Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Arrow 4x12 "Unchained" (The Guilty Arrow)

Original Airdate: February 3, 2016

Sometimes I forget that worry is technically a sin.

It's one of those things that doesn't seem blatantly wrong — not like murder or lying or cheating or stealing. It's something that I can justify a lot: I worry about my finances and ensuring I budget properly so I have enough money to pay my bills and do what I want to do. I worry about my future, because society (and, let's be honest, my type-A personality) tells me that I need to do that in order to be successful. Worrying is just a part of my nature, I reason. It's good to worry. 

But it's really not. What has worrying ever done except make my heart race faster, tether me to panic and anxiety, and cause me to have problems falling asleep at night? Worrying isn't good for me, or for anyone, but I justify it and therefore it has a hold on me. Only when I refuse to worry and have faith in something — or someone — else am I totally free. Similarly, guilt is something that we think we should have. It means that we feel badly for some wrong we have committed. It means that we have a conscience, right? Guilt is good!

... Except that it's not. Because the truth is that conviction is good for us. Conviction is that little voice in our heads that tells us we should do something or that we should not. Guilt, on the other hand, is that little voice that beats you over the head because you messed up. It's the voice that tells you that you are not good enough — that you will NEVER be good enough because of all of the bad things you have done. It's the voice that talks a lot to Oliver Queen, and especially in this episode. But there is hope and there is character growth (praise be to God for that one) in "Unchained" aplenty, so let's dive in.


I never thought that I would miss Roy Harper, but here we are. When Roy first appeared on Arrow, I wasn't a fan of him. At all. Then again, I wasn't a fan of Thea Queen from the start of the series either and now she's more important to me than a lot of fictional female characters. The reason that I care so much about Roy is two-fold: 1) Colton Haynes portrayed him in a way that was endearing, and 2) the writers figured out what Roy's role was and showed, rather than told us, why he was important. For a long time, Roy was the defiant loner, unwilling to let anyone in or care about anyone. He had survival mentality and that was unsurprising, once we learned more of his past and present (especially in regards to his mother). It was the episode in which Roy was saved from Joseph Falk by The Vigilante that really opened my eyes to the kind of pain and isolation Roy felt. He would have been okay with dying simply because he didn't believe anyone would miss him if he was gone. Everyone would be better off and the world would continue to spin. That was heartbreaking to me, and it catapulted Roy on a path of character development that eventually led to him becoming Arsenal. 

Roy went from being a young man who didn't believe anyone would care if he died to being a young man who learned the value of being a part of a team, and how much he would be willing to sacrifice for the people he cared about. I love that "Unchained" focused on his return in a really organic way (also while introducing The Calculator to us), and allowed us to remember how much Roy has grown and how much he will be okay because of that. Oliver feels guilt (SHOCKER) for the fact that Roy has to live far below the radar. Oliver also feels guilt (SHOCKER #2) for the fact that as a result of living under the radar, Roy got tapped by the aforementioned Calculator and forced to steal things so as to not be revealed for who he was. Oliver just feels a lot of guilt, really.

But Roy feels no guilt. Unlike what happened after he realized he killed a cop while under the influence of Mirakuru, Roy Harper in "Unchained" realizes that he cannot go around blaming himself or other people for circumstances and — in fact — would gladly do it all over again to save Oliver. That is what love is and what family does. But just as Roy's return was abrupt, so is his departure. He bids goodbye to Thea in a gut-wrenching scene about how they will always love one another and that in another life or timeline, they would get married and have children and buy a minivan and live happily.


I can honestly say that Roy's re-integration felt so natural and right in this episode. It was a fitting reminder that our Scarecrow has grown up and he really will be okay because of the love and lessons he encountered while with Team Arrow.


Arrow has no shortage of female characters. And, often times, since this is a show about Oliver Queen, those women become the supporting players of the story. The women have often times become figures that Oliver Queen projects his guilt onto. They don't  get to have voices, not really, because Oliver overrules them. This, if you will recall, was especially the case in season three, where Oliver considered himself to be the head of the team rather than, you know, an equal player. It's hard to watch these women get sidelined because Oliver is on a one-man crusade to right the wrongs that he feels are his fault. He doesn't accept help easily, and he certainly doesn't let other people make decisions for themselves easily either. Last season, he was downright disrespectful and douchey in the way he handled decision-making.

But in "Unchained," that changed for the better, as women were finally allowed to have voices and opinions that STUCK. There are two different occurrences in which this happened: Felicity's story and Thea's. When the world's worst board member suggests — see: practically demands — that Felicity not be the face or voice of Palmer Technologies anymore presumably because she's a woman who is now-handicapped, Felicity balks at the notion and then dejectedly decides he's right. And while it is painful to see Felicity willing to put her CEO position aside in order to placate some horrible person, it's kind of also understandable. Ever since Ray gave her the company, Felicity has been trying to get out of the job as CEO. Remember how she not-so-jokingly offered to give Oliver back the company?

There are few times Felicity doubts herself and in fewer areas. She knows technology backwards and forwards and is confident in that area. She's at home whilst sitting in the Arrow cave. But the second someone asks her to become a leadership figure, she gets the case of the jitters. I get that — it's a LOT of responsibility, and someone like Felicity is more at home behind a desk than in front of a boardroom.

Which is why Felicity needs encouragement from Curtis this episode. The motivational speech he gave to her could have come from a number of people — Oliver, Diggle, Thea, Roy... heck, even Laurel. But it had to come from Curtis. Why? Because Felicity needed to be able to look at herself the way Curtis sees her. She needed to know that he already sees her as a leader and a hero. And not because she saves the world, but because she is Felicity Smoak, CEO. Felicity has spent very little time in Arrow doubting who she is and what she does. We usually leave the identity crises to Oliver. But being in a wheelchair and trying to run a company has taken an emotional toll on Felicity. When she wants to give up, she needs to be reminded that she's not a hero because of what job she does — she's a hero because of who she IS. And she can apply the same confidence she has in the Arrow cave to the boardroom. So she does. And she blows everyone away. That wouldn't have happened had it not been for Curtis speaking encouragement and truth into her life, and I'm so glad that this part of the story focused on how men and women can empower each other.

Speaking of empowerment, in a move that surprised even me, Oliver decided to respect Thea's boundaries and not try to save her life by reaching out to Damien Darhk. Last season, Oliver would have rejected Thea's requests, gone behind her back, saved her, then hid the truth from her until it inevitably was revealed sometime by sweeps. This season, Oliver is starting to realize that his commitment to do things differently needs to be just that — a commitment. After some pep talking from Malcolm Merlyn (words I never thought I would type in a sentence), Oliver dons his green hoodie and prepares to talk to Darhk anyway... until he stops himself. He remembers what Thea said, I bet, about her life being her choice.

And I wonder if he thought back to another woman who said that...

One of the reasons Oliver fell in love with Felicity, as Laurel so astutely pointed out (more words I never thought I would type together) recently is the fact that she is so resilient and determined — the fact that she makes her own decisions and is her own person. Those words rattled around in Oliver's brain and he remembered all of the ways in which Felicity is strong and all of the ways in which Thea is. You can't have a relationship with someone if you disrespect their wishes — if you silence their voice.

Oliver needed Thea to tell him "no" so that he could be given the choice to listen. And (thank goodness) this time around, Oliver realized that the women he loves most in the world are lovable because they're their own people. Thea and Felicity have things happen to them as a result of those choices sometimes, but the thing that Oliver is slowly realizing is that giving these women the chance to make their own decisions without undermining them will only allow him to have more respect and love for them. If he constantly controlled them, he would not get the chance to see how amazing they really are. And, of course, if he constantly controlled them, he would be the jerk that we had in season three and no one wants to go back to season three.

Thea tells Oliver that she will deal with the effects of the Pit. In spite of the fact that they are slowly killing her, she would rather die than sacrifice who she is. And she knows that Oliver would never be able to live with himself if she turned into a monster because of giving into her bloodlust. If Thea is going to die or live, it will be on nobody's terms but her own.

God bless the women in Arrow.


I will probably be the first person to admit this — sometimes I am not Oliver Queen's biggest fan. And throughout some of "Unchained," I was narrowing my eyes, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because Oliver was doing that thing that has become so customary for him to do, it causes me to roll my eyes and groan. 

