Arrow Review: “Birds of Prey”

(Episode 1.17)

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<i>Arrow</i> Review: &#8220;Birds of Prey&#8221;

“Birds of Prey” marks the second week in a row that Arrow has employed the title of a famous supergroup to hype up its audience. Whereas “Suicide Squad” was Diggle-focused, “Birds of Prey,” naturally, showcases the women of Arrow. Also like “Suicide Squad,” the episode features the return of an old foe—in this case, Helena Bertinelli’s Huntress, one of the more popular baddies from last season. Primarily because Arrow’s female characters have historically proven to be one of the show’s weaker areas, “Birds of Prey” doesn’t quite have the solid foundation that “Suicide Squad” had in forming its hour. That being said, despite a few questionable character choices that I’ll dive into later, this remains an insanely fun episode and proof that Arrow’s girls have as much dramatic potential as its frequently shirtless men.

The episode opens with Arrow and Black Canary assisting in a police raid. Among those captured is none other than Frank Bertinelli, the crime boss who killed his daughter’s fiancée and sent her on a war path. Oliver and team correctly deduce that Bertinelli’s reappearance means that Helena will soon emerge back in Starling City to finish her revenge. And indeed, she quickly does, taking a building full of people hostage and threatening to kill them all if the police do not deliver her father to her. Among those imprisoned is Laurel, who had recently been re-hired by Adam Donner to take on the Bertinelli case. In reality, Donner only brought her back so she could serve as expendable bait as part of his attempt to entrap the Huntress. To paraphrase Airplane!, Laurel really chose the wrong time to quit drinking.

Sara-as-Black-Canary quickly infiltrates the building to save her sister. How does Laurel not instantly recognize her sister considering her costume is a mask that just barely covers her cheekbones? I’ve given up wondering.

Here’s where the great divide between her and Oliver comes clearly into focus. Sara believes killing Huntress is the only logical step to stopping her, whereas Oliver is steadfast in his “no kill” policy. “Nobody dies tonight,” he states, in what amounts to mostly wishful thinking. Of course, a good reason for Oliver’s merciful approach no doubt stems from his past romantic relationship with Helena and the fact that he inadvertently gave her the necessary push to become the Huntress. Oliver himself equates her with Slade as monsters of his own making. The true lesson I think everyone should take from this is that Oliver’s dating history seems only to be matched by Daredevil in terms of sheer dysfunction—one ex has become a ruthless killer, another is a recovering alcoholic and his current squeeze is both a reformed assassin and the sister of the aforementioned “recovering alcoholic” ex.

Sara’s to-kill-or-not dilemma is augmented by the Island flashback scenes wherein she must decide whether or not to turn over engineer Hendrix, one of the prisoners who made it off of Ivo’s ship, back into Slade’s custody. If she refuses, Slade will continue to torture an imprisoned Oliver. Ultimately, she decides to knock Hendrix out and deliver him to the future Deathstroke. This choice, the episode implies, is the first step that will eventually lead her to become a killer for The League.

Helena’s road to revenge ultimately comes to an anti-climax. Rather than her taking his life herself, Bertellini is simply caught in the crossfire between the police and the bad guys and subsequently dies from a simple stray bullet. Far from feeling satisfied, however, Helena suddenly retreats into herself. There’s no catharsis; there’s only further isolation. Though Helena’s realization about the hollowness of revenge is a powerful moment, I feel as though the weight of this epiphany is somewhat undermined by her abrupt character shift. She literally goes from a cold, Lara Croft-esque badass to a weepy introvert in the course of one scene.

A side plotline concerns an new roadblock in Roy and Thea’s relationship. Seeing that Roy still cannot control his lethal rage, Oliver sits his “Speedy” down (“For the record, don’t call me Speedy,” Roy counters) and orders him to break up with Thea. This is easier said than done, as Roy’s initial attempts at splitting up only result in Thea offering to help him get through whatever turbulent period he’s experiencing. He then moves to the quickest way to make a girl hate you—hook up with someone else and assure your significant other catches you. This, as expected, does the trick.

This is a development I somewhat bump against in retrospect. While I perfectly understand Oliver’s desire to keep his sister safe, anyone with even the slightest bit of deductive skills should have realized that Thea’s love has been nothing short of an anchor for the imbalanced Roy. Hell, back in “Tremors,” invoking Thea’s name was precisely how Oliver was able to prevent him from killing someone (well, that and he revealed his secret identity). Breaking the two apart seems like a late-in-season attempt by the writers to throw some drama into the most stable relationship the show has. In any case, I’m sure Oliver will regret this soon enough.

Looking back on the episode of a whole, I feel as though I like it more in concept than execution. Much like the second season’s early episodes, a lot of the meaty material tonight concerns characters learning what it means to be a hero—the biggest takeaway being that doing the right thing is not also an easy or clear-cut path. Of all people, Helena perhaps best articulates the notion of being strong in a dark world when she states, “once you let the darkness inside, it never comes out.” Laurel then turns around and uses this mantra to win her job back by threatening her superior with blackmail. So, progress … I guess?

“Birds of Prey” will no doubt please many Arrow fans, especially those frustrated by the inordinate amount of time given to the show’s male characters at the expense of its female ones. And there’s certainly a lot to admire about the episode other than its attempt to balance the scales, gender-wise. It’s action-packed, has Jessica De Gouw killing it as the Huntress and some great meta lines courtesy of Felicity. (“It’s really getting hard to keep track of who knows whose secret identity.”) That being said, the dialogue often leans a touch too far into “clunky” territory and some of the character choices somewhat negate the more powerful moments.

But, let’s not end on a negative note, shall we? Next week we have Slade kidnapping Thea. No doubt this will lead to some of that loud, passionate yelling that Stephen Amell does so well.

mark.rozeman@gmail.com Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.