Arrow Review: “City of Blood”

(Episode 2.21)

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<i>Arrow</i> Review: &#8220;City of Blood&#8221;

After last week’s sucker punch of an episode, “City of Blood” was destined to be a time of reflection. Unlike Tommy’s demise, which effectively gave the previous season finale some emotional weight and a sense of danger (nothing says “no one is safe” quite like killing off a main character), the death of Moira Queen comes fairly early in this season’s wind-down. It’s clear the writers wish to dwell upon the impact this tragedy has on our characters. It’s not a last-minute shocker that everyone must internalize before coming to terms with next season. Rather, this is a loss that Arrow’s heroes will have to process just as they face off against what may be the biggest threat of their crime-fighting lives.

Appropriately, the first shot of the episode depicts a sober, muted funeral tableau. The scene is promptly juxtaposed against the image of Sebastian Blood, by default, being sworn in as Starling City’s next mayor. The one important person missing from Moira’s funeral? Oliver. Some quick detective work courtesy of Diggle and Felicity finds our hero alone in an empty, bare-bones hideout, a shell of his former self. The guilt of Moira’s death has hit him hard and, in order to protect the city and assure Thea’s safety, Oliver announces his plans to turn himself into Slade and end the villain’s vendetta. Thus, the majority of the episode involves Oliver’s friends talking him out of this rash action.

This doesn’t really take a lot because, honestly, it’s a pretty idiotic plan. While I perfectly understand Oliver not being in the right head space when he makes this decision, even he should realize that merely turning himself in would do little to halt Slade and Blood’s wave of terror. And so, in many ways, “City of Blood” involves people pointing out the obvious to Oliver—albeit, in ways that rival Christopher Nolan superhero flicks in terms of their messianic language.

As I mentioned many times before, Arrow has never been shy about borrowing from Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. “City of Blood” boasts such parallels in spades. Try witnessing a hooded Sebastian Blood rallying his army of Mirakuru-enhanced soldiers to ravage the city and not thinking about Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Not to mention there’s even a scene where one of the soldier gets himself captured in order to infiltrate the Starling City police station à la The Joker in The Dark Knight.

It’s a darker episode for sure. Luckily, because the writers know that even the Batman movies—contrary to some think pieces—cracked a few jokes every now and then, “City of Blood” is not without its humor. Most of this comes via Felicity, always one to diffuse the tension and bring a light touch to the proceedings. The first big moment comes directly after the heavy opening scene. At the funeral reception, Felicity is seen crying, even though she is quick to admit that she never liked Moira. (“In my defense, she was not nice.”) And, in what’s probably the highlight scene of the night, Felicity and Diggle end up interrogating Mayor Blood’s bodyguard. As the man struggles and spews ugly words at the two, Felicity casually (even cheerfully) begins wiring his sizable bank account to various charities until he starts talking. I don’t say this enough, but I really love Felicity.

Augmenting the show’s sense of fun is the Island flashback, which shows Oliver and Sara as well as their new freighter companions, Anatoly and Peter, attempting to pilot a submarine to battle Slade. Though this subplot is not without its darker elements—Peter reveals that he’s dying from a severe bout of radiation poisoning as a result of Ivo’s experiments—the banter and dynamic of the group works as a nice contrast to the more austere main storyline.

All in all, your reaction to this week’s Arrow will largely depend entirely on how you feel about the show’s take on angst-y drama. If the episode had a subtitle, it would probably be “The Monologue Hour.” Granted, Arrow has never been a show to back away from dramatic monologues. Frequently, in fact, characters will deliver what amounts to exposition dumps but with regards to their own feelings instead of the typical plot-related background. Here, a scene doesn’t seem to go by without some kind of speech of some sort. In terms of quality, some are strong and hit their mark (Oliver’s speech to Thea about her having “the purest heart” of the Queen family is genuinely moving) while others … not so much. The biggest example of the latter is probably Laurel’s inspirational speech to Oliver, which includes such clunkers as “I don’t know anything about hoods and masks or human weapons or any of this, but I know you. I know you like I know my own name. And I realize it may sound crazy in light of your secret, but I know who you are in your bones, Oliver.”

“City of Blood” serves primarily as a respite before the big storm. Though it’s frustrating that the episode literally cuts off just as the meaty action commences, such is the nature of the cliffhanger. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the episode. There are moments that play like gangbusters while there are others that left me scratching my head. For one, how could Sebastian Blood be stupid enough as to leave a timestamp on his Moira Queen-based press release that basically proves he wrote it before her death?

Ultimately, in spite of the episode’s cheesy and occasionally contrived dramatic moments, the balancing act comes down more on the “good” side. It’s a predictable installment, but that’s mainly because it needs to set specific events into motion. What’s important is that it tackles the twin challenges of handling the dramatic aftermath of Moira’s death with the proper reverence and getting the audience pumped for the show’s final two episodes. In writing season two, the Arrow writers essentially challenged themselves to top the phenomenal final stretch of season one. Given the amount of set-up they’ve given these final two entries, it’s safe to say I’m optimistic about their chances.

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