By Rich Epstein
We open with an obviously injured Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) leaving the cabin to head back to Starling City. Tatsu Yamashiro (Rila Fukushima) tells him that he's being stupid (duh) and is going to get himself killed (doubtful, the show has already been renewed for next year). She will not go so far as to help him, however, as she has disappeared from the world following events in Hong Kong and wants it to stay that way. He leaves anyway.
Back in Starling City, it has been a week since the mayor pulled the police out of the Glades. A couple of thugs try to hit a bar up for protection money when in steps Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) a/k/a Arsenal. The thugs appear to get the drop on him when Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), now the Black Canary, steps in to even the fight. For some reason, once again, John Diggle (David Ramsey) is nowhere to be found despite being easily the best fighter of the three. Instead, he and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) are monitoring the unanswered 911 calls and directing the junior crimefighters. I think my rant last week was enough on the subject, but I really hope we see a lot less Laurel and a lot more Diggle this week.
Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) and Thea Queen (Willa Holland) continue their training, with increased intensity now that Merlyn has (somewhat) come clean about Ra's al Ghul. Thea gets the best of him, but when she hesitates, Merlyn gains the upper hand. He tells her that hesitation is death. Thea doesn't want to be a killer, she didn't sign up for any of this, but Merlyn tells her that the League of Assassins won't hesitate to kill her (hence the name). Merlyn says he wasn't always a killer. The first man he ever killed was the man who murdered his wife, which leads to Merlyn flashbacks…
Rather than going back five years like with Oliver, we go 21 years into the past to see Malcolm Merlyn with a young Tommy Merlyn. Tommy has a nightmare, and Malcolm promises never to let anything bad happen to Tommy. At least not for the next 19 years, after that, all bets are off. The doorbell rings, and Malcolm goes down to meet his wife, only to find the police with news of her murder.
Arsenal goes to meet Captain Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) who instantly recognizes him as Roy Harper. Apparently putting on a hood and a mask isn't enough to hide your identity unless you are Oliver Queen. Lance gives Arsenal the file on Brick, only it doesn't seem to contain anything helpful. At least to anyone other than Felicity, who does some cross-referencing on the computer and finds out that Brick killed Merlyn Malcolm's wife. Luckily for Malcolm, he put a hidden camera into the Arrowcave, and happens to be listening in right at that moment. So, about that whole killing the person who murdered his wife thing…
Oliver is making his way through the woods, struggling to breath and walk, with Tatsu following behind. They speak of Ra's al Ghul, Tatsu tells him that technique will not be enough to defeat him, only one who thinks like Ra's can best him. "Only the student can defeat the master."
Speaking of Malcolm, he is sharpening a curved sword when Thea walks in. She asks him what it's for, and he actually tells her the truth about finding out he killed the wrong man (leaving out the part of how he found out of course). Thea wants him to go to the police, but Malcolm wants revenge. Thea may not be a killer, but he is.
At the Arrowcave, Diggle says what we are all thinking…let Malcolm go after Brick. Either way, one of their problems is solved. Felicity laments that Brick's men have been cutting down cell towers and staying out of satellite feeds so she can't track them. Laurel, in a rare useful moment, remembers that the men at the diner were communicating with walkie talkies. Of course that is all Felicity needs to know. It seems that Brick is holed up in the police precinct in the Glades.
Felicity cuts the power, and Laurel and Roy go in alone, again. There are lots and lots of bad guys, but that doesn't matter because Laurel has been training for months. They take out the men, but Brick gets the drop on them. Luckily, the Arrow shows up. Oh wait, it's the Dark Archer, Malcolm Merlyn. Luckily for Brick, the building is falling apart and some debris falls between them allowing him to escape.
At Verdant, Roy has a heart to heart with Thea. Please explain to me why she is keeping her club open in the heart of the Glades? Are people really going clubbing in between all the robbing and killing? She tells Roy that Malcolm wants to go after the man who killed his wife. Roy points out that Thea probably shouldn't be too surprised that notorious mass murderer Malcolm Merlyn wants to kill someone. The man makes a good point. Thea tells Roy how Merlyn was the only one who looked out for her when Slade was taking over the city. She now understands that everything that Malcolm did, he was trying to help people.
Laurel wants to team up with Merlyn, to use him the same way he wants to use them. Felicity disagrees, but Roy is suddently on team Merlyn after talking to Thea, claiming that Merlyn cares about Thea and this city. Someone seems to have forgotten that Merlyn had Thea kill Sara in an elaborate scheme to save his own neck with Ra's al Ghul. Doesn't the fact that he was willing to put Thea in harm's way kind of prove he doesn't care all that much? Anyway, Diggle sides with Felicity, and they tell Merlyn what he can do with himself.
Back in the past, Merlyn confronts the man who he thinks killed his wife. He asks the man what drives him to steal before pulling a gun on the man. The man takes the gun away and delivers a beatdown, before dropping the gun and walking away. Bad move. Dumb move. You not only don't kill the man, but you give him the gun and turn your back on him? Malcolm picks up the gun and shoots.
Oliver finds transit back to Starling City, and Tatsu says goodbye. Before she does, she warns Oliver that he will have to sacrifice that which he holds special in order to defeat Ra's al Ghul.
Thea confronts Malcolm, and he tells her that there is nothing more to him than a killer. Ever since his wife died…flashback. Malcolm washes the blood off his hands and prepares to leave town. He tells his friend that killing the murderer did nothing, it didn't bring his wife back, it didn't cleanse his anger. But he heard of someplace he can go where that anger can be forged into something more.
The team is lamenting the fact that, after turning away Merlyn, they probably don't have enough people to take down Brick. Maybe they should have thought of that before they tried that the last time. Laurel has an idea (wow, two in one episode), get the people of the city to help. Laurel goes to confront her trainer, Ted Grant (J.R. Ramirez). He is mad because he told her she wasn't ready, she asks for help. Roy goes to see Sin (Bex Taylor-Krause).
Laurel and Roy go after Brick again, this time with a crapload of backup. Brick sends his men in against them. They are all holding machine guns, but for some reason they decide to charge in with their fists. Lets see, they're outnumbered, but they have the guns. So they decide not to use the guns. Makes perfect sense. And makes me wonder if I actually put on the end of The Dark Knight Rises by mistake. Anyway, Brick beats up Grant before ducking down an alleyway and straight into Merlyn. Meanwhile, Roy is saved by an arrow, which he and Laurel assume means Oliver is back. Except that everyone in Starling City seems to use a bow and arrow, but whatever. Merlyn pistol whips Brick until he confesses. He is about to kill Brick when Oliver steps in (guess it was his arrow). Merlyn says that had he killed Brick 21 years ago, everything could be different. The League, the Undertaking, Tommy, everything. He doesn't go into specifics on how it would be different, but hey, it's a tv show. Oliver tells Merlyn he can make a different choice this time, for Thea. It works. Oliver thanks the people for taking care of the city in his absence and promises never to leave it again.
Captain Lance runs into Sin. She tells him that the woman running around in black latex is not Sara. So much for keeping him in the dark.
Merlyn tells Thea that he didn't kill the man, not for her, but for him because of her. Oliver walks in, gives a lame excuse to Thea for being gone and is civil with Malcolm. She goes to make drinks, leaving Oliver and Malcolm to talk. Malcolm again spews on about how Thea is his chance for redemption, while Oliver points out that whole problem with having her kill Sara. Their conversation ends with Oliver asking Malcolm to train him to beat Ra's al Ghul.
Malcolm's last flashback shows him arriving at the League of Assassins where a very young Nissa is training. She threatens to kill Merlyn until he pulls a coin from behind her ear. Yes, that happened. She was going to kill him, except that he could do the one magic trick that every single grandfather in the world can do.
Reunion time. Everyone is really happy to see Oliver. He congratulates his team on a job well done saving the Glades. Oliver tells them that he and Merlyn are working on a plan to beat Ra's al Ghul. Felicity is not too happy with that and storms off. Oliver goes after her, telling her she isn't upset about his working with Merlyn. She tells him that she fantasized that being away would change him, change things between them. She reminds him that before he left he told her he loved her, but "Now you're back and the first thing you tell me is you're working with the man who turned your sister, a woman 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."
Wow. That was a great little speech by Felicity to end the episode, and Emily Bett Rickards was terrific. Something about that last line, "I don't want to be a woman that you love" just killed me. In just a couple of statements she was able to point out just how much Oliver is betraying by working with Merlyn.
Unfortunately, the rest of the episode was nowhere near as good. The writers really missed an opportunity here. I touched on it last week, but Brick just wasn't developed enough to justify the ending of this episode. The whole city rising up against the villain could have been great, if we saw more of the people of the Glardes suffering under Brick's rule. But he only took over the Glades at the very end of the last episode, and there were maybe two scenes of his people taking money from businesses in this episode. We needed more in order for the ending to have the emotional impact the writers were going for. Brick should have been introduced early in the season, he should have been building his forces for weeks.
Imagine the impact if Oliver hadn't gotten around to taking care of Brick because he was preoccupied with Ra's al Ghul and protecting Thea. Oliver would have had a real reason to feel that he had let the city down and would have to live with everything that had happened. Plus, Brick could have taken over the Glades two episodes ago rather than just being introduced then. Between last week and this week, we could have seen the Glades being terrorized, people afraid to leave their homes, businesses destroyed, people beaten for no reason. Then, when those people rose up against their tormentors, there would have been an emotional payoff. Instead, we got a scene that was kind of cool and that's it.
I'm starting to think the League of Assassins isn't very good at their job. They have a vendetta against Malcolm Merlyn, but he's still alive. Then they want Oliver dead, but he's still around, and apparently isn't even going to bother hiding.
Getting the flashbacks from Merlyn was interesting, at least until the last one which made me laugh at the ridiculousness of it. I didn't expect Merlyn to seek out the League after killing the man (he thought) killed his wife; I thought that he would get training for that reason. The writers did a good job of humanizing him a little…by having him become a member of the League after getting vengeance, it makes it more noble, he is doing it to protect others, not to sate his own need for revenge.
I'm curious where the show goes from here. Obviously Merlyn will be training Oliver for awhile, followed by another showdown with Ra's al Ghul. There is also the rise of the Black Canary and A.T.O.M. But, the second half of the first season was about Merlyn's plan for the Glades while the second half of the second season was Slade's plan to destroy Starling City and Oliver. To this point, we don't have anything similar for this season. We don't know of any plans that Ra's has for Starling City yet, nor have any other villains been setup yet. I hope there is something, because this show works best when it is building throughout the season towards the big showdown and Oliver training with Merlyn for 10 episodes or so won't be enough to get that done.
Rich Epstein writes for Bleeding Cool. He can be found on twitter at @kaspe_r11.