After nearly four seasons, the Arrow mythos is impossibly convoluted. There are broken romances and magical resurrections and forgotten atrocities and so, so many flashbacks. “Canary Cry” is clever then in taking all those loose ends and complications and just letting them marinate for an hour. Chief among these is the fact that death has become just as much of a revolving door in this universe as it has in the comics. No one is cruel enough to point this out, but tonight’s episode marks the third time Quentin Lance has buried a daughter, and he’s only got two of them. (And the other one is still alive!) As my last review made clear, it’s preposterous to expect most viewers to just accept a character has actually died—I’m still skeptical, honestly, though that’s more out of stubborn principle than anything else at this point—and tonight’s episode recognizes that by having Lance doggedly refuse to accept his daughter’s death. It’s only when Lance gets to the funeral that it really feels like the truth has sunk in for him, and much of that is in response to his ex-wife Dinah’s familiar insistence that their daughters always come home. Of course, the second a character is sure about anything, I start looking for a swerve, but that’s just what the show has to work with at this point.

Still, let’s back away from this meta discussion. While it’s useful to examine the evolving dynamics between show and audience, as they define how effectively the show can sell a theoretically huge development like the death of a major character, it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate what actually happens in this episode. Paul Blackthorne conveys just unimaginable grief here, and I’m frankly glad Laurel’s death comes late enough in the season that the show feels compelled to mostly wrap up Lance’s arc in the space of an episode, because it’s brutal to watch him deteriorate. What’s particularly devastating is that his reaction is, in its way, entirely logical, given Sara’s two resurrections (and Oliver’s, and Malcolm’s, and Thea’s, and probably a couple others I’m forgetting) make it clear he no longer lives in a universe where death can be counted on. To some extent, I wish the episode had pushed a little further with this thematically, as Blackthorne absolutely has the chops to nail some big monologue about why he and this world needs the certainty of death, that the fuzzy rules that now govern survival only create heartbreak a million times worse than what he knew before. But “Canary Cry,” probably wisely, keeps his character more focused on the immediate search for a way to bring his daughter back.

Meanwhile, the impostor Black Canary is a useful reminder of how much collateral damage this show leaves in its wake. I’ll admit I had forgotten completely about the business with H.I.V.E. and the gas chambers—that feels like it was at least five Damien Dahrk masterplans ago, but maybe that’s just the various hiatuses talking—but Oliver is right when he says the team was too cavalier in leaving those people, “volunteers” or no. There are some pieces of this story that don’t especially work: I don’t believe we ever get a good explanation beyond “she’s a really smart teenager!” as to how the fake Black Canary got Cisco’s device to work for her vocal cords. (Though, as a Flash viewer, I will say we can never rule out the possibility that Cisco is just totally incompetent.) Also tricky is the idea that Oliver can convince the fake Canary that Laurel was a hero when the only time she saw her in action was when Team Arrow left them behind at Reddington, which was kind of the whole reason she was pissed off in the first place. Probably best to just take this as a plotline that works better in its thematic material than in its plot specifics.

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That last suggestion probably sounds like a bit of a copout, but I do wonder whether that’s just how Arrow has to work moving forward. So many disparate, convoluted elements have piled on top of each other by now that I’m not actually sure it’s possible to construct emotionally satisfying, logically constructed stories without having to fudge some continuity error here or there. This isn’t an argument for “switching one’s brain off” when watching Arrow, because that definitely is a copout, but more just a suggestion to think of Arrow’s success or failure as more of a holistic thing than as a strict accounting of its often ridiculous plot beats. And, in this case, a whole lot of “Canary Cry” just works. The episode has the expected round of moping and self-recriminating, but if there were ever a time when that would be justified, it’s after a major character’s death. What’s more, Oliver’s suggestion that he blames himself because it’s the only way to have some sense of certainty is a great little character beat, as is Felicity’s recognition that she didn’t rebut Diggle forcefully enough because she wanted to let herself off the hook. And yes, there are plot holes in the precise construction of the fake Black Canary plot, but it does what it needs to in getting Oliver and Lance to a point where they can make some kind of peace with Laurel’s death before going to war with Dahrk.

And, hey, there are flashbacks in this episode! And they actually feel germane to the episode! The flashbacks as a whole have become so awful and pointless that I’m tempted to give an episode high marks just for using them with any sort of sense of purpose, and juxtaposing this episode with the immediate aftermath of Tommy’s death works well. Yes, it forces Katie Cassidy to go back to before Laurel knew Oliver’s secret and do one last round of mopey, easily confused Laurel acting, which I suppose is the Laurel equivalent of trotting out “Free Bird” to close out the concert. You’ve got to play the classics! Again, I’m not even sure these flashbacks are all that great, especially when they take us to a weirdly defined spot between the first and second season that’s hard to reinvest in at this great distance. (Like, shouldn’t Starling City still be reeling from the Undertaking a little bit more than what we see here, even if all we see is the cemetery and Laurel’s apartment? Wait, sorry, I’m already contradicting my own advice.) But the flashbacks are worth it just for that moment in the morgue, when we hear Laurel say Oliver’s name and find ourselves in the past. It’s not a huge moment, and it’s a move plenty of other shows have made, but it feels like Arrow making deliberate choices, like the show knowing exactly what it’s doing. That’s been true more often than not this season, but it’s still reassuring to see that as we head into the endgame.

Stray observations

  • Well, don’t leave us in suspense, show! Why did Alex become a political operative!?
  • Maybe Laurel really is dead, but can we please get Lance seeking out the help of one John Constantine to try to bring her back? Hell, let’s throw in Alex Kingston as Dinah for one hell of a trio.
  • Evil Mayor Madam Dahrk was on point tonight. If Damien Dahrk were anyone but Neal McDonough, he’d be in danger of being out-eviled. After the weakness of Ra’s al Ghul last season, the strength of the show’s villains is a big reason why I remain optimistic for the end of the season.
  • I think we all have to just be nice and agree that Arrow and The Flash don’t run on precisely synced timelines, because otherwise—man, kind of the worst possible week to have Barry speed away from the funeral, huh?

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