As with my other reviews this week, my first Arrow review will begin with a brief series synopsis for the uninitiated, as will tomorrow’s Constantine, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when it returns in March. After that, I’ll just assume anyone reading my reviews knows the basics.
Arrow, based loosely on DC Comics Robin Hood expy Green Arrow, (with a pretty heaping dash of Batman mixed in), follows the dark and brooding adventures of Oliver Queen as he takes up a hood to become a vigilante in his home of Starling City after 5 years presumed dead, most of which was spent abandoned on a Chinese island called Li En Yu, or “Purgatory”. Along the way he picks up friends and companions who help him fight crime, and more than few ghosts from his past come back to haunt him. At present his team consists of Former Army Ranger elite John Diggle, Hacker Goddess and strained love interest Felicity Smoake, former petty thug from a poor neighbourhood turn fellow vigilante Roy “Arsenal” Harper, and most recently Ollie’s ex-turned-ass kicker Laurel Lance, who took up the mantle of the Black Canary after the former Canary, her sister, was murdered. Also presently in the thick of things are
Captain Jack Harkness Malcolm Merlin, a selfish violent asshole who tried to destroy the poor section of town in season one, Ollie’s kid sister Thea, who’s becoming a badass all her own, and an inexplicably Caucasian Ra’s Al Ghul, leader of an ancient order of murderers that Laurel’s late sister belonged to. The show every week alternates between what’s going on in the present and whatever was going on in Ollie’s life 5 years prior to whatever is currently the present to show what happened to him during his 5 years as a presumed dead man.
Arrow 03×14 – “The Return” Review
Here There Be Spoilers!
So as we begin tonight’s episode, the story so far is that Ra’s and the League of Assassins wants Ollie, Thea and Malcolm all dead. Granted only one of the trio is actually in any way deserving of the death wish, but Ra’s doesn’t seem terribly fussy about the semantics. Ollie has reluctantly agreed to train with Malcolm, and have Thea train with them both, after having finally let Thea in on the whole vigilante thing last week. Ollie still despises Malcolm, but having already dueled with Ra’s and barely surviving a sword through his gut, he realizes he needs training from a superior fighter.
Of course none of this would be necessary at all if Malcolm weren’t such a bloody douchebag. Bear with me here folks, because, as much as I love this show, as excellent as it otherwise is, this shit has been pissing me off all season long for being one long relentless game of Idiot Ball in an otherwise extremely smartly written show. So the review shall now pause for some key backstory followed by a bitchy fangirl rant.
- Malcolm Merlin spent nearly twenty years training with the League, and has been said in universe to be arguably second to only Ra’s himself as a warrior. Remember this, it’s kind of a key detail.
- The League itself has this kind of delusional altruistic ideology, much like in the comics, that it is tasked with shaping the world into a better place by murdering people it thinks are contributing to it’s decay. They murder people left and right, but only those who are rich and powerful and actively being bastards to the world with their wealth.
- So you can imagine that Malcolm using a device that creates earthquakes to murder over 500 innocent poor people in the Glades, (Starling’s Poor neighbourhood), kinda didn’t sit well with them. Midway through Season 2 Malcolm revealed to Ollie and Thea’s now deceased mother Moira that he had faked his death at Ollie’s hands, and wanted her to hand over Thea, who was the result of a very brief affair Moira and Malcolm had shortly after Malcolm’s wife was murdered. Moira responded by finding Ra’s, and letting him know Malcolm was alive. Malcolm fled.
- At the end of Season 2 Malcolm returned just in time to save Thea from one of Slade “Deathstroke” Wilson’s Mirakuru thugs. (Basically steroids on steroids). Thea, disillusioned with her then boyfriend Roy and her brother Ollie for constantly lying to her, and still grieving for and yet angry with her mother, agreed to leave Starling with Malcolm to let him train her to defend herself so no one could ever hurt her again.
- Thea has been training to fight for all of about 7 months. Ollie’s training lasted 5 years and was kind of patchworked. Malcolm, once again, has 20 years of consistent training with lethal assassins. The only reason Ollie even survived combat with Malcolm at the end of season 1 is because he was willing to stab himself with an arrow just to impale Malcolm with it.
Okay kids, you got all that? Good.
Now, can someone PLEASE explain to me why in the bloody blue (expletive deleted) Malcolm felt that in order to get Ra’s off his ass he felt he needed to send a young man who’s ass he has REPEATEDLY kicked to do his fighting for him against a man he clearly doesn’t think he himself could ever beat? To the point of using a mind-altering drug to force his barely-out-of-combat-training-diapers daughter to murder Sara, thus guaranteeing the League wants him dead even more?
Seriously? No f**king SERIOUSLY? What was he thinking? The League was unaware of Thea’s true parentage. Up to the end of Season Two only 3 people knew about it at all. Thea would NEVER have been in danger from the League AT ALL had Malcolm stayed away. And Ollie? Ollie is good. He’s a legit badass, parkouring around the city kicking ass. But 5 years of patchwork training with multiple teachers and 2 years of self-guided practice training sparring with an Army vet does NOT prepare someone for tackling a man who has been fighting since his childhood. Malcolm can’t POSSIBLY have actually believed Ollie had a hope in hell of killing Ra’s in a duel, and he certainly can’t think Thea can fend off trained assassins after only 7 months of combat training. So why did an otherwise brilliant trained warrior think setting up the Queen siblings would magically solve his problem? He made Thea kill Sara to motivate Ollie to kill Ra’s.
Idiot Ball Superbowl MVP 2015; Malcolm F**king Merlyn folks.
Alright, rant over, back to the show.
So last week’s episode ended with Ollie and Thea agreeing to leave Starling with Malcolm to go back to Li En Yu for some hardcore training. So we open with Ollie and Thea doing some pretty sick stick-fighting practice. (If there’s one thing you can count on Arrow for, it’s Training Porn). Willa Holland has clearly been busting her ass with her trainers to be able to keep up with Stephen Amell, who does all but his most dangerous stunts himself, is a parkour nut who actually does all the shit you see him do as Ollie, and is pretty legitimately badass.
Thea is still pissed that Malcolm dragged her into all this insanity with the League, but is actually enjoying this combat bonding with her brother, happy that he’s finally let her in and stopped trying to protect her from his secret life. Still, Thea can sense there’s still one thing he’s not being honest with her about as they eat some small animal Ollie caught and spitroasted over a fire, joking that she wouldn’t keep eating it if she knew what it was.
Since he’s on Li En Yu anyway, Ollie decides to go pop by the secret government prison that ARGUS built here where he stashed Slade last season, only to find Slade gone and a dead prison guard in Slade’s bunk.
Ollie runs back to camp to check on Thea then calls Malcolm on their sat-phone, realizing that Malcolm has both freed Slade and fled the island, leaving Ollie and Thea to fend for themselves against a pissed off Australian Special Forces veteran with an axe to grind as a training exercise. Malcolm you see, believes Ollie needs to get back the killer instinct he shed after season 1. Once again he uses Ollie’s desire to protect his sister as a motivational tool. Wheeeee!
Ollie takes Thea to their dad’s grave, to dig up the gun Robert Queen shot himself with so Ollie could have a fighting chance. Because a gun that’s been buried in mud for 7 years is SUPER effective for self defense. He gives the gun to Thea while she has a sobering observation about how Robert’s official grave back in Starling always felt so empty to her.
Slade gets the drop on them both though, and locks them up in his cell. He plans to leave them to die while faking their deaths back in Starling by burning two similar body types beyond recognition in Thea’s car. He also taunts Thea about secrets Ollie is still keeping, once again harping about how Ollie let Shado die.
