The CW hasn't been coy about the nature of Laurel Lance, who returned from the dead in a shocking and somewhat out-of-left-field reveal during the closing moments of the Arrow midseason finale several weeks ago. While the apparent resurrection of Black Canary took everyone – Oliver included – by surprise, subsequent advertisements leading up to the midseason premiere, 'Who Are You?', didn't beat around the bush or oversell the mystery. No sooner have Ollie and the gang finished toasting yet another character's ability to cheat death than she's screaming (or doing her Canary Cry, as it were) her way through the bunker, sending characters flying and breaking a not insignificant amount of glassware. The moment ends with Oliver stating the obvious: "That's not our Laurel."
Laurel's response is one of exasperation, hinting that whoever or whatever this version of Laurel is, hiding in plain sight amongst her counterpart's old teammates for an extended period of time was never part of the plan. That revelation should elicit a sigh of relief from those watching, as characters keeping secrets from one another – especially on this show – is not the most dramatically propulsive way to handle telling a story. And it's certainly not a propulsive way to go about answering the many questions that stem from Laurel's return, making the Arrow writers' room decision to cut to the chase an early indication that season 5 is striving to maintain a certain level of quality it fought so hard to earn back over the previous 9 episodes.
The creators of the series have also followed suit, being surprisingly upfront in interviews about the nature of Laurel's return and exactly how it is that she's come back. In this moment of television huge twists and secret, mystery-box plotlines are very much in vogue, and to see a show that's not necessarily about that kind of storytelling embrace a certain level of transparency is pretty refreshing. The only question now is: What will Arrow do to follow through on this story?
'Who Are You?' doesn't waste time getting Oliver and the rest of Team Arrow up to speed with regard to who this new Laurel is, and while the revelation isn't exactly mind blowing, it is in keeping with the storyline the series has established so far. Laurel's surprise visit during the midseason finale didn't just give rise to the concern that Arrow was wiping away the emotional impact of the character's death last season, it also registered as being miles away from anything having to do with Prometheus or the accidental death of Felicity's boyfriend Billy.
But while it's making quick work of revealing Laurel to be Black Siren, the episode also manages to tie the Earth-2 counterpart to Star City by having the season's Big Bad spring her from the Central City hoosegow for super-powered individuals. Not only does this make Prometheus an emotionally manipulative jerk, but it also demonstrates he's a threat to far more than just Oliver if he can break into STAR labs and free a prisoner without drawing attention to himself. Still, it seems as though Prometheus's plan for Earth-2 Laurel begins and ends with putting Oliver through the emotional ringer.
The only problem is the plan has a far greater effect on Felicity than it does Oliver. Still reeling from Billy's death, Felicity wants revenge, and she's willing to take it out on anyone remotely associated with black-clad killer. The move works to better Felicity's frame of mind, especially after the unique circumstances that led to Billy being killed. That's certainly true of Arrow, which, through some villainous subterfuge, put Billy in Oliver's line of fire, but never really found a way (or the time) to tackle the emotional fallout of Felicity's ex-boyfriend killing her new boyfriend (inadvertent as it was). There was a similar haste in making sure Oliver was excused from any culpability amongst his teammates (Felicity in particular), which, although it comes with the territory on a show that's driven primarily by plot, diluted the impact of Billy's death to a certain degree.
But if anything, 'Who Are You?' is another confident example of Arrow building toward more compelling character arcs. With a little encouragement from Rene, Curtis rediscovered the tech-guy side of himself after weeks of getting trounced in physical altercations. Curtis' frustration and anger over what being a vigilante has cost him makes for an interesting arc for the character, especially as he continues to struggle being good at the very thing that's wrecking his life. That sort of inner conflict doesn't always translate well to the screen, but the writers find a way to thread the needle so the audience can understand Curtis's sense of defeat but also recognize it's not within him to quit.
There was progression on a few other fronts as well, as Adrian Chase practically jumped at the chance to help Diggle by disrupting the conspiracy against him long enough to at least prevent his murder that day. Right now, the Diggle storyline feels like it's in a holding pattern, and while moving Adrian into the thread doesn't necessarily guarantee it will start moving again anytime soon, it does give both characters something to do while Oliver decides to go looking for the new Black Canary as a way to honor the real Laurel.
'Who Are You?' ultimately winds up being a long-winded introduction to a woman in Hub City with a familiar vocal range and a tease of Talia al Ghul in the form of a flashback. But while it's situating itself to open the door for another new member of Team Arrow (and to explain how Oliver knows Talia and didn't think to mention it to anyone before), the hour largely avoids being filler thanks to its interest in making sure Billy's death wasn't forgotten as the series finds more ways to make Prometheus out to be one of Oliver's toughest foes yet.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'Second Chances' @8pm on The CW.
Photos: The CW