Oliver was blaming himself. Again.

It must be lonely carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, but it is something Oliver knows how to do really well. It's the very thing, in fact, that drives him away from — not closer to — the people he loves. He looks at the decisions of others and he absorbs the consequences of those decisions. It's not right, and he becomes a harder, more bitter, angrier, and darker character because of it. While hallucinating on Lian-Yu (that's right, I actually paid slight attention to the flashbacks this week), hallucination!Shado told Oliver that guilt was his darkness and honestly, this is the only relevant thing I have heard or seen in flashbacks the past few years.

Because she's right — guilt is a kind of darkness. Guilt is a darkness just like worry or fear or control or power. Darkness creeps into our lives slowly. It doesn't happen all at once and it doesn't happen overnight. But the more bad things that happened to Oliver, the more guilt he absorbed. Think of him like a guilt Shamwow: he watched his dad, Sara, Shado, little-boy-who-was-Tatsu's-son-and-whose-name-I-can't-be-bothered-to-remember, and countless others die. And every time someone dies, Oliver takes a part of their soul and lets it crush him until it crumbles into dark bits of guilt. And he takes those and soaks them up, letting them permeate every part of him.

That is what Oliver's greatest weakness is. And that's why I am so interested in seeing who is in the grave — because a few months down the line, Oliver is dealing with his guilt in much more healthy, appropriate ways. He isn't blaming himself. He isn't carrying the whole burden. And he took very small steps toward that resolution in "Unchained.

It's not the bad or good stuff that determines our heroes in Arrow. It's how these human beings deal with that stuff that determines who they really are.

Observations & favorite moments:
  • MVP for this episode is Colton Haynes, for his little quips and remarks, but also for that final scene with Willa Holland. I rarely ever cry during Arrow, but even I found myself getting a bit misty-eyed at Roy's dream life with Thea.
  • Grave Predictions: We got no more indicator of who could be in the grave this week, thought I assume the show wants us to think it's Thea based on her prognosis. I can't see Arrow believably keeping Thea in a coma for four more months until she dies, so I'm still going to say it's Mama Smoak.
  • Speaking of the Smoaks, we officially met Papa Smoak tonight, a.k.a. The Calculator. WASN'T THAT JUST A SHOCKER?! ... We all saw it coming, Arrow writers. Like, a thousand miles away. Maybe further.
  • At least now Thea and Felicity can properly bond over having supervillains for fathers. Is there a support group for that? There should be.
  • "That's his superpower — Guilt Arrow." Dig, that was a great... well, dig.
  • I weirdly missed Oliver in street clothes parkouring off of stuff.
  • The directing in this episode was stellar. In particular, the shot where Green Arrow enters (and then Roy makes a comment about it), the explosion and Arsenal repelling, and the Calculator vs. Felicity were all really well-executed scenes.
  • "Whose shocking return can we look forward to next?!" My thoughts exactly, Felicity.
  • There were so many amazing women in this episode. Nyssa and Tatsu both returned and fought (again, stunning fight sequence), while Nyssa has a new gal pal in the League (I don't remember her name if she even has one so I'm going to just call her Pepper Girl or Pepper, for short), and then we had stories with Felicity and Thea... I am overwhelmed with all of the lady love this episode provided us with.
  • "I'm addicted to funny cat videos." Same, Evil Papa Smoak. Saaaaaaaame.
  • How is it that Emily Bett Rickards has chemistry with people she's not even in scenes physically with? Her repartee with Tom Amandes was so great.
  • "Ollie, that's insane. Not to mention stupid." Deb is right — this should have been said more to Oliver for the past, oh, four years.
  • "Oooooh, good story. Write me a letter." You guys don't understand my excitement over this line, because there was an episode of Community in which Annie Edison — the only female character I love more than Felicity — said: "Put it in a letter, Jane Austen!" Basically now my two favorite females are bonded and life is good.
  • "Just because you're wearing red doesn't mean you're The Flash, Roy." HAHAHAHA.
  • Oliver's dopey grin upon seeing Roy okay is too cute.
  • "I love you, Thea Queen." "I love you, Roy Harper." </3
What did you all think of "Unchained"? Hit up the comments below or tweet me and let me know!


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