Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find my review of the previous episode of Arrow here.
Arrow was firing on all cylinders in this week’s episode. “Unchained” juggled several story threads at once, but it never felt overstuffed or overwhlemed, which was refreshing. No single storyline was the standout, but at the same time no storyline was mishandled, and nothing felt superfluous. Everything coalesced to form one of the better-constructed episodes this season.
Though Roy was major element of the Green Arrow comics, he often felt a bit superfluous on Arrow. Writing him off the show in Season 3, while shoddy and rushed in its execution, was the right call. At the same time, he was a very likable character, sharing a lovely chemistry with Thea and providing a nice counterpoint to Oliver, whose role as Roy’s mentor allowed him to grow as a character. His return this week took advantage of both of those elements. His scenes with Thea were heartwarming and very touching. And his relationship with Oliver was nurturing as ever, except this time he was the one giving Oliver some much-needed advice. Overall, it was a very welcome return, and Colton Haynes made the best of it.
Plus, it gave us a nice parkour sequence reminiscent of Season 1, in addition to the awesome visual of Roy ziplining away from an explosion. Can’t say no to that!
My biggest concern with Thea’s bloodlust story arc up to this point had been how similar it felt to Roy’s Mirakuru arc in Season 2. Thankfully, the writers tackled that issue in “Unchained”. Having Thea on the brink of death took what once felt like a rehash into uncharted territory, and a dramatically compelling one at that. Thea facing her mortality and refusing to kill in order to save herself was a strong moment for her character and how much she’s grown over the past four seasons.
Another reason why this storyline was so good was her choice’s effect on Oliver. One of the elements that differentiates Arrow from The Flash is how fundamentally flawed Oliver is. He’s reclaimed his humanity and has improved greatly since Season 1, but he’s far from perfect. “Unchained” mainly dealt with Oliver’s constant guilt and feelings of responsibility. As Diggle said, guilt is Oliver’s superpower, and it’s been evident throughout the show’s history, especially these past few weeks. This need to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders and be the one to solve everyone’s problems nearly led to him making a deal with Damien Darhk. In the end, though, he relinquished that feeling and accepted Thea’s choice. This was not only a good moment in his own character development, but a strong endorsement of Thea’s own agency as well.
For now, at least. Because Nyssa returned to Star City with a cure for Thea’s condition and an ultimatum for Oliver: kill Malcolm Merlyn, and Thea will be saved. Nyssa’s journey itself was pretty fun, with a nice escape scene demonstrating that not all League of Assassin members were happy with Malcolm being the new Ra’s. Plus, she had an awesome swordfight with Katana (another returning character!).
I have to wonder how Oliver will deal with this. Will he respect Thea’s wish to die rather than having to kill, or will he be the one to kill in order to save her life? The target being Malcolm Merlyn is also juicy, considering he was Oliver’s first and most major villain, yet at the same time one he’s reached a grudging level of peace and understanding with. If the show plays its cards right, and I hope it does, next week might be another great episode.
In fact, I mentioned before that I was worried about this current stretch of episodes being a letdown, what with the decreased focus on Damien Darhk as well as the fact that most TV shows tend to experience a winter slump before the ramp-up to their finales. But Arrow seems to be trying to make the best of these episodes, giving us a great Diggle-centric episode last week, a very strong outing with returning characters this week, and setting up a meaty conflict with Malcolm Merlyn next week. It might be too early to tell, but things look promising so far.
The flashbacks were still all-too-brief, but at least they tied into the episode’s theme this week much as they did in “A.W.O.L.”. Shado appearing as a vision or a hallucination was a bit odd, but it allowed Oliver to cope with his feelings of guilt for killing Taiana’s brother. The ending of the flashbacks also implies that those were not mere halluciantions, and that something mystical might be involved. In any case, it was nice to have Celina Jade back.
All of that already made for a busy episode—but wait, there’s more! The Calculator made his debut in “Unchained” and despite being in a crammed episode, he was more than just a forgettable villain-of-the-week (looking at you, Tar Pit). I had to try really hard to resist rolling my eyes at all the technobabble, random keyboard typing, and the nonsensical plot to destroy the Internet (that’s not a thing, Arrow). But aside from that, it was a strong conflict as our heroes and a returning Arsenal raced to save the city from an intelligent and charismatic villain who stood toe-to-toe with Felicity. Oh, and he turned out to be Felicity’s father. So there’s that.
Finally, Felicity had her own subplot this week in which she overcame the challenges her wheelchair was imposing on her job. It wasn’t a major storyline by any means but it’s nice to see her continuing to cope with her injury and grow as a character, especially since she’d been pretty much the same since Season 1—aside from a major dip in Season 3.
With so much going on, you’d think that “Unchained” would have felt crammed, or rushed, or that certain subplots would not be compelling or would not be given their due. Yet miraculously, that was not the case. “Unchained” deftly made everything work.