'Arrow' Review: "Birds of Prey"

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The CW

Arrow’ season 2 lets loose its seventeenth episode of the year with “Birds of Prey,” as Helena "The Huntress" Bertinelli (Jessica de Gouw) returns to Starling City seeking vengeance against her father, taking Laurel hostage, while Roy wrestles with a difficult decision regarding Thea.

Last week's ‘Arrow’ installment “Suicide Squad” saw Diggle reluctantly leading the team of Deadshot (Michael Rowe), Bronze Tiger (Michael Jai White) and Shrapnel (Sean Maher) on an overseas mission, while Oliver tried in vain to find Slade in Starling City, so what does the seventeenth episode of ‘Arrow’ season 2 bring? Do the famous DC characters ally like the comics, or bring more death and destruction for the final episodes of the season?

Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Arrow’ season 2, episode 17, “Birds of Prey!”

Officer Lance prepares to lead a raid on a criminal warehouse, unaware that Oliver and Sara are watching from above as lookouts. Shots are fired, for which Oliver and Sara intervene, fighting off thugs amid the gunfire. Lance sustains a shot to his bulletproof vest, after which Oliver chases a lone straggler outside, incapacitating him, and revealing him as Frank Bertinelli. Seeing the man's return, Quentin and Oliver realize it won’t be long before Helena returns to find him.

The team brings Sara up to speed on Helena and her father, as Oliver remembers back to Slade torturing him aboard the Amazo, which remains dead in the water with a damaged engine. Back in the present, Laurel speaks at her AA meeting, before a call from DA Donner brings her in for a meeting. Having personally saw to getting Laurel’s disciplinary charges dropped, Donner offers Laurel the chance to prosecute in the Bertinelli case, as the most qualified for the job.

After getting a lead on a rented car in Helena’s deceased fiancee’s name, Oliver invites Roy to join them in the field to confront Helena. Once Oliver and Sara manage to stop the speeding car however, a man inside quickly raises a gun and shoots through Roy’s hand. Roy angrily throws the man from the car, and can barely restrain his rage, as Oliver forces the thug to admit that Helena paid him off as a decoy for her return to Starling City.

Stalled for the moment, Oliver takes the opportunity to point out that Roy again failed to control his rage after keeping out of the field for a time. Oliver asks Roy to stay away from Thea for as long as he lacks the ability to keep his anger in check, but when Roy bristles, Oliver reminds Roy he knows it to be the right move. Later, Sara visits Laurel at work to subtly push that she not take the case, but Laurel insists on returning to work. Back in the past, Slade radios Sara and the Amazo survivors in the plane, offering to trade an increasingly-tortured Oliver for someone who can fix the boat, a Mr. Hendrick among them.

Back in the lair, Sara notices that Oliver has been crafting non-lethal arrows for use against Helena, leading to an argument of their respective attitudes toward killing, and not thinking clearly when it comes to their families. A while later, Oliver visits Laurel in the courtroom, claiming only to want to watch her work, before officers lead Bertinelli in, and Helena quickly makes her presence known. Bertinelli reveals himself to be wearing a wire, making the whole trial a trap for Helena, before she reveals her own men stationed in the courtroom. Amid the ensuing firefight, Oliver manages to get Bertinelli out of the building, but leaves Laurel behind with the other hostages

The situation now under jurisdiction of a SWAT team who intend to breach, Officer Lance calls the Arrow with Oliver standing right next to him, for which he is forced to cover, learning in the process that Sara isn’t in the lair. Upstairs, Laurel finds herself caught by Helena’s men, before Sara intervenes, taking Laurel to safety while disguising her own voice. Laurel goes to drink, before Sara points out her sobriety chip, and gets a call to take Laurel outside, though Laurel insists on following the Canary’s example and helping to rescue the other hostages. Meanwhile back at Verdant, Roy nearly loses his temper at a patron, and decides to break up with Thea, though she recognizes him to be going through something else.

Helena walks among the hostages, before Sara unleashes the canary cry and begins a fight, during which Laurel works to free the captives. Sara ends up thrown out a window, but survives, as Oliver calls Helena reluctantly agreeing to hand her father over in exchange for Laurel. Meanwhile, Verdant has since cleared out, but Thea finds Roy making out with one of the other waitresses in the supply room. A short while later, Officer Lance aids in handing over Bertinelli to Oliver and Sara, though Oliver insists no one will die, even if Sara needs to protect her sister.

A bound Laurel reminds Helena that she knows what it means to lose someone and hit rock bottom, but Helena counters that once you let the darkness inside, it never comes out. Minutes later, the SWAT team finally breaches the building, preparing to shoot any masked vigilantes as well, though Helena and Laurel have since gone. Meanwhile, Bertinelli questions if they really intend to turn him over to Helena, as Oliver reminds Sara she can’t stop Helena by becoming a killer like her. Back in the past, we see that Sara similarly did what she felt she had to, knocking out Hendrick to turn him over to Slade in exchange for Oliver.

While the SWAT team leader gets a GPS reading off Laurel’s cell phone and goes off on his own, Oliver hands Bertinelli off to his daughter, as Bertinelli apologizes for the pain he’d caused her, reminding Helena of the good times between them. Helena insists that she can’t return from the brink, before the deranged SWAT leader opens fire on the scene. Sara and Helena come to blows again, while Oliver tracks down the SWAT leader, though Officer Lance manages the knockout punch. Laurel convinces the Canary to spare Helena’s life, though Helena sees that the SWAT leader’s bullets killed her father, denying her the opportunity.

