[This is a review of Arrow season 2, episode 22. There will be SPOILERS.]
It is unsurprising that, when the chips are down, and their backs are against the wall, some heroes of Arrow can be wracked with near-crippling self-doubt or a sense of blame for the circumstances they and the people of their beloved city find themselves in. The idea of the doubting hero certainly isn't relegated strictly to the streets of Starling City and its non-color coded saviors, but the notion is one of the more effective means by which the show manages to ground itself – especially now that it is the springboard for a much larger universe filled with mirakuru-enhanced soldiers, scarlet speedsters (soon), and who knows what else.
As the penultimate episode of what has been an incredibly strong sophomore season, 'Streets of Fire' works for the most part as a bit of table-setting, arranging everything just so, in order to have the best possible presentation for next week's finale. That primarily has to do with Team Arrow procuring the means by which they might actually have a fighting chance to stop Slade Wilson and his mirakuru warriors who are tearing the city apart. In essence, the episode is all about Oliver, Diggle, Felicity, and Laurel working in various ways to track down the cure that had been sent over by S.T.A.R. Labs, and was inevitably hijacked by Slade's men. As far as plots go, it is somewhat orthodox by search and recovery standards, but it is made much more interesting by the choice of the writers to include a well-crafted (and seemingly final) character moment for Sebastian Blood. It also features a role for Malcolm Merlyn, which not only gave Thea more to do than simply run away from killers, but it also served to better contrast the ideologies and motivations of the men who would destroy a city to get their point across.
The true impact of the Dark Archer's return will certainly be felt once it is revealed what happened after Thea fired a gun in his general direction, but for the purposes of 'Streets of Fire,' his appearance serves as a reminder of the seemingly insurmountable threat the nascent Team Arrow was faced with last season, and how it is both different and the same this time around. For one thing, Slade may be as unstable as Malcolm, but unlike the Dark Archer, who believed his actions would truly bring about a much greater good, Slade's driven purely by the need to punish one man in the most disproportionate manner possible. Slade's plan isn't going to end with the death of just one more person; it is going to end with the death of an entire city.
That set-up is then compounded by Amanda Waller's threat to level Starling City at dawn, should Oliver fail to take down Deathstroke and his army. Despite all this, 'Streets of Fire' surprisingly finds time to flesh out its characters by putting them in a place where they doubt the kind of person they are, and challenge the good they do with the culpability they feel for the horrific situation erupting around them. The situation in Starling City brings Sara back into the fold and positions her next to Laurel, who helps her realize her present-day heroism is more important than the bad she may have done in the past. For her part, Felicity does the same for Oliver, helping him come to terms with the fact that the actions of madmen like Malcolm, Ivo, and now Slade may have shaped him, but it's what he does to oppose them that defines the kind of hero he's become.
One of the more enjoyable character elements came not from Sebastian Blood's delivery of the stolen mirakuru cure, but in his belief that, when all was said and done, he would still have a roll in running Starling City. It seems as though Mayor Blood's term in office was cut short by Isabelle's blades, but confirmation is now in the hands of next week's finale, which has been given a tremendous set up by an incredibly satisfying penultimate episode.
Arrow will conclude season 2 next Wednesday with 'Unthinkable' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: