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Arrow is a show that drives me absolutely nuts. For nine episodes this season, the series wavered between barely watchable and just plain boring. Now, in the back stretch of the season, Arrow is on a roll, churning out taut, smart, and fun episodes. “Unchained” managed to capture many of the elements that make Arrow one of the strongest superhero shows on television, and, aside from the once again pointless flashbacks (although it is always nice to see Shadow), I’m actually really excited to see where this latest story arc is heading.
One of the things that makes Arrow such a strong series is its deep bench of supporting players, from the less prominent members of the show’s main and recurring cast, to its stable of guest stars. And this was on great display in “Unchained.” While the return of Roy (a welcome return, to be sure, as it looks like Colton Haynes got some much needed acting lessons in his time away from the series) has gotten most of the pre-episode press, it was the return of Nyssa and Katana that struck me as the most interesting part of the episode.
I’m an unabashed Nyssa fangirl, and I’ve been waiting with bated breath for her to escape from Nanda Parbat and begin her plan to destroy Malcolm Merlyn (because setting up that story arc is the only reason the show would have made Malcolm Ra’s al Ghul). And I was not disappointed with the results of her plan so far. Now, I can’t see the writers allowing John Barrowman to be written off the show (although, considering how sparingly he has appeared this season, perhaps this isn’t such a far-fetched possibility). And, on the flip-side, I also cannot see the writers writing Nyssa off the show (by all accounts, Katrina Law is well-liked on the series, and Nyssa is a highly regarded character within the writers’ room). So, I’m really interested to see how the writers get themselves out of this situation. Simply allowing Malcolm to survive and Nyssa to continue trying to kill him doesn’t solve anything and cheapens the strength of this storyline. The show has played the long game with this arc (and played it very well, so kudos to them), and there needs to be a definitive resolution.
I have to give the writers a great deal of credit for pulling together a number of dangling story threads in “Unchained” and crafting some compelling arcs out of them. In addition to Nyssa’s quest for revenge, we also got to see how dire Thea’s blood lust has become (and with it, some great work from Willa Holland) and we finally got to meet Felicity’s sketchy (but completely brilliant, of course) father. When Arrow takes the time to craft complex and interesting webs for its characters, the show really shines. When it allows its characters to act in ridiculous and counter-intuitive ways, the show falls apart. These last three weeks, we’ve had an embarrassment of riches in the realm of complex and interesting storylines. Imagine how strong this show could be if this was what we got to see week in and week out? This is why I’m so hard on Arrow at times- because I know it can do some really amazing things.
The downside to being handed these three compelling storylines is that I really don’t care all that much about the season’s big bad anymore. Damien Darhk, and his inability to enact his evil plan on a viable timeline, just isn’t as interesting as whether or not Oliver will kill Malcolm to save Thea or if Felicity’s dad will do something horrible that wrecks his daughter (I think the chances are pretty high on that front). The key difference between those arcs? I care what happens to Felicity, Thea, and even Malcolm. I don’t really care at all about Darhk. And that is because the show has taken almost no time trying to make me care. The writers have spent so much time hinting at who and what he is without telling us that there’s no emotional connection there.
With Arrow‘s last great villain, Slade Wilson, the series took great pains to explore all aspects of his character. We understood exactly why he hated Oliver. We knew who he once was, and we knew his journey from light to dark. And, while we knew he was a villain, there was a deeper connection to the audience than with other villains in the years since. R’as was a cipher for his entire time on the series. Darhk is more of the same. I understand the writers wanting to parcel out information about a big bad, but we shouldn’t be more than halfway through the season without any real understanding of the show’s major villain. And if we don’t care at all about who this person is beyond his evil plans, then it doesn’t matter when he is defeated. Sure, we know he will kill someone who matters to the series, but that just makes an audience hate him. We need to also understand him for Darhk to make any real impact on the show.
— As so often happens on TV shows, as soon as I saw that Tom Amandes from Everwood was the Calculator, I had a sneaking suspicion it wouldn’t be the last we saw of him. But I had no idea he would turn out to be Felicity’s dad.
— The arc with Roy being brought back was pretty weak, overall. But that emotional scene with Roy and Thea was a home run, so I guess I can excuse the less than stellar plotting to get him there.
— One plot point that seems to have been dropped is Felicity’s emotional fallout from the accident. Considering how the writers have been circling back to things, I’m holding out hope for something more for Emily Bett Rickards to play in the coming weeks.