Arrow Cast and Creators: L-R Andrew Kreisberg, Greg Berlanti, Stephen Amell, Susanna Thompson, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Geoff Johns, and Marc Guggenheim at the 30th Annual PaleyFest: The William S. Paley Television Festival presents a night with ARROW | ©2013 Sue Schneider

Arrow Cast and Creators: L-R Andrew Kreisberg, Greg Berlanti, Stephen Amell, Susanna Thompson, Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Geoff Johns, and Marc Guggenheim at the 30th Annual PaleyFest: The William S. Paley Television Festival presents a night with ARROW | ©2013 Sue Schneider

Stars:  Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Paul Blackthorne, Colin Donnell, Susanna Thompson, Colin Salmon, Willa Holland, David Ramsey, Emily Bett Rickards, John Barrowman, Manu Bennett
Writer: 
Drew Z. Greenberg & Wendy Mericle
Director
: John Behring
Network:
The CW, airs Wednesday Nights
Original Telecast
: May 8, 2013

ARROW is normally at its strongest when it operates in shades of grey, but “Darkness on the Edge of Town” gives us a black & white, good vs. evil battle between Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) and Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman).  This is not necessarily a bad thing, though, because, while both men are hood-wearing vigilantes who shoot people with arrows, and thus neither can safely claim the mantle of “good,” this episode goes to great lengths to remind you which of them is pure evil.

To wit, in the intro, Malcolm, his identity concealed by his “Dark Archer” costume, kills a group of scientists at “Unidac Industries.”  As we learned last week, these folks had been building Malcolm a device capable of simulating an earthquake, which he plans to use to destroy “The Glades,” Starling City’s most crime-ridden neighborhood, and make it look like a natural disaster.  He calls this “The Undertaking.”  Now he’s covering his tracks by destroying his own scientists’ work and records so that their activities can’t be traced back to him. Malcolm’s plan is to rebuild the post-disaster city as a land without have-nots, which will, presumably, feature less random street violence; the kind that claimed his wife many years before.  I’m not sure how he plans on guaranteeing this outcome, or how likely a man who murders half a dozen scientists in cold blood is to be concerned about his new city’s crime statistics in the future, but I’m suspending disbelief on his master plan because this episode makes it absolutely clear from the get-go that he’s an evil lunatic and probably all he really wants to do is hurt people.

While we, the audience, already know the details of Malcolm’s plan, Oliver doesn’t, so ARROW spends a little time fixing that.  In a nice reversal that takes place in the early part of the episode, Oliver confronts his mother, Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) about what she knows about the recent re-appearance of her husband, Walter Steele (Colin Salmon), after his highly suspicious six-month imprisonment.  Before Moira can respond to Oliver’s questions, they receive a blow dart to the neck, fall unconscious, and wake up tied to chairs in a dark room.  A figure that appears to be the Hooded Vigilante appears and wants Moira to tell him what she knows about “The Undertaking.”  When she doesn’t answer, the person in the Hooded Vigilante outfit, who we see is actually Oliver’s sidekick John Diggle, (David Ramsey), beats up Oliver, (while pulling his punches), until she spills her guts in order to save her son.  All we learn from this that we didn’t already know is that Moira’s involvement in Malcolm’s conspiracy began when her late husband, and Oliver’s father, Robert Queen wanted to do some good, and unfortunately, chose a bad person to do it with.  Moira herself did not want to participate in “The Undertaking” but found she had no choice, since Malcolm was going to kill anyone who knew about his plan but did not actively help him, and proved it by murdering Robert.

In any event, thanks to Oliver’s trick, he’s now heard the details of the plan and knows what his mother’s role in it was.  All that’s left to do is find the earthquake device and stop Malcolm.  Oh, and get his ex-girlfriend back.  “Darkness on the Edge of Town” finds Laurel Lance, (Katie Cassidy), with nothing to do but brood over why her ex-boyfriend (and Oliver’s best friend, and Malcolm’s son) Tommy Merlyn just dumped her, and why Oliver, who says he still has feelings for her, now won’t reciprocate when she reveals that she still has feelings for him.  Things remain complicated between them for the majority of the episode, but in the end, Oliver goes to Laurel, wins her back, and Tommy inadvertently finds himself catching a full view of their impassioned, orange-tinted, love-making from the street below through a conveniently situated apartment window.  (Poor Tommy.  He is the quintessential nice guy finishing last).

Also, the flashbacks to Oliver’s time on Lian Yu Island resume this week.  When last we left them, Younger Oliver, Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett), and Shado (Celina Jade) had been captured again by the forces of the mercenary leader Edward Fyres (Sebastian Dunn).   Finally we learn what Fyres’ secret plan is, and it turns out that it’s not as good as Malcolm’s.  Fyres has been paid by a mysterious female client to launch surface-to-air missiles from the Island in order to blow up a commercial airliner on the way to China, make it seem like the attack is the result of terrorism by a rogue faction in the Chinese Army lead by Yao Fei (Byron Mann), and threaten all subsequent flights in and out of China in a similar fashion.  This apparently will destabilize China’s economy and tank the stock market.  (I’m assuming this plan will ultimately fail since it takes place five years in the past and no one in the contemporary timeline has mentioned anything about that time China’s economy was destabilized).  (Also, Oliver didn’t make a big deal about any of this after he was rescued).  And since we saw the missile-launching vehicle weeks ago, “bringing down an airplane” was always a good guess regarding what Fyres’ secret plan was, and it’s not too big a shock to learn that this is, in fact, a major part of the secret plan.

So the Island storyline has become very muddled, and the only real question I have anymore is whether Fyres’ evil plot is connected in any way to Malcolm Merlyn’s evil plot.  So far it looks like the answer is no, but I wouldn’t bet on that being the case for long.  The fact that Malcolm, Oliver, Yao Fei and Shado all chose archery and (in some cases) hoods as their signature thing seems a little too convenient, so I’ll be surprised if some connection between the two worlds doesn’t emerge.  Hopefully it’ll be clever.

Nearly all the rest of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” revolves around the attempt by Oliver, Diggle and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) to break into Merlyn Global’s corporate HQ and hack into the company’s mainframe to find out where Malcolm’s hiding the earthquake device.  Felicity steals every one of her scenes in this sequence, and it’s generally very tense and well paced.  It builds up to an exciting conclusion where Oliver, clad in his hooded vigilante costume, takes on Malcolm, (not clad in his), and they fight it out in Malcolm’s office.  This fight wouldn’t be any fun if Malcolm were not a formidable antagonist for Oliver, but I do have trouble accepting the ease with which Malcolm then kicks Oliver’s ass, knocks him out, and learns his identity.  If Oliver and Malcolm’s son Tommy are best friends from childhood, that makes Malcolm at least two decades older than Oliver.  Plus, he’s visibly a much smaller man.  So when Oliver launches an arrow at Malcolm, which Malcolm catches in mid-air inches from his chest, it’s a nice shock for the audience, but at some point I’m going to need to see all the steroids Malcolm’s been injecting himself with in order to keep buying scenes like this.

Since the next episode is the season finale, however, I suspect there probably won’t be many more scenes like this, as Oliver’s final victory over Malcolm, who’s an evil, crazy person, seems pretty much assured at this point.  Most good vs. evil showdowns on TV (and involving comic book superheroes) tend to go that way.  But because ARROW’s been so good at mixing in the occasional shade of grey, I think it’d be appropriate for Oliver to pay a price for his victory.  And it would be a great way to finish off ARROW’s solid debut season if we were all truly surprised by what that price is.

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