For being the season's penultimate episode, "Darkness on the Edge of Town" didn't hold many surprises, even for the casual viewer of Arrow -- unless, of course, you count the shocking number of Microsoft Surface product placements. No, this was just a matter of the central characters playing catch-up to the audience, learning all they need to know for the big finale. But, boy, was it fun to watch.
As I've noted before, if there's one thing Arrow does well, it's action (it sure as hell isn't romance), and here the series puts its best foot forward as the Dark Archer (aka Malcolm Merlyn) ties up loose ends at Unidac Industries, killing all of the scientists with any knowledge of the mysterious earthquake device, wiping out the computers, and taking out a few guards in the process.
Although the Starling City Police Department (mostly) keeps a lid on the Dark Archer's involvement, the massacre is something that normally would've drawn the immediate attention of the Hood, except that Oliver Queen has other matters on his mind: namely, the crippling knowledge that his mom is somehow involved in the Undertaking, Malcolm Merlyn's bizarre plot to destroy the Glades, was complicit in the abduction of Walter Steele, and may have had a hand in his father's death. And with Mother's Day just around the corner!
(A brief aside: Despite repeated attempts to ground Arrow in "reality," the more fantastic aspects of the property's comic-book roots keep seeping through, like a bad dye job, perhaps none more glaring than with Merlyn's Magical Earth-Moving Machine. It's a classic MacGuffin designed to propel Oliver toward a showdown with Malcolm, and undoubtedly Tommy; when Diggle finds the empty shipping crate in the warehouse, I couldn't help but think of the glowing briefcase in Pulp Fiction. There's something so Silver Age mad scientist -- so classically Bond villain-esque -- about Malcolm's scheme. Five years to create a device to wipe out 24 square blocks in a way designed to look like an accident? The Glades is a terrible neighborhood, we're told repeatedly, home to the city's most vile elements. Try arson, or well-placed explosives.)
Realizing another visit by the Hood won't be enough to shake more details about the Undertaking from Moira Queen -- Felicity helpfully reminds us their last encounter left our hero bleeding in the back of her car -- Oliver & Co. hatch a plan that begins with him confronting his mother about Walter's disappearance and then progresses to their drugged abduction from the mansion by the vigilante (actually Diggle in disguise). They awaken bound to chairs in a darkened warehouse, where "the Hood" interrogates Moira about the Undertaking, beating on Ollie to provide her with additional incentive to be truthful.
Susanna Thompson, who along with Colin Donnell may be the best actor on Arrow, shines as a mother tormented by her many horrible actions yet convinced she only ever did what was best to protect her family. But in "Darkness on the Edge of Town," Stephen Amell also demonstrates he's capable of being more than just a brooding pretty face. He's convincing as the aggrieved son reeling from his mother's confession even while pretending he's learning of her involvement for the first time. "You know I wouldn't willingly be a part of something like this," Moira pleads after "the Hood" ("Higgle"?) frees them from their bonds. "I don't know anything anymore," Ollie bitterly replies.
While Moira provides the broad strokes of the Undertaking -- earthquake machine, the Glades, etc. -- she's of little additional help, as Malcolm kept the details to himself. However, we do learn that Queen Consolidated purchased Unidac Industries and provided assistance in transforming the device into something lethal, a loose end that would seem difficult for even the Dark Archer to tie up. Is it possible that, just in case the planned destruction of the Glades doesn't play as a natural disaster, Malcolm is leaving a trail of bread crumbs back to Moira?
We should be grateful Mother Queen doesn't know more, as it sets up the best sequence of the episode: Team Arrow's infiltration of Merlyn Global. Stymied in her attempts to hack the company's computer system in hopes of finding the location of the Markov Device, Felicity reveals she requires direct access to the mainframe, located on the 25th floor of Merlyn Tower. And so they orchestrate a fun, and occasionally tense, caper than involves Diggle posing as a security guard, Felicity playing both a fast-food delivery girl (complete with drugged hamburgers) and one of Tommy Merlyn's obsessed "bimbos," and Ollie paying an awkward visit to his romantic rival and one-time best friend. Plus, there's a Batman/Star Wars-style scene involving Ollie, Felicity, a grappling gun and an elevator shaft. For added tension, their heist is nearly foiled, not just once but three times: by Malcolm bumping into Ollie in the hall and walking him to the lobby; by Ollie bumping into Thea and Roy, who overheard that the police think there's a connection between the Dark Archer and Merlyn Global (what exactly did they think they were going to do at the company headquarters?); and, finally, Felicity being discovered by a security guard, only to be rescued by a quick-thinking Diggle. See? Fun.
Although Felicity now has the information she sought -- the presumed location of the Markov Device -- her hacking efforts have unintended consequences: At the direction of Detective Lance, the police department's computer expert was also trying to access Merlyn Global's computers, and he not only detected her presence, but identified who she is.
What's more, the security breach spurs a cautious Malcolm to move his deadly machine, and so Diggle is greeted by an empty crate when he arrives at a warehouse in the Glades. The other prong of the plan to stop the Undertaking -- the Hood's confrontation of its mastermind -- actually goes much, much worse, as Ollie discovers in dramatic fashion what the audience has known for weeks: that Malcolm Merlyn is the Dark Archer. What begins as a pretty cut-and-dry confrontation, with the Hood growling that Malcolm has failed the city and Malcolm responding with flowery protestations, goes all pear-shaped when Ollie fires an arrow at his opponent's chest, only for the elder Merlyn to catch it. A delightfully savage fight ensues, ending with Oliver unconscious and Malcolm pulling back his hood to the shocked gasp of, "Oh, no."
That moment alone makes all that product placement worth it.
Odds and Ends
- The scientist who pleads for his life in the opening scene is Brion Markov, who shares his name with Geo-Force, the DC Comics superhero with earth-manipulating powers. (I noted last week that the Markov Device was clearly a nod to Geo-Force and his half-sister Terra, but now we get the full name.)
- In the flashback scenes, Fyers plans to shoot down a Ferris Air jet, a reference to the company owned by Carol Ferris, longtime love interest of Hal Jordan.
- Speaking of Fyers' plan: It's to threaten to shoot down any plane to enter Chinese airspace, thereby destroying the nation's economy. Really? That's perhaps the most poorly conceived scheme since ... well, the Undertaking. Never mind that there are air routes well out of the range of Fyers' missile launcher; are we expected to believe the might of the Chinese military, and of the nations whose citizens he kills, wouldn't come down on the little band of mercenaries like the fist of an angry god? Still, this week the flashback storyline does at last progress, with Fyers murdering Yao Fei now that he no longer needs him, and the revelation that the mercenary's employer isn't Malcolm Merlyn, as I'd suspected, but rather a woman (we only see her legs). Moira would be too obvious, so I'm guessing another villain will be introduced into the mix.
- I still don't care about the love triangle, except that glimpsing Ollie and Laurel ready to fall into bed together may be the final push Tommy needs to become a villain.
- Roy and Thea playing detective in an attempt to get the former in contact with the Hood appears to be going nowhere fast. I'm sure it's moving Roy into position for the finale -- maybe he'll play a key role in rescuing Oliver from Malcolm -- but if the thread continues much longer, it's going to fall into the same category of the love triangle.
- Walter served Moira with divorce papers, and can you blame him? Let's hope Starling City is located in a no-fault divorce state, as otherwise the family court hearing might get a little dicey.