“Midnight City” looks like the episode where all of the third season’s various parts finally snap into place. Arrow’s been plagued this year by a myriad of plots that have never cohered, and while many of them were compelling in one way or another, it still felt like a table full of puzzle pieces without enough parts locked in place to allow for a sense of the larger picture. “Midnight City” firmly marks the point where everything starts to converge, and once that starts happening the episode works beautifully, elegantly stringing together a series of deeply satisfying sequences.
One of the biggest issues with this season has been the flashbacks. They’ve been unmoored from just about everything else occurring on the show, and while it was clear that they would eventually tie in to where the season was headed, they just weren’t compelling enough on their own to make viewers care about them. Finally, with Maseo and Tatsu’s introduction into the present of the series, these sequences have started to make sense, and never have they been more effectively deployed than in this installment. The flashbacks continue to tell the story of Oliver’s period in Hong Kong, but for one of the only times this entire season their presence actually serves to both fill us in on Oliver’s backstory and to enrich what we see in the present day.
Oliver’s portion of the episode sees him continuing to recover after Maseo rescued him from the mountains and a sure death. Maseo’s decision to help Oliver along with his refusal to reunite with Tatsu is sold wonderfully by contrasting the present day with the past. In the past, Maseo is willing to go so far as to risk the lives of thousands just to save his wife, but in the present he refuses to reunite with her. It’s a simple juxtaposition that sells the tragedy the flashbacks are clearly building to wonderfully. (It seems likely the death of Tatsu and Maseo’s son will be what drives a wedge between the pair.) Even more, the episode manages to highlight the group’s effectiveness as a unit by showcasing two fight sequences where they work together, one in the past and one in the present, which just twists the knife even further once Maseo steadfastly refuses to repair his relationships with Tatsu and Oliver. By jumping between the sequences the audience is allowed to feel the hurt that Oliver and Tatsu feel when Maseo rejects them while also gaining an inkling of just what he’s lost that has caused him to be so broken.
It’s a smart structuring of the episode, and it’s finally possible thanks to the fact that the season has progressed far enough to allow Maseo and Tatsu to show up in the present. The work that’s been done is finally paying off, and that’s equally apparent in much of the character focused material that the episode deploys. Laurel’s had an up and down season, while killing off Sara has allowed her to have a clear purpose on the show, to ultimately take up the mantle of the Black Canary, she’s been a frustrating character from time-to-time. The episode starts in that mold, as Laurel stubbornly refuses to back down from her attempts to become a crime fighter. The problem is, she’s just not ready for it and the episode smartly proves that to Laurel, showcasing just how outclassed she is by Brick and his goons after she and Roy attempt to rescue hostages from Brick.
Seeing Roy and Laurel beaten, and beaten due to incompetence, is a nice wrinkle that highlights just how important Oliver was to the group. They’re unsure of themselves without him, off-balance, and unable to sort out how to carry on his mission. It’s what this episode and last week’s episode have driven home, the grief over Oliver’s death has ripped the group apart and they can’t figure out if their mission remains now that their leader has departed. It’s ultimately Felicity who realizes how to carry on, surprisingly enough after seemingly quitting the crime fighting life last week, and she does so thanks to something Ray Palmer says, that he’s fighting not for those he lost, but for those he still loves.
It’s one of the first times where Ray’s had a real, tangible impact on the rest of the story, and incorporating him both into the main plot, by allowing him to tangle with Brick and his thugs in a dialogue scene and a brief action sequence, allows the emotional weight of his contribution to feel natural rather than like a way to shoehorn him into the plot. Everything functions more elegantly in this episode than it has in other installments this season, using every last element on display to effortlessly push things ahead. Even Austin Butler’s insufferable DJ character Chase, who was seemingly introduced just to give Thea someone to kiss, is revealed to have a deeper purpose when he reports back to the League of Assassins about Malcolm and Thea’s decision to remain in Starling. Seeing piece after piece slot into place is satisfying and, while it doesn’t excuse the messiness of this season’s early going, it’s still an immense relief to see that the folks behind Arrow did indeed have a coherent plan all along.
This is a confident episode of television that understands how to use all of its pieces to maximum effect, and, even more than that, it’s brimming with smart ideas to push towards. Seeing the gang back together but in a new setup is exciting, watching Brick ultimately succeed in setting up his gangster run version of The Glades is the best kind of tease for future hours of this show, and finally getting a glimpse of the bigger picture of this season is a huge relief. Arrow’s finally moving in a clear direction, and seeing it’s scattered pieces revealing themselves as a unified whole was more than a little exciting.