Recap: Arrow, “Midnight City” (3×11)

I’m not positive I can be dispassionate enough to write a non-fangirl recap of “Midnight City,” which is pretty impressive because I think I’ve used the word “fangirl” to describe myself about three times in my life. This installment of Arrow played like the middle of the “Ollie’s recovering” trilogy: pure serialization with no stand alone hand-holding for newbies, and heavily dependent on what we know and are invested in about the character’s relationships. And how about those ladies of Starling City…

For once, I want to start with Thea. Even though Thea’s been the linchpin of the plot surrounding Sara’s death, especially since she was revealed to be the killer, nothing that happened was her doing. She was Malcolm’s pawn, or Oliver’s person to shelter and protect, or the object of Roy’s devotion. But Thea should be badass. She survived watching her mother murdered. She trained in marital arts and fighting technique for seven intense and punishing months under her sociopathic (but effective) mentor of a father. She’s a successful businesswoman, having taken over Verdant last season. But, so often, the need to have someone who isn’t “in on” the secrets means that Thea is sidelined.

But not tonight. Tonight, Thea is done with the bullshit of being told what to do by the men in her life. When DJ Spy-for-the-League (I still could not care less about his name) tells her it’s dangerous to be “hanging out” in the glades, she curtly informs him that she is working. When Malcolm Merlyn, all doom and dramatic gloom, insists that she pack her bags and leave town, she puts her foot down and demands an explanation or she stays. Even after Malcolm kinda-sorta tells her the truth about Ra’s al Ghul’s price on his head (leaving out the I-drugged-you-and-made-you-kill-Sara part), she refuses to leave. Thea says that since Malcolm taught her to be strong, to stand and fight rather than be a victim or run, they should stay and face the League together. For the first time, we’re asked to look at the Malcolm/Thea relationship as something other than predatory; rather, we believe Thea when she talks about how it helped her and her confidence. Of course, we know something she doesn’t that will likely ruin her perspective on her father, but this version of Thea may be able to deal with that betrayal and move on.

“Midnight City” is especially deft at shifting between different characters’ perspectives, letting us in on their motivations and their understandings. This opportunity is almost solely due to Oliver being presumed dead. Oliver as the Arrow is – was – the gravitational force holding them all together, and with him “gone” those in his inner circle are forced to reexamine their life choices, their values, and their relationships to Starling City and each other. Putting Oliver temporarily out of commission turns out to be one of the best creative decisions the writing team could have possibly made. (And, well, the more of that recovery that Stephen Amell remains shirtless, the better for all involved. Don’t judge.)

Which brings me to Felicity and Laurel, and what a pairing this is. One of the things I missed this season was the bevy of fantastic, rich female relationships Arrow invested in – a rarity for the comic book television genre. Moira and Thea, Sara and Laurel, Sara and Felicity, even Sara and Shado’s antagonistic but working relationship: these were all dynamic and complicated. Then Shado, Moira, and Sara died, and with it Thea, Felicity, and Laurel (and even supporting female characters like Amanda Waller, Tatsu, and Lyla) all settled into their separate bubbles. “Midnight City” turned that on its head, and I couldn’t be happier.

As of last week, Felicity was still mourning Oliver so violently that she refused to help Roy with the chip for his suit, calling the project a suicide mission, while Laurel struggled to be the Black Canary and honor Sara’s legacy on her own. Both are in much the same place at the start of this week’s outing – although Laurel has roped a reluctant Ray and an even more hesitant Diggle into aiding her – when Brick and his henchmen strengthen their bid for the Glades by shooting up a meeting of city leaders, and kidnapping three aldermen as hostages. In order to prevent the mayor from capitulating to Brick’s demands to pull out of the Glades, and in response to Detective Lance’s optimism about Sara’s return, Laurel decides that, as the Canary, she must act. Unfortunately, Brick is well beyond her novice skills both physically and tactically. When she and Arsenal attack, everything goes horribly wrong and Brick assassinates one of the aldermen, an upstanding man with a wife and two kids. Laurel, understandably, is crushed, and considers hanging up the mask for good.

But then Felicity comes in. Felicity, who had just finished telling Detective Lance over and over again that the Arrow was gone for good, finally comes to believe it herself. She shares with Laurel the same wisdom that Roy just imparted on her: maybe they shouldn’t chose their actions based on those who they have lost, but on how best to protect those they care about who are still there. Yes, Laurel failed, miserably and tragically, but it taught her the stakes. She needs to become the Canary, not just play at it, and to do that she needs the support of the whole team. Felicity and Laurel, reinvigorated by each other, convince Diggle and Ray (drowning their sorrows in booze) to suit up and get back on board, and this time, the Canary-led mission is successful. In a fight sequence that makes stunning use of a small, shelf-filled space, the Canary and Arsenal manage to save the aldermen, after which Laurel jumps from a window onto a rope ladder dangling from helicopter piloted by Diggle (and borrowed from Ray). I really do love this show’s sense of style.

So, even without Ollie, the Arrow Cave crew is back in business, and now it’s Laurel and Felicity protecting those around them. In a heart-wrenching scene, Laurel decides to keep pretending to be Sara to her father a little longer to protect him from the likely-fatal grief of knowing that one daughter was dead and the other was imperiling herself the same way. Detective Lance’s voice is so hopeful, so excited when he begs “Sara” to come to dinner, and “Sara’s” cracks with pain when she has to refuse. Meanwhile, Felicity sticks to her guns about not losing anyone else she cares about, but now, as she tells Ray, “If I help, you might not end up dead.” Felicity’s all in again, as she proves by giving Ray a quantum processor that will work where his nanochip failed. (I just go along with the made-up science for the ride.)

I’ve written 1100 words and barely mentioned Oliver, but that’s because even when Oliver’s present, it isn’t about him but about Maseo and Tatsu, and the dissolution of their marriage. Maseo, the man who risked turning over a potent, deadly drug to China White in order to save his wife and reunite his family, no longer talks to that wife and their son is nowhere to be seen. The death of a child can tear couples apart like little else, so I’m guessing that’s the source of their angst-ridden rift. Oliver futilely entreats Maseo to return with him to Starling City, but Maseo insists on going back to the League, even if it means death for him if Ra’s al Ghul finds out he saved Oliver. Even as Thea and Malcolm are drawing on the strength of their familial bond, and the Arrow Cave crew is reforming theirs sans Oliver, Maseo and Tatsu’s family has been torn asunder by tragedy. Tatsu points out that she knew Maseo, but Sarab – the man he has become with the League – is a stranger. Melancholy stuff, indeed.

Now that Oliver can stand, he should probably make his way back to Starling City, as Maseo suggests. The mayor gave in to Brick’s request to pull the SCPD out of the glades, his friends have mourned his death, and the League is coming back to Starling to take out Malcolm and Thea. How is Oliver going to deal with these new conditions? Next Wednesday can’t come fast enough.

Odds and Ends:

– Apparently Ray’s helicopter did have keys. Another point to Felicity.

– I was excited to see that in the boardroom brawl, Laurel, Detective Lance, Ray, and even Felicity got in on the action.

– Roy to Laurel when he finds her fighting as the Canary: “I think we should talk” and then in response to Laurel comparing herself to him: “I’ve had training and years on the street. You have a law degree.” Roy Harper, voice of reason?

– Brick REALLY does not like Roy Palmer and his money. I sense that Roy and his ATOM suit are going to be a big part of taking him down.

– That dream-turned-nightmare of Oliver professing his love for Felicity was a terrifying turn of events, but if his experiences with Maseo and Tatsu don’t convince him to hold onto her no matter what, he’s simply insane.