On a macro level, "Sins of the Father" features satisfying and shocking moments that set the remainder of the season in motion. But as they say, Malcolm Merlyn is always in the details.
The episode picks up right where we left off, with Nyssa offering Oliver a magical "lotus" potion to cure a comatose Thea. The catch? Nyssa will only give up the potion if her "husband" Oliver kills Malcolm for her. Oliver shoots her down. (Metaphorically, of course. But with this show, who knows?) Oliver claims that he could never take away Thea's father, even if Malcolm is responsible for murdering hundreds of people, including Malcolm's own son and Oliver's best friends. In true Oliver Queen fashion, he's going to find another way.
There are a lot of reasons why Nyssa wants to go to war with Malcolm — Sara's at the top of that particular list — but most of them were explored last season. Unsurprisingly, the writers have to cover a lot of backstory to explain this subplot, which makes some of the Nyssa-Oliver-Malcolm dialogue a bit convoluted.
After Malcolm scoffs at the idea of a "lotus" cure, Oliver decides to get a sample of the lotus from Nyssa to test it on Thea. (Instead, I wish Oliver had gone to a sample sale and purchased anything other than the tan puffy jacket he wears in this episode.) The sample works, and Malcolm is convinced that it's the real magic deal. He agrees to Nyssa's terms and promises to hand over the Ra's Al Ghul ring. But once he gets ready to exchange the ring for the potion, he snatches the ring back and surprises Nyssa with a small League of Assassin army of his own. Although she's outnumbered, Nyssa slips away thanks to help from Oliver, Dig, and Laurel, who block Malcolm and throw him some very disapproving glances.
Let's talk about Malcolm, shall we? His character's trajectory has been odd at best. He started off as evil incarnate — the mastermind of the Undertaking, as well as the reason Oliver ended up on that island years ago. He then doubled down on his wicked ways by setting up Thea to kill Sara in season three. But if it suits his interest, he'll also help Team Arrow out — like when he helped Oliver escape the League — and even started to become comic relief of sorts. (In this way, he kind of reminds me of Spike from Buffy.) So far in season four, Malcolm's role has been relegated to Thea's caring-but-psychologically-damaged father. So when he starts to go back on the evil track, I can't help but suffer a bit of character whiplash. Maybe it's not a choice between good or evil for Malcolm. Maybe he's just choosing whatever is best for himself at the moment.
Of course, the counterargument is that Malcolm has always been evil and always will be evil, because people don't change. That's the message Felicity gets from Mama Smoak, after all, when she reveals that her father, Noah, is back in town. (Felicity neglects to mention that her dad admitted that he's the Calculator or that he knows she's Overwatch.) Charlotte Ross's and Emily Bett Rickard's scenes are always a delight. Here, Ross's Mama Smoak seethes with just the right mix of anger and vulnerability, as she warns Felicity not to trust her father.
Felicity wisely takes her mom's advice and sets out to test Noah by inviting him to visit Palmer Technology's research lab. While inside, Noah can't resist leaving a surreptitious device that's meant to steal all of the lab's data. Felicity finds the device and, crushed, opens up to Oliver about her discovery. Oliver sort of cares, I guess? It's painful to watch how little Oliver and Felicity interact about these huge life issues. I know he's distracted with Nyssa and Malcolm, but his fiancée's father abruptly came back into her life after 18 years, announced he was the Calculator, and just tried to steal all of her intellectual property. What's a girl gotta do to get a sympathetic hug?
While Felicity mulls over what to do about her father, Oliver continues to focus on the civil war between Nyssa and Malcolm that's left "guys in black robes" dead throughout Star City. (It's always fun to see the Star City government confront the logistical nightmare that is a vigilante-active metropolis.) Standing amid body bags, Oliver tells Dig that he's never hated anyone the way he hates Malcolm. (Wait, wasn't Oliver just shaking his hand the last episode? Whiplash!) Dig ominously tells Oliver to use that hate: "You have to kill Malcolm Merlyn."
Oliver quickly finds Malcolm, who snuck into the lair where Team Arrow is keeping a comatose Thea. Malcolm tells Oliver that Thea will be dead by sunrise, and he wants to spend these last moments with her. There's a nice confrontation between the two characters, as Malcolm lays out the philosophical reasons why he chose to double-cross Nyssa to save the League. He equates it with Oliver's own dedication to the city above all other things … including Oliver's son, William.
