Is it possible to have an episode were so much happens yet, in the end, you feel as though nothing much was really accomplished? That’s what it felt like watching “Canaries.” Yes, the episode featured several monumental revelations, including Oliver revealing his Arrow identity to Thea, Laurel confessing the truth about Sara to Quentin and Thea’s douchey DJ boyfriend unveiling his malicious intents. Yet, perhaps because all of these felt like such a long time coming, there was something almost anticlimactic about their placement here, even if the moments themselves worked very well.
But let’s get to the episode at hand.
Based on the title, one would assume that “Canaries” would be super-Laurel focused. That’s certainly the case but, because it’s Arrow, that story is but one of several others that gets tossed around amidst the show’s burning desire to power through its storylines like a speeding roller coaster. First of all, I need to come straight out and admit that it’s been hard for me to emotionally connect with the Lance family, mostly because Laurel was—with one or two exceptions—such a problem character for so long. Caity Lotz’s Sara helped inject the family drama with some teeth and it’s most likely due to her presence (in the form of Laurel’s drug-addled hallucinations) that the Laurel story works as well as it does.
The main gist of the episode concerns the return of Peter Stormare’s Vertigo-pushing crimeboss, Werner Zytle, who escapes from incarceration and quickly devises a means of replenishing his supply. With all due respect to Stormare and his appropriately wacky and menacing portrayal, I really find myself starting to chafe against the “vertigo”-centric episodes, which were explored in the first two seasons via Count Vertigo, and then promptly reintroduced when Stormare took over the operation in Season Three. By now, the “Vertigo makes a character face their fears” trope feels as though it has been beaten into the ground. Thus, the moment that Laurel is injected with the drug and finds herself facing off with a vision of Sara’s Black Canary, you kind of know automatically where all of this is heading.
Again, that’s not to say these scenes aren’t effective in their execution. The first time Team Arrow takes a bleeding and near epileptic Laurel back to headquarters, the juxtaposition between her horrific appearance and the surreal visuals makes for a genuinely frightening moment. Moreover, in her climatic fight with Vertigo, Laurel facing down the visions of both Sara and her emotional father (who, in her head, is screaming at her for keeping Sara’s death from him) does make for an effective coda to an otherwise predictable plotline. Adding to the “pros” of this episode is the moment where Laurel finally confesses to her father. Far from being the melodramatic and overwrought sequence I feared, the scene actually has the two communicate not with words but with expressions. Laurel says she has something to confess about Sara and, based solely on the look on her face, Quentin figures out everything he needs to know and begins to break down in tears. For a show not prone to subtlety, the incident is surprisingly nuanced.
Laurel confessing to her father pairs nicely with Oliver finally letting Thea know about his superhero activities. In another nice change of pace, Thea does not suddenly rage at her brother for keeping secrets from her (as she has done many times before), but actually looks at him with newfound respect. After all, he’s been responsible for the rescue and safety of thousands of people. The person she does turn against, however, is Malcolm Merlyn. And, as if her new life wasn’t confusing enough, she runs into the arms of her DJ boyfriend (he has a name but I forget it) and, after a night of passion, discovers that he’s trying to poison her. Luckily, his assassination attempt is foiled by a quick intervention from Roy and Malcolm. It’s here that both Oliver and Malcolm agree that Thea can no longer be put in this damsel-in-distress mode and, from here, Oliver ends up taking her back to the Island for some means of training (because this series is nothing if not a bunch of training scenes).
Overall, I can’t shake the fact that Oliver and Thea traveling back to the Island feels a bit like filler until the next big Ra’s al-Ghul confrontation. Even with the promised return of Slade Wilson next episode, I’m not quite as excited about the upcoming week as I have been. Then again, Arrow universe has proven me way wrong before (I was the one who doubted The Flash spinoff after all), so I’m open to being surprised.
Going back to filler, the Hong Kong scenes, after picking up these past few installments, returns to being merely momentum-killing afterthoughts. It’s yet another display of Oliver and Maseo’s strained relationship with Amanda Waller that seems to only exist for the last-minute revelation that Waller is secretly taking Oliver back into Starling City.
Indeed, this episode is a strange entry. You can’t really call it a “biding time” episode, as it features many major shifts in dynamics and relationships, but it also retreads old storylines in the guise of the Vertigo plotline, which gives it a “been-there-done-that” feel. Perhaps in hindsight my feelings on the episode’s quality will grow clearer. For now, I can only do as the show suggests, and plow on to the next stage of the adventure.