TV Recap: Arrow, ‘Uprising’

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Uprising Plot Summary:

While looking for a way to defeat Danny Brickwell (Vinnie Jones), Team Arrow discovers that he killed Rebecca Merlyn. When Malcolm (John Barrowman) discovers that he took revenge on the wrong man, he offers to team up with them for a chance at Brickwell. Refusing to compromise their morals, the Team enlists the help of Sin (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and Captain Lance (Paul Blackthorne) to motivate the Glades’ citizens to fight. And just as it looks like the battle might be lost, Oliver (Stephen Amell) returns.

Let me start by saying that when I first watched the episode, I really enjoyed it. However, the more I think about it, the more I dislike what it sets up for the rest of the season.

At first blush, there was a lot to love. Though Oliver finally returns to Starling City, “Uprising” was an ensemble piece and Arrow has perhaps never handled its characters better than it did last night. Every person, even the guest stars, was vital and the huge street brawl at the end of the episode was a hell of a climax to the three-episode Brickwell arc.

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It was especially nice to see Sin (Bex Taylor-Klaus) return to assault criminals with a baseball bat and –more importantly– point out what Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne) should already be able to see with his own eyes: that the girl in the Canary costume is definitely not Sara (Caity Lotz). He is clearly poised to learn the truth about his daughter any minute and based on the look Blackthorne gave when Quentin realized Sin was right, that is going to be one devastating scene.

I also liked Malcolm’s backstory. Watching that character start on the road to becoming the monster we know now was really compelling—and not just because we got to see baby versions of Oliver, Tommy and even Nyssa. What I didn’t like was his present day storyline.

When our heroes stumbled upon the information that Brickwell killed Rebecca Merlyn, Malcolm overhears it after hacking into the webcam on the Arrow Cave computer. The fact that Felicity wouldn’t have some sort of safeguard to keep that from happening strains believability more than anything else this show has ever done. But, the writers were preoccupied with other things. They were similarly lazy in justifying why he would need to ask them to team up instead of using his League skills to quietly murder Brickwell.

The fact Team Arrow even considered Malcolm’s offer is shocking, especially for Laurel. It’s not that her character has ever been written with any sort of continuity, but I find it hard to believe the same woman who was hell-bent on killing Merlyn just a few episodes ago, would be so willing to work with him even in the direst circumstances. It was really satisfying to see the team take the moral high ground (especially Diggle’s righteous ‘F You’ speech) and rally the residents of the Glades to fight. Those people deserve to riot after what they’ve experienced the last few years — which is why it feels like such a betrayal to them, and the cause for Oliver to team up with Malcolm.

A Malcolm Merlyn redemption arc is something the show’s overall narrative doesn’t support and the character doesn’t deserve. Arrow undercut the effectiveness of its entire Season 1 arc by allowing Malcolm to miraculously live. How can the audience trust any subsequent victory Oliver experiences? The writers have made Malcolm’s continued existence work for them as a way to introduce new plotlines and villains. However, just because he didn’t kill one murderous bastard doesn’t make up for 21 years of being a reprehensible monster. He’s shown no remorse for killing hundreds of innocents in the Undertaking or for brainwashing his daughter into killing her friend for his own benefit. Despite what Thea (Willa Holland) believes, and his own seeming commitment to change, Malcolm will always justify any means in service of his ultimate goals. That means doing anything it takes to protect those he loves—including hurt them.

And that’s precisely why Felicity made the decision to push Oliver away at the end of the episode. The final scene – subtly and heartbreakingly acted by both Amell and Rickards – was totally in keeping with Felicity’s emotional state since Oliver’s apparent death. Love is a word that gets thrown around a lot on this show. Malcolm has been using his “love” for people to drive his actions for years. Oliver is now doing the same to protect Thea from Ra’s al Ghul, but he’s been doing it for years. Felicity was right in pointing out that Oliver teaming up with Merlyn is a direct betrayal of two women–Sara and Thea–that he has claimed to love. Being a woman Oliver loves is a dangerous position to be in. That’s something Oliver himself already believes, judging from the opening scene of last week’s episode.

Oliver, like Malcolm, has a history of justifying really stupid decisions for what he thinks is the greater good. I won’t deny that his best chance of beating Ra’s in their next fight is to let Malcolm train him, but like Felicity, I don’t like it. Tatsu (Rila Fukushima) said that to defeat Ra’s, Oliver would have to give up what was most precious to him. If we’re being simplistic, what’s most precious to him is Felicity — even she proved that’s not quite it. What he’s actually giving up is his commitment to justice and therefore, his heroism. Working with Merlyn to become a more effective killer is a betrayal of all of Oliver’s progress since the pilot. As a plot device, it’s a turn that’s ripe for conflict and drama, but it’s a disappointing move for the character. Starling City may have its champion back, but he’s less a hero now than when he left.

Rating: 7/10

Arrow airs Wednesday nights on The CW Network.

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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.
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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.