Admittedly, death has never been too high-stakes on Arrow. The show’s entire premise stems from Oliver Queen’s unexpected reappearance five years after “drowning” in the North China Sea. Other characters follow suit in that regard: Malcolm Merlyn, Slade Wilson, Deadshot, and even Felicity’s ex, Cooper, each get “Surprise!” resurrected. (Shado, Moira Queen, and Sara Lance, at least the second time around, do not fare as well. What’s a girl gotta do to come back from the dead around here?) That Arrow employs this plot device often shouldn’t be unexpected, as coming back to life is a common comic-book trope.
Save for Oliver’s reemergence in the pilot episode, the return of these presumed-dead characters, all villains, were surprise plot-twists meant to leave the audience with dropped jaws and freaked-out tweets. This time, with Oliver Resurrection: Part Deux, for once, we’re in on the surprise. I was kind of giddy at the beginning of this week’s episode in anticipation of the emotional high Oliver’s return will bring. But his return turns out to be kind of a mishandled dud, and I wish I could say the rest of the episode makes up for it.
But before we get to Oliver’s return, let’s back up a bit. Twenty-one years ago, to be precise. The usual Hong Kong Oliver/Maseo flashbacks taking place five years ago are set aside for Malcolm Merlyn’s origin story. As I’ve expressed before, John Barrowman has created a rich character in Malcolm, so it’s disappointing to see such an unsurprising backstory: wife killed, turns to murderous revenge, joins League of Assassins. Save for the appearance of Lil’ Nyssa (!) and the fact that Malcolm used to tickle (!!), these scenes all fall flat. (Also, who is the rando Doug Stamper–like adviser who provides intel on the wife’s supposed killer? The show doesn’t even bother to fill in that blank.)
Not that present-day Starling City offers any more excitement or clarity. Once again, Brick is pulling gangster rank over the Glades and, in the process, conjuring up every tired crime-boss cliché in the book. I think Vinnie Jones puts a valiant effort into the role of Brick, but his performance is stifled by incoherent plot points and fuzzy motivations. Why is he doing this again? Just to control the Glades and make money? I struggled with these issues the last two episodes and had hoped there would be more revealed in “Uprising,” not to mention some kind of justification for the bulletproof-body story line. Alas, no such luck.
The thin revelation Brick’s appearance offers is that it turns out that Brick is the one who murdered Malcolm’s wife those 21 years ago. Malcolm learns this via Team Arrow, as he has apparently surreptitiously installed a spy cam on the foundry’s computers. (Not buying that Felicity would not notice this, by the way.) Because Malcolm sees the value in Team Arrow’s ability to track Brick down, he offers to join forces with them to defeat Brick. Felicity’s facial expression at this request is all, A world of no.
While the team mulls over Malcolm’s offer, Roy gets some air at what is apparently his new Thinking Spot, Verdant’s balcony. But he sees Thea already there, in contemplation herself: “You stole my idea. I was going to lean here and wish my problems away.” Thea then reveals that Malcolm was the one who saved her during last season’s Mirakuru siege and argues that Malcolm truly cares about people. This leads Roy to try to persuade Team Arrow to work with Malcolm to defeat Brick. When Felicity suggests Oliver wouldn’t approve of working with Malcolm, Roy shoots back: “Oliver is not here anymore, and so we need to stop pretending like he is.” Ya burnt, Felicity!
Can we just give it up for Colton Haynes for a moment? The last few episodes, he’s really made Roy such a delight. A little more confident, way more quippy. He’s really stepped up to fill the Arrow's/Oliver’s shoes: watching Laurel’s back, checking in on Thea. The only downside is that Roy’s increased role, coupled with the addition of Liarel — I mean, Laurel — renders Dig a more muted presence. He’s not even doing the physical fighting; he’s relegated to second-chair communications, behind Felicity. If Dig is strategically taking a backseat, I wish there had been a scene to support that choice. (Maybe he’s hoping Laurel will get irreparably injured without his protection and quit?) Diggle does have a brief but poignant scene where he tells Malcolm that he’s not going to be allowed into the Arrow club after all. Diggle can’t forgive what he did to Thea, Sara, and Oliver.
While all of this will-they-or-won’t-they-with-Malcolm is going on, Oliver is slowly making his way back from wherever he is. (This week’s clues: super rural and possibly an Asian country?) These scenes with Tatsu are thin and repetitive, and only enlivened by her super-chic haircut. I also can’t figure out how long he’s been on the road to Starling City. The Arrow writers this week, however, are counting on viewers not caring about things like “time” or “believability,” which, I guess, is a time-honored comics tradition, too.
Take, for example, Team Arrow’s grand plan to take down Brick by organizing the citizens of the Glades into pseudo-soldiers. The timing pretty much goes like this: Laurel has an idea to use the town itself as an army; she then tells Ted Grant of the plan, and Roy likewise informs Sin; and then, based on those two conversations, a hundred townspeople are suddenly armed like a flash mob from hell, even though it seems like this is all happening in the same night. Also, I think the show meant this fight scene to conjure up a Warriors-like rumble, but it reads more West Side Story. (“When you’re a Glade, you’re a Glade all the way!”)
Finally, mid-rumble, Oliver-as-the-Arrow makes his grand appearance in an alleyway where Malcolm is poised to kill Brick. Oliver convinces Malcolm that he should let Brick live for … YAWN … something something Thea. The next we see Oliver, he is giving a grand speech to the Glades about how he’s never going to abandon … YAWN … and, oh my God, are the cops just holding Brick there in front of the crowd? Why not put him jail immediately? They didn’t want to miss the Arrow’s speech?
You know who else is watching his speech? Diggle, Felicity, and Roy, on the foundry computers. I’m so disappointed that we don’t get to see Felicity or Diggle’s initial reaction to Oliver’s return — just after the fact. It feels like a cheat. Well, we do get a hug from Felicity once Oliver returns to the foundry. But the reunion turns sour when she learns that Oliver has agreed to work with Malcolm in order to defeat Ra’s Al Ghul, who is most definitely going to come after Oliver and Thea. As Felicity often does on this show when she’s upset, she leaves the foundry to “get some air.” For once, Oliver follows her.
Outside, Felicity calls Oliver out on pretty much everything. He let them think he was dead. He’s abandoned all sense of principle in teaming up with Malcolm. Oliver suggests that his teaming up with Malcolm is not the real reason Felicity’s upset (i.e., maybe it was his pre-duel “I love you”). But Felicity makes clear that she sees Oliver’s peace with Malcolm and his declaration of love as interrelated. Malcolm drugged and forced Thea, a woman Oliver loves, to kill Sara, a woman Oliver used to love. “I don’t want to be a woman you love.” Oliver’s “love” is an empty promise.
In the interest of full disclosure: I am an Olicity fan. This undoubtedly will affect how I view Oliver and Felicity’s relationship in these recaps. (Please note that my 'shipping status does not alter my opinions on Laurel; however, my issues with her character have nothing to do with any perceived love triangle.) Even though I would love Oliver and Felicity to put their mouths all over each other, I am very okay with Felicity telling Oliver in this week’s episode to buzz off, and in fact, I love Felicity all the more for it.
Felicity, a supercomputer with an amazing set of legs, operates to a large extent on data. Given the emotional whiplash that Oliver has given her this season (even their reunion hug seemed cold and distant), her rejection of Oliver makes complete sense. It’s totally believable and in line with Felicity’s character at this moment in time. She’s not the same bubbly Felicity that made moony eyes at Oliver in seasons one and two because he’s put her through the emotional wringer, and if the writers had her reacting in any other way than they did in this episode, it would be disingenuous. Slow burn, baby, slow burn.
- So happy to see Sin back! And of course, she’s the one to lead Lance to discover the truth about Laurel. Why couldn’t Sin have become Black Canary instead? She’s already got the jacket … Someone create an AU fan-fic, stat!
- “Aren’t you the red streak that I’ve been seeing on TV?” —Brick goon, confusing Arsenal with the Flash
- “I’ve seen you in a red hoodie. I’ve seen you shoot arrows at people. You think I don’t recognize you with a little extra leather and lace?” —Captain Lance telling Roy he knows he’s Arsenal
- Roy tries to patch up Laurel with some first aid. GET A ROOM, YOU TWO! (Also, should Roy really be doing suture work? Did I miss his EMT-training montage with Oliver?)
- As Laurel’s not in the foundry when Oliver returns, guess he hasn’t yet learned she’s Black Canary?
MISSING THE MARK:
- Oliver’s big swing out of the Glades crowd, though it looked cool, made no sense. Wasn’t he just having trouble walking?
- This episode is plagued with awful expository dialogue, which, thankfully, is not usually the case with this show.
- You know it’s a flashback when the hair is terrible.
- “Because I’m actually paying attention!” —Laurel snapping at Felicity. WHAAAAAAAT? JUST STOP.
NUMBER OF SHIRTLESS STEPHEN AMELL SCENES: 0 (Unacceptable!)
NUMBER OF EPISODES LAUREL HAS GONE WITHOUT TELLING HER DAD HIS OTHER DAUGHTER DIED: Eleven. Fracking. Episodes. ELEVEN!