[This is a review for Arrow season 3, episode 12: Uprising. There will be spoilers.]
To this point, the episodes since the midseason premier have focused more on Felicity, using her to tell the story of how any why people make the sacrafice that it is to be a hero. This episode shows the other side of the coin and what it looks like when someone approaches justice from the wrong angle, putting the wight of the episode on John Borrowman’s shoulders to tell the story of how Malcom Merlyn became the Dark Archer.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, we get to see Oliver’s all-too soon return from death. Actually, later in the episode he says he “almost died,” but we saw it. He got stabbed through the chest and dumped off a cliff. If he didn’t die, he should have been off of his feet for more than a few weeks. There was no Lazarus pit, as many people (including yours truly) hypothesized prior to Oliver’s return. It now appears that he was only mostly dead. As we all know, there’s a difference between mostly dead, and all dead. Oliver was a member of the former category, and just needed some “penicillin tea.”
Maybe the Lazarus pit would have been too far, but it would have been far better to either not stab Oliver through the chest and dump him off a cliff if they aren’t willing to to admit that he actually died. There may still be a an explanation coming in the form of the Alpha or Omega serums, but his return was rushed either way.
Although it may seem too soon, it couldn’t be soon enough for Starling City as Team Arrow tries to fight back Brick in The Glades. Without Oliver’s leadership, they’re unsure of how to bring stability back to The Glades, or the rest of Starling City.
As they look for a way to bring down Brick’s empire, Felicity discovers that a murder linked to Brick was performed with the same gun that was used to shoot Malcom Merlyn’s wife. It has been stated previously that Malcom avenged his wife’s death, but he now knows that he killed the wrong person. He proposes to work with Team Arrow to bring down Brick.
Without Oliver, the team feels a decision-making void. They feel need Merlyn to help bring down Brick, but nobody is used to being the ones to make the tough call. After a talk with Thea, Roy tries to explain that Malcom always has the best intentions. He started down this path to find justice for his wife. His love for Starling City, and his desire to save it, were central to his participation in The Undartaking. This is corroborated through several flashbacks from when his wife died (including a terrible wig-wearing John Borrowman), where he also makes several promises to Tommy that he will “keep him safe.” The irony here is fairly obvious, that Malcom’s attempts to save and protect people ends up getting them killed.
After a vote, Diggle tells Merlyn “once we let the ends justify the means, that’s just the first step [towards] becoming you.” Showing that the separation between the two is not merely intent, but principle. After The Undertaking, Oliver made it a matter of principle that he would no longer kill, and more recently started to question his “interrogation techniques.”
It’s a great concept and all, but they end up leading Merlyn right to Brick anyway. I’m not sure how much that diverged from what plan Merlyn had in place. Also, Roy shoots Brick right in the chest with an Arrow. Obviously, there’s suspension of disbelief here, but how did Roy know that wasn’t a killing shot? The only differentiation between Merlyn and Team Arrow here is that Team Arrrow supposedly doesn’t kill anymore, even thought they don’t shy away from shooting villains in the chest. The only difference is the stated intent, which goes back to a matter of principles, but it would be nice for the writers to establish a little more of a bright-line on that point in future episodes.
Before all this happens, Tatsu has been preparing Oliver to make the return trip. We’ve already accepted the fact that Oliver wasn’t only not dead, but apparently not even mortally wounded, and just needs to apply an ointment twice a day. The concern now, is that once he gets back to Starling to set things right, Ra’s will soon come for him, Thea, and likely anyone else they associate with.
Oliver clearly needs to improve before he can beat Ra’s, putting him in direct conflict with the principles his team back in Starling is standing by when Tatsu tells him that he “can’t beat Ra’s without fighting like him,” and “only the student has hope in defeating the master.”
Of course, Oliver’s arrival couldn’t be any sooner, and he convinces Merlyn to stay his hand against Brick. Malcom seems to have become convinced he is beyond saving, but Oliver manages to convince him that he can be a new man, starting with a single act to begin redeeming himself. In lou of Oliver actually dying and returning, Malcom’s arc here is the closest thing to a resurrection story we get with Oliver’s return.
After a tearful reunion, Oliver explains that he will be training with Merlyn, triggering a righteous rant from Felicity over violating the principles they clung to in his absence by associating with Merlyn. I’m sure this will get more exploration in the remainder of the season, but it seems fairly clear that Malcom has taken the first step down a road of redemption, and he may end up being Oliver’s biggest asset in the coming episodes.
Despite numerous thematic and narrative conflicts, there were still many excellent moments in this episode. Arsenal and Canary can’t carry the show on their own, but it was still cool to see their duo fight crime. We also got to see the biggest superhero fight on screen yet with Arsenal, Canary, Wildcat, Merlyn, and Arrow. With Ray Palmer suiting up in the A.T.O.M. suit soon, it gives just a taste of the type of mini Jusice League we could see in future crossover, or even the season finale this year.