‘Arrow’ Post-Show Analysis: Season 4, Episode 12: ‘Unchained’
It’s time for another installment of Pointed Commentary, the feature where grizzledArrow watcher Matt D. Wilson and newcomer Chris Haley dig into the details of Team Arrow cleaning up the filthy, crime-ridden streets of Star City.
In this week’s episode, “Unchained,” Felicity finds herself in a keyboard battle with a surprising villain, Thea deals with some serious health issues, an old friend returns, and literally four other plots occur. Kevin Fair directed the episode and the script was by our old friend Speed Weed, and Beth Schwartz.
Matt: There was so much happening in this episode, Chris. I counted seven (seven!) plots: Roy’s return, Thea’s Lazarus Pit coma, Felicity vs. the Calculator, the business plot, the election plot, the flashbacks, and Nyssa’s attempt to re-take Nanda Parbat. That is a lot to cram into 40 minutes. I thought it all felt pretty rushed. You?
Chris: Nyssa vs. Katana, and the reveal of Felicity’s dad. Was that a reveal? They played it like a reveal.
Matt: To my recollection, it’s the first time he’s shown up.
Chris: “Rushed” doesn’t even begin to cover it, I’d say. We also got the return of Curtis/(not yet) Mr. Terrific, Felicity vs. grace in a wheelchair, and Malcolm Merlyn for father of the year. I’ll warn you, I may be extra salty this week, because I don’t know if I’ve ever liked an episode of this show less.
Matt: I don’t want to run anyone down, per se, but I’m getting to where I dread seeing Speed Weed writing credits. His episodes seem to be the worst of the season. I’m not sure if that’s a result of his writing or that he just gets assigned the episodes that have to be nonsense, though.
I have a larger point to get to on that, but first, since you mentioned it, can we talk about Felicity’s presentation dry run, where she’s bumping into everything in sight? It was like one of those “As seen on TV” product commercials where, like, someone is trying to hold up a huge vacuum to the curtains or smashes a hole in the wall with a hammer. It was beyond believably klutzy.
Chris: Also, I don’t want to knock Mr. Weed too much either, but even when she gets the presentation right at the end, I don’t think he should quit his day job to become a high dollar tech company speech writer either. And it was made even worse by the round of applause and teary eyed Ollie watching on proudly for what was like a junior high level presentation speech at best.
Matt: Yeah, I thought part of why everyone kept saying her presentation was so bad was because of the content of it, not just because she was bumping into stuff. But nope! The meat of the speech was exactly the same the second time as the first. She just avoided knocking over the projector or whatever this time. That’s apparently the difference between a presentation that will ruin a multi-billion dollar company and one that saves it forever.
Chris: If you were getting a snack or taking a bathroom break, I will now quote her speech, verbatim, in its entirety:
Batteries. (Slide of a battery is shown on Powerpoint presentation.)
Man, they suck. (Slide of frownie face emoji.)
They are, like, exactly the same as they were a million years ago in the 70s. (Slide of Saturday Night Fever movie poster.)
Now, thanks to literal giants like Tesla, Edison, and Ray Palmer… (Slide with pictures of two old guys with the word “GIANTS” between them… this is not a joke.)
We can make a battery that can power stuff way better! (Crowd erupts into applause. Fountains of tears shoot from Ollie’s eyes in a show of overwhelming pride.)
Matt: Chris, you’re a Simpsons fan, right?
Chris: I believe you’ve just encountered the greatest understatement in the history of us doing these recaps, my friend.
Matt: Yeah, I know. I just wanted to ask for the benefit of the reader. Anyway, I’m sure you recall the episode where Homer is tricked into competing with children to build a model power plant. There’s a part where Martin Prince presents his, and notes that his model plant is powering the room. This was that presentation.
Chris: It was that to a T.
Matt: This episode was full of a lot of “Hey, remember” moments. Like remembering that Felicity was CEO of a company, Ollie was running for mayor, Shado existed, Roy, and on and on. It was hard enough for me to get invested in any of the stories; I can’t imagine what someone just jumping on this season must have thought. Were you lost, Chris?
Chris: I wasn’t lost, but I was supremely uninterested in all of it at best, and agitated and riled by it at worst. I was literally groaning and complaining out loud at the show so much that my dog started thinking something was wrong and getting angry at the TV. That has never happened before, short of there being another dog on the TV that he believes is barking directly at him.
Matt: Arrow: Just like a barking dog. Here’s my take: None of the plots in this episode were exactly bad as ideas, but because they had to share screen time with all the other plots, none of them were served very well. Darhk’s wife, Ruve Adams, running against Ollie for mayor should have felt like something, but it went by so fast that it could barely register. Same goes for the Calculator being Felicity’s dad. Same for Shado returning and having to state, straight out, “Hey, I’m not real.”
Chris: Oh, okay, so we’re supposed to know who that was in Ollie’s hallucination within the flashback?
Matt: Yeah. To put it briefly, she was the daughter of the guy who trained him to be an archer, and a big part of Deathstroke’s motivation in season two. A different villain gave Ollie a choice between killing Sara or killing Shado, and he chose to keep Sara alive. But Deathstroke was in love with Shado? Look, I tried my best to repress this stuff.
Chris: I understand. I’m sure my brain is actively trying to repress your explanation as we speak.
Matt: The really crummy part is that, buried within all that whiplash-inducing pacing, there was some good stuff. That scene near the end where Thea and Roy wished they could be together but knew they couldn’t, where both actors really seemed to get into the emotion of the scene, it was downright powerful. The most believable that relationship has ever been. But it, like everything else, had no time to land.
Chris: Yeah, I couldn’t complain about that scene except for, like you said, the fact that it had no time. You know, for all the water this show treads, why on Earth did this episode have three or four episodes' worth of plot crammed into it?
