For an hour of television that was essentially tasked with bringing together all the main plots of the last 21 episodes of Arrow, 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' managed an incredibly propulsive plot quite well, even if some of the less prominent storylines still felt as though they were lagging behind.
But that's okay, because as far as bringing things full circle in terms of the Undertaking and Malcolm Merlyn's reveal to the Hood that he's the Dark Archer (and his subsequent discovery of the Hood's identity), the season's penultimate episode worked swiftly to ensure those elements of the story were properly aligned for a climactic showdown during next week's finale.
In that regard, 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' is a fast-paced bit of superhero television that packs in a great deal of action, while bouncing around from plot point to plot point, doing its level best to let the audience in on what's happening with nearly every character on the show.
That's actually an impressive feat, as Arrow has, on more than one occasion during its first season, run into some roadblocks in terms of making a subplot about a secondary character seem like something worthy of taking time away from Oliver, or whatever Team Arrow is up to. Occasionally that focus has tried to include Tommy and Laurel, despite the fact that, up until two episodes ago, neither character had been given much to do, which somewhat lessens the impact of their sudden prominence in the narrative – though, to be fair, Tommy's trajectory did become more interesting (if a bit telegraphed) after he learned Oliver's secret identity.
Although it remains something of an unconvincing aspect, the biggest impact outside of Oliver's superhero social circle, would certainly be his premature romantic reconciliation with Laurel – which had been a foregone conclusion since the events of 'Home Invasion' – and how their interlude essentially pours salt in the open wound that is Oliver and Tommy's friendship.
Given that Tommy knows Oliver's secret and the sudden proximity he has to his father, this development is clearly intended to have significant ramifications for the series as it progresses – certainly more so than Walter Steele filing for divorce from Moira and possibly even more than her forced confession to the Hood (this time played by a somewhat overzealous Diggle, who beats on Oliver to encourage Moira's to talk).
Meanwhile, Roy Harper's growing obsession with the Hood becomes slightly clearer in terms of his motivation, while the exact details of his past unspoken for the moment. But at least the writers figured out a way to introduce Roy to Oliver in a manner that felt somewhat organic – or as organic as it can be when two teenagers turn up at Merlyn Global HQ at the exact same time Team Arrow is breaking into the company's mainframe.
Aside from the fight sequence at the end, the infiltration of Merlyn Global during regular business hours was the highlight of the episode. For starters, it's not the smoothest of break-ins; Oliver hilariously resorts to knocking a binder and some papers out of the hands of some poor office drone and comes off more like high school bully than enigmatic superhero (or even his playboy alter-ego). But there are also some decent moments of tension coupled with a Star Wars-esque swing across an elevator shaft and Emily Bett Rickards manages to get in quite a few quirky Felicity-isms during a relatively short segment – which, depending on your feelings for her is either a pleasant bit of levity, or an insufferable flurry of dialogue.
Make no mistake, there is an incredible amount of plot going on, and somehow, the writers still found room for an island flashback setting up Fyres' plan to destabilize the Chinese economy by targeting aircraft traveling to and from the country – starting with a Ferris Air commercial jetliner. More importantly, however, is the glimpse we're offered of the woman Fyres is apparently answering to, and the somewhat shocking execution of Yao Fei.
Despite forcing some of the subplots and the suddenness of Oliver's renewed relationships with Laurel – which coincides with his abrupt desire to leave the Hood persona behind after stopping the Undertaking – the episode manages to be quite entertaining. But with all the shuffling of plot points, there was simply no time for the characters to express anything but a sense of being completely in the moment.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, but with any luck, this week's heavy plotting will allow the finale to not only focus on what looks to be a very exciting showdown between Oliver and Malcolm, but also to articulate some sense of what Oliver's journey from castaway to hero means that amounts to more than a mere justification for his retirement.
Arrow will conclude its first season next Wednesday with 'Sacrifice' @8pm on the CW. Check out a preview below: