Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Arrow 'Unchained' Review

This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt for you please do not read further.

'Unchained' is one of those episodes of Arrow that uses the mythology and extended universe that it has created over it's four seasons to deliver an action packed episode.  We get not one, not even two, but four returning characters!  Thankfully though it never feels crowded or too cluttered.

The episode opens in Nanda Parbat, where we find Nyssa al Ghul, still being held captive by Malcolm Merlyn since he took over the League of Assassins.  Nyssa, never to be underestimated, organises a bloody jailbreak and escapes from captivity, allowing her and a few members of the League loyal to her to take over Nanda Parbat whilst Malcolm is away in Star City,

We get to see more of Nyssa over the course of the episode as she travels to Japan to track down a mysterious White Lotus, for reasons not apparent until the end of the episode (more on that later), where we also get the return of Tatsu/Katana, in a short but sweet sword fight between the two women warriors.

Back over in Star City things have taken an interesting turn as Roy Harper makes a surprise return, this time as a thief, stealing high-tech components from various business firms around the city.  Over the course of the episode we discover that Roy is actually under the control of this weeks villain, a hacker and techie called The Calculator.

Comic book fans will be familiar with the character from the pages of Batman, Birds of Prey and Teen Titans.  This is another example of bringing in a character with little history with the characters on Arrow in their comic book forms, and shoehorning a connection in, with the television version of The Calculator being the father of Felicity Smoak.  The connection to Felicity as her father goes against who the character is in the books, unless they are saying that Felicity is actually Wendy Harris?

More likely the people behind Arrow are trying to make Felicity seem more like Oracle than they already have, after all, the rivalry between Overwatch and The Calculator this episode is very much the same kind of relationship that The Calculator and Oracle have in the books.  After going out of their way to make a bad joke that Felicity isn't Oracle last week they've gone and reinforced the similarities more than before.  I'm not sure what the show runners are trying to do at the minute, but it doesn't seem to be making a great deal of sense.

In this weeks Lian Yu flashbacks Oliver is tortured at the hands of Baron Reiter when things take a dramatic turn  and Ollie is saved by Shado.  Unfortunately things aren't what they seem and Shado isn't back from the dead, instead it's all part of some mystic vision brought on by the magic tattoo given to him by John Constantine.  Oliver emerges from the vision with a strange stone covered in carvings.  It's not clear yet what this mysterious artifact is all about or how it will play out, but things are definitely getting weirder in Ollies flashbacks.

During the course of the episode Thea has been facing her mortality as the magic from the Lazarus Pit that brought her back to life begins to wear out.  With Thea refusing to take another life to extend her own her own life has started to run out, with the sword wound Ras' gave her returning and fading away again in spurts.  With Thea close to death the episode ends with Nyssa coming to see Oliver, telling him that she can save Thea's life, but only if he kills Merlyn.

The whole Thea story this week definitely feels like it's in service of Oliver's story, as it's yet another of the shows female characters being made to suffer simply for Ollie to have something to brood over and blame himself for.  It's a pattern that's been going on since season one, and has become so apparent that even Diggle is pointing out that Oliver blaming himself for things is his superpower.  It's poor storytelling, and it's a lazy way to treat both the characters and the fans.  Oliver can have things going on in his life without the people around him having to suffer because of him, and the supporting characters deserve to be more than simply challenges for Oliver to face.

The whole scenario has been done before, and it felt old and boring long before this point, but I guess the best the female characters in this show can hope for is to eventually be the latest 'helpless' woman in Olivers life for him to feel guilty for.

There are some good moments in 'Unchained', but there's too much rehash of things we've seen before, and a character from the comics being used in a baffling way.  With 'Flash' and 'Legends of Tomorrow' doing so well at the minute they just serve to highlight the flaws in 'Arrow' even further.  Hopefully the show will start to pick up in quality soon, as right now it's definitely the weakest of the CW shows.


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