Arrow TV Reviews

Arrow’s “Unchained” (S4,EP12): My Choice, My Life

Someone on this show is going to end up in that grave at the end of the season, and Oliver is going to pledge vengeance, backed by Felicity’s hearty endorsement. However, at this rate whoever ends up in that grave will probably have told Oliver at some point that he should stop feeling responsible because regardless of what happens to them it’s their life and their choice.

In “Unchained,” both Thea and Roy say the  line, “It’s my choice. It’s my life,” echoing what Felicity told Oliver last week. Laurel has also used that same basic line, both with Oliver and her dad.  In short, everyone on the show seems to be in a rush to claim their own agency lately.

Not only that, they’re also quick to criticize Oliver for his tendency to put the weight of the world on his shoulders. In fact, Roy accuses him of exactly that in “Unchained,” one of three instances in the episode where Oliver was told to refrain from taking on the responsibility of the world. Diggle said that was Oliver’s superpower, joking that he should really be called “Guilt Arrow.” Thea, weak and dying from her un-satiated blood lust, claimed that she loved that part of Oliver, but that he needed to stop blaming himself for her condition. In Roy’s case, he marveled that after all this time Oliver still deeply blames himself for how Roy took the fall him.

Both Laurel AND Felicity had similar conversations with Oliver last week, chastising him for feeling so guilty over Felicity’s injury when in fact he should respect her ability to make her choices and take her own risks.

Welcome to season 4 Oliver Queen. On some level, he’s still who he’s always been, but season 4 Oliver is continually more aware of what he would have normally done in past seasons and that he needs to try and break that cycle. We know someone dies, but he doesn’t. His efforts to resist his natural inclination to indulge his hero complex and over-protective nature are signs of growth and maturity, but they’re also warning signs that his reluctance to follow his natural impulses might ultimately end in tragedy.

It’s all been remarkably more interesting to behold than I expected, and bravo to Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle for bringing this new element to the series. Granted, it hasn’t exactly been subtle, and having not one but two characters repeat the same exact message to Oliver in “Unchained” was just lazy and annoying. Still, I like watching a hero who is trying to become the type of person who actually listens to his loved ones rather than always rushing to take the blame and save them at all cost, even if in the latter scenario his heart was in the right place.

Well, gosh, that’s swell, Kelly, but you haven’t really talked about “Unchained” yet. Isn’t this supposed to be a review of that episode?

Uh-uh. Don’t wanna.

What do you mean, “Don’t wanna”? Just stop dancing around everything and get to it already: did you like the episode or not?

Oh, not. So very, very not. You could say that “Unchained”…

CSI PunScrew it. I’m not even going to make a “chain” pun here. I’m just going to say that “Unchained” wasn’t so much bad as it was dumb. Let me count the ways:

Mayoral candidate Oliver Queen actually engaged in some nighttime vigilantism without a mask or any kind of costume.

Roy came back, reunited with the team after having some tracking tech removed from his eye and then he was mostly off-screen until the final act of the episode.

Oliver had a pain-induced vision of Shado in the flashbacks, and once she announced that she was just a vision they then meditated together. With the aid of Shado-vision he directed all of his guilt toward a rock which he clutched onto once he woke up and finally told island flashback girl that he killed her brother. He hopes that she can love him and rescue him from the darkness inside of him just, you know, once she gets over the whole “killed your brother” thing.

Thea hasn’t killed anyone in so long that she lost all strength, nearly collapsed off a building and then slowly withered away back in her apartment, freaking out at one point when Ra’s al Ghul’s sword wound re-opened on her chest. By the end, she slipped into a coma.

Nyssa led an uprising at the League, and then popped over to a Japanese temple where Katana now stands as a guard and member of, um, some ancient sisterhood of whatever. They fought to a draw, but Nyssa struck a deal with her.

There was a sprinkling of disability discrimination from a Palmer Tech board member who didn’t think Felicity should deliver a make-or-break presentation since she is now consigned to that wheelchair. That actually kind of works, but it’s also kind of serious material which feels trivialized when placed next to Oliver’s idiotic meditating flashbacks and Nyssa being winded after 1 minute of sword fighting with Katana.

Arrow -- "Unchained" -- Image AR412B_0543b.jpg -- Pictured: Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak -- Photo: Liane Hentscher/ The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.The villain of the piece had a silly, self-assigned code name (“Calculator”), and he wanted to destroy the town for…some reason.

A beeper came into play at some point.

Parts of all that craziness worked. The episode did, after all, open with a pretty fun ninja-on-ninja brawl at Nanda Parbat. The speech Curtis gave Felicity about how she’s a force of nature was lovely and a reminder that Echo Kellum needs to be in this show as often as his schedule will allow. Felicity’s annoyance with the idiotic bad guy name “Calculator” was consistently amusing, and her computer hacker stand-off with him was about as cinematic as possible. Tom Amandes was nicely arrogant and cold as Calculator, who is, as widely predicted, actually Felicity’s dad. If you want to say that perhaps the Calculator’s plan the whole time was to merely test Felicity (instead of actually intending to kill thousands of innocents) then this entire episode suddenly seems more interesting.

It is pretty rich for me to be calling “Unchained” dumb when so much of Arrow is now at some level pretty dumb, just enjoyably so. Maybe in this case I was more inclined to think that because there was just so much going on, and all of it seemed to be happening in a different version of Arrow, the assassins and their ancient traditions in Nanda Parbat, the worthless flashbacks getting oddly spiritual, Thea preaching to Oliver about respecting her decisions while a gaping chest wound re-opens and closes on her body, Felicity going firewall e firewall with a rival hacker and Roy opening things up with some of his classic parkour. Last week’s episode and its dual plots of Felicity’s hallucinations and Diggle’s flashbacks and reconciliation with his brother was about as restrained as Arrow gets, and “Unchained” was just about as undisciplined as Arrow gets. When it happens it’s not pretty.

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