Like a Bird on a Wire

**This post contains spoilers for the most recent episode of Arrow, “League of Assassins.”**

Sara Lance can’t sleep. Possibly it’s because she’s trying to sleep in the Haunted Queen Mansion, in an actual California King bed with silk sheets, while Haunted Oliver Queen watches basketball like it’s homework in a room I’ve never seen before. Or maybe she can’t sleep because we started this episode with a flashback-slash-dream of the night the Queen’s Gambit sank, in which Sara survived the debacle and still wakes up breathing heavily from the memory. (Perhaps, upon spending your first night in Haunted Queen Mansion, you re-live memories of your most recent shipwreck. After all, Oliver’s first night back home was marked by him taking his mother to the ground after she woke him from his own shipwreck nightmare. If you’ve never been in a shipwreck, then that’s one less #whitepeopleproblems for you to deal with.)

Sara talks to a surprisingly relaxed and barefoot Oliver about insomnia and the weird reasons she has for not telling Beat Cop Lance and DUI Laurel about her existence. Oliver admits that the Lances were less than thrilled to see him upon his return a year ago, but things aren’t so bad these days. Sara remarks that she can’t believe Oliver and Laurel didn’t pick up where they left off, then ends the scene with, “I guess some things, you know, are just better left in the past.”

{Was Sara friends with Tommy? Does she mourn his death? I often wonder about this.}

Speaking of the past! Laurel isn’t done making terrible decisions, because a DUI (and the blasé attitude regarding said DUI) weren’t bad enough! That’s not rock bottom! No! Now, Laurel is assisting on the one case she probably should’ve avoided: State vs. Queen. Moira’s lawyer argues that Laurel’s presence is a conflict of interest (it is) as Oliver gives Laurel the most tragically confused expression ever seen on a face that does not belong to a puppy.

This was almost exactly his expression. No one actually made gifs of it, though, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Three-quarters of that expression has to be playacting, to get a reaction out of Laurel, but I bet at least part of him is genuinely surprised at her coldness.

It’s nice that Laurel is doing her best to get Moira off of the death penalty, instead advocating for a plea deal that gives her a life sentence with a possibility of parole, but it still doesn’t account for her poor decision to join this case. As Moira’s lawyer later points out, there’s enough evidence and material to make a case that Moira was acting under duress, therefore there’s no need to take a plea deal. I could probably believe that Laurel purposefully asked to be on this case in order to help Moira in any way she possibly can, if it weren’t for the scene immediately following the plea deal.

Oliver corners Laurel in the prison yard (as you do) and she insists that she didn’t have the power to back out of this case, because it was assigned to her. She then points out the plea bargain and it makes it seem like she’s not doing it to help Moira, she’s just trying to make the best of a bad situation. We’re also supposed to believe that despite Laurel’s well-touted newness and her lack of courtroom experience, she is the only person available to assist the D.A. on this high-profile and far-reaching case. There’s just so much about this show that the writers get right, it’s frustrating that they contrive the stuff around Laurel to make her seem a lot worse than she has any right to be. Even now, hours after watching the episode, I’m having trouble believing Laurel Lance couldn’t stand up for herself and say, “Hey, I shouldn’t be on this case, I’m practically Moira’s surrogate daughter.”

 

Oliver asks Laurel again if she’s all right, and Laurel shuts him down again, which means she has absolutely no right to whine about how alone and forgotten she is in the foreseeable future, right? Okay, glad we’re in agreement.

Sara’s hanging out in the Haunted Queen Mansion front entryway, where anyone could see her, reminiscing about that time she was floating on a door Rose DeWitt Bukater-style before she was rescued by a formidable-looking ship. Her reverie is interrupted by Oliver, who struck out in his first attempt to connect with a Lance sister, but this time he’s bound and determined. He asks again why she’s keeping herself a secret, and they try to get down to the heart of the matter, but Oliver’s will gets weak and his thoughts seem to scatter, but he thinks it’s about forgiveness, even if, even if, some dude crashes through his second-floor decorative window and interrupts them.

Oliver thinks it’s Malcolm Merlyn, back from the dead, but really it’s some other sword-wielding psychopath in the same outfit. This episode pretty much confirms that Malcolm was at least trained by the League of Assassins and might have even been part of it, though I think The Undertaking was a rogue event. Anyway, Oliver and Sara fight off the baddie in a spectacularly choreographed scene that basically ruins half of the downstairs of Haunted Queen Mansion, and they don’t even kill the guy to make all the damage worth it. Good thing Thea never comes home anymore.