Once Slade is gone, Thea pushes Ollie to talk, but unintentionally gives him an idea about how they can escape. Thea refuses to try to break out until Ollie comes clean about the secret he’s obviously still keeping about why this is all even happening. So he does. And Thea is understandably horrified to learn she was used as an unwitting murder weapon to kill someone who was a dear friend to her. She finally realizes just how sick and vile Malcolm truly is.
Because the special prison was designed and built for large and dangerous MALE prisoners, Ollie thinks Thea may be small and wiry enough to reach through the bars and hit the door release button in a way a huge muscly man never could. Unfortunately her reach is a couple inches shy of the button. So Ollie DISLOCATES HER F**KING SHOULDER to give her an extra few inches of reach. As someone who can dislocate my left shoulder at will after a childhood car accident? I winced for Thea here, not because of the dislocation itself, because those are surprisingly not very painful. It’s the whole “putting the bone back into it’s socket” thing that hurts like a motherf**ker. Trust me on this, my friends make me do it at parties.
Having now been able to reach the release button, they go chasing after Slade, figuring he’s on his way to the plane they came to the island on. Thea however triggers one of the many boobie traps Ollie left on the island and Ollie takes a wooden spike to the shoulder getting Thea out of the way. Which of course is when Slade shows up to start beating on them both again, because he kinda figured they’d escape. But the Queen siblings together overpower him, and Thea manages to find the will to let Ollie talk her out of just murdering him, saying that being tricked into killing someone due to a mind-altering drug that prevents you from ever remembering what you’d done is a whole lot different than killing a man while fully lucid and looking him dead in the eye.
Ollie returns Slade to his cell and he and Thea return to Starling, where they confront Malcolm for being both a serious bastard and a really horrible father. Malcolm gets pissy that Ollie told her the truth about Sara’s murder, while telling Thea he did it to make her stronger. Thea is NOT having any of that shit and tells him; she will be his student, she will be his weapon, she will be his soldier, until the League is dealt with and they can get on with their lives, but she will never ever again be his daughter.
The flashback story in this episode follows Amanda Waller bringing Ollie and Hiteo back to Starling City 5 years ago to stop Chen Na Wei, (who I refuse to call China White because I’m part Asian and the racism in the naming of the original comic character has always pissed me off), from auctioning off a bio weapon. While there, Ollie secretly follows his sister around, she’s the addict she had become after his “death, murders her drug dealer boyfriend at one of Tommy Merlyn’s parties, and almost risks getting his family murdered by ARGUS to defy orders and tell them he’s alive, until he plays an encrypted file he found on his father’s computer at Queen Consolidated while looking for info on where the auction was going to be, which turns out to be a video Robert left for Ollie confessing to all the criminal acts he did for Malcolm that got him killed. Ollie goes to help Hiteo after all and Chen Na Wei is captured. Ollie demands Waller stop forcing him to do ARGUS’ dirty work and just let him go, but she says only her superior can decide that. A US General enters the room and thanks Ollie for the services he’s provided for his country, then promises if he agrees to go back to Hong Kong to be debriefed, he’ll let Ollie go anywhere he bloody pleases.
The b-plot of the episode, running through both time periods, is about the strains on the relationship between Laurel and her father Quentin, who in the past is still at the height of his drinking problems and accusing Laurel of being a sellout for taking a cushy law-firm job instead of helping people like she’d sworn to do. This leads her to join the inner city pro-bobo law agency CNRI that she was with in season 1. In the present however the strain is caused by Quentin being angry with Laurel for having kept Sara’s death a secret from him for a few months because she feared he’d have a heart attack. He has a bottle of whisky as he sits at Sara’s grave, but doesn’t drink it. He agrees with Laurel’s suggestion they go to a meeting, but insists they attend separate meeting for now.
Overall a strong episode, and it’s always nice to see the awesome Manu Bennet return as Slade, but the continuing annoyance of the “Malcom is a goddamned idiot” plotline continues to peeve me off this season. So this gets a B-.