It’s been weeks without the title character, and the skeleton crew left behind to defend Starling City is doing everything they can to keep Brick’s hoodlums from overrunning the Glades. Elsewhere in the world, Oliver himself is on the mend and ready to brave the wintry storm in order to save his city (again). He invites Tatsu to come with him, but she’s set on forging her own path.
Back in Starling City, thugs are roaming the Glades now that the police have deserted the neighborhood. Arsenal attempts to put a stop to an armed robbery, but is outnumbered … at least until Canary shows up to lend a hand. Also showing up outside the bar is Sin (Bex Taylor-Klaus), who mistakes Laurel for Sara, as Canary and Arsenal ride off on their motorcycle.
While Lance checks in with Team Arrow about their defense of the city (and to inquire about Sara), Malcolm and Thea engage in another round of swordplay in preparation for the coming attacks by the League of Assassins. Thea’s not pleased about the predicament she finds herself in, but Malcolm is trying to persuade her to become a cold-blooded killer in order to save herself. Merlyn gets his own flashback (21 years ago! John Barrowman is ageless) in which we get to see his first-ever murder. Before that moment, however, we see a loving father doting on his nightmare-prone son, Tommy. A pair of cops arrive at the mansion with the unspoken news that Malcolm’s wife has been murdered. More on this in a second.
Back at base, Team Arrow is tending to their wounds and their failing plan to stop Brick’s assault on the Glades. They’re clearly missing Oliver on a number of levels. And in a mid-episode tie-in to the previous flashback, Felicity traces a bit of evidence that ties Brick to the murder of Merlyn’s wife. Can you feel an “enemy of my enemy” type alliance on the way?
Out in the woods, Ollie is struggling to make his way; lucky for him, Tatsu is following along. He asks her for her help in besting Ra’s al Ghul at his own game, apparently willing to take up the sword against him again. Let’s see how that plays out! At the same time, Malcolm is sharpening his own sword as he deals with the revelation that he never actually properly avenged his wife’s murder. We jump back 21 years again to a grieving Merlyn and a young Ollie and Tommy. An informant gives Merlyn a photo of his wife’s murderer and leaves it up to him to do with it what he sees fit.
Meanwhile, Felicity is getting frustrated with her inability to track down Brick, but some quick work isolating walkie-talkie frequencies reveals the mobster’s headquarters at the former police precinct in the Glades. There, Brick is playing his same old macho game with a pair of his henchmen who have disappointed him. They’re interrupted by Arsenal and Canary, who are attempting to take down Brick’s militia nearly single-handed and massively under-gunned. Malcolm Merlyn shows up and saves the day, like a boss.
Hey, remember that team-up I mentioned? Yeah, here it is. And while Malcolm is wheeling and dealing with Team Arrow in order to take down Brick, Roy is chatting up Thea at the nearly deserted club. She makes it clear to him that Malcolm may be a killer but he also protects the people he cares about, especially Thea. Roy returns to their HQ (which is … downstairs) and attempts to, get this, vouch for Malcolm Merlyn, based on Thea’s confession (apparently forgetting that Malcolm also drugged her and persuaded her into killing Sara…). The team votes, and Diggle breaks the bad news to Merlyn; they’re not interested in his help, nor are they looking to walk down his path.
Speaking of that path, the younger version of Merlyn confronts the thief who killed his wife. Though he threatens the man with a gun, the street savvy criminal beats the hell out of him and walks away, leaving him bleeding in a dark, rain-soaked alley. He fires a shot, but we don’t quite see what happened. Back at home, Malcolm confesses to the crime and how killing the man did nothing for his anger and thirst for vengeance. He chooses to leave his orphaned son behind in order to forge his anger into something useful. Malcolm arrives at Ra’s al Ghul’s stronghold and makes a good impression on Nyssa with a little big of amateur magic. (How do they allow this guy around children?)
Jumping to a rain-soaked road in an exotic forest, Oliver asks Tatsu to come with him one more time. She refuses again, and warns him that in order to defeat Ra’s al Ghul, he will have to sacrifice whatever he holds most precious.