Oliver and Sara go to hang out in the lair like proper superheroes and Sara mentions that she remembers first seeing Oliver’s hood on Shado. That means Shado has probably survived the bombings on the island, that remains to be seen. It’s also interesting that Oliver hasn’t invested in a new hood–that one’s lasted his four years on the island plus his past year of Hood adventures, but before Shado or Oliver wore that hood, it belonged to Yao Fei. I’d like to know the hood’s material, for future reference.

 

Then Sara meets Team Arrow, and oh, it’s glorious. Felicity rambles about being glad Sara is alive, and Sara can only reply with, “You’re cute” in the most non-condescending way possible. (That phrase will always have a note of condescension, but really, when Sara said it, it was the bare minimum.) Before the two ladies can be more adorable together, lest Oliver’s brain explode, Oliver informs his team that Haunted Queen Mansion was breached by a Malcolm lookalike. Diggle’s immediately concerned (where has he been all episode? I’m picturing him listlessly driving the Queen cars around Starling City in order to keep up his cover) and confirms that everyone on this show believes Malcolm Merlyn to be dead. Oliver then hands Felicity a soil sample (“Gee, I didn’t get you a bag of dirt!”) and asks her to run tests on it. We’re veering into Sherlock Holmes territory here, but if anyone can handle it, it’s Felicity Smoak.

Sara takes this opportunity to reveal that Copycat Merlyn was actually after her, because surprise! he’s part of the League of Assassins, and surprise! so is she. Oliver freaks out, because apparently he’s familiar with the League, and Diggle expresses his surprise that it’s a real thing; he’d heard it was an urban legend while he was in Afghanistan, “An ancient sect of assassins, deadly warriors, that killed and vanished like ghosts.” By the time Diggle’s done talking, he’s grasping the seriousness of the situation while Oliver’s fighting tears again.

Copycat Merlyn’s name is actually Al-Owal, which sounds like “LOL” whenever anyone besides Sara says it, and he’s coming to get her because she left, “And there’s only one way that you leave the League.” She describes a gruesome mission she did on behalf of the League and emphasizes that her family could never accept her for what she’s done.

Oliver runs off to Iron Heights Prison, where he finds out that Moira’s going to accept the plea. Thea is beside herself with anger, but Oliver and Moira have a very sweet scene about secret-keeping. Back at the lair, Sara’s apologizing to Felicity for possibly upsetting her, but Felicity’s basically like “Eh, this is old hat for me, I found that guy bleeding in my backseat, and weren’t you here that time I was bait for that creepy doll guy? Let’s be real, Canary, I’m pretty tough even if I can’t get out of gym memberships in a timely manner.” I share that trait with Felicity, by the way.

 

Sara thanks Felicity for “not making me feel like what I am,” which I suspect is very revealing in Oliver’s relationship with Felicity as well; she even brings that out in Diggle. Sara adds that Oliver’s lucky to have friends like Felicity and Diggle, because he hasn’t always had great friends. At first you think she means back in the day, like Tommy, but no, she’s probably talking about Slade and/or Shado. Oliver comes storming in at that point, asking Felicity to direct him toward the nearest punchable person (Sebastian Blood isn’t in this episode, otherwise I’d suggest him) and she points him toward an abandoned plant that is probably the home base for League of Assassin-type misadventures. Sara rightly points out that Oliver will get killed if he goes alone, but instead of bringing his bodyguard who always comes equipped with a firearm, Oliver opts to bring Black Canary, who comes with a collapsible staff. This may not seem like an oversight but…

Oliver sneaks up on Al-Owal and thwangs an arrow right to the back of his head. Oliver was seriously going to shoot him silent-style, with no fanfare, no song and dance, no ominous voice-changer decrees of “You have failed this calculus exam!” So it’s lucky for us that Al-Owal straight up catches the arrow sight-unseen and smirks. “Arrows! Such an ineffective projectile!” If Oliver had brought Diggle, that would’ve gone like this: “Arrows! Such an ineffective–oh God! You shot me! You shot me in the stomach! Who shoots a man in the stomach when he’s monologuing? It’s professional courtesy, always let the villain finish his monologue! Crap! Do you know how much my medical insurance is going to skyrocket now? I have to buy my own plan, you know, the League of Assassins is a small business! Thanks a lot, Obama!”

