The people who make Arrow love comic books, or at least the big 3 producers do: Kreisberg, Guggenheim & Berlanti. All three of them had written for DC Comics in some capacity before creating Arrow and The Flash. If all three of them had been on set together during the filming of “Uprising” I imagine they would have exchanged lots of high-fives and “Can you believe we get to do this for a living?” stares. This wasn’t a season/mid-season premiere or finale/mid-season finale. It’s barely even the start of a Nielsen 2015 sweeps period. Yet here they were with a city block to themselves (granted, not an actual city block but instead some studio backlot) to pit an army of goons led by famed former footballer Vinnie Jones against an army led by a junior Justice League consisting of Arsenal, Black Canary, Sin, Wildcat, and even a character they themselves created, John Diggle. To top it off, the battle’s climax would see Stephen Amell swooping back in after a two episode absence. If only Oliver had locked horns with Brick in the middle of the battle for a Batman vs. Bane situation their Dark Knight Rises impression would be complete (Arrow repeatedly goes back to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy). That didn’t quite happen, but it again felt like they’d watched Dark Knight Rises and thought, “It’d be so cool to do that someday.”
Now they’ve done it twice. In the three-part season 2 finale, Team Arrow was faced with a scenario of a city under siege, the military blocking off exits and sending in the bomb. The result was a colossal battle between a police force led by the costumed heroes against an army of the bad guy’s men. What that lacked, though, was the community organizing part of it, like how Commissioner Gordon, the Joseph Gordon-Levitt Robin and other plain clothed officers had to coordinate their plans in secret and go door-to-door to drum up support among the citizens. So, in “Uprising” it was not an army of cops but instead the disenfranchised citizens of The Glades standing up to injustice, recruited by a plain clothed Laurel and Roy via Sin and Ted Grant’s many contacts. Just as in TDKR, the city had abandoned these people after giving in to the demands of a terrorist who controlled his newly won territory with force and fear.
However, this type of story presents more questions than answers (e.g., the nitty-gritty of how the abandoned society works), and not even The Dark Knight Rises really pulled it off. The comic book they took it from, “No Man’s Land,” devoted all of 1999 to doing the story right. Arrow has far fewer resources than TDKR. So, they paint in broad strokes, high-fiving each other over how cool it is without stopping to give us any kind of sense of who exactly the disenfranchised many participating in this uprising are. I looked at the collection of extras comprising Team Arrow’s army and asked, “Who the hell are these people?” The show’s answer is mostly “Those poor bastards who live in the Glades.” The two non-regular character representatives of The Glades in this episode are Ted Grant and Sin, neither of whom have been seen or even referenced in it seems like forever. It is difficult, then, to feel much of anything when Ted is beaten nearly to death by Brick in the middle of the battle.
This is the part where the extreme coolness of getting to do a storyline like this likely rubs against the practical matters of running a TV show. The reason Sin hasn’t been around is probably because the actress who plays her, Bex Taylor-Klaus, landed one of the lead roles in MTV’s TV series adaptation of Scream. For all we know, there are contractual or budgetary reasons for why J.R. Ramirez’s Ted Grant suddenly fell off the face of the Earth, and to film any kind of scene having Sin and Ted recruiting their army would mean potentially having to give some of those extras and stunt people actual lines. It’s also a “How did Batman get back into Gotham City in Dark Knight Rises?” proposition: Do you actually want or care to see those scenes?
It does seem like they are falling into a pattern whereby the extreme escalation they go to is to strip the city or The Glades of outside support thus creating a scenario where only our vigilantes can save the day, albeit with the assistance of a bunch of nameless stunt people. It ultimately comes off as Arrow trying to do something it can’t quite afford, but the sheer ambition on display is so, well, cool that I too would be giving them a high five after filming the climactic fight scene in “Uprising.”
