Arrow’ season 3 lets loose its 13th installment of the year with “Canaries,” as Count Vertigo (Peter Stormare)'s breakout complicates Laurel's efforts as Black Canary, while Oliver bristles against the team's new structure, and ponders whether or not to tell Thea the truth.

Last week’s installment “Uprising” saw Malcolm Merlyn partnering with the team for a final assault on Brick (Vinnie Jones), as Oliver made his grand return to Starling City, so what does the 13th episode of ‘Arrow’ season 3 bring?

Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘Arrow’ season 3, episode 13, “Canaries!”

It stood to reason that ‘Arrow’ would have quite a bit of fallout to explore in the wake of Brick’s Glades rampage, Laurel’s ascension and Oliver’s return, but “Canaries” felt like an exceptionally busy hour. By virtue of the title and heavy promotion around Caity Lotz returning as a Vertigo-hallucinated Sara, it seemed as if tonight’s installment was primarily intended as a character study on Laurel, but between Thea learning Oliver’s secret, Oliver shifting the Team Arrow power dynamic, Vertigo’s return and outing DJ Ra’s al Ghul, one might have a tough time tying everything together.

I’ve never liked the device of picking up in media res and flashing back to X hours before, and it isn’t as if ‘Arrow’ promotion kept the “Canaries” fight sequence or its cause a secret, though the jarring intro of Sara tossing insults and blows at her sister worked as a sort-of thesis on Laurel’s feelings of doubt and inadequacy. Producers have been plenty vocal about Laurel’s rushed Canary rise balancing out with the amount of punishment she takes in each attempt, and while Laurel fighting her own undead sister lands a bit on-the-nose as an allegory (with less potency than Oliver’s premiere hallucination), it’s at least a clear benchmark of how far we’ve come from days of ragging on Laurel’s ill-connected alcoholism plotline.

Not so far that Oliver avoids throwing Laurel’s addictions in her face, which itself stood among Oliver’s many cutting insights, but “Canaries” maintained a solid through-line of getting Laurel out of the vigilante business for the wrong reasons. All sustained vigilantism carries a tinge of selfishness; even if Oliver only began his quest as a means to right his father’s wrongs, a certain vanity took root in Oliver’s tunnel-vision as Starling’s only savior. Laurel’s defense of continuing her crusade “because that’s what a hero would do” rings initially false without thought for any impact on her loved ones, but overall lends itself to a core theme of Oliver’s mission growing beyond his “my way-highway” attitude.

In particular, Felicity and Roy lashing out at Oliver's leadership felt a bit wedged in among the myriad plot developments tonight, but still offers a necessary evolution of the series’ core dynamic, and a particularly effective one after the three episodes spent building up the team's effectiveness absent its founder. Overshadowed conflict or no, necessary evil seemed to be the name of the game tonight, not solely in Oliver’s partnership with Malcolm Merlyn, but chiefly in bringing Thea in on the secret as well. Thea represented the last of ‘Arrow’’s core cast to suffer outside of the inner circle, and while “Canaries” somewhat inelegantly* dropped her into the know, her overwhelming relief and gratitude seemed like a nice subversion of the drama expectations from previous reveals.

*Those with access to Canadian promos had tonight’s revelation given even less fanfare, and a week ahead of schedule at that, but there was still surprise to be had in Thea’s actual reaction to the news.

Canadian secrecy proving admittedly liberal, in recent years.

More than surprise even, bringing Thea into the inner circle brings the audience tremendous relief as well, something “Canaries” thankfully took time to revel in by Oliver bonding with his sister over lame excuses and past secrecy. The relationship between the brother-sister pair felt strained by the show's very pilot, and tonight’s Thea scenes felt intimately relevant in a way not glimpsed since the early days. The resultant distrust of Malcolm felt a bit less resonant, considering the bombshell secret we know both archers to still be keeping from Thea, but if nothing else, the character won’t feel nearly as burdensome in episodes to come.

And speaking of overdue burdens, tonight finally saw Quentin learning of his daughter’s demise, bringing the great Paul Blackwell off the bench he’d warmed the entire season. Strange as it seemed to have him so easily dismiss Laurel’s confessions of her own vigilante practice, including Quentin among his daughter’s visions helped keep scenes of Laurel’s angst fresh, even before dropping the actual bombshell on the character. “Canaries” couldn’t afford much time to linger in the moment of sorrow, but Blackwell got in some devastating gut-punches of anger and sadness for the character, spectral and otherwise.

Just about every major card of ‘Arrow ‘season 3’s first half has been put on the table at this point, making “Canaries” an exciting (if overstuffed) transition point for the latter side of the year. Still somewhat dragging are the Hong Kong scenes, this week redressing the same-old sets and rushing conflicts of Oliver and Maseo’s recapture, but the switcheroo of returning to Starling City while present-day Oliver and Thea spent time on Lian Yu should be an interesting one. Not sure how the continuity of that one works out, if Oliver ever expressly said (or lied) that he’d never been back to Starling over the 5 years (this show was so much less complicated two years ago), but exciting nonetheless.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • It wasn’t much better the first time around, but effects of the actual Vertigo seemed exceptionally underdone tonight, and more than a little gimmicky considering what the drug’s name should imply. You can only go to the Scarecrow well so often, guys.
  • Goodbye DJ dude! I forgot your name was Chase, and you barely mattered in the end, but at least you got some lovin'!
  • Thea, how long did you accept that your electricity-dependent club's basement was flooded?
  • Oliver and Roy barely made it out of explosions to land on car hoods a few stories down, while Laurel suffered at least two debilitating beatings and overdoses tonight. We might be pushing it on the miraculous recoveries.
  • So…at what point was Roy following Thea back to her place, to arrive at their post-coital fight in costume? Same question, Malcolm.
  • Going to presume the chained scientists were a ‘Breaking Bad’ reference, bitch.

Well, did ‘Arrow’ hit the mark with its 13th season 3 installment? Was Sara's return worth the cameo? Stay tuned for the latest, and check back next week for our review of ‘Arrow’ season 3’s “The Return” on The CW!