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
If you’ve been reading these recaps, you know my biggest complaint this season has been the fact that Thea still doesn’t know Oliver’s the Arrow. Well, I am overjoyed to say that Oliver finally brings Thea in on his big secret tonight after Malcolm Merlyn pays him a visit and tells him that the three of them need to be on the same page if they hope to defeat Ra’s. Like Quentin, Thea doesn’t feel betrayed by Oliver when he brings her to the cave. In fact, Oliver’s confession brings the two siblings closer as Thea is proud of the fact that every time he flaked on her and lied, he was actually saving someone’s life. The threat of Ra’s al Ghul’s wrath makes family more important than lashing out. Oliver and Thea’s relationship—which has always felt very natural and comfortable—becomes even more so once these secrets are brought out into the open and Oliver can be completely honest with her.
Actually, the importance of family only justifies so much; Thea is pissed as hell when she finds out that Malcolm has known about Oliver’s secret all along and purposefully drove a wedge between her and her brother. Naturally, she pushes Malcolm away and wants nothing to do with him. However, by the end of the episode, she reluctantly accepts that she and Oliver need Malcolm’s help if they are to beat Ra’s al Ghul when she finds out that Douchebag DJ, whose name is in fact Chase, is an agent of Ra’s al Ghul. Following a heated exchange in the Arrow Cave where Oliver yells at her to get out when they come rushing in with a vertigo’d and bloodied Laurel, Thea runs into Chase. In this moment, she needs something that’s not batshit like people choosing to wear tight-fitting leather outfits that must be uncomfortable, kisses him and takes him home. However, Chase tries to poison her, but thanks to Malcolm’s training, she’s able to detect it. Malcolm and Roy show up just in time to stop Chase from killing her. Caught between both archers’ cross hairs, Chase decides to commit suicide. If I have one complaint with Thea’s story this week, it’s that it depends partially on Thea being a damsel in distress who needs Roy to rush to her defense.
Letting Thea in on Oliver’s not-so-big secret ties into this episode’s further concern with exploring how Oliver deals with how the team changed in his absence and how his crusade has become bigger than just himself. He basically goes through what every parents goes through when they realize their baby is all grown up. Throughout “Canaries,” Oliver struggles with adjusting to how much Team Arrow has changed in his absence. More specifically, they no longer obey his every order. Laurel stands up to him when he forbids her from suiting up, and more importantly, Roy stands up to Oliver when he yells at Thea for being in the cave while the grown-ups are doing their business. Roy tells Oliver that by bringing Thea into this, he no longer has the right to speak to her like that. This gives way to an argument that’s welcomed by Felicity, who says that just because he’s back doesn’t mean he has the right to question all of their choices. However, it’s not until Diggle, again assuming Arrow’s wise and mystical black person role, basically recites the song “Family” from Dreamgirls to Oliver that he understands. His mission, to save and protect Starling City, is more than him, it’s more than all of them; it’s become this quasi-family’s mission.
By the end of the episode, Team Arrow’s patriarch realizes what the audience learned in his absence: Team Arrow no longer needs him there babysitting them and are more than capable of protecting the city. Thank god, he learned this now because Malcolm informs him that the only way for him and Thea to defeat Ra’s al Ghul is triumph over their fears. And, the only place suitable for them to go through this crucible together is back on Lian Yu. So, Oliver leaves his precious city in the hands of Felicity, Roy, Diggle, and Laurel, while he and Thea venture to his past home.
Wall of Weird:
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