As we approach the end of the up-and-down first season of ‘Arrow,’ the series is focusing itself in a way that we’ve seen only in occasional fits and starts so far this season. “Darkness at the Edge of Town” is one of the series’ best episodes to date, and sets up what should be a very fun season one finale.
While this hour still featured plenty of storytelling chaff (which we’ll touch on later), the main story involving Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity going head-to-head with Malcolm Merlyn was an absolute home run. It hits every checkbox you could ask for: Connected to the main plot, suspenseful, action-packed, and full of fun moments involving the show’s two best characters, Diggle and Felicity.
In particular, the ‘Ocean’s 11’-style sequence where our heroes infiltrate Merlyn’s building to hack his mainframe was absolutely terrific, maybe the best work the series has done to date. Nobody can resist a good caper, and from Felicity’s disguise to Oliver assisting her through the elevator shaft to Diggle rescuing her at the last minute, everything about this was a joy to watch. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the big gaudy fights on ‘Arrow’ as much as the next person, but the premise of this show allows enough latitude for this kind of more subtle action sequence, or even the occasional whodunit-style story. Here’s hoping that in season two, the series explores different ways of delivering the action, because it worked superbly well here.
And there was plenty of other good stuff, too. One of my two fundamental problems with ‘Arrow’ has been Oliver devolving into an incompetent jerk, but “Darkness at the Edge of Town” was mercifully free of most of that silliness, allowing the audience to root for him. The trick he pulled on Moira with Diggle wearing the vigilante outfit was enjoyably clever, as was the fact that Diggle got to take out some of his frustration with Oliver by mock-torturing him (which I suspect Diggle enjoyed more than he let on). And the final pulse-pounding confrontation between Oliver and Malcolm, with Malcolm learning Oliver’s identity as the vigilante, sets up the finale nicely.
Unfortunately, the second of my two fundamental problems with ‘Arrow’ hamstrung an otherwise-excellent hour of television: This show has too many damn stories. In this action-packed hour, I don’t need the Oliver/Laurel romance bookending everything. I understand the episode was structured to take Oliver on a journey to the point that he could be comfortable with Laurel (because ending The Undertaking is a light at the end of the tunnel of his vigilante adventures), but newsflash: ending The Undertaking is what I and I think most the audience cares about, not Oliver and Laurel’s relationship! ‘Arrow’ clearly believes Oliver’s romantic life to be of chief concern to the show’s audience, and it’s just not. Removing the Oliver/Laurel component from this hour would have had exactly zero effect on the stakes of this episode.
The Thea and Roy Harper material has potential, especially because pairing Thea with someone more troubled than her has gone a long way towards redeeming that character. But while the show has really tried to establish Roy’s motivation for tracking down the vigilante, it just doesn’t connect. It doesn’t make sense why he’s suddenly devoted his entire life to finding this guy, or why Thea is infiltrating police stations WHILE ON PROBATION in order to assist him. This isn’t a case of the show not laying enough track – it’s that the track it laid doesn’t lead to where we are now.
Finally, I don’t even want to get into the island flashback stuff. Suffice to say that it continues to be unbearably bad, a completely waste of screen time that would be much better spent on literally anything else.
Still, after a really rough mid-season stretch, ‘Arrow’ has pulled itself together and appears poised for a memorable finale. Despite my continuing issues with the show, I’ll be looking forward to next week.