Matt: It’s baffling. We both seemed to like last week’s episode pretty well, and I think that’s in part because there was an A plot and a B plot, and that was pretty much it. There was a sense of focus, and it meant little details could be added to make the whole thing work. This one was a mess from the get-go.
Chris: Now that you’ve kind of explained who that person in Ollie’s flashbackination was, since they didn’t make a big deal of it, I’m going to assume that Katana has been on the show before as well, right?
Matt: Yes, she was also a Flashback Person.
Chris: She’s got that unusual/striking model look about her.
Matt: She's played by The Wolverine’s Rila Fukushima.
Chris: Katana is a character I’m fond of, so I have to ask, is she cool on this show?
Matt: She’s not uncool. She is 100 percent steeped in Asian mysticism stereotypes (she brought Ollie back to life one time), but she also is great at fighting and owns people in sword fights a lot, so there are positives.
Chris: I guess that’s about as good as I can expect. Speaking of characters that are back for a cameo, John Barrowman is back as Malcolm Merlyn, and even though I always enjoyed him on Doctor Who, I think this episode made me realize that I hate him on this show. I just don’t know how he could be any less convincing as the character he’s intended to be. Even if you take away any previous knowledge of the character as he appeared in the comics, just the idea that this guy is going to be an assassin, much less in charge of a whole secret army of ninja assassins, is utterly laughable. He looks like he gets his clothes at Old Navy in this episode, and I’m sorry, but I don’t think any version of the League of Shadows is ever going to be able to go along with that.
Matt: Maybe his shopping habits are why Nyssa wants to overthrow him. But I think he has the same problems as a lot of other characters on the show. One, he seems to forget his job at the drop of a hat, just like Felicity always seems to be forgetting she’s the CEO of a company and Ollie takes long breaks from his mayoral campaign.
Then there’s the fact that he’s written so unevenly that I can’t imagine how any actor could pull it off. He’s the embodiment of evil, but then he’s a loving dad. He’s a grudging ally to Team Arrow, but then he betrays them, but then he’s like a full-fledged part of the team. What is he? To a lesser degree, they’re going in this direction with Darhk, too. He’s the big bad of the season, but Ollie’s willing to hammer out a deal with him pretty much instantly. Yeah, Thea’s dying from Lazarus Pit complications, but would you really go with selling out to your worst enemy as a first option?
You might argue that all this makes Merlyn and Darhk complex characters, but it comes off as just flat-out not having any idea how to use them, or just using them as convenient to the plot at the time.
Chris: Man, the thing with Darhk is even worse when it was literally just like one episode prior that Ollie was on this “I’m gonna kill him!!!” rampage.
Matt: What’s crazy is that Merlyn even states outright that John Constantine was the one who helped Sara get over her Lazarus Pit insanity. Why wouldn’t they go try to ask him to help?
Chris: Because that guy who plays Constantine is probably already on some other show by now?
Matt: Then maybe don’t bring him up, folks.
What’s left from the dozen plots in this episode? All that intense typing action between Felicity and The Calculator? They sure did type, Chris!
Chris: And use the absolute latest in voice-changing technology. I feel like the last thing this show needs is to make its actors more difficult to understand. Also, “web nuke”. I want to shoot this show in the throat with an arrow.
Matt: What exactly was The Calculator’s plan? At first the worry was he was going to shut down the internet, but he likes cat videos too much (not a joke, that’s his real line), so instead he’s going to “take down a city.” How, exactly? There’s a mention of him shutting down the subways, but Star City’s subway is long abandoned and shut down, anyway. This was a huge plot point in the first season. Do you even watch your own show, people? Or was he shutting down a different city? These details went by so fast, they went into a chasm.
Chris: It was definitely Star City, because they were right there to stop it. There was something about turning the city’s power off, which would kill people in hospitals (as though hospitals don’t have emergency plans in place for something as boring as a power failure) and something about rupturing water mains, and this led to the conclusion that he could kill everyone in the city. That’s literally what Felicity says.
Also, I like how Felicity acted like it was a big “eureka!” moment when she realized that maybe the weird random items that were being stolen were possibly going to be combined. That is always what happens when a bunch of random things get stolen in these shows!
Matt: I’d like to take this opportunity to mention my favorite terrible moment of the episode. As you mentioned, Team Arrow is right there to stop The Calculator and his goons. They attach some C4 to a laptop(?) and blow it up, and that works.
The remote detonator doesn’t work, though, so Roy has to shoot an arrow to manually set it off. Before he does this, he looks over at two completely unconscious goons and tells them, “Hey, you better get out of here.” Good lookin’ out, bro. I’m sure they got out fine.
Chris: Hahaha! Wow. Clearly OG Speedy didn’t get the memo about the Green Arrow being a beacon of hope and light and whatever.
Matt: Did it come through for you that he had to leave because people think he’s the original Arrow and also that he’s dead?
Chris: Yeah, they explained that well enough in that one sentence. I have to assume this show is not really worried about “new viewers” in general, because by this point the audience is the audience. That’s not a knock on the show or the audience, I think they just know that they’re making this show for fans of this show.
Matt: And yet they just hammer certain things over and over. How many times did someone accidentally say something about walking to Felicity? “We have to put our best foot forward.” “Break a leg!” “Get up out of that wheelchair and go for a jog!” I’m not even sure what the point is. Is it supposed to be funny? Is it supposed to show that people are insensitive? Do the writers think we need to constantly be reminded that Felicity is in a wheelchair? What is it?
Chris: I have no idea, man. I don’t know what this show’s thinking half the time, and the other half I’m mad at it for what it’s thinking.
And that’s it for this week! Come back next week as maybe we’ll have more fun with a big, honkin’ assassin fight!