Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Arrow Episode Guide: Season 2, Episode 5 - League of Assassins

For a summary of the episode guide layout & categories, click here.


While curious about how Sara Lance survived her time on The Amazo and how she learned how to fight, Oliver Queen has avoided asking too many questions.  Yet he has no choice after a mysterious man in the same black garb Malcolm Merlyn wore attacks the Queen estate while Sara is guesting with him.  The truth comes out at last - Sara joined the legendary League of Assassins under the name Canary and her family will die if she does not return.

At the same time, things are heating up in the trial of Moira Queen.  With Laurel Lance assigned to act as the District Attorney's second, things are tenser than ever between Ollie and Laurel... especially after Laurel spearheads a plea bargain that will likely see Moira in jail for the rest of her life.  That's assuming she takes the deal - a course of action nobody except Moira seems to favor. 

The flashbacks this time focus on Sara, showing how she survived the sinking of The Queen's Gambit.  They also offer some explanation of how she came to her position on The Amazo when Ollie first found out she was still alive.   


Birds of Prey: Sensei & Student (Canary receiving training under the tutelage of an assassin, having a nickname in a foreign language) and the Black Canary mini-series by Tony Bedard (Black Canary fights the League Of Assassins in order to prevent them from reclaiming one of their trainees - though in the comics the trainee was the young girl she'd adopted rather than Canary herself)


Moira's lawyer has a pretty strong point (which D.A. Donner blows off completely) about Laurel serving on the prosecution team being a pretty big conflict of interest given the relationship between Laurel and The Queen family.  I'm no legal expert, but I believe it is standard practice for lawyers not to get involved in cases where they personally know the defendant, dated the defendant's son and/or oversaw the defendant's daughter's community service.


The entire cast is excellent as always, but two performances stand out above all the others simply for the amount of difficult material they had to handle in this episode. 

Caity Lotz faced a challenge in being able to sell Sara as a character and as The Canary.  She has succeeded.  Like Stephen Amell, she must play the character and the character's many faces even as their various personas clash, such as when the common sense of the assassin is overridden by the desires of the daughter to comfort her father and seek his approval.

Paul Blackthorne also has a challenging role in this episode, needing to play Quentin Lance as his usual badass cop persona but also as a vulnerable man whose world has already been broken and reglued too many times.  And yet he must cope with yet another tragedy - the knowledge that his daughter is alive and that he cannot share that news with his estranged wife or the daughter who is slowly slipping away from him.  You can see the pain in Blackthorne's face, though he says nothing as the episode progresses, as he pieces together everything Sara isn't telling him and realizes the broken home he hoped to save can never be restored.   


The fight scenes are all incredibly well-shot and amazingly choreographed.


The League of Assassins are - as the name would suggest - a guild of professional killers in the DC Comics Universe.  Their leader and founder is Ra's Al Ghul, best known to non-comic readers as the main villain in the movie Batman Begins.  The group - and Ra's himself - were created by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams - the same creative team responsible for the reimagining of Green Arrow as a modern-day Robin Hood figure.  The League first appeared in Strange Adventures #215 and quickly became a foil not just for Batman but for all the martial-arts based heroes of the DC Universe.

Professor Anthony Ivo is a long-time nemesis of The Justice League of America.  Originally introduced in Brave and the Bold #30, he was a scientist whose fear of death caused him to seek out immortality. He originally sought to do this through the creation of robots that could steal the powers of the most powerful beings on earth (i.e. superheroes) so that he too might become invulnerable to all dangers.  Eventually, he sought answers through biological experimentation and found a serum that granted him immortality but also transformed him into a deformed, barely humanoid creature with scaly skin. 

The most powerful of Ivo's robots was called Amazo.  This is also the name of the ship Sara and Ollie are imprisoned on.

Al-Owal tells Sara "The child of Ra's Al Ghul awaits your return".  This could be a reference to Talia Al Ghul.  Though she is not Ra's only child, she is the only one who openly ran The League of Assassins for an extended period in the comics.

