Unchained review – 1+1= solid episode

Since Colton Haynes’ Roy left in the closing stages of season three, the absence of Arsenal has gone mostly unnoticed, thanks to former flame Thea effectively taking up the exact same role, and arguably that aspect of the team has become more interesting as a result. That being said, Haynes’ return in Unchained made for a nice hour, even if a somewhat unspectacular one.

Putting him on the opposing side, even if for a short while, was a smart and intriguing move that, while mostly predictable if you knew that Roy would be back, provided a nice set-up to introduce the episode’s main villain, The Calculator. Once we moved past that, his story became more focused around reuniting (albeit temporarily) with Thea and redeeming himself for his actions while under The Calculator’s command. This was nothing special, or anything especially groundbreaking for television or Arrow itself, but it made for some good moments in an episode that was, essentially, filler (as is often the case with the first few outings in the show’s post-Christmas run).

Yet, I have no real desire to see him return at any time soon. There’s nowhere that his character can go, certainly not that I can see. Even this return was a bit of a stretch, but as it served to fully wrap up his character – something that was done with some success last year – it wasn’t too big of an issue. Bringing him back again would feel very much like the show was forcing him upon us, including him where there was no real need to do so, particularly with Thea around (assuming she survives next week, of course). Perhaps if they can find a natural way of using him, it can work, but it’s unnecessary for the moment, certainly given how much else is going on this season.

As for The Calculator himself… while I’m glad that Felicity’s father isn’t Damien Darhk, as the rumour had been prior to the season premiere, this reveal was more than predictable. There’s potential here, but I’m reluctant to expect much from this story.

The biggest issue that the episode had by using The Calculator was that the hour was starved of the type of action set-pieces that you’d associate with Arrow. This didn’t necessarily detract too much, but the middle portion of the episode felt a little like it wasn’t sure what to do without some kind of battle to move things along. Everything built to one encounter, save for Nyssa’s mission (more on that later), and so the structure that we’re used to fell away slightly. As an experiment, it’s not too bad, but I’d be reluctant to accept this as becoming a norm for the show. In terms of the villain side of the character, he was certainly a step up from our last hacker villain, Brother Eye, though that doesn’t say especially much. Like with Roy, this was nothing standout, but it was a solid enough plot that kept things moving throughout Unchained, and it gave more for Felicity to do that wasn’t relationship drama, which I approve of.

Speaking of Felicity, I enjoyed the C-plot of her attempting to give the presentation at Palmer Tech. We saw last week that she had problems adapting mentally to the wheelchair, and I was glad to see those weren’t dropped here, despite being shielded early on by an illusion that they were physical in her inability to move freely in the chair. Arrow’s brief attempt at social commentary fell pretty much flat on its face, with the board member who belittled Felicity for her unprofessional test run at the presentation coming off as cliché and over-the-top harsh, but that didn’t affect the resulting story.

The bloodlust began to affect Thea once again, but not in the same way as we saw earlier on in the season. Rather than her having a desire to kill, instead, she was left being drained of life as a substitute for her lack of killing in recent weeks. That idea wasn’t fantastic, but what can from it was pretty great. It never seemed like Thea was truly headed for death – and, with the reveal of whose grave it is coming in approximately seven episodes time, it would have been overkill to remove another character from the fold; Thea’s death would have also substantially diminished the impact of the unknown death – but watching Oliver and Malcolm struggle with her health decline gave some real meat to Unchained. While Arrow’s ‘quiet’ episodes have been delivered with widely varying success, Oliver’s emotion surrounding the death, or potential death, of a loved one has remained something that usually delivers a punch. Stephen Amell isn’t getting recognised by any major award body any time soon, but he often nails these scenes, and the final moments as he pleaded with Thea’s comatose body not to die was no exception.

Elsewhere in Unchained, Nyssa sought out the Lotus from Tatsu, whom she surprisingly (given that Arrow has killed off or forgotten about virtually every other character that will be appearing in Suicide Squad this August) didn’t kill in a fun action sequence. Nyssa then requested that Oliver dispose of Malcolm Merlyn in exchange for his sister’s life. That set things up nicely for next week, though I do wonder as to why Nyssa just doesn’t try and kill the new Ra’s al Ghul herself.

We were back to Lian Yu in the flashbacks, with Celina Jade’s Shado returning… in a hallucination. I’m not especially sure what Oliver was supposed to gain from it, but he suddenly had the hosen (from the first season, along with season two’s Identity) and admitted to Taiana that he killed Vlad, who responded by giving Reiter the hosen. Again, pretty forgettable stuff.

Unchained wasn’t the type of episode to be looked back upon fondly, or even one to be kept at the front of the mind. But it was a solid enough filler hour that progressed both Thea and Felicity’s storylines along and tied a nice bow on Roy’s role in Arrow.

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