That’s How They Had Oliver Return? | Or at least I would have been giving the producers high fives if they had figured out a better way to incorporate Oliver’s return. As LivingTheGeekLife put it, “The way Oliver’s return was handled was less exciting than it should have been. By not showing things from his side and by cutting away from his actual arrival on either scene, the impact of his triumphant return was dampened […]That was the only real downer in the story. It was a big downer, though.” Their hands were tied by the fact that Oliver is still nursing his injury, but bringing him back from the dead and dropping him in at the climax of a major street brawl involving just about everyone he knows should have been far more of a rah-rah moment than it was here. Their timelines were also very confusing because we still have no idea how far away Oliver was from Starling City. That cabin certainly looked very remote, and cross-cutting between the escalations at home and Oliver’s need to get there made it feel like those things were happening at the same time but Oliver was still far away. Then he just shows up in the middle of the fight, trusting we’ll pump our fist in the air without asking, “But, wait, when the hell did he get there? Does he even really know what’s going on?”
They’re Trying to Rehabilitate Malcolm Merlyn? | I am surprised that Barrowman was given any need of a flashback wig. To me, it felt like season 1 had already pretty well covered all of this material involving his reaction to his wife’s death, leaving us not at all curious as to what Malcolm was like before he lost his soul but instead what his training with The League of Assassins was like. They are entering into a potential redemptive phase for him, though, and thus they felt the need to remind us that he wasn’t always a monster. Team Arrow still clearly views him as a monster, a worst case scenario of what they could someday let themselves become. So, the show is clearly not completely tone-deaf to his prior sins, as all of the bad things he’s done received some lip service in this episode, yet Thea clearly wants to believe in him and by virtue of these flashbacks the show seems to wants us to find him at least tolerable. Heck, he even got a hero moment, bailing Roy and Laurel out when Brick was about to kill them. It’s like him telling Oliver that he did feel awfully bad about brainwashing Thea into killing Sara is supposed to be some kind of, “See – There’s some good there!” when in fact the mere fact that he did that completely undercuts any real drama to be had from the show’s attempt to ponder his moral rehabilitation.
To his credit, Barrowman completely nailed his final confrontation with Oliver and Brick, particularly the part where he referenced regret for having caused Tommy’s death. The problem is that Malcolm has been elevated on this show to such a level of epic scheming and general evil-doing that we’re not meant to question how he keeps breaking into the Arrow Cave or how he hacked Felicity’s webcam. He’s just a badass bad guy, duh. As a result, it’s hard not to think that he could just be playing Oliver in that scene with Brick just as you might assume his plan with Thea all along was to use her as a pawn in his game against Ra’s al Guhl thus meaning saving her at that train platform last season was simply part of his scheme. So, to be honest, I found all of this business with Malcolm to be a waste of time, but I did at least enjoy seeing Barrowman given something slightly new to play with this character.
The Democratic Team Arrow | Team Arrow has always been a “my way or the highway proposition” in which everyone just follows Oliver’s lead, only questioning him in extreme situations (which, admittedly, happens a lot). Seeing them having to even figure out the practical matter of how they make group decisions without him was fun, and it does seem as if Oliver’s absence finally gave the show’s writers a better handle on what to do with Roy, Colton Haynes’ limitations be damned. I honestly thought Team Arrow was going to side with Malcolm because the show had gone all in on making Brick seem unstoppable, although it’s ridiculous Diggle never got a second round with him. This was one of those scenarios in which you get to indirectly debate the nature of heroism by presenting the good guys with a solution which though practical and possibly necessary is also morally wrong. You then see how they react, and Felicity proved to morally inflexible, Roy more practical, and Laurel and Diggle somewhat torn before Diggle got to tell Malcolm to get lost.
Felicity Doesn’t Want to Be…I Don’t Know | Those people who say that they hate what this show has done to Felicity can probably point to her scene with Oliver at the end of this episode. Oh, it’s a very well-acted scene, with her delivery of “I don’t want to be a woman you love” landing like a fist to the jaw. However, now Felicity has become a “cost of his heroic burden” character who hugs Oliver one second and then speechifies at him the next, giving us almost zero chance to see anyone else on the team – like, maybe Diggle – rejoice that Oliver’s not dead. Felicity is likely the sacrifice of what’s nearest to him Katana told Oliver he’d have to make in order to defeat Ra’s al Guhl. On a normal show, the way you prolong a will they, won’t they is you give them rival spouses, new job opportunities, etc. Well, Arrow’s way of prolonging Olicity is to make Oliver have to partner with Malcolm Merlyn to learn how to beat Ra’s al Guhl, which is just a supremely ridiculously scenario they’ve written themselves into. I recently caught a lapsed Arrow fan up on what’s happened this season, and she had one honest and super obvious question, “I don’t understand. Why doesn’t Malcolm just fight Ra’s on his own? Couldn’t he have challenged him to that same mountain duel?” I don’t think the show has given a sufficient answer beyond, “Well, clearly the actual star of the show is going to have to fight the big bad.” Beyond all that, it feels like they are just spinning Felicity around this season, and if her running away from Team Arrow seems familiar it’s because she just did it two weeks ago. This will again cause her to run to Ray Palmer in her on-going “Maybe I can make you into a better version of Oliver” act.