Before she kills him Al-Owal tells Sara she will not be spared because she is "the beloved".  Curiously, "Beloved" was Talia Al Ghul's pet-name for Batman.  And in the comics Black Canary did briefly date Ra's Al Ghul, though neither of them was aware of the other's identity at the time.  Could it be possible that Ra's has reasons for wanting to see Sara return to him alive beyond wishing to see a skilled assassin return to his employ? 

Dialogue Triumphs

Oliver: Who are you?
Al-Owal: Just a warrior... like you

(As Ollie returns from a meeting with his mother and her lawyer)
Diggle: How did it go with your mother?
Ollie: Not well. Have you found someone for me to hit yet?

(As Ollie is stitching a wound on Sara's back)
Felicity: You're not even flinching when he...
Sara: Pain and I came to a little understanding a few years back.

(After Quentin is disarmed by an assassin)
Assassin: Guns are a coward's weapon.  What are you without your sidearm?
(Quentin reaches to his side, draws a second gun and shoots the assassin)
Quentin: Got a spare.

(After Sara kills Al-Owal)
Sara: I'm sorry you saw that.  I can't imagine what you think of me.
Quentin: I think you're a survivor.  I think you're one of the bravest people I've ever known. 


Like Ollie, Sara has traumatic nightmares regarding the sinking of The Queen's Gambit.  Moira is offered a plea bargain for life with a possibility of parole in exchange for a guilty plea.  Sara survived the sinking of The Queen's Gambit by clinging to a piece of the wreckage.  She saw a canary just before being discovered by The Amazo. The black garb Malcolm Merlyn wore is apparently standard issue for most League of Assassins members.  Sara apparently met Shado at some point and she was wearing a green hood when it happened.  Al-Owal is Arabic for "The First".  Diggle heard rumors of The League of Assassins when he was stationed if Afghanistan.  Sara was rescued from The Amazo by a member of The League of Assassins, who took her to Nanda Parbat  - the same mystic city Malcolm Merlyn mentioned training at in 116.  She joined the group but left it after four years after one assassination where she saw the children of her target discover the body.  Sara was imprisoned in the same cells on The Amazo as Ollie.  Al-Owal was the man who trained Malcolm Merlyn.  Quentin hasn't spoken to Laurel in a week, since 204.  Sara can speak Chinese.  Quentin figures out that Sara is "the girl in the mask", running through the logic that "Felicity Smoak was sent to warn me about assassins and if Sara knew to send her to deliver a message that means Sara knows The Arrow which means...."  Sara is saved from the cells and a probable rape by The Amazo's crew by Dr. Anthony Ivo, who explains that the people in the cages are part of his work and he plans to save the human race.  Sara shows Quentin her base in the Clocktower.  She says that The League of Assassins makes all their members choose a new name when they are inducted and she chose the Arabic word for canary.  Quentin remembers buying her a pet canary whens he was 10.  Sara has the tower boob-trapped with snares and trip-wires that shoot crossbow bolts.  Sara is referred to as "the beloved" by Al-Owal before she kills him.  Moira decides to reject the plea-bargain after being reassured by her children they will love her no matter what comes out in the trial.  Sara leaves to go deal with The League of Assassins.  Ollie has a bottle of vodka in his trunk that a friend gave him to drink "at the right time".  Ollie tells Diggle that he did not spend all of the five years he was gone on the island.    

Untelevised Adventures

While we do see how Sara comes to move from the cells of The Amazon to Ivo's lab, we still don't know precisely how she came to be his employ. 

The Fridge Factor

Sara Lance spends most of the flashback sequences in her underwear - a retcon from what she was wearing in the Season One flashbacks.  There's also a gratuitous shot of her bare back following a sequence where her wounds are being sewn that serves no purpose other than to titillate the audience.    

The Bottom Line

Perhaps the strongest episode of the season thus far.   The fight scenes are all gorgeous and the story of how Sara came to be where we saw her last week is explained while still leaving plenty of mystery in the flashback sequences to come.  Most of the ensemble cast isn't given much to do (indeed, Ollie is a secondary character to the main action) but they shine in what brief moments they have.  Caity Lotz and Paul Blackthorne steal the show thanks to some well-written scenes that are well-played. 

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