Synopsis of 4×19: The team tries to deal with Laurel’s death and their own failures as a vengeful Black Canary copycat targets Ruvé Adams. Oliver prepares to take on Darhk, one and for all.
More than any season before it, Season 4 of Arrow has suffered from problems maintaining and maximizing momentum. Between complicated, often confusing, scheduling, leading to episodes rarely airing with regular breaks between, to it’s less than compelling villain, and general lack of plotting have all held these episodes back in a way that even the slowest moments of last season’s Ra’s al Ghul storyline didn’t, More than anything else Arrow would benefit by trying to build some kind of, any kind of momentum, building on characters or moments to feel as if this show is going somewhere.
“Canary Cry” isn’t interested in doing that. It’s an episode mostly about dealing with the grief of Laurel’s death and Quentin’s reasonable inability to let her death go but it also devotes a sizable percentage of its runtime to an endless flashback sequence about Tommy’s death. There’s a world where this crosscutting would probably work but it’s not here. The show’s long since moved out of the shadow of Tommy Merlyn and the only thing revisiting his death does here is bog down an episode that’s already drowning in misery.
The episode tries to split the difference by introducing a Black Canary impersonator, complicating the team’s feelings about their recently departed friend but the thematic link is too tight. “Canary Cry” wants to use the new Canary to draw a parallel to the way the team has failed itself as well as not done everything they could to protect civilians from HIVE, but it ends up shortchanging both ideas. It turns both of things into simple, clear cut failures of the team.
One of the best things about this season has been the way its had Oliver’s team under a microscope for their failures, compromises and lies. Yes, it’s been repetitive dealing with these issues over and over but it’s created a story ostensibly about the flaws of what these characters’ operations and actions. It’s a design that normally, I would be in favor of, allowing the team fail before building itself back up in time to face a greater threat, but the rest of the season hasn’t supported that plan.
HIVE’s goals and operatives have never really been interesting or compelling and the show’s persistent pacing problems have made it feel as if those internal failures aren’t so much compounding as much as just a series of stumbling blocks the Arrow squad is tripping over again and again and again.
Take a look at Flash to see this same sort of plotting done much more efficiently. Both are stories about the danger of hubris, with heroes sure of their ability to face a threat they don’t entirely understand. Both see their support teams developing independently of them, with characters pursuing their own, oftentimes competing interests. Both endeavor to do the impossible to beat their newest threat.
It’s a similar structure but look at how every Flash episode has furthered that plot. Everything they’ve done has either been explicitly or indirectly about fighting or preparing to fight Zoom, between closing the breaches, traveling to Earth 2 and learning how to power up. Arrow hasn’t been able to maintain that same sense or purpose and as it leans into the last few episodes of the season, that flaw is becoming more apparent when it’s most damaging.
“Canary Cry” is going to play different for different fans. For those who haven’t stopped tweeting about Laurel’s death for the last two weeks, it’s going to be a mostly unsatisfying resolution to her character arc. For those looking for this show to finally start building to an endgame, it’s a nearly complete and total failure.
Still though, this is the first episode where the season’s themes really snapped into place, even if that realization is marred by haphazard pacing, only some of which was out of the writers’ hands. Still, the clarity of the season’s themes offers something compelling to hold onto as the show eases its way towards another season finale.