What Do You Mean She’s Not Sara? | Well, we’re finally getting somewhere with Quentin figuring out that Sara’s not so much alive anymore, and the “That girl in the wig was not Sara” reveal from Sin was a good use of that character. Of course, anyone with eyes could look at Laurel’s Canary and Sara’s Canary and notice they’re not the same person, and not just because Sara brought a whole lot of cleavage to the table while Laurel’s gone with a more practical outfit. However, Sin would clearly notice a difference. It’s a bit funny that Quentin would immediately recognize Roy as Arsenal (a scene I loved, btw) but have no clue about Laurel as Black Canary, even after he saw that cell phone footage of her in action last week. However, he’s probably blinded by a father’s love…oh, and by the fact that Laurel used Sara’s freaking voice to lie to him! Either way, at long last, this nightmare of a truly awful storyline might be nearing its end. I hope.
NUMBER OF EPISODES LAUREL HAS GONE WITHOUT TELLING HER DAD HIS OTHER DAUGHTER DIED: 11
NUMBER OF EPISODES LAUREL HAS ACTUALLY USED SARA’S VOICE TO FOOL HER DAD: 1
THE BOTTOM LINE
My DVR briefly stopped working and rebooted itself around the time I had just 10 minutes left in this episode – this episode which had tried to make me care about Malcolm Merlyn, breezed through Oliver’s rehab and attempted return home, and engineered another Dark Knight Rises scenario. I felt like I was down on the episode, but when faced with the possibility of not being able to actually see how it all turned out I was surprised at how annoyed I was. I simply had to see that final fight against Brick, and I had to see how everyone reacted to Oliver’s return. That should tell you that for as down as I was on a lot of elements of this episode I did find it surprisingly compelling, particularly Team Arrow’s debate against Malcolm.
1. To borrow a recent joke from Showtime’s Episodes, Barrowman is the odd celebrity who might look younger now than he did several years ago. So, seeing him play a version of himself from 20 years ago in flashbacks was interesting.
2. I loved Katie Cassidy’s reaction when Roy revealed that Malcolm saved Thea at the train station the night of the siege. It was a classic, “Well, I didn’t know that, but I honestly have no idea how to react so I’ll just shuffle my feet.” I don’t meant to pick on her, though. In general, the show’s treatment of this revelation was far too overblown as well as reliant upon us remembering that we’re 12 episodes removed from when that happened and nobody else knew about it yet.
3. I will seriously laugh out loud for a long time if Quentin actually has a heartache upon hearing the news not just of Sara’s death but also of Laurel’s cover-up. It will just be so stupid.
4. It is still silly that Diggle would be tied to the Arrow Cave duty while letting Roy and Laurel do the fighting. Unless you explain that they don’t want to leave his child without a father. Yeah, they don’t even talk about that kid anymore.
5. Oliver has no good explanation for how he’s still alive because “I just had the will to live” is pretty shitty.
6. At this point, I almost want Arrow’s wigs to be kind of not great, as with Barrowman’s in the “Uprising” flashbacks. Where’s the fun in it if the flashback wigs on this show suddenly became Oscar-caliber? It’s kind of like how old age make-up on Doctor Who is always kind of endearingly dodgy in an “Awww, they really don’t have a ton of money, do they?” kind of way.
Tv.com – “The result of all this is that Felicity likely throws herself into herself into making sure Ray doesn’t make the same mistakes-slash-compromises that Oliver has…unless she decides she wants to quit that again, too. The show’s pinballing her around a lot lately, so I’m honestly not sure what’s going to happen with her. I just know that I’m going to need to show to really sell me on the idea of Felicity circling back to Team Arrow after this because, otherwise, why did they bother?”