all the time: “she’s not a piece of property; she makes her own decisions.”

 

— Randy

 





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