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‘Arrow’ Review: “League of Assassins”

Arrow League of Assassins Review
The CW

Arrow’ season 2 lets loose its fifth episode of the year with “League of Assassins,” as Oliver learns Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) has been targeted by the titular organization, while Officer Lance makes a shocking discovery, and Moira Queen struggles with a plea bargain.

Last week’s ‘Arrow’ episode “Crucible” saw Oliver learn the shocking identity of the mysterious Canary vigilante, ultimately teaming with her to take down a Glades warlord who terrorizes Sebastian Blood’s efforts to save the city, so what does the fifth episode of ‘Arrow’ season 2 bring?  Will Oliver finally become the hooded hero we know from DC comics?

Read on for your in-depth recap of everything you need to know about ‘Arrow’ season 2′s DC-heavy episode 5, “League of Assassins!”

Six years earlier aboard the Queen’s Gambit, Oliver and Sara revel in their affair before the boat tips, pulling Sara out into the ocean. Back in the present, Sara thanks Oliver for letting her stay at the Queen Mansion, despite his continued confusion about her refusal to see her family.  A short while later, Oliver arrives to Iron Heights prison, surprised to see Laurel on the prosecuting side of his mother’s case, as DA Donner offers a plea bargain to get Moira out of the death sentence.

Back at the mansion, Sara recalls waking up on a piece of driftwood, the sight of a yellow canary leading her eyes toward the “Amazo” freighter in the distance, before Oliver returns her attention to the present. Suddenly, a warrior dressed like Malcolm Merlyn (‘Homeland”s Navid Negahban) bursts into the home and attacks, leading Sara and a confused Oliver to fight off the assassin, eventually unmasking him as “just a warrior.” Oliver demands an explanation, but the man quickly causes a distraction and disappears.

Down in his lair, Oliver wonders why an acolyte of Merlyn’s would have targeted him, but Sara speaks up to reveal that the man, Al-Owal of the League of Assassins, was actually targeting her. Sara explains how a member of the league rescued her from the freighter’s destruction, taking her to Nanda Parbat for her training to join them. Sara eventually became disgusted with both herself and the killing, leaving the League and placing a target on her back. In flashback, Sara remembers the Amazo thugs dragging her onto the ship, and throwing her into one of the cells without an explanation.

Back at the prison, Moira reveals her intent to take the plea bargain against her family’s wishes, wanting to protect whatever secrets Donner might dig up in a trial. Oliver points out to his mother that he now recognizes when she hides things from them, but the woman remains resolute. Oliver returns to the lair looking for something to punch, for which Felicity manages to track the mysterious Al-Owal to an abandoned factory.

Inside Al-Owal’s lair, Oliver fires an arrow at the man’s head (a kill shot?), though the assassin manages to catch the projectile without even looking. Al-Owal reveals that he was the one to train Malcolm Merlyn, to which Oliver responds that he brought Sara as backup, only to find that Al-Owal brought two other League members himself. The fivesome battle it out, Sara refusing to follow Al-Owal’s orders to return to Ra’s Al Ghul, before she and Oliver rappel away from the scene, ignoring threats against the Lance family.

While Oliver resolves to protect Laurel and tasks Felicity with warning Officer Lance about the League, Sara remembers being liberated from her Amazo cage by a mysterious man commanding the others on the boat. Back in the present, Felicity finds Officer Lance outside his home, and warns him that the League of Assassins might send people to kill him, though he dismisses the threats without enough information. Elsewhere, Oliver arrives at Laurel’s office to invite her out for dinner, claiming it has nothing to do with his mother’s case.

Following Felicity’s failure, Sara resolves to warn her father himself, pushing past Diggle to get out of the lair. Sara finds Lance on his way to his car, especially paranoid about his surroundings, before Sara reveals her identity to her astounded father. Over dinner, Lance deduces that his daughter might be in some kind of trouble, and that she must be the masked vigilante seen around town, having been home for weeks. Lance questions if Sara would have revealed her survival at all had it not been for the assassins, but she insists he needs protection. Back in the past, Sara is invited inside the lab of Dr. Anthony Ivo (Dylan Neal), who reveals that his experiments with the men locked up in cages will one day save the human race.

Oliver walks Laurel up to her apartment, a gesture she mistakes for something romantic before Oliver backs away. Nonetheless, Oliver finds Laurel’s door ajar, concealing a knife from Al-Owal’s lapsed presence inside, before Oliver leaves Laurel to down pills in her depression. Meanwhile, Sarah brings her father up to her abandoned clocktower lair, assuring him she never forgot his voice in all of their time away, before Al-Owal and his two assassins arrive to do battle.

Sara manages to hold her own, using several improvised traps around the lair, while Lance does his best to fire at the assailants, and Oliver soon joins through the window. Lance manages to kill one with his spare firearm, while Sara gets Al-Owal in a headlock, silencing his talk of her being “the prophet” by snapping his neck. Sara leaves the final assassin to take a message back to Ra’s Al Ghul, apologizing to her father for his witnessing the violent scene, though he commends her bravery. Sara reminds him she can’t come home, nor can Laurel or her mother know she remains alive, lest they get themselves killed searching for her.

Back at Iron Heights, Moira agrees to Oliver and Thea’s wishes that she reject the plea bargain, while Lance pays a visit to Laurel to remind her he never stops worrying about her. Later, Oliver and Diggle share a drink in the lair, as Oliver admits Sara has inspired him to be more open about his past, revealing he didn’t spend the entirety of his five-year absence on the island. Meanwhile in flashback, Oliver wakes in Dr. Ivo’s lab to find Sara standing over him, kicking him to make the point that prisoners don’t speak.

OUR REVIEW:

The moment word broke that an episode of ‘Arrow”s second season was to be titled “League of Assasins,” we knew we’d be in for a geektastic hour with a heavy side of action, whether or not we’d end up getting an incarnation of Ra’s Al Ghul. The league had been teased as early as the previous season with Malcolm Merlyn’s mention of Nanda Parbat, so it speaks to the overall strength of the CW series’ second season that producers have been holding very little back in the way of DC mythology this time around. And while we were sad to see a villain as intriguing and charismatic as Al-Owal dispatched so quickly, his words and presence during the hour only heighten our expectations for future League encounters.

Some of the major revelations aside, much of the praise for “League of Assassins” will rightly go to its action sequences, staging not one, but three major fight scenes that feel suitably epic among its trained warriors. We very much appreciated some of the smaller moments to the staging as well, the way in which a specific shot helps to sell Lance’s difficulty in shooting any of the acrobatic killers, or how a well-placed head turn can explain why Lance fails to recognize Oliver’s face under the hood and shadow. Both smaller and larger moments like Al-Owal’s effortless arrow catch continually ground the stakes, considering the way ‘Arrow’ presents otherwise-realistic characters placed in that old TV trope of masked and flipping ninjas duking it out.

“League of Assassins” certainly managed to hit home on the emotional side as well, returning us to the initial shock of Oliver’s marooning by shifting the perspective to Sara for the hour. The borderline-adult vulnerability displayed by Caity Lotz in the early scenes proves a marked contrast to the hardened warrior we see later, even if her revelation to Quentin takes a scene beyond the initial moment to land. It’s easy to forget how well Paul Blackthorne handles his potentially stock character from time to time, lending just enough pulpy gravitas to lines like “I’m the guy with a spare!” There’s a lot crammed into “League of Assassins,” enough to give the audience whiplash between action and intelligence, but the strength of ‘Arrow”s cast has carried through occasionally weaker moments from the very beginning.

It very much speaks to Oliver’s continued evolution as well, that Sara’s complicated relationship with her family would inform his decision to be more forthcoming about his five-year odyssey. It likely won’t mean very much more for us, from a storytelling perspective, but at least we’ll avoid somewhat clumsy retcons like Oliver’s earlier revelation of finding Sara on the freighter. Moira’s motivations remain very much in B-story tonight, but we still manage to see a little growth between mother and son sharing secrets as well.

Precious few complaints to be found tonight (it drove us crazy that Lance managed to piece together his daughter’s return with Felicity and the masked vigilante, but not Oliver), leaving ‘Arrow’ and the “League of Assassins” on continually strong footing.

Well, what say you?  Did you feel that ‘Arrow’ hit the mark with its second season’s latest offering? Were you surprised by the heavy action of “League of Assassins”? Give us your reactions in the comments, and join us next week for another all-new ‘Arrow’ recap of season 2, episode 6, “Keep Your Enemies Closer” on The CW!

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