After ten episodes that have ranged from exciting to exasperating, “Arrow” continued the Danny Brickwell trilogy with its second installment on Wednesday night. Coming on the heels of a dual cliffhanger regarding new villain Brick and resurrected hero Oliver, “Midnight City” faced some pretty high expectations from fans.
Well, high hopes, anyway.
“Midnight City” was a significant departure from past “Arrow” episodes, focusing on the fledgling vigilantes in Starling City as Oliver recuperates in the middle of a blizzard somewhere. While the fragmented Team Arrow (and Laurel) does their best to combat Brick as he and his goons kidnap local officials as part of a scheme to take over the Glades, Flashback Oliver and Maseo fight China White and the Triad to recover Tatsu.
Unfortunately, “Midnight City” dragged more than delighted, and inevitable comparisons to the midseason finale and the midseason premiere do the episode no favors as emotional resonance is sacrificed for the sake of a bombardment of new plots. There is a difference between characters failing and an episode failing, and “Midnight City” neglected to strike a balance between the two. Nevertheless, there were some good elements to the hour. So, here is a look at what worked, what didn’t, and what needs to happen next after “Midnight City.”
What Worked: Oliver may not be the nicest character on the show, but Stephen Amell has created in him a multi-faceted character who is more than just abs and action. Amell has successfully carried the show through some of its particularly dubious arcs, and his absence through much of last week’s “Left Behind” was keenly felt.
It is therefore unsurprising that Oliver’s plot was the most engaging of “Midnight City,” and not just because Flashback Ollie decided to ditch the hobo look and get a blowout for his trip to the club in Hong Kong. It was admittedly pretty funny to see the white guy with sandy hair who is a head taller than everybody else try to be stealthy, but the tension of the entire scene was enough for viewers to overlook the obvious. Amell continues to work well opposite Karl Yune as Maseo, and Tatsu’s gratitude for Oliver’s role in her rescue validates her otherwise convenient care for him now.
Oliver’s consciousness in “Midnight City” allowed the format to make more sense than the previous week as there was somebody awake to actually do the flashing back. The show at least tries to legitimize that he is up and about already by having him subsisting off of mysterious herbs and wrapping him in bandages, and his earnest attempts to bring Maseo and Tatsu back together as the loving couple that they once were indicates a possible change in his attitude toward the restrictions of his secret identity. Another indication was, of course, his dream sequence.
There’s something hilariously endearing about the fact that Oliver Queen – hunky former playboy currently in the midst of a sexual dry spell after going cold turkey on the ladies at the end of Season 2 – dreams about confessing his love and chastely kissing the woman he’s been mooning over for months. He’s always so courtly in his attempts to woo Felicity that it’s hard to root against him. If not for the sudden appearance of a scimitar in his abdomen and blood spurting from his mouth, Oliver probably would have capped off the dream by asking for the privilege of holding her hand as he walked her to her car. Even in the privacy of his wildest dreams, Oliver doesn’t take any liberties with Felicity. That level of respect has laid the foundation for a potential lasting relationship.
Also, for whenever he finally breaks and throws her up against a wall to have his way with her.
“Midnight City” effectively illustrates in-universe why Oliver’s forthcoming return to Starling will be an event worth celebrating. Even as the good guys do their best to combat Brick and his men, the absence of the Arrow takes a toll on the cause. The civilians need him as their symbol. The police need him to bend their rules. Arsenal and Canary need him to clean up their messes. Team Arrow needs him as their leader and friend. The CW superhero universe is filling up quickly with superpowers and side heroes, but “Midnight City” reminds that Oliver is still the broody glue that holds everything together.
One character whose separation from Oliver has cost her dearly is Thea Queen. For so long isolated in a haze of lies and misdirection with Malcolm, Thea’s questioning of Malcolm’s motives indicates that she may be seizing some agency for herself in upcoming episodes. She’s no dummy, and “Arrow” can only fall back on mind-altering drugs for so long. If DJ Chase’s phone call to Maseo in Nanda Parbat is any clue, she will soon have more to do than wear crop tops and fling letter openers.
What Didn’t Work: The suddenness with which certain secondary characters were shoved to the forefront was handled with a sloppiness that tinged the episode with a sense of desperation. Roy was best as the fun-sized red archer, and Colton Haynes delivered one of his finest performances to date, but Arsenal is still a sidekick with fewer lines per episode than Felicity gets per ramble.
Season 3 newcomer Ray Palmer isn’t too bad on his own. The fact that Felicity in Season 3 had been written to accommodate his story, however, has failed to endear him to audiences, and the ambiguous closeness between them in “Midnight City” feels uncomfortable so soon after Oliver’s presumed death. Fortunately, Emily Bett Rickards has been unfailingly consistent in her performances when not constrained by manufactured intimacy, and her subdued portrayal of a woman quietly mourning as she goes through the motions of her life saves her character in this episode. If Ray Palmer can have more scenes bantering about helicopters and fewer expounding on his unearned feelings for Felicity, he could be a fun character for the rest of the season.
And then there’s Laurel.
Wearing Sara’s leathers, donning Sara’s mask, carrying Sara’s bo staff, and presumably proceeding on a gross misinterpretation of “Single White Female,” Laurel bumbles her way through crimefighting in a manner that is laughable at best. It’s almost a relief that Oliver isn’t around to see these first steps; he’d either have a heart attack at the ridiculousness or fall over dead of secondhand embarrassment that people think that she is Sara. Swinging the staff like a nearsighted softball player and bristling at anybody who tries to talk sense into her, the only thing worse than Laurel’s mishaps is the speed with which she becomes effective. The show trying to present a woman who earlier could not jump onto the roof of a van without falling over as suddenly capable of leaping through a window and onto a ladder dangling from a helicopter is insulting to viewers.
Crazy, impossible, dazzling stunts by heroes in tight leather and domino masks may be one of the biggest draws of “Arrow,” but they only work when the leather and masks are worn by characters with proven athleticism. Stephen Amell’s Oliver or Caity Lotz’s Sara might have been able to pull off the ladder stunt; Katie Cassidy’s Laurel could not. It doesn’t matter that Cassidy’s double made the actual lunge through the window. The necessary physicality is absent from the established character, and the ludicrousness of Laurel’s action scenes taints the awesomeness of all of the others.
Another unpalatable aspect of Laurel’s current state is the ongoing deception of Quentin regarding Sara’s death. It was bad enough when the distraught Laurel was sidestepping the issue, but her deliberate perpetuating of the lie in “Midnight City” is unforgivable. With Team Arrow now complicit in the charade, Laurel crosses a line as she uses a voice modulator to adopt Sara’s voice and impersonate her sister to their father. Quentin’s excitement at the prospect of seeing Sara again is heartbreaking in the worst way, and the idea that Laurel would go to such extremes to actively deceive her father adds fuel to a fire that her character most decidedly does not need.
As an aside: Laurel needs to invest in sturdier shoes. The heel coming off quickly may have come in handy for stabbing a bad guy, but that’s how ankles are twisted. Nobody wants a twisted ankle.
Sadly, detachable heels were hardly the only contrivances of “Midnight City.” Expositing that the mayor was assembling a group of city leaders was not enough to justify Ray Palmer’s presence in the bureaucratic scenes, and the only reason why Felicity even attends the first meeting is so that Ray can jump in and save her. The final deception of Quentin only works because of his inexplicable inability to recognize that the body type of this Canary is quite different from that of the original. The bigger, stronger, and experienced Diggle willingly staying behind in the Arrow cave while Roy and Laurel go out to rescue a trio of important hostages from some of the worst bad guys in recent “Arrow” history is absurd.
Of course, those bad guys might have been more menacing if the good guys had not spent the entire episode being disarmingly cavalier about the prospect of anarchy in the Glades. Thea and Team Arrow seem to spend the majority of their time either in or below Verdant, and some concern about their own backyard would have added some greater urgency to the climax.
What Needs To Happen Next: Oliver not dying was a stretch. Surviving his stab, fall, and snowy sojourn without breaking a few bones or losing a few digits to frostbite is about as unlikely as anything ever seen on “Arrow.” Still, he’s been missed sorely enough that audiences can handwave whatever brings him back to Starling to enact his own brand of justice on Danny Brickwell as soon as possible. Stephen Amell has a presence on screen unmatched by any of his costars, and the show really needs to pull him back into the main action to sustain viewers. At the very least, his reactions to the news that Laurel is pretending to be Sara and Ray is poaching Felicity’s vigilante services should be worth watching.
Whether or not Oliver and Ray do conflict over Felicity’s role in their respective quests, Felicity could use some Felicity time. There’s no reason why she and Oliver can’t enjoy a big fat reunion kiss upon his return, but Felicity needs some solo development to define her as more than a peripheral presence revolving around the masked men in her life. “Arrow” needs to give Felicity a point of view, and allowing Felicity to focus on Felicity for a while couldn’t hurt.
The rehabilitation of Laurel Lance is not so simple. At this point, it would almost be easier for “Arrow” to cut its losses and remove Laurel from the roster. Katie Cassidy has always done her best with the role, but the writing has not given her much in the way of consistency to work with. A lot of damage has been done, and turning her into the recurring character that Sara should have been could increase her appeal in the long term.
Before almost anything else, however, Quentin Lance needs to find out that Sara is dead, and he needs to be upset with Laurel (and Dinah) for not telling him sooner. He needs to be allowed to react realistically. Whether that means isolating himself from all of the people who lied to him or declaring himself done with the drama of Starling City and relocating to Las Vegas to launch a spinoff with Donna Smoak, Quentin needs to know.