Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Arrow: “Blind Spot”

Illustration for article titled Arrow: “Blind Spot”

Arrow has never been only one show. From its very beginning, it has pursued the twin tales of Oliver Queen at very different points in his life, presenting him alternately as present-day vigilante and flashback-bound castaway on that hellish island. The show has never hidden which of these two stories it finds more compelling, but this season has done some good work in filling out Oliver’s island story so that it’s something a little more substantial than thematic ballast for the Starling City narrative. In the midst of all this, Arrow has begun a third story centered on Roy Harper and Thea Queen, as their romance faces weekly challenges only tangentially related to the extracurricular activities of Thea’s older brother. For Thea in particular, this story has represented some impressive character reclamation, as she has left behind her old, unflattering niche as Oliver’s bratty, self-obsessed kid sister. Like so many of Arrow’s supporting characters, her life is defined by chasing mysteries, but her particular journey of discovery doesn’t ultimately lead back to Oliver, but rather to the now super-strong Roy.

It’s not that Thea and Roy’s story could unfold independent of the rest of the Arrow universe; Roy’s state is a direct result of the Mirakuru, after all. But when Roy enlists Sin’s help to track down a high-powered lawyer who gets his kicks from slashing prostitutes’ throats, the specifics of that story have nothing to do with Oliver. More to the point, when Roy walks away from Thea and Sin at the hospital and breaks down crying, that’s an emotional beat that belongs entirely to his character. It doesn’t somehow illuminate some larger theme about Oliver’s story, nor does Thea’s desperate attempt to convince her boyfriend that she only wants to help him, not judge him. I’m not yet advocating for a spinoff—to be named Thea Loves Roy, obviously—but it’s impressive just how well the trio of Willa Holland, Colton Haynes, and returning guest star Bex-Taylor Klaus carry a solid 10 minutes of “Blind Spot” that features Oliver in the most minimal of capacities. Still, based on the last scene, in which the Arrow offers to teach Roy how to control himself, this story is about to far more prominently feature Oliver, which is a wise move on the part of the writers. These self-contained stories offer a terrific opportunity to fill in the blanks of previously underwritten characters, but they can feel dangerously detached from the main story when they unfold with zero participation from the protagonist.

I point all this out as an illustration of how well Arrow has built up its characters, even those whom it struggled to define in the early going. That’s important to “Blind Spot,” which makes a concerted effort to rebuild the show’s most troubled character, Laurel Lance. In the first season, Laurel’s most clearly defined role found her in a soap opera side story, dating Tommy while struggling with her deeply confused feelings for Oliver. This wasn’t a good role, to be sure, but at least it was a role, and Arrow has found little for her to do in the wake of Tommy’s death. That lack of clarity and direction has become Laurel’s story this season; asked again and again by those who care about her to be honest about how her emotional struggles, Laurel has drifted from denial to denial in a self-medicated haze. She sat out the most important Lance-related storyline of the season, as all involved agreed that Laurel wouldn’t be able to cope with the news of her sister’s resurrection and forced exile. And it really doesn’t help that, on the rare occasion in which she gets to participate in a larger story, she always finds herself on the wrong side. She sprang the SWAT team trap on the Arrow earlier this season, and then she fell for the fraudulent charms of Sebastian Blood.

As such, this episode takes a step in the right direction simply by letting her be right for once. Laurel figures out the terrible truth about her sort of boyfriend at a point when Blood still has both of Oliver’s personae fooled. For once, she’s the one propelling the plot forward, and her latest kidnapping is a direct result of her actions, rather than a byproduct of some larger game that a villain is playing with her father or the Arrow. (And yes, I realize she’s only a part of Blood’s plans in the first place because of Slade Wilson’s vendetta against Oliver, but she wouldn’t have been captured and menaced by the fake Brother Blood if she hadn’t taken the initiative and gone snooping.) “Blind Spot” isn’t a renaissance for Laurel, but it does give her some agency, and, just as important, it finds valid reasons to take that agency away again. When the crooked Officer Daily arrests her for possession of a controlled substance—which, to be fair, she’s totally guilty of, but the whole thing is still a farce—Laurel claims for the umpteenth time that the whole world is conspiring against her and nobody is willing to listen to her, except now she’s actually got a point. Laurel is still a mess, but at least in “Blind Spot” it isn’t an entirely self-inflicted wound.

And yet the episode closes with the real Brother Blood receding into the shadows, Laurel being unceremoniously fired, and Oliver essentially vowing to never listen to what she has to say ever again. Rarely has an Arrow episode ended with everyone involved drawing such appallingly bad lessons from what has just unfolded. Even so, there’s hope for Laurel here. “Blind Spot” makes a case for how she can still be a useful member of the Arrow ensemble, and then it has her hit rock bottom anyway. Whatever Laurel does next, it can’t be the status quo, and that can only be a good thing. And, based on the multiple heart-to-heart talks tonight between Laurel and her father, the next phase of her story figures to feature plenty of supportive but stern Paul Blackthorne, which also can only be a good thing. These are all small steps, admittedly, but considering how much the show has struggled to do anything good with Laurel, I’ll gladly accept any movement in the right direction.

In the meantime, we can look to the younger, flashback-bound Lance sister for clearer character progression. Tonight’s island scenes are largely taken up with Sara’s nighttime communique with Professor Ivo, and Dylan Neal makes the most of this opportunity to really cut loose as the unhinged mad scientist. In previous episodes, there have been hints of just how insane Ivo truly is, but recent stories have portrayed him more as a relatively straightforward ruthless sadist. While “Blind Spot” is light on specifics, it’s clear that Ivo is genuine in his grandiose dreams of changing the world with the Mirakuru, and his vision is compelling enough that Sara once actually believed in it. Her last-minute rejection of Ivo is a crucial, frankly unexpected development; like Oliver, she has now found something worth fighting for that transcends surviving or getting off the island. Ivo is the kind of evil that must be fought, because he earnestly, completely believes that he’s the hero of this story. It’s not even that he will say anything to regain Sara’s trust, but rather, it’s that he actually seems to think those particular lines—like his sudden recognition that the woman he murdered had a name—would ever convince anybody. The Sara of five years ago has now found a clear purpose. Now Arrow just has to help her sister do the same.


Stray observations:

  • Slade Wilson’s decision to kill three of Blood’s henchmen is a sign that he is really, really not messing around. I believe this might also be the first time we’ve seen Slade in the Deathstroke getup previously worn only by Billy Wintergreen, though it’s possible I’m forgetting a moment in the first season when he donned the outfit.
  • The fight between Arrow and the fake Brother Blood was another great action sequence for Arrow, and I was intrigued by how the sequence seemed to position the two as precise equals. For instance, the fake Blood was able to disappear from plain view and then reappear much as Oliver would. It was a nice, subtle way of indicating just how much Oliver has met his match with Brother(s) Blood.
  • This episode offered the perfect opportunity to focus on how Arrow is having trouble coming up with stories for Laurel. Honestly, the way things are going, I might soon have to do the same for Diggle, who at this point barely seems to uncross his arms or leave that one small section of the Arrow Cave. He’s still useful as a voice of reason and dissent in Oliver’s deliberations, but surely show can do more with David Ramsey than this.