Arrow Review: “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” (Season 1, Episode 22)

Susanna Thompson in Arrow

As one reader pointed out last week, these last few episodes of Arrow’s first season are being constructed as a three-part whole. Therefore, trilogy structure dictates that this week’s meat in the finale sandwich be the dark middle chapter (Empire Strikes Back being the proto-example, though the overt Star Wars homage this episode is to A New Hope). The tonal shift is made pretty apparent from the title alone, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” but the bleakness is overwhelmingly obvious by episode’s end, which finds just about everyone in Arrow at the centre of a bad situation, regardless of sides, or timelines. Hell, even Malcolm, who once more proves himself the biggest hooded badass in town, winds up in something of a pickle, after finding out the vigilante he just put the hurt on is Oliver.

It’s the Twelve Days of Misery packed into 42 minutes of airtime: three discovered identities, two breakups, one dead Yao Fei, and a doom machine about to sink part of the city. Satan is probably complaining about the abundance of handbaskets that have shown up at hell’s doorstep, because, boy-o, things are about as rough as they can get, short of one of the more central main characters getting iced. Of course, now is the absolute best time to start looking at who’s expendable (hint: it’s anyone in the credits who’s name is preceded by “with,” or “guest starring.”), because with a title like “Sacrifice,” you just know the actual season finale next week has something tragic up its sleeve.

Which is good, because while Part I of the Arrow Grand Finale was a casino-scamming, thug-busting medley of near wall-to-wall excellence, “Darkness on the Edge of Town” puts just as much on its plate, throws on a few extra spoonfulls for good measure, and only then realizes it has just 42 minutes to chew through all that story. There’s not a lot of time for digestion this week, and the episode whips around furiously to get plots A through Z where they need to be before the conclusion, resulting in a very frantic and busy hour. That doesn’t mean the episode itself was bad, just a little overstuffed, and prone to shortcutting.

For instance, while last week showed how entertaining a well-planned Arrow caper can be, this week’s attraction -the Team-Arrow triumvirate infiltrating Merlyn Industries- hurtles like lightning towards its intended purpose, desperately staying out of earshot, so that it can’t hear you asking how it is Digg managed to get a security job with Merlyn, and what the drugged camera operator is going to do once he wakes up to find the new hire has up and vanished. This is a big moment for the team, but the episode is overly aware of that fact, layering on some ear-shreddingly grating background music to really, really underscore the fact that this is a totally awesome caper. The individual moments of the setpiece are great, particularly any bits that involved Felicity (which were plentiful), but hurried execution makes the heist a bit sloppy.

And speaking of hectic, the tunnel of love that Oliver and Laurel have been swerving around in finally finds an exit, one that spits them out into a new relationship status, unaware that Tommy’s heart has been run over and left bleeding like roadkill. I’ve complained about the love triangle as a time-killer when things are slow on the show, but it’s even more frustrating when precious seconds are spent listening to Laurel weigh Oliver’s date-ability, when literally every other storyline is more important at this point. That goes doubly when her meditation on this decision sounds like the ranting of a seriously unbalanced person. “Y-you think I’m crazy. I mean Oliver h-he cheated on me, he broke my heart, he led Sarah to her death,” are the exact words Laurel uses when trying to pitch her father on the man she thinks has changed, despite Oliver explicitly telling her he hasn’t, like, two hours earlier.

But Oliver and Laurel wind up banging, because duh. It’s not their coupling that’s all that troubling: Oliver deciding that stopping The Undertaking will clean the slate of Queen men live and dead is a hopeful (and inevitably ill-fated) bit of extra incentive to give our hero before the climax, so it’s good he gets a taste of what a normal life would be like. The problem is that Loliver (which is what we will be calling this union from now on) finally becoming a thing happens exactly as I’d always feared: with Tommy watching the copulation from off in the distance, out in the cold rain, shooting daggers at the humping bodies of his best friend and girlfriend. Admittedly, Tommy looks more heartbroken than vengeful (and there’s no rain in the scene), but the unexpected turns this plot took towards developing Tommy look increasingly like diversions, leading to the rote destination of Tommy playing the scorned lover, out for revenge. Can he really be all that surprised by this development? The guy’s been the biggest Laurel-Oliver shipper within the show, so he was pretty much asking for this to happen.

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