“Uprising” marks Oliver’s triumphant return this week. As per usual, however, triumph in Arrow doesn’t happen without some major caveats. Specifically, after only a few seconds of enjoying their blissful reunion, Oliver and Felicity experience yet another major setback in their road to fan-approved happiness. Oh, Olicity fans, how you must suffer.
Essentially, the entire episode is all build-up to the final 20 minutes—a street brawl between Brick’s men and Team Arrow, plus their allies. All of this is capped off with the surprise appearance by The Arrow, who descends into the skirmish and makes a grand speech that quells the situation. That’s not to say everything before this is all boring set-up. My personal favorite bit involves Roy’s encounter with Quentin Lance. Perhaps as a way of balancing his inability to discern Laurel’s suspicious behavior regarding Sara, the show actually has the character immediately recognize Roy in his red Arsenal attire. It’s a nice nod to the fact that, in Oliver’s absence, it does become a lot harder to take his substitutes too seriously. That’s why you don’t let people know you can shoot arrows while in street clothes, Roy.
The biggest dilemma, however, involves Team Arrow entertaining a potential partnership with Malcolm Merlyn. While doing some preliminary research on Brick, Felicity discovers that he was the one responsible for the murder of Malcolm’s wife all those years ago. Hellbent on revenge, Malcolm offers his services in helping to bring down Brick. Believing that Oliver would never approve of such a blood deal, the Team flat-out refuses. Unfortunately, they will be proven very wrong later in the episode.
Perhaps aware of the general fatigue regarding the Hong Kong flashbacks, the Arrow team wisely decided to instead tell the origin story of Malcolm Merlyn. We pick up with Malcolm at the moment that his life changed forever. After arriving home from work and tucking little Tommy into bed, he is visited by two cops and learns of his wife’s murder. We subsequently trace Malcolm as he follows a dark path of vengeance that leads him to the League of Assassins. Most notably, this includes his first murder—a street mugger that he shoots after an ally fight (why the mugger would just leave him bloody with a gun nearby is anyone’s guess).
Arrow has nothing if not a strange, occasionally muddy relationship with its version of the Dark Archer (or, in this case, The Magician). In the first season, he was a much more straightforward character—a charming, prominent figure whose smiling façade and sophisticated lifestyle veiled a hate-filled villain born out of tragedy. Because I can only imagine that John Barrowman was a joy to work with, the creative team went out of their way to bring him back into the show. This results in the character undergoing what I can only describe as—to make a Buffy reference— a “Spike-ification” of his character. In the wake of his newfound relationship with Thea, the writers have added more sympathetic shading to his Machiavellian tendencies. This, in turn, has created character development that veers dangerously between ambiguous and flat-out convoluted. He killed thousands of people in The Glades but only because he wanted to save it. He truly loves Thea and doesn’t want her corrupted, yet he drugged her and had her kill Sara. He is determined to kill Brick, but then pulls back after a speech from Oliver. And while I’m open to the idea of Oliver letting Malcolm train him as a means of defeating Ra’s, a part of me does not want the character to lose so much of his initial edge.
Needless to say, Oliver’s decision to join with Malcolm leads to a devastating breakdown in his relationship with Felicity. Whereas Felicity once entertained the notion of him returning from the dead with a new outlook on life, his strategy proves the exact opposite. As if voicing the fan outcry about the decision, Felicity points out, “You are working with the man who turned your sister, a woman that you’re supposed to love, into a killer; who killed a woman you used to love. I don’t want to be a woman that you love.” Ouch. Makes perfect sense, but still—ouch.
“Uprising” marks a significant turning point in the second half of the Arrow season. Oliver may be back but his newfound allegiances will no doubt alienate his older ones. Unlike Malcolm and Deathstroke, who attained their power over a limited period of time, Ra’s al-Ghul leads an organization whose roots and influence extend back for hundreds of years. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Oliver would now look into aligning himself with Deathstroke in his determination to take Ra’s down. It’s an exciting prospect, albeit also one that risks much disappointment by not reaching its potential. For now, I choose to just enjoy the ride and take things as they come.
Also, a salute to Vinnie Jones’ Brick. Hoping this won’t be the last we see of you.