[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 13. There will be SPOILERS.]
Even though most of its action takes place under the cover of darkness or in the shadows, Arrow has discovered that a certain amount of illumination is a necessary component to making its stories more successful. It’s a plan that has taken the series from telling the story of a lone vigilante (struggling to maintain both sides of his identity) to telling the story of a community of heroes. That means there’s not only less of a premium on maintaining secret identities between the characters, but also less of a premium in maintaining secrets at all.
There is still value in secrecy, but the dramatic potential in maintaining it declines with each overt reminder that a secret exists. This season has seen Laurel take on the mantle of her little sister, keeping both the identity of the Black Canary and the reason why she’s assumed the role from her father as a means of protecting him. The reasoning is sound, if not a little melodramatic – Capt. Lance’s fragile heart may not be able to withstand the crushing blow of learning Sara has died (again), and that his only remaining child has taken up the occupation that resulted in her sister’s demise. But with each passing reference to Lance’s condition and the secret Laurel has been keeping, the information’s significance began to wane. By the time Laurel was using a voice modulator to convince her father he was talking to Sara, it was time for the story to see what happens when Laurel makes a choice in the opposite direction.
‘Canaries’ revolves entirely around characters making the conscious decision to no longer hide the truth from someone they love and even themselves – and in one instance, someone they DJ for…badly. While Laurel is taking the next step in becoming the kind of hero she needs to (and proving herself to be a hero, period), Oliver is taking more of a leap, doing what must be done in order to keep Thea safe from Ra’s al Ghul.
Both are risky propositions. While Merlyn implores Oliver to bring his sister into the inner circle, Diggle is on hand to warn about the perils of doing so. And yet, when Oliver pulls the curtain back on his secret, he’s met with the unexpected response of immediate acceptance and gratitude. And by subverting the audience’s expectations, the brother-sister dynamic between the two becomes less antagonistic, allowing the relationship (as well as Thea’s character in general) some room to breathe for the first time in a long time.
But it’s not just that Thea is accepting of Oliver’s second life as the Arrow that resonates; it’s the reason why. Thea’s not angry that her brother lied to her time and again, or made “lame excuses” for why he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Instead, she’s blown away by the fact that he was out saving people’s lives and generally trying to make Starling City a better place. It’s a side of Thea that wouldn’t have seemed possible in season 1; and as such, the shift in her level of acceptance and understanding coincides nicely with the tutelage she recently received from her father.
More than that, though, there is a weight that is lifted in scenes featuring the surviving members of the Queen clan, demonstrated in the banter between the two. For example: when Oliver returns home from an evening of crime fighting and Thea smells smoke, asking “Korean barbecue?” Oliver responds, “C-4.” Sure, the scene is asking you to forget that a man’s life just ended horribly, so that a superhero can speak honestly to his sister and provide a small amount of levity, but if you were to look past that one glaring, morbid detail, there’s more sincerity between Oliver and Thea in that one moment than there has ever been in any previous episode of Arrow.
It is the same level of sincerity that was made apparent between Oliver and each and every character he eventually revealed his identity to. And as a result, Team Arrow has become something more than just Oliver’s quest to clean up and protect Starling City; it’s become the group’s quest as well.
That means Oliver is no longer the sole authority on who gets to do what – it’s a group decision. This development serves as a simple obstacle for Oliver to overcome that offers Roy and Felicity a chance to challenge Oliver in a way he needs to be challenged. It also coincides with Laurel’s first steps out from under the Sara’s shadow. After a miserable first encounter with Vertigo, in which Laurel is throttled by a hallucination telling her she’s unfit to wear the mask, Felicity offers some sage advice: don’t try to be Sara. It’s a well-worn recommendation, but a significant one in this case, as it helps the character move past the addictive concept of fighting to alleviate her grief, and fighting to achieve a much larger goal, to fulfill a much larger purpose.
Laurel’s self-acceptance eventually leads to a confession, in which her father accepts his daughter’s vigilantism with startling nonchalance, but is considerably shaken by the admission of Sara’s death. Lance doesn’t have a heart attack, which is good – not that the episode didn’t play the possibility for all it was worth – and now Laurel’s adventures in crime fighting don’t have to carry the awkward burden of her keeping a horrible secret.
As ‘Canaries’ proves, the truth will set you free – and in the case of DJ Chase, it will cause you to drink cyanide to avoid a one-on-one confrontation with Malcolm Merlyn. But the episode also proves that the truth can open the door to far more storytelling possibilities than maintaining a secret ever could.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with ‘The Return’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: