Arrow S04E12 “Unchained” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Sky One, Weds 8pm
Writers: Speed Weed, Beth Schwartz
Director: Kevin Fair
Essential plot points:
- In Nanda Parbat, Nyssa Al Gaul stages a daring and brutal escape from the cell Malcolm’s had her locked up in, with the help of her supporters in the League of Assassins.
- Back in Star City, Team Arrow is chasing a burglar across the rooftops after a raid on Amertek. Thea has him cornered on a ledge, but suddenly faints, giving the hooded burglar a chance to escape.
- At Palmer Tech, Felicity struggles with her presentation of Curtis’ new power cell, leading one of her board members to suggest that someone else does it to ensure a perfect launch and protect the struggling company’s stock price.
- Oliver checks up on Thea, where Malcolm is looking after his daughter. He reveals that the bloodlust relies on her taking someone else’s life, otherwise it will feed off her own life force instead. Oliver wants to find Darhk and get him to repeat what he did to Thea.
- The thief strikes again, and Oliver gives chase across the rooftops of a junkyard, eventually catching the thief… and unmasking him as Roy Harper, who promptly escapes again.
- Oliver’s campaign manager Alex calls Oliver into the election HQ to tell him a new candidate has emerged for the Mayoral race: Ruvé Adams, whom Oliver immediately recognises as Mrs Damien Darhk.
- Felicity pieces the items Roy’s stolen together and works out it could be combined to create a web bomb that could wipe out the internet. It would need a massive power source though, such as the one Curtis has just invented.
- Roy breaks into Curtis’s lab and ties to steal the battery, attacking Curtis. Oliver, Laurel and Diggle confront him, but he throws the battery out the window where a drone is waiting to catch it. Felicity spots something wrong with Roy on the CCTV, and Oliver shoots him with a tranquilliser arrow.
- Back at the lair, they find a small camera-like contact lens in Roy’s eye then resuscitate him. Roy reveals he had been hiding in Hub City before being blackmailed by someone calling himself The Calculator.
- In Japan, Nyssa visits a temple to take something called the Lotus. Standing in her way, however, is a familiar face: Tatsu. The two face off.
- Roy visits an ailing Thea, but she collapses and the wounds from where Ra’s Al Ghul stabbed her briefly reappear on her body.
- Felicity tries to exploit a back door in the software on the contact lens camera, but the Calculator is waiting for her. He reveals he’s not planning to destroy the internet, but to take down Star City.
- Fired up, Felicity returns to Palmer Technology to find a cyber security battering ram invented by Ray last year. Curtis asks her why she’s not doing the presentation, and points out the fired up version of her is the one which can deliver a shareholder-pleasing presentation.
- Felicity discovers the Calculator is installing his web nuke at a data farm outside the city. She and the Calculator get into a back and forth hacking war, while Diggle, Laurel and Roy take out the mercenaries he’s hired to install it. As the mercenaries surround the team, Oliver drops in and takes them out.
- Roy volunteers to detonate the explosives which will take out the web nuke, and blows it up just before the Calculator triggers the device.
- Felicity wipes all the data the Calculator has on Roy to make sure he can go back to living his life again – but not before his declaration of love and tearful goodbye to Thea – then goes on to give a bravura performance at the Palmer Tech presentation of the new battery, watched by Oliver… and the Calculator. Who it turns out, is Felicity’s long-absent father.
- Thea’s condition deteriorates and she’s taken to hospital, where she slips into a coma. As Oliver keeps vigil by her bedside, Nyssa appears and tells him she has a solution that could cure Thea… if Oliver kills Malcolm Merlyn!
- In flashbacks to Lian Yu, Reiter tortures Oliver to the point where he hallucinates Shado rescuing him. In his dream she tells him to forgive himself for the lives he’s taken and the choices he’s made, then gives him a totem: a pebble with strange hieroglyphs on it. When he recovers he discovers he has it in his hands for real. He confesses to Taiana that he killed her brother.
There’s a lovely if somewhat unsubtle meta-joke in “Unchained”. When the team are faced with the revelation that Roy is back in town, an amused Felicity asks, “Whose shocking return can we look forward to next?”
The answer, it turns out, is just about everyone who’s ever been in Arrow.
Okay, we’re slightly exaggerating, but in an episode where Roy Harper returns, albeit briefly, to the team, we’ve also got our first sighting of Nyssa for a few weeks, cameo appearances from Katana and Shado, and the shock twist of the villain behind all this being Felicity’s long lost father.
All this going on in an episode that also has major plot points going on in both the Lian Yu flashbacks and in the current day scenes, combined with the requisite action sequences AND a different take on the villain-of-the-week (while Neal McDonough takes a few days off).
Against all this, the return of Colton Haynes as Roy could feel somewhat overshadowed, so it is surely to their credit that his presence, both in terms of filling a storyline role and as what feels like a much-needed emotional capstone on his character, never once feels lessened by everything else going on. Likewise Haynes picks up right where he left off, stepping into the red and black like he’d never been away.
Someone whose appearance does feel tossed off, slightly, is Celina Jade, returning as Shado for the first time since the end of season two. Bringing her back as Oliver’s conscience is a nice touch – mirroring how we last saw her, as a vision haunting Slade Wilson – and makes sense in an episode filled with other cameos, but feels like something that could have made for a whole episode in itself.
Credit to director Kevin Fair, who keeps a tight reign of the dense source material to provide a slick and tautly-paced episode that balances two or three big emotional moments with slick action sequences, most notably the parkour chase. We also, for once, don’t end with a “big fight in a warehouse”, which is merely the semi-main for a big exploding warehouse instead. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
Appropriately enough, this feels like the midpoint in the story that, the Legends Of Tomorrow diversion aside, has been stepping through the gears. As well as tidying up some loose ends from earlier, “Unchained” feels like it’s laying the seeds for the next phase of this season. So much so that, with all this going on, you won’t even notice that Damien Darhk doesn’t actually appear this week. Which makes him probably the only person in the show not to…
- It’s a big hello and welcome back to Colton Haynes, who used to play Arsenal on those days he wasn’t taking ultra-cute Instagram selfies with Emily Bett Rickards. He left last year, to go be in The Rock’s disaster film San Andreas, and a Hollywood career would now appear to beckon.
- Anyone who follows Stephen Amell on Facebook will know he does a bit of parkour to work out. Which might explain the extended, and elaborate, rooftop chase between Roy and Oliver early in “Unchained”.
- Given Felicity’s ability to constantly say the most inappropriate thing, the running jokes about her putting her best foot forward, or people telling her to break a leg for good luck and so on are in bad taste or not, but it also fits the larger narrative of how people struggle to deal with others’ disabilities. They’ve done a good job so far of making Felicity a victim of Damien Darhk, not a victim of her condition, and the end of the episode caps that perfectly.
- For once, though, the best funny line ends up with Laurel, pointing out that her suggestion the thief they are chasing is just someone who can make themselves LOOK like Roy is not the oddest thing they’ve heard recently.
- It’s never really made clear quite how the camera ended up in Roy’s eye in the first place. The implication seems to be that he didn’t put it in, but that doesn’t make sense – did Noah knock tough street fighting vigilante Roy out and slip him a super contact lens?
- If you’re watching Legends Of Tomorrow alongside Arrow, there’s a weird disconnect between Malcolm saying that Constantine had cured Sara’s blood lust, and what’s actually happening on screen over on the sister show.
- Is it even worth mentioning the exceptionally dodgy science behind the “web bomb”? In a franchise with meta-humans, shrinking suits and magic it might seem churlish, but the whole web bomb stuff just seems really clunky. Cyber-villainy, eh? It’s like the last two decades never happened…
- With all the surprise returns in “Unchained”, it’s also a less required hello and welcome back to the one hospital room set the producers apparently have. I know they make the shows on a tight budget, but they’ve used the one hospital room set so often now it might as well get its own spin-off show.
And the Random:
- The Calculator, also known as Noah Kuttler, was originally an old Batman villain in the comics, as so many Arrow foes tend to be. Originally just a guy dressed like a calculator, he was retconned to become an evil version of Oracle, providing information for the bad guys in the way Barbara used to help the Bat family.
- Tom Amandes, who plays Noah, is a regular face on US telly, most famously playing Elliot Ness in the TV version of The Untouchables in the 1990s, and more recently popping up in Scandal and the TV version of Parenthood.
- Director Kevin Fair makes his Arrowverse debut with “Unchained”, although it’s not his first go-round with DC characters, having shot a bunch of Smallville episodes, including the finale. He’s done a lot of second unit work in Hollywood, including the godawful Get Carter remake, the horrendous Gwyneth Paltrow karaoke flick Duets and the big screen version of Josie And The Pussycats. Don’t hold any of them against him though.
- Roy’s been hiding out in Hub City which, in the comics, was the home of former Charlton Comics character The Question, created by the legendary Steve Ditko and later picked up by DC. The character still pops up every so often, but he’s perhaps best known these days for being the inspiration behind Rorschach in Watchmen.
- The scale referred to when describing Thea’s condition is the GSC, or Glasgow Coma Scale. Like your reviewer, it was born in Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital in the 1970s, and is used to assess the condition of patients in intensive care. A three (what Thea is recorded at) is pretty much as low as doctors can score someone without them being dead.
- When Felicity – apparently as big a Beatles fan as her old da – says the team has between “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Hey Jude” to deactivate the web nuke, that means, for the record between 2m 26s and 7m 11s. Don’t get that in Geeky Monkey, do you?
Review by Iain Hepburn. You can listen to his podcast at www.fromthesublime.com