As the previous episode of Arrow came to a close, we were left with the sight of Thea in hospital, her refusal to give in to the demands of her Lazarus Pit induced blood-lust slowly killing her (for reasons that don't really make a lot of sense, admittedly - but, it's magic, so clearly we just need to go with it). Oliver seems to be entirely out of ideas with regard to how to save his sister - at least, until Nyssa al Ghul (Katrina Law) arrives with a possible cure. But, of course, Nyssa also came with an ultimatum for Oliver - that she would only hand to cure over after Oliver finally killed Malcolm Merlyn.
So, now, Oliver finds himself forced to make a very difficult decision, as this episode opens. He is not willing to let his sister, die, obviously - but, he is also reluctant to kill Merlyn. Not only is there Oliver's personal rule against killing to consider, but there is also the simple fact that he is Thea's father - and, that Oliver still hopes that the two of them might be able to build some sort of healthy relationship.
Believing that Nyssa's only real interest is in taking her father's place as the leader of the League of Assassins, and that Malcolm would place more value in his daughter's safety than in power, Oliver comes up with a desperate plan to arrange a third option - convincing Malcolm to abandon the League of Assassins in exchange of Nyssa's cure. Each seems open to the possibility - and, for a brief moment, Oliver believes that he might be able to bring about the best possibly solution for everyone involved.
Thematically speaking, this was an episode that placed a great deal of emphasis on the idea of whether a person could ever truly change - something which is explored in a variety of different ways through different characters. Since the season began, Oliver has struggled with trying to maintain the more positive, and hopeful, outlook he has chosen to embrace - and, here, he finds that tested once more, as circumstances place him right at the centre of a rapidly escalating conflict. For Malcolm, there is the issue of whether his (apparently, very genuine) love for his daughter could offer any sort of true redemption, as he finds himself forced to choose between Thea and his status as the leader of the League of Assassins. Even Nyssa seems to struggle with the idea that she is only acting out of a sense of obligation, rather than any true desire to take her father's place.
Beyond the episode's primary plot-line, too, the episode explores that central issue through Felicity and her father. Amusingly enough, Noah Kuttler (Tom Amandes) wastes no time in revealing his identity as the Calculator to Felicity - revealing that he is also aware of Felicity's secret identity, and that the two of them have quite a bit in common. Arguing that many of his crimes were, essentially, harmless (and, that his plan to kill a whole lot of people in the previous episode was actually just an empty threat), Noah claims that he is only interested in reconnecting with his estranged daughter and trying to win back her trust. Felicity is obvious suspicious, though - but, still finds herself partially won over by the idea that she might be able to establish some sort of positive relationship with her own father. So, not entirely sure whether or not her father is being honest about his intentions, it is a simple enough matter for Felicity to arrange a little test of character.
There is even some exploration of the overall theme in this episode's flash-back sub-plot - as Taiana (Elysia Rotaru) finds herself sharing a cell with the man killed her brother. With Oliver's guilt-ridden confession from the previous episode putting an obvious strain on the tentative trust that had grown between the two, the twoof them are still forced to depend on each other if they have any hope of escaping.
Having so many characters caught up in their own fascinating little moral dilemma definitely helped to make this a very interesting episode of Arrow - even if it was one that occasionally felt a bit sluggish and unfocused. The main issue I had with this episode is that, while Oliver and Felicity were (naturally) given a great deal of time to express their thoughts and feelings with regard to their particular issues, the other important members of the cast weren't really given an opportunity to do the same.
Honestly, if there were any episode where we were going to get any sort of meaningful insight into the inner thoughts and feelings of either Nyssