Arrow: Unchained Review
With a parade of returning characters, a big paternity reveal, and some sold action, Arrow entertained with "Unchained."
This Arrow review contains spoilers.
Arrow Season 4, Episode 12
Between the rooftop Parkour, the surprise paternity reveal, and Shado saving Oliver on Lian Yu, tonight’s episode of Arrowgave me some serious season 1/season 2 nostalgia. Maybe it was the return of Roy Harper, but this episode had a lot of energy — the kind of energy generally more reminiscent of a show in its first or second season than its fourth.
“Unchained” was another midseason filler episode that could have easily fallen flat and, like last week’s episode, this is unlikely to be anyone’s favorite episode of Arrowever, but it was a lot more fun and much more narratively cohesive than it could have been — especially given its many, disparate plots. I credit this to a solid, overarching theme that has been a part of Arrowsince that first season: My life, my choice. Here were the big moments from “Unchained”…
Star City really can’t catch a break.
Wow. Pretty much everyone hates Star City. Why does anyone still live there? This week, it’s The Calculator’s turn to try to kill pretty much everyone within the Star City’s confines. He hires his own band of mercenaries from the dark web and everything.
Luckily, our girl Felicity is one step ahead of him (even with a super important presentation that will pretty much determine the future of Palmer Tech on her mind). With the help of Team Arrow (especially Roy), Felicity stops The Calculator.
This villain-of-the-week was a perfectly acceptable plot in terms of suspense, but it was really the personal connections to Team Arrow that made it compelling. Firstly, it brought Roy — and his Parkour! — back into our lives and the lives of Team Arrow.
I’m not sure I agree that Roy couldn’t have done anything to let Team Arrow know he was being blackmailed into helping The Calculator. (It’s called writing a letter without looking, Roy. Get your act together.) But, given that Roy’s chief mentor has been Oliver “I Can Figure It Out Myself” Queen, I suppose this isn’t so much of a narrative leap.
Felicity’s dad is The Calculator.
The other big personal connection between The Calculator and Team Arrow, of course, was the end-of-episode reveal that tech-talented villain is none other than Felicity’s long-absent father. Yep, if you’ve spent any time on the Internet, you probably saw this coming, but that doesn’t make this twist any less interesting.
Thus far, the most interesting Arrowvillains have been the ones who have personal connections to our heroes: Slade, Malcolm, etc. So far, The Calculator’s larger motives are unclear. Arrow might choose to make him a redemptive character rather than a straight-up bad guy. Either way, he just made Arrowseason 4 a little bit more compelling.
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that The Calculator is played here by the ever-charming Tom Amandes, who has made every show he’s ever graced with his presence about 10x more interesting by simply appearing on screen. Favorite line in tonight’s epiosde? The Calculator’s reaction to the idea that he might target the Internet: “Not only is it where I work. I’m addicted to funny cat videos.” Yep, he’s definitely Felicity’s dad.
Thea’s swim in the Lazarus Pit finally catches up with her.
When Thea took a dip in the Lazarus Pit last season, I was excited to see the consequences of that choice play out. Unfortunately, Arrowhas only sporadically been interested in telling that story. Tonight, it took center stage, with Thea’s decision not to satiate her bloodlust literally putting her into a coma.
As with many dilemmas in the Arrowuniverse, there are a bunch of dudes — i.e. Malcolm and Oliver — standing around, trying to shape how Thea should feel about the decision of whether or not she should kill to stay alive. To be fair, they seem to (slowly) realize that they can’t make choices for Thea. Or, as Malcolm puts it: “Sometimes the greatest act of love is no action at all.”
I would have liked to see Laurel have more to do here. She and Thea seem to have grown much closer this season. I would even call them best friends. Presumably, if Colton Haynes hadn’t returned for this episode, someone else would have gotten these discussions/dreams of a “normal” life with Thea. Both Willa Holland and Haynes nailed their final scene together.
Thea and Roy’s relationship hasn’t been a focal point of this show for some time, but tonight’s episode reminded me how strong the characterization of their dynamic has been since the first season. Their conversation of how, if they could change things, they would choose each other was heartbreaking and affecting. It’s not hard to believe that these two will always love one another.
Nyssa needs her own spin-off.
Nyssa was yet another recurring character to make a glorious return this episode — and her entrance might have been the best, breaking out of League of Assassins prison after a presumed hunger strike like it’s child play, then traveling to Japan with her new badass sidekick to retrieve this show’s latest MacGuffin: the lotus, an antidote to the effects of the Lazarus Pit.
The best part of Nyssa’s trek to Japan? She runs into Katana, who is dutifully guarding the lotus. (Speaking of characters I’d like to spend more time with…) There short fight is beautiful, but the best part of their interaction comes in Nyssa’s suggestion that they put down their weapons and chat. It has never been more clear that Nyssa is the wisest, most competent warrior on this show.
Nyssa’s little aside also demonstrates what Arrowcould be doing with its flashback time. I liked this week’s flashbacks more than usual, but I still would have gladly given that time to Nyssa’s trek to Japan. We could have found out more about her sidekick, or actually seen the conversation between Nyssa and Katana, complete with a conversation about how Tatsu is doing after having to kill her husband to save him from the constant misery of having lost their son. (She’s probably not doing so good, huh?) Point is: Flashbacks aren’t the only way to expand the scope of the Arrowstory.
Nyssa wants Oliver to kill Malcolm.
Turns out Nyssa had ulterior motives for trekking all the way to Japan. She wants to exchange the antidote to the effects of the Lazarus Pit for the murder of Malcolm, and she couldn’t have suggested it at a better time. Thea is more or less on her deathbed. We’ve seen how far Oliver is willing to go to save his sister before and, let’s be real, Malcolm is the worst. I’m not condoning murder here, but I’m still not why Oliver has ever defended Malcolm Merlyn. (This was one of the major narrative issues with season 3.)
I don’t know what’s going to happen here. I just hope it results in more Nyssa.
“I have this darkness inside of me…
Flashback time! This week’s flashbacks actually weren’t so bad — mostly because I was distracted by the return of Hallucination!Shado (last seen in season 2) and the fact that Oliver finally told Taiana what really happened to her brother. Um, that he was the one to kill him.
This conversation was so awkward and Oliver pretty much went about it in the worst way possible, opening with “I have this darkness inside of me…” and ending with: “There are reasons, but they don’t matter. They don’t change what I did.”
Actually, Oliver, context does matter. This has always been an unconvincing argument that Arrowtries to make: that killing is always the same degree of morally wrong. Context is important, and it actually kind of hurts narratively that we’re still not really sure why Taiana’s brother attacked Oliver like a crazy person. But that’s what happened, and I don’t think Oliver actually wanted to kill him.
This, for example, is different than the pre-meditated murder of Moira Queen in front of her children because Oliver once was confused about which one of his girlfriends he should try to stop from getting killed. (Yeah, I’m still not over Moira’s death.)
All in all, this was a solid episode of Arrow, the second consecutive ep that succeeded at imbuing the villain-of-the-week plot with some stakes. This was mostly done through the return of some already-developed periphery characters like Nyssa, Malcolm, and Roy, as well as the very personal connection to Team Arrow The Calculator now represents. It was done through the long overdue, unavoidable, potentially tragic consequences of Thea’s resurrection.
It was also through Parkour and Roy ziplining away from explosions. Never underestimate the power of watching a character you like zipline away from an explosion. Keep up the good work, Arrow.