With Helena in custody, Oliver pays a visit to apologize for setting her down the wrong path a year earlier, and Helena admits that Oliver was right in telling her that her father’s death wouldn’t make her feel any different. Meanwhile, Donner’s replacement apologizes to Laurel for her being duped into the plot against Helena, though Laurel takes a page out of Helena’s book to blackmail her way back into a job. Back in the past, Oliver wakes up to find one of Slade’s men inking Shado’s tattoo on his back, a Roman practice to remind him of his crimes for the rest of his life, before Sara radios in to agree to turn over Hendrick.

Back in the present, Oliver finds Thea crying in the stock room, as she laments that everyone in her life seems to keep secrets from her, including their mother, though she doesn’t believe Oliver has been lying to her. Roy watches from the lair as she leaves in tears, before he crushes the bracelet he’d given her earlier. Outside, the modern-day Slade drives up alongside Thea, and offers her a ride.

OUR REVIEW:

It’s impressive to think that ‘Arrow’ was still a relatively young show when Jessica de Gouw’s Helena Bertinelli first showed up, and while the series still needed a few beats to effectively strike a balance of costumed theatrics and its darker drama, most of The Huntress’ origins clicked. In particular, it struck a chord to have Helena as a cypher for Oliver’s own isolation and growing darkness, something lacking from the character’s second appearance that made Helena something of an afterthought to Oliver’s conflict with Tommy. This time around, while Jessica de Gouw has been hanging out with ‘Dracula’ all year, ‘Arrow’ has a lot more character dynamics to play with, and subsequently some actual “Birds of Prey” to toss about, marking a much more effective return.

Helena’s character worked best with an actual arc in play, or at least something to say about the other characters, which the second season has been generous enough in arranging to find plenty of material to work with. This time around, Oliver’s no-kill rule creates a few compelling shades of gray that even Sara has a chance to contemplate, rightly tossing in Oliver’s face that he’d have been happy for Diggle to take out Slade, but insists killing Helena to protect Laurel would be wrong. It’s the same kind of ambiguity that allows Oliver to admit his mistakes to Helena later, and to tell Sara to her face that he loves Laurel, but have the meaning understood as something relatively platonic, rather than conjure another love triangle. Such thoughtful give-and-take offers a strong reminder that ‘Arrow’’s layered storytelling operates leagues above what we’d come to expect from CW drama.

And for as much as “Birds of Prey” really offers a showcase for Caity Lotz’s Sara Lance (which, by god, get this woman a spinoff already), for once it doesn’t feel entirely as if the writing pawns Laurel off as a consequence of Oliver’s actions. The alcohol abuse storyline never entirely clicked, nor would we necessarily have judged her to take a drink in the moment of a hostage crisis either, but “Birds of Prey” actually sees Laurel returning to her feet in more ways than one. Apart from a few foreshadowing moments of baton play, Laurel actually benefits from Helena’s example in blackmailing to get her job back, part of the overall theme that darkness never really leaves us, but can still be utilized in service of a greater good.

Atop the always-incredible action sequences and some surprisingly rich dramatic interplay for a trio of costumed vigilantes, “Birds of Prey” also served to move Roy and Thea’s story forward a few pegs, albeit somewhat less successfully. Officer Lance notwithstanding, Thea remains the most difficult regular to utilize without any active connections to the ‘Arrow’ world’s criminal outfits, especially without knowledge of Oliver’s true identity. There’s a bit of effort to lampshade the fact that ‘Arrow’ has created a twisted web of characters who know, and characters who don’t, but the longer writers leave her in the dark, the less relevant Thea seems. Certainly Roy will take a more active role in the wake of her kidnapping, and prove integral to the final battles against Slade, but for now Roy and Thea seemingly can’t help but lag behind the other characters for it.

All in all “Birds of Prey” put an exceptional spotlight on Sara both past and present (certainly moreso than the Sin story of the past), and ably overcomes obstacles of the Huntress’ tricky deployment, and an overall separation from the main arc. It saddens us to think of Caity Lotz ever leaving ‘Arrow’ behind, but, well, something’s gotta inspire Laurel to fishnets. Or leather pants with X’s. All good.

AND ANOTHER THING...

  • Lots of neat DC references all around, from Bruno (or was it Hugo?) Mannheim, to a clever means of Oliver and Roy invoking the “Speedy” nickname, to “Gail street and Simone.”
  • So…we’re all assuming Officer Lance has totally pieced it together, right? There’s no way we could forgive the character for ignoring how Oliver’s cell phone went off right next to him, and the call from his “mother” lasted precisely as long as the Arrow’s.
  • Definitely a bit jarring to pick up with flashback Sara and a host of relatively unknown characters milling about the plane wreck, but we imagine the new additions will have more to do when Oliver presumably puts an arrow through Slade's eye, and picks up season 3 with a new island endeavor.
  • The writers have a habit of giving Laurel the most painful dialogue with Sara. Granted, Laurel supposedly didn’t know who the Canary was, but why would you start talking about your sister like that in the middle of a hostage crisis? Wouldn’t the guards just around the bend hear Sara’s voice modulator?
  • Could have used a bit more clarity on Donner’s involvement with the sting operation, or whatever the SWAT leader (did he even have a name?) had out for the vigilantes.
  • Nice nod to Manu Bennett’s Roman past, and a clever origin for Oliver’s Shado tattoo. All the same, if someone was going to tattoo you against your will, at least they picked a cool design!

Well, what say you?  Did ‘Arrow’ hit the mark with its latest installment? Were you excited to see the infamous DC team brought to life, even if to fight one another? Give us your reactions in the comments, and join us next Wednesday for another all-new ‘Arrow’ recap of season 2, episode 18, “Deathstroke” on The CW!

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