[This is a review of Arrow season 2, episode 17. There will be SPOILERS.]
Both as a series and as the central protagonist to that series, Arrow began with a primary objective: To rid Starling City of those who had failed it. Now, as far as objectives go, Oliver’s was fairly straightforward, and at the time his quest began, his methods – brutal and blunt as they were – seemed as fittingly frank as the mission he’d undertaken. Do wrong and be punished, likely with an arrow to the chest.
That method was certainly simple and clear-cut, and over time, the arrows left in corpses all over Starling City became a pronounced symbol of vengeance. This was the function and the identity Oliver had chosen for himself; it defined him as both an individual and as a representation of a construct larger than one man. And when it all came crashing down – quite literally – at the end of season 1, Oliver Queen had to search for new meaning within the parameters of the so-called “justice” he was questing after. The result, then, would be the vigilante that’s emerged in season 2; an individual more interested in the concept of justice than in vengeance. In a place like Starling City, that sort of distinction is sometimes made by the narrowest of margins, but often, simply recognizing the difference is all that matters.
At this point, such intent is what distinguishes Arrow from the likes of his former ladylove/protégé, the Huntress (a.k.a. Helena Bertinelli). For her part, Helena has always existed as an extreme example of what can go wrong when an individual’s objective is driven by an intense myopia, and that person is unable to distinguish the various shades of gray between the sharp black and white they’ve chosen to see the world with. She was living in much the same kind of darkness Oliver carried back with him from the island; the same kind of darkness Helena warns Laurel about, while holding hostages in her latest attempt to achieve that very special dream of killing her father.
As an episode, ‘Birds of Prey’ manages conclude (and possibly resolve) Helena’s tale of vengeance with a solid depiction of how an individual consumed with a single purpose, or left fumbling without one, will inevitably begin to define themselves within what could be some very shallow, potentially destructive parameters. Helena’s obsession with seeking vengeance against a single man is unsurprisingly reminiscent of Slade Wilson’s ongoing quest to hold Oliver ultimately responsible for Shado’s death. But her situation is also representative of the different viewpoints that make up Oliver, Sara, Roy, and even Laurel’s perspective on the world around them.
There’s a great many characters coming to terms with their outlook, and how it has shaped the person they are. It’s not exactly revelatory, but ‘Birds of Prey’ demonstrates Arrow‘s desire to see its characters take steps forward in their respective arcs, while also addressing the larger concerns of the narrative. Sara understands that she needn’t kill in order to protect her family, while Oliver comes to terms with another of his early failures, but importantly recognizes it as part of his progression to becoming a hero, rather than a vengeance seeker. Meanwhile, Helena, Roy, and Laurel all come to terms – in varying degrees – with how their current situation defines them, and how doing without something specific (e.g., a target, a girlfriend, or a certain level of integrity) will shape their character moving forward.
And with the question of change comes concern over possible regression. Now that Slade has Thea, Arrow can weigh the kind of hero Oliver wants to become against the sort of efficient killer he knows he can be. The choice he makes, will be what defines him moving forward.
Arrow will continue next Wednesday with ‘Deathstroke’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: