A Harbor in the Tempest
As the first of a three part finale to Arrow season 2, it would be very easy for “City of Blood” writers Jake Coburn & Ben Sokolowski to turn the episode in to nothing but setup, Act 1 syndrome. “City of Blood” could easily have been an episode that is unable to function on its own due to the forthcoming two episodes, and it wouldn’t have been exactly a bad thing. There is a sound narrative logic in that. However with director Nick Copus “City of Blood” is part meditative tone study and plot setup, with requisite cliff hanger. These are two very different things that more often than not had clear signals of this tonal shift. These were not exactly the most elegant maneuver, but with how enraptured the more meditative side of “City of Blood”, I’ll take it.
As the clear out and out star of this series, Stephen Amell’s extended hiatus from “City of Blood” violates most rules regarding stardom. Oliver is found 20 minutes in not as a man preparing himself for a mission to gain vengeance upon the former friend who murdered his mother right in front of him but as a truly broken man. “City of Blood” first half masterfully gets across this feeling of resignation, for that first half, Slade has one. Oliver is matter of factly informs his teammates his plans to turn himself over to Slade. Amell for all his wooden qualities at first and has turned the inherent callousness of his character into a major asset, the little body movements Amell does as he says goodbye to his friends and generally acts defeated is amazing. The normally introverted character goes even deeper within himself, as he attempts to martyr himself.
Copus’ camera seems to have shot most of the first half in a typical 3 camera setup (close, medium, long) but the editing mostly cuts out the medium shots as a means to transition from close to long. The camera simply hangs on Oliver after he says goodbye to his sister, surrounded by a boxed up Queen Mansion. The lack of in between transitional shots creates a major jump in space visually that creates this huge feeling of loss and loneliness. Copus pulls off all the technical skills necessary to build this mediation on loss, Moria is gone, the lack of Oliver feels like a major cog is missing in this great machine. Amell holds up his end of responsibilities, bringing all the incorporeal feelings of loneliness and loss into a very physical form.
At the reception, Thea remarks that “All we ever needed was the truth” in relation to her mother and their ability to love her unconditionally. A applicable sentiment in a myriad of ways for this show built on foundations of distrust. When the truth is let out, there is such emotional honesty going on that it elevates good material from bad. Case and point, Laurel coming into the Foundry (I guess the Quiver is the next base) and pulling Oliver out of this funk. For once Oliver is fully honest with his canonical true love and that manages to make the whiplash effect of sullen Ollie becoming man of action Ollie not as harmful. It happens a bit too fast for my taste, cued with the return of Arrow’s heroic theme. But once again that honesty is such a raw emotional moment for this series and couple. Previously Laurel had flirted around her knowledge of Oliver, that excellent hug moment from a couple episodes ago. Now that is pushed to the side and the two canonical lovers see each other for who they really are. Oliver finally shares Tommy’s final words to Laurel, the way Amell chokes the apology for not saving Tommy is perhaps his best delivery to date. It signals Laurel becoming a member of Team Arrow, she has a snazzy leather jacket, in perhaps a more administrative at first. She doesn’t know anything about hoods, masks, human weapons, or fighting but darn it she knows Oliver Queen. All together the scene leans on the idea of Oliver and Laurel being star crossed lovers a bit too much, but they are so it works.
With Laurel brought fully into the fold, it places the character of Thea in an odd place. She is the only major character who doesn’t know how Oliver spends his nights and It’s only going to get harder to not make it a source of ire. Still with a certain dark archer coming back soon, one wonders if she won’t be donning something a bit darker sooner or later.
Sebastian Blood played by Kevin Alejandro was poised to be the seasonal big bad, until Slade showed up. Blood quickly receded into the background, relegated to a Mayoral campaign with Moira. Alejandro had some nice lines to deliver throughout the seasons, always giving the appearance of a totally prim and proper character, with a darkness hiding beneath it. Sadly like Oliver bluntly reminds his former friend, he is nothing but a pawn in a much larger game. Alejandro dose excellent work in his dinner scene with Oliver, showing moments that appear to be regret and pause as his associations are laid bare. Mainly though, I want to know what his “plan” to save Starling City really was from an economic and legislative point of view. Arrow season 2 marked the end to some ham-fisted social commentary (mainly because it went out of style) but politics and Green Arrow are inherently linked and with out them Oliver doesn’t feel as whole.
“City of Blood” ends on a surprisingly effective, if a bit goofy final shot: Slade’s Mirakuru Army marching on Starling City. It’s very Dark Knight Rises. “City of Blood” is the harbor in the tempest, before said tempest blows the harbor away.
Bits At The End
You can view a trailer for "Streets on Fire" here.
Song of the Episode - All I Want is You by U2
Felicty torturing that guy was delightful and freighting.