This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 4, Episode 13
If you think this generation of Star City change-makers has issues solving problems in moral ways, then you haven’t met their parents. Arrowthrew tonight’s theme right into its episode title — “Sins of the Father” — and, like other recent, solid episode of the superhero show, the hour’s disparate plot parts benefitted from a strong central theme: everyone’s dad is the worst. Especially Thea’s.
Oliver chooses diplomacy over murder.
Our little vigilante has come so far! Remember the first season when Oliver dropped randoms like they had personally taken turns kicking a puppy? Now, Oliver’s first instinct when Nyssa proposes trading Thea’s life for Malcolm’s isn’t just to put an arrow in Merlyn’s chest, but to try to work out a different deal: leadership of The League of Assassins for Thea’s life.
Of course, he has to convince Malcolm Merlyn to give up his leadership role for this to work and, given that Malcolm staged an elaborate murder using his own daughter in order to get control of The League in the first place (yeah, I don’t like to think about season 3, either), that’s not going to be an easy prospect…
“People don’t change. Even if you want them to.”
Damn you, Malcolm Meryln. Malcolm is always boasting about how much he loves Thea — he even tells a sweet story of the first time he saw baby Thea (hey, Raisa!) — but he has never put Thea’s well being before his own pursuit of power. “Sins of the Father” was no exception. Rather than trade his R’as ring for the lotus solution that will save Thea’s life, he tries to take it by force. This leads to one of the more surprising moments in recent Arrow history: Oliver chooses to fight for Nyssa rather than Malcolm.
This choice shouldn’t be surprising. To anyone who has been watching this show, it is totally clear that Nyssa is a better choice for leader of The League of Assassins. Out of the two candidates, Nyssa is the one who has not purchased multiple earthquake machines just to kill all of a city’s poor people. (When Nyssa takes on an entire city, she kills equally across all income brackets.)
More than that, Nyssa has shown a willingness to compromise, lead with reason rather than greed, and — as demonstrated through her relationship with Sara — put love above all else. Frankly, after all of those years under her father’s thumb, Nyssa deserves the job — so much so that it kind of sucks that Arrowdoesn’t allow her to fight her own battle and take Malcolm down herself. (I have always thought Nyssa should be a better fighter than Oliver, but the show is called Arrow, so I’ve learned to let this slide.)
Please let Malcolm have a hook.
Welp, in the immortal words of Felicity Smoak: “So much for the Gandhi method.” Oliver spares Malcolm’s life, but chops of his hand. That’s what happens when you value power over people, Malcolm. (Well, unless you’re on Game of Thrones— in which case, your appendages pretty much get lopped off regardless.)
Thematically, this moment was a long time coming. After all, Malcolm was Oliver’s first real foe on Arrow.Even when he technically wasn’t the Big Bad in season 3, Malcolm was the cause of all of Team Arrow’s problems. Though it was R’as al-Ghul striking Thea down, it was Malcolm who set into motion the series of events that led to her almost-death. It was Malcolm who killed Sara. (Per Felicity, who could have pretty much run around this episode yelling “I told you so,” if she’d wanted to: “We are in this mess because of [Malcolm] on like a million different levels.”)
Season 3 had a lot of narrative difficulties, but arguably its biggest one was that it asked the viewers to believe that, given everything Malcolm had done, Oliver would go so far to save his life. Oliver gave his life to R’as rather than let Thea lose her father, putting Starling City (and, therefore, Thea’s life) in danger in the process. As far as character motivation goes, it didn’t stand up to scrutiny, which made this episode — and, specifically, the moment when Oliver stops making excuses for Malcolm — not only long overdue, but incredibly cathartic.
The take away here? People can change. Nyssa can let go of the thirst for power her father taught her, leaving room for something better. And Oliver can find new solutions to terrible problems. But Malcolm, Malcolm is one of those people who will never change. When Oliver takes away the thing he loves most, he seeks vengeance. Because vengeance is his lifeblood. Perhaps it was what his father taught him. It was what motivated him to more-or-less abandon his son, sabotage The Queen’s Gambit, and take out half of Starling City. If losing one child and almost losing another can’t change his ways, then nothing can.
Is Malcolm the true villain of season 4?
Which leads us to the next big question: Is Malcolm Merlyn the true Big Bad of season 4? Sure, Damien Darhk is a formidable foe, but I’ve long wondered if the ambiguous “he” mentioned in the flash forward to that grave scene isn’t Darhk, but someone else. We’ve been so focused on the identity of the person six feet under — and, fair enough, I really want to know which of Ollie’s loved ones doesn’t make it to season 5 — but it has kept us from musing as much about the person Oliver has vowed to take down once and for all.
In light of tonight’s events — especially Malcolm’s decision to bring William to Darhk’s attention — I think the person in question could very well be Malcolm. And, frankly, that’s much more interesting to me. Arrowis at its best when it gives us a personal villain — someone who represents something other than black-and-white villainy to Oliver. Malcolm Merlyn fits the bill.
Felicity has her own father arrested.
With all of the Big Happenings revolving around Thea, Malcolm, and Nyssa, it might have been easy to lose interest in the B Plot: Felicity trying to reconnect with her father. But, beause of some solid writing and some great performances from both Emily Bett Rickards and Tom Amandes, this lower-stakes storyline still compelled. (And I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that Felicity “Bitch With Wifi” Smoak would have the mettle to have her own father arrested with a bold: “You were wrong: I am nothing like you.”)
Though the stakes might not have been life, death, and leadership of an entire league of killer ninjas in Felicity’s storyline, growing up believing that you broken or unlovable is not nothing. “All I ever wanted to know was why,” Felicity tells her father. “What was wrong with me that made you leave?” These stakes may not be comparable to Thea’s life hanging in the balance, but they are still so important, and it’s pretty great how Arrowis able to make both feel vital in the same episode.
This was no doubt helped by the understated grace of the Olicity relationship. Even when it isn’t at the center of an episode, it grounds a lot of the shenanigans that are taking place in important ways. Best of all, it gives us some all-important insight into Oliver’s character motivations and thoughts. These moments have always been gloriously spare — because Oliver wouldn’t be Oliver if he weren’t at least 85 percent laconic. But that what makes these rare moments of insight so much more powerful. That’s what makes the relationships in which Oliver chooses to share himself — i.e. with Felicity, Digg, even Laurel — mean so much more.
“You don’t have to be funny for me. You now that, right?” “Some people don’t [change]. I’d like to think there’s hope for the rest of us.” “I can tell you from experince that closure does not come that easily.” Remember when Oliver Queen only communicated his inner-most thoughts via voiceover? People can change.
Meanwhile, on the island…
This week’s flashback followed up on Oliver’s omission that he killed Vlad, Taiana’s brother. It was fine, bolstered by the loose tie-in to the “Sins of the Father” theme Arrowwas also working in the present-day. Though it’s a plot point that’s been hit before, watching Oliver reflect on his father is a classic Arrow go-to move, and can still wring out a bit of narrative angst. That tension between Oliver both loving his father and recognizing his immense flaws is built into the very fabric of this show, and very much informs his hesitation to kill Malcolm (for Thea’s sake).
However, unlike the present-day storylines, the flashbacks have not rebounded from season 3 — staying in a stakes-free universe in which I literally have to Google all of the flashback characters’ names on a weekly basis. I want to care about Taiana, but Arrowhas yet to give me a reason to. I wish I could see that changing. Luckily, there is more than enough to like about Arrow‘s present-day storylines for me to ignore the tension-less flashbacks. Thanks for distracting me, Malcolm Merlyn.