Recap: Arrow, “Uprising” (3×12)

Malcolm Merlyn wasn’t always a cold, manipulative murderer. Once upon a time, he was a geeky, overworked father (with the requisite terrible flashback wig) who did magic tricks for the son he adored. It wasn’t megalomania or sociopathic urges that drove Malcolm to shoot his first man. No, he did that out of grief, seeking revenge for the death of the wife that he worshipped. Everything after that, though? All that was a choice, and it’s a choice that a resurrected Oliver Queen is now faced with making.

“I don’t want to be a woman you love.” Felicity’s gut wrenching declaration to Oliver, mere minutes after their reunion, nicely encapsulates all of Oliver’s fears and failures, and Stephen Amell sells the hell out of facing down a painful truth. The women around Oliver Queen (well, most people around Oliver Queen) don’t fare well. Mom? Dead. Shado? Dead. Sara? Dead twice. Thea? Unwitting murderer. Laurel? Alcoholic vigilante. But Felicity loves Oliver AND the Arrow so much that she’s willing to risk being loved by him as long as he stands by his principles. But when Oliver announces his willingness to muddy the waters by training with Malclom Merlyn in order to kill Ra’s al Ghul, the risk outweighs the reward. The unthinkable has happened, and Felicity has to walk away. (Somewhere, Ray Palmer is fist-pumping with glee.)

If everyone didn’t care about Oliver so damn much and we didn’t know how hard he fought to return, it would almost be insulting how he sweeps in at the end of the Battle of the Glades, shoots a couple of arrows, speechifies, and reclaims his place. Black Canary and Arsenal may only look like “trick-or-treaters” to Brick (seriously, his exasperated “Really?” when Malcolm showed up in a mask was priceless), but their plan to unite the Glades behind them worked. Their gang, including Ted and Sin, beat up Brick’s gang and Malcolm took down Brick himself. Just when Team Arrow unites into its own mini-democracy and starts moving on, Oliver returns to upend their first vote and change the group’s trajectory. But, let’s face it: Ra’s al Ghul is going to figure out sooner or later who really killed Sara, and he’ll come after Thea. The only hope Starling City has is for the Arrow and Malcolm the Magician to temporarily ally, and the look on Roy’s face when he sees Ollie’s arrow hit a nearby goon tells you all you need to know about the value of his reappearance.

Making the enemy of your enemy into your friend is a comic book staple, right alongside a seemingly solid alliance falling apart. In order for us to buy Team Arrow – sans Felicity – being okay with Oliver’s choice to team up with Malcolm, there needed to be some glimmer of humanity in him, even if he stubbornly refuses to recognize its presence. (“When you have killed 503 people, including your own son, you tend not to worry about scales.”) The writers deserve credit for laying that groundwork by emphasizing Thea’s point of view last week and reiterating it this week: Malcolm may claim to be an assassin with a heart of stone, but he does care about Thea, and he made her safety and well-being his first priority. Well – he did when he wasn’t drugging her and making her kill her brother’s girlfriend, but hey, for Malcolm, that’s pretty good.

It turns out Rebecca Merlyn’s murder was an initiation for both Brick and Malcolm: it got Brick into a gang and sent Malcolm down his dark path. Malcolm’s rage upon finding out that Brick was the true murderer wasn’t just because his wife’s death wasn’t avenged, but rather it was for what Malcolm now perceived as a wasted life. “If I had taken care of him back then, it could all be different. The League, the Undertaking, Tommy – every choice I have made since my wife died,” Malcolm laments as Oliver convinces him not to kill Brick. Malcolm doesn’t regret shooting the wrong killer because the man was innocent; he regrets that the act failed to give him closure. If he had gotten it right the first time, maybe his rage and bloodlust would have been satiated. Maybe 502 people would still be alive (or at least dead by someone else’s hand), Robert Queen and Tommy Merlyn among them. Yet Oliver, no stranger to killing, knows down that path lies dragons and is focused on convincing Malcolm to work together to protect the only family* either has left: Thea.

*Excluding Oliver’s secret love child in Central City.

Now that the Glades is rid of Brick and his merry henchmen, Team Arrow can focus all their energy on preparing for Ra’s al Ghul’s inevitable return. Tatsu told Oliver that in order to defeat Ra’s, he would have to sacrifice what was most dear to him. Is Felicity’s love a steep enough price, or is there more loss in store?

Odds & Ends

– Upon finding out where Brick was hiding: Laurel – “Felicity, that’s the Glades precinct.” Roy – “Well, it’s not like the police are using it” Felicity – “Great, we can add irony to the list of charges against Brick.”

– “Only the student can defeat the master” means that Malcolm will eventually meet his demise at Thea’s hands, right?

– At first glance, it may seem eye-rollingly weird that Detective Lance can’t tell Laurel’s impersonating Sara when Sin was able to tell immediately from her fighting style, but I can tell you that I’ve completely changed my hair color and my dad didn’t notice. That said, Detective Lance did see through all the “leather and lace” to recognize Roy, so maybe it’s a valid complaint in this case.

– I try very, very hard not to overly objectify Stephen Amell in these recaps, but my opening note for this episode was, “Oliver, wearing too many clothes, tries to leave Tatsu’s.” Trying isn’t always synonymous with succeeding.