Team Arrow is considering other options besides Merlyn for their battle; first up, Laurel recruits Ted Grant. Next, Roy talks to Sin, with a promise to tell her about Sara after the night’s events. They’re planning an all-out assault on Brick, with the Glades’ citizens as their backup. It’s a pretty cool melee between citizens and hardened criminals, even if it’s not quite up to the level of Slade Wilson’s super-soldiers. Some highlights: Wildcat makes his first appearance and engages in a pretty righteous fistfight with Brick himself, though due to the mobster’s powers, Grant gets the worst of it. Brick, somehow, is the only one firing a gun during the fight. Canary tends to the fallen Wildcat while Arsenal, Diggle, and Sin hold off the thugs. A green-feathered arrow pins one of the criminals and the team’s spirits lift. But is Arrow back for real?
Meanwhile, Merlyn is once again engaging his enemy in an alley, and this time he has Brick at the barrel of a gun, for whatever good that will do. Brick certainly doesn’t beg for his life, saying that he killed his wife because she was weak. Malcolm (insanely) reasons that killing Brick will reset the actions of his blood-filled life. Who should arrive to talk him out of this decision but Oliver Queen, Arrow himself!
It was kind of an “out of left field” moment, but Arrow did deliver a short-and-sweet speech to the citizens of Starling City (or at least the Glades) while standing above a defeated Brick and his army. Was the downfall of Brick et al on par with the time given to building him up? Not really, but it was a surprising twist to see Malcolm getting a moment of redemption in defeating (but not killing) the mobster. Is the Dark Archer going to be walking the straight and narrow from now on? It’s certainly an interesting direction.
With Brick taken down and the criminals rounded up, the cops move back into the Glades, led by Captain Lance. Everything seems all well and good again, until Sin breaks the news to Quentin that the Canary is not actually Sara. We’ll have to see how this revelation plays out.
Oliver pays a visit to Thea, and Merlyn, who happens to be there as well. Though Malcolm sees his chance for redemption in Thea, Oliver takes him to task for his manipulation of Thea. Rather than attack him again, Oliver asks Merlyn for his help in training. Since Merlyn studied directly under Ra’s al Ghul, he possesses knowledge vital to Oliver’s slim hope of victory.
Back at Arrow HQ, Felicity and Oliver embrace, and the rest of the team welcomes him back. He thanks them for keeping the city together in his absence, but Felicity is upset by his decision to align with Merlyn. Oh, and the fact that all the women Oliver loves end up dead, usually by Merlyn’s hand. Felicity puts a stop to whatever relationship they could have had.
Now that Oliver’s back (without much fanfare, surprisingly), things on Arrow should get somewhat back to normal, even if that means reintroducing Count Vertigo and his hallucinogenic antics on next week’s episode. While this season has been spinning its wheels a bit, in retrospect I enjoyed the departure from the usual and the opportunity to let some of the secondary characters steal a bit more screentime. The Battle for the Glades arc also opened up some new possibilities for action sequences, which we saw in the close-quarters combat scenes, large-scale crowd fights, and the appearance of multiple heroes in the fray. It’s been fun, but now it’s time to get real.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television
(An explanation of our ratings system follows here.)
Thug: “You that Red Streak I been hearing about on TV?” Arsenal: “Wrong city.”
Captain Lance: “Arsenal? What, are you just pulling names out of a hat now?”
Captain Lance: “Harper! I’ve seen you wearing a red hoodie, I’ve seen you firing arrows at people, you think I don’t recognize you with a bit more leather and lace?”
Oliver: “Ra’s al Ghul. He fights with swords. And he’s very good. I seem to remember you being pretty good with a blade yourself.”
Diggle: “Maybe we should get Merlyn to solve our Brick problem for us.”
Canary: “Daniel Brickwell…” Arsenal: “You have failed this city.”
Oliver: “Drop the gun! No more death.”
Malcolm: “Thea will never forgive me.” Oliver: “Start giving her reasons to.”
Arrow: “You did not fail this city, and I promise I will not fail you by leaving it again.”
Felicity: “I don’t want to be a woman that you love.”