Oliver and Sara flank Al-Owal, who tells Sara he’s bringing her back to Ra’s al-Ghul, or else. He also has fellow Assassins hanging out in the rafters, waiting for their cue to ambush Sara and Oliver. The two zany superheroes barely escape the expertly-choreographed fight with their lives, and as Oliver lifts them out, Al-Owal threatens the other Lances if Sara doesn’t come willingly. She should’ve left Starling a long time ago to avoid such a danger, but man, she’s so great, I want her to be around all the time.

Back at the lair, Oliver stitches up a wound on Sara’s spine as Felicity tries not to vomit, then goes to whisper-growl to Diggle about the League of Assassins.

“Why wouldn’t she tell me what happened to her all those years?”
“Probably the same reason you wouldn’t tell us what happened to you on that island.”

There’s not a lot for Diggle to do in this episode. I’d be sad about it, except he spends his limited screentime being right about everything, so I’ll take it. Oliver’s having none of it, and he shifts his focus to protecting the Lances. “I’ll take Laurel.” (If Diggle had done one of those “Typical!” coughs in the background, I wouldn’t have blamed him.) Felicity volunteers to go talk to Beat Cop Lance, and assures Sara that she can keep a secret.

 

This helps to bring a bit more dimension to Felicity, because up until now, we could’ve just assumed she’s keeping this secret for Oliver because she has feelings for him. And even though Sara is important to him, therefore she is important to Felicity, it still says a lot that secret-keeping is just part of who she is, and not a byproduct of her relationship with Oliver.

I’ve been skipping the flashbacks, because there’s not a whole lot happening in them plot-wise, whereas present-day is a little overwhelming with the plot stuff. The flashbacks are notable because they show Sara’s incarceration and we’re introduced to Professor Ivo, aka Doug Witter, of the Capeside Witters. It’s also worth pointing out that Caity Lotz does a fantastic job of portraying Sara as a hysterical and terrified party girl who has found herself in a bad situation. She’s wildly different from the toughened and coarse Sara we are seeing in the present day.

Felicity corners Lance outside his roach-infested residence and tells him he’s in danger, but it falls on deaf ears. Not only is Lance a tough cop who is in danger every day, but there’s nothing scary enough in the world that can make him leave town without Laurel. It doesn’t help that Felicity brings up the League of Assassins, and she can’t convince him that he’s a target without spilling Sara’s secret. That’s okay, though, because Sara finally realizes she needs to tell her dad the truth in order to protect him. Diggle tries to go with her as backup, and they have an incredibly compelling exchange in which Sara calmly threatens to flatten him if he doesn’t let her go alone.

“It’s your funeral, Sara.”
“It wouldn’t be my first.”

Poor Digg. It’s exhausting, being right all the time.

 

Beat Cop Lance ends up pulling his gun on his daughter, because she approaches him in the street out of nowhere. They both start crying, and it’s another scene where Paul Blackthorne knocks it out of the park. They retreat to a Chinese restaurant, where Lance asks all the questions you would expect, but Sara’s still crying and jumping into defensive poses at loud noises. He deduces that she sent Felicity to warn him to leave, which means Sara knows the Arrow, which means she’s the masked girl who’s been running around The Glades. You can see his heart breaking when he realizes she’s been back for weeks and hadn’t come to see him. Then he asks a question that has callbacks to 1.16, when Tommy Merlyn’s standing in the hallway outside of his father’s hospital room. His only question for Oliver was, “Were you ever going to tell me?” Oliver’s reply: “No.” Now, Lance wants to know the same thing: “If these assassins, if they never had shown up, would you have let us know that you were alive?” Sara’s reply: “No.”

 

Oliver, meanwhile, has to work really hard just to get past Laurel’s defenses and take her out to dinner. As he walks her all the way to her door, Oliver points out that Laurel didn’t have a drink at dinner. She gloats that he and her father were so wrong about her, she doesn’t have a problem and Oliver basically says he’s not going to apologize for caring. Unfortunately, Laurel misreads the entire evening and leans in for a kiss, and Oliver has to push her away. Then we’re treated to the Laurel Lance Pity Party; one boy doesn’t want to kiss her, so that means no one cares about her and she’s all alone in the world. Never mind that she’s not returning her father’s calls, that she’s pushing Oliver away all the time, that she’s taking the side against his family in court, that Tommy died saving her from a collapsing building. “Run, run, run away from Laurel, run as fast as you can… What is so wrong with me that everybody leaves?” I don’t know, Laurel, but I bet talking to damaged, brooding, emotionally-unavailable Oliver Queen isn’t the best start. Perhaps a shrink? The best part is when Oliver vows that he will never leave her, and I actually believe him because he seems like he means it and he did spend those five years regretting leaving her in the first place. Laurel’s response to that? “Until you do.” No wonder people leave you, Laurel, you’re practically shoving them out the door.

Speaking of doors, hers is ajar (she should’ve moved by now, that apartment’s been broken into so many times that I’ve lost count) and Oliver investigates it and finds a threatening knife in a wall. He rips it out before she sees it, but after he’s gone, she takes some more pills. Because she doesn’t have a problem.

Sara takes her father up to her clock tower lair and spouts some stuff about forgetting people’s voices before you forget anything else. I have not found that to be true, I remember the voices of the people I’ve lost very clearly, whereas other details, like movements and mannerisms, have evaded me. But I suspect the voices thing is a precursor to the Canary cry or something of that sort, so I’ll give Sara a pass. Al-Owal is not giving her a pass, though, as he and his two rafter-dwelling minions ambush Sara and Lance.

Lance fails to shoot a guy who is flipping through midair, but Sara holds her own pretty well against Al-Owal for a few minutes until he catches her at swordpoint. (A dude with a sword is not allowed to chide Oliver for his outdated weaponry, okay.) Oliver crashes in through the clock face, saving Sara’s life and knocking out a minion while the other minion calls guns “a coward’s weapon” right before he gets shot and killed with one. They really need to decide on their weapon snobbery, if we’re going to split hairs about efficiency and laugh about arrows, then you don’t get to be all hoity-toity about guns. Anyway, Sara snaps Al-Owal’s neck, but she allows a minion to live so that he can go back to Ra’s al-Ghul and tell him to leave her family alone.

After the minion leaps out of the shattered clock face, Sara turns to her father and apologizes for what he just saw, but Lance isn’t as horrified as she’d feared. “I think you’re a survivor, I think you’re one of the bravest people I’ve ever known.” Imagine what this scene would’ve looked like if Lance hadn’t been dealing with the Arrow for the past year; would he have been so open to the change in Sara? Would he have seen his daughter as negatively as he saw the vigilante last year? I like to think Oliver helped Lance accept Sara for who she is. The hard part, now, is letting her go.

She tells him she has to leave, and Lance is downright heartbreaking when he says, “I’ll protect you, we’ll protect you, tell her it’s safe to stay,” as he turns to Hooded Oliver. Not only does he believe the Arrow to be capable of protecting her against the League of Assassins, but he doesn’t even bat an eye when he asks for Oliver’s help. Sara rightly points out that her mother and Laurel would be too driven to find her if they know she’s alive, and that would put them in danger. She hugs him one last time and then leaves, telling Oliver to keep them safe.

“Detective, she’s right. You have to keep her secret.”
“It’s already the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. How do you live like this?”

It’s scenes like this one that make me suspect Lance knows exactly who Arrow is.

Back at Iron Heights Prison, Oliver and Thea have banded together to tell Moira that there’s nothing she can do to make them love her less. Oliver’s arc in this episode elegantly ties into Moira’s, because he knows what it’s like to be afraid of your loved ones discovering your darkest secrets. Moira bravely decides to reject the plea bargain, and it is brave. It’s scary what she’s about to do.

Beat Cop Lance goes to visit Laurel at her office, where she tonelessly apologizes for not calling him back. She cries that she’s not sure things are ever going to get better, and Lance is about to wig out from all of the emotions he’s feeling as he hugs her. It would’ve been nice if Laurel had just cried and said, “I think I have a problem, Dad!” but that might not be on the horizon. I don’t know, readers; the further we get into this season, the more it seems like Laurel’s not on an arc of a future hero, but of a future villain.

I told you. This was pretty much just a fighting episode with Diggle standing in the background saying “Don’t do this stuff, I’m right about this, you’ll regret not listening to me.”

At the lair, Oliver pours two glasses of vodka from “an old friend,” and hands one to Diggle. Oliver admits that he can’t keep his past from creeping into his present, and he doesn’t want to fight it anymore. “The five years that I was gone, I wasn’t always on the island.”

Does this mean he only tells Diggle about the boat arc? Does Diggle already know about Year One? Why isn’t Oliver telling Felicity? Is it because he still wants to preserve some of that innocence?

 

The episode ends with a scene we’ve seen before: Oliver discovering Sara on the ship. She kicks him and says, “Prisoners do not speak,” before leaving him there, confused and injured.

Next week: Deadshot! Diggle! And hopefully the return of this guy:

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