Malcolm knows about William! This will not end well. As for how he knew Oliver's secret, Malcolm simply says, "I am Ra's Al Ghul." (From now on, I'm using that phrase to get myself out of tricky questions. "Honey, how were you able to log into my email?" " … I am Ra's Al Ghul!") Oliver insists that he wouldn't sacrifice his son or the city. He'd find another way. He then proposes that Malcolm challenge Nyssa to an old-fashioned trial-by-combat. If Malcolm lives, he'll get the lotus potion.
Cut to a torch-lit rooftop at night — because the League never travels without their torches. Nyssa and Malcolm draw swords, but before they can begin, Oliver orders them to stop fighting. In his Al Sah-Him-iest steamiest voice, he commands Nyssa to stand down and allow him, her "husband," to take her place. Whoa! So, it was all a ruse to allow Oliver to fight Malcolm himself. Swords clash and clang, as Team Arrow and League minions watch from the sidelines. (Not to mention the voyeurs from those office buildings surrounding the rooftop, who must have a lot of questions about what appears to be a terrible tiki party.)
It's not a great shock that Malcolm tries to cheat — he grabs an arrow from a minion — but it's not enough. Oliver has him cornered without his sword. Malcolm begs Oliver to kill him. But as promised, Oliver finds another way. He chops off Malcolm's hand, then hands the Ra's Al Ghul ring to Nyssa. Later, she melts the ring; her whole plan had been to disband the League. The minions are free!
Onto Felicity's family drama. She listens as Noah tries to explain why he left all those years ago. He says that he knew he'd have to keep running, and he didn't want a life on the lam for his family. Too bad Felicity already called the police on him. Quentin and Co. enter Palmer Technologies, then cart Noah away. "I'm nothing like you," she says. There are many reasons why Felicity is one of the strongest female characters on television, but now I have a new favorite: She turned her own father over to the cops.
Back at the loft with Oliver, Felicity feels a bit unsure about her actions, wondering if it will "haunt" her for the rest of her life. Oliver remembers that he is her fiancé and finally talks to her about what's going on with her dad. (Thankfully, he also switched coats.) During their chat, Oliver gets dreamy-eyed and tells Felicity he wants to get married sooner than later. She agrees, and suggests a small ceremony with close friends.
I'm guessing Malcolm won't be on the guest list, though. Craving revenge against Oliver, he calls a meeting with Damien Darhk, then informs Darhk that Oliver has a son.
Naughty, Malcolm. Real naughty.
Taiana plays nurse to Oliver in the Lian Yu prison. I try to keep my dinner down.
- Oliver locking eyes with Felicity to make sure it's cool if he kills Malcolm.
- Oliver to Felicity, who makes a quip about her dad: "You don't have to be funny for me."
- Felicity to Noah, once he reveals he's the Calculator: "See ya … never!"
- Felicity's face when Oliver refers to Nyssa as his "wife."
- Felicity to Oliver, when she learns that he suggested Nyssa challenge Malcolm: "This is one of your crazier ideas and that is a competitive field."
- "MALCOLM!" Oliver using his Arrow voice, when confronting Malcolm near Thea's bedside.
- Malcolm, to Oliver: "You're very handsome, but not especially bright."
- Felicity's wink at the loft.
- Did I just imagine the Al Sah-him voice? [Fans self.]
MISSING THE MARK
- I'm pretty sure Nyssa would have noticed the Black Canary standing on the balcony above her and directly in her sight line.
- The League v. League fight scenes are visually confusing.
- I didn't buy that Oliver would gloss over the fact that Felicity's dad turned out to be the Calculator.
- Laurel going to bat for Malcolm, saying, "There's nothing he wouldn't do to save his daughter." Since when is she Team Malcolm? Isn't he responsible for Tommy's death? And her sister's?
- Nyssa's sincere respect for her and Oliver's "marriage" didn't quite gel for me. Didn't she try to knife him at the altar?
- One of my issues with Malcolm is that I just don't believe he would ever kill Oliver, or vice-versa. But I've been wrong before …
NUMBER OF SHIRTLESS STEPHEN AMELL SCENES: -5 (That puffy jacket has brought us into negative territory, people.)
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