For all its faults, I like Arrow. I like its effort to say something different about the superhero genre, and I like how that has often dovetailed with the obligatory soap opera elements. I like how the show has built up most of its core characters and, especially in recent weeks, pushed them into conflict with one another, and I like how the characters’ various dual identities have driven so much of that tension. I like the balance it’s found between the ongoing narrative and mythology and the demands of episodic storytelling. Now, I don’t necessarily love the show, at least not yet, but it’s proved a fundamentally solid show that’s often capable of more than that. As we approach the endgame for the first season, Arrow is in a good place. But there’s one element about the show that I don’t like. In fairness, I don’t dislike this element, not exactly; I just don’t care about it. My goodness, I do not care about Oliver and Laurel. And when so much of “Home Invasion” is built around that relationship, that leaves the episode in a tricky position.
Honestly, I don’t think Arrow has ever given us much reason to care about Oliver and Laurel. They are the show’s once and future couple—after all, Green Arrow and Black Canary is a comics-mandated pairing—but the show has never conveyed any real sense that theirs is an epic romance. From the outset, the show saddled their relationship with two gigantic pieces of baggage. From an in-universe perspective, the bigger of these was the fact that Oliver was having an affair with Laurel’s sister when the Queen’s Gambit sank, and so Oliver’s betrayal of Laurel’s trust cost Sarah Lance her life. As I said way back in “Honor Thy Father,” the only way Oliver and Laurel could ever be friends again would just be to let time pass and heal those unspeakably deep psychic wounds, but it was difficult to imagine any amount of time could pass that would allow them to once again be lovers. But in the ensuing episodes, the second complication has emerged, as Laurel has spent most of the season building a surprisingly healthy relationship with Tommy. Their romance has never been one of the show’s more compelling elements, but it’s been an effective use of their characters, and no matter how many times Tommy says Oliver is Laurel’s one true love, it’s difficult to really buy into that. Katie Cassidy may not have much chemistry with Colin Donnell, but she doesn’t have much more with Stephen Amell. Indeed, when Oliver’s mentally unstable girlfriend Helena Bertinelli once accused him of still being in love with Laurel, it came across purely as paranoia on her part; there seemed to be no underlying truth to it whatsoever based on what we had seen up to that point.
So when “Home Invasion” focuses in on what Oliver and Laurel mean to each other, there’s precious little sense that the episode is paying off a story the show has spent a year telling. Instead, it feels like a last-ditch attempt to make Oliver’s love for Laurel an important part of his character before the season concludes. Divorced from this larger context, this episode is more or less successful, but the sense of narrative reshuffling hangs over the episode. A particularly clumsy moment comes in the flashback, as Oliver decides against kissing his archery instructor Shado because he still loves Laurel. Arrow has generally shown commendable restraint in using the island sequences to inform, rather than restate what’s going on in the present, but this scene seems to only exist in order to convince us that Oliver has always loved Laurel. Moira’s reminiscences about how Laurel made Oliver a better person are subtler, but here the show struggles with the fact that pre- and post-island Oliver are almost entirely different people. It’s sweet that Laurel once meant so much to Oliver, and that memory might help reawaken Laurel’s own feelings, but it doesn’t really help us understand how she affects Oliver’s decision-making in the here and now.
To that end, Oliver makes his big choice halfway through the episode, when he must decide whether to take down Edward Rasmus, the crook who killed two key witnesses in Laurel’s next big crusading lawsuit, or help Diggle to kill Deadshot before he can be apprehended by an A.R.G.U.S. sting. He decides to force Rasmus to turn himself in, and, as Diggle later argues, his absence causes Deadshot to gain the upper hand and murder four agents. There’s more ambiguity to that analysis than the episode really indicates; Diggle’s single-minded desire to take Floyd Lawton down was designed to disrupt the A.R.G.U.S. operation, which surely would have placed their lives in danger when Diggle and the Hood made their play. Even if Oliver had been there, Diggle’s visible anxiety could easily have tipped off Lawton in some other way. It makes sense for Diggle to be angry with Oliver and to abandon him at episode’s end, but Diggle isn’t blameless here, and hopefully the show will acknowledge that in future episodes.
As the assassin Mr. Blank, Angel alum J. August Richards livens up what otherwise might be a fairly rote episode. He’s a showier sort of villain than those Arrow typically presents, something that’s especially obvious when his character is compared with the show’s more straightforwardly gritty interpretation of Deadshot. Mr. Blank is merely the latest in long line of quotable TV sociopaths, but Richards pitches his delivery so that the character feels like more than a collection of self-consciously cool lines and moments. He’s smoothly businesslike when he explains to his (already deceased) first victim that it’s unfortunately necessary to make a mess in order to fool the authorities, but he betrays a certain tetchiness when he asks Laurel if the badge number was what gave him away. For all his obvious insanity, there’s a weird earnestness to his observations that the Queens have a beautiful home, but it’s full of pain right down the wood paneling. This is the kind of character that can become tiresome when overused, but Arrow has waited 20 episodes before going to this particular well, and this is an episode that really benefits from Richards’ energy. He even gets to share a rare genuine moment with Oliver when he asks him mid-fight just what the island did to him, and Oliver snarls that the assassin is about to find out.
Indeed, Oliver’s determination to hide behind his various fake identities—whether it’s the billionaire playboy or the haunted vigilante—is what costs him and Laurel by episode’s end. Tommy balances his pragmatic recognition that nobody can protect Laurel better than Oliver with the painful realization that, well, nobody can protect Laurel better than Oliver, and that makes him surplus to requirements. Both the writing and Colin Donnell’s performance convey Tommy’s nuanced position, as he refuses to betray either Laurel’s trust or Oliver’s secret—if anything, he once again facilitates Oliver’s vigilantism—but he knows the only way forward long-term is to leave both of them. Yes, in the show’s big romantic triangle, Tommy is the most compelling character; believe me, I’m as surprised as you are. At its best, “Home Invasion” mostly just restates the points about Oliver’s destructive behavior that “Unfinished Business” already made more eloquently, but it at least moves us a lot closer to the endgame as Oliver’s inner circle deteriorates like never before. Oliver might regain Diggle’s trust, but Tommy may well be a lost cause.
- Roy Harper and Thea get their own subplot, as Roy decides that he owes his life to the Hood and he has to find him, and Thea promises to help her boyfriend do just that. This is a story with real potential—especially after Thea was so visibly disgusted when shown one of the men her brother sent to the morgue—but I wonder how much of it we’ll see this season and how much of it will carry over to season two. Either way, I’ll examine this in more detail once there’s a better sense of how much the show plans to invest in this particular story.
- I hope you’ll indulge me in the somewhat larger perspective I took in this review. I don’t like to just complain, and I hope that’s not what happened here, but this episode is so wrapped up in one of the show’s fundamental weaknesses.
- Tommy gets a great character moment when he explains to the newly orphaned boy how he dealt with the death of his mother, and Laurel shows some much-needed competence when she sees through Mr. Blank’s ruse because he doesn’t have a lieutenant’s badge number. Her attempt to fend him off with a shotgun is rather less impressively, admittedly.
- It’s taking longer than I might like, but Arrow’s Deadshot is slowly evolving into a character worthy of his comic book inspiration. By season four, this Deadshot should be legitimately awesome. Also, assuming Slade Wilson survives this latest run-in with Fyers (he will), I’m officially rooting for a faceoff between Deadshot and Deathstroke.
- “I dye it, actually… I keep your secrets.” Felicity, don’t ever change.