[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
While the details of Oliver's supposed resurrection remain scarce – or are otherwise attributed to a perfect storm of circumstances that made Tatsu's efforts seem miraculous – Arrow has concerned itself with the larger ramifications of what the absence of Queen's alter ego means to the city he has sworn to protect. As the second installment in what could be a "Return of the Arrow" trilogy, 'Midnight City' demonstrates how agents of disorder and order fill the void left by the Arrow - and how that combination of volatile elements leads to some substantial realizations.
In the grand tradition of the street-level superhero, Starling City has all but descended into chaos without its green-hued protector. What is different from the previous sieges of Starling is the villain behind it all.
Brick underlines the grittiness of the series, with his ambitions to take over the Glades, as well as his methods – which are to kidnap three of the city's alderman and use them as a bargaining chip to get what he wants. There is an edge to Brick that has a great deal to do with Vinnie Jones' performance, certainly, but it's also the reduction of the fantastical – apparent imperviousness to bullets aside – that helps maintain a balance with the far more spectacular thread going on in Nanda Parbat.
In addition, 'Midnight City' further grounds its Starling storyline with what is ostensibly the full-fledged debut of the new Canary – after her brief appearance at the end of last week's episode. The focus on Laurel's initial outings, and their varied levels of success, emphasize Oliver's absence, but it also uses her nascent vigilantism to explore the idea of legacy in an effective way. For one, by taking on the mantle of her sister, Laurel has made the Canary a legacy hero. The episode explores what that means on both a micro and macro level, which is established primarily through the lens of Capt. Lance, who not only needs the Canary's assistance with Brick, but, tragically, is under the impression the woman behind the mask is still Sara.
Obviously, the void left by Oliver is a substantial one, which means there's plenty of room for more heroes to join the fray. After news and evidence of Ollie's apparent demise delivered a crushing emotional blow to Diggle, Felicity, and Roy, it seemed that Team Arrow's days of saving the city had also come to an end. In a sense, it's Laurel's tenacity and willingness to put her relatively inexperienced life on the line that acts as the unknown element to resurrect the team - bringing everyone together in an ambitious, but costly attempt to rescue the kidnapped aldermen.
What is interesting, then, is the way the team's new dynamic is defined at first by its failure – when Laurel and Roy's assault on Brick leads to the execution of a hostage – and then by the power of its resolve. In that sense, if Laurel is the catalyst for the team's reunification, then Felicity acts as its will to live, offering a nice parallel with the thread of Oliver's restoration on the other side of the globe.
Felicity's influence goes further than keeping a struggling Team Arrow alive, though, as she also gives Ray the means by which he can pursue his dreams of using his A.T.O.M. exosuit to do good. Ray steps up when Brick kidnaps the aldermen, and his explanation of why he risked his life (and for who) flips the script on his and Laurel's story - making their quests about safeguarding those who are still alive, rather than a dark quest to avenge the dead. It's a necessary adjustment to the burgeoning heroes' path – even though it requires Felicity's interpretation for them both to see it – that puts their justification on par with Oliver and the rest of the city's vigilantes, even if their skillset isn't quite there yet.
What makes 'Midnight City' work, however, isn't necessarily the reemergence of Oliver or the development of new heroes; it's the balance the episode finds in its myriad threads. The Brick storyline takes center stage, but it has to contend with Oliver's convalescence being tied to a flashback wherein Maseo reveals the lengths he would go protect his wife and family, and Malcolm Merlyn's desperate attempt to get Thea out of Starling City. Last week's episode basically had to deal with the same threads, but here they compliment one another in a far more convincing and less clumsy fashion. There is a clear parallel between the Starling City and the Nada Parbat threads, but Maseo's storyline winds up coming together in a surprising manner – with the reveal that he's apparently playing both sides, and that Thea's obnoxious DJ friend is actually in cahoots with the League of Assassins.
While the storyline has been focused on the ramifications of Arrow's absence, there has been an interesting dearth of Ra's al Ghul that elevates the character to near-mythological proportions. The last time he appeared onscreen, he was kicking a defeated Oliver into a ravine. That image has had a lasting effect, as the mere mention of Ra's name does for the Arrow what the Arrow does for criminals in Starling City. And with that, next week promises the return of the Arrow, but not without some potential surprises and complications courtesy of the League of Assassins to go along with it.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'Uprising' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: