Tonight was the first time the entire Arrow family has been together in Starling City since the midseason finale. Quite fittingly, “Canaries” was all about family, both our place within them and responsibility to them. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that “Canaries” was another excellent installment of our favorite superhero show since if there’s one thing Arrow does better than the comic book drama, it’s the family drama. And the best Arrow episodes, which this one is, seamlessly connects the two to make the comic drama more real and believable because the stakes not only affect an individual, but also the rest of the greater Team Arrow (greater meaning that it’s not just those with access to the Arrow Cave, but also Quentin and Thea). More importantly, “Canaries” finally sees the end of several long running and infuriating lies (and one insufferable character).
With Oliver back in Starling City, it’s time to take the show back to basics and revisit our good ‘ol friend “vertigo,” the drug that continues to plague Starling City. The drug vertigo holds a special place in the Arrow lore because it is not only grounds the ever-ridiculous unicorn that is Starling City in some sort of reality—War on Drugs and all—it also is one of the few times the show comes close to the pre-New 52 characterization of Oliver Queen in the comics: a bleeding heart liberal who was concerned with fighting a battle against the social ills of our world.
On Arrow, vertigo usually turns up when it’s time to interrogate our hero and make him face who he is, what he stands for, and what he’s willing to do. We saw this in season 1’s “Unfinished Business” when Oliver wondered if vertigo’s reappearance on the streets meant he was wrong to show the original Count Vertigo mercy by overdosing him on his own drug instead of killing him. In the second season’s “State vs. Queen,” vertigo was used to explore whether or not Oliver was an unremorseful killer and what would push Oliver to break his no-kill rule; it turned out it was Felicity’s life being in danger and him needing to make split-second decision to save her. And, finally, this season’s premiere used Count Vertigo’s return to raise an existential, and romantic-ish, question: Can Oliver Queen the vigilante/budding hero co-exist with out-of-costume Oliver Queen who just wanted to restore his family’s legacy and take the nice IT girl he recruited into his mission on a date.
Vertigo and the Count’s (Peter Stormare) return in tonight’s’ episode raises similar questions, not for Oliver, but for Laurel, who is still new to the vigilante game. Tonight’s episode is partially about Laurel deciding who she is as a Starling City vigilante and what exactly her responsibilities are to her blood-related family. Oliver accepting her into his mission and superhero family (because Diggle, Felicity, and Roy are just as superheroic as he is, duh). The Count escapes from police custody and immediately begins amassing the chemicals he needs to produce vertigo. Against Oliver’s wishes, Laurel joins in on the hunt to find and stop him. Each time she encounters the Count in the field, Laurel is injected with vertigo, which causes her to hallucinate she’s fighting her sister, Sara. The second time around she also hallucinates fighting her father, who is angry with her for withholding news of Sara’s death from him.
Both imaginary brawls with her family reveal Laurel’s lingering anxieties about assuming her dead sister’s mantle and her guilt over deceiving her father. While her time working with Team Arrow boosted her confidence, she’s still nowhere near the rest of the team’s certainty in the mission and their place in it. Can she actually become a hero and symbol like the Arrow, or is she nothing more than an addict and fraud in tight fitting leather? Felicity, a.k.a. the Hero Whisperer, helps her in part in a touching scene that not only passes the Bechdel test, but also shows the signs of the beginnings of a beautiful friendship. Felicity tells Laurel that she sees within her a light that she never saw in Sara, and unlike Sara and like Oliver suggested, she’s not wearing the mask to run from her demons. The next time she fights the Count and is drugged, she is able to overcome the fear-inducing toxin and kick his ass because she realizes that she’s not a fraud and is a valuable member of Team/Family Arrow.
Laurel’s tango with vertigo in all its forms tonight works way better than Oliver’s in the season premiere because instead of leading to an unconvincing plot contrivance to keep two love interests apart, it leads to something that’s directly related to this show’s overall concern with family: Laurel finally tells Quentin about Sara’s death, and it’s an emotionally wrenching scene. Quentin doesn’t react angrily and push Laurel away, but instead draws her closer. In this moment, he needs the love and support of his only remaining family more than anything else. We end with both Lances sobbing in each other’s arms and it couldn’t be more heartbreaking.
NEXT: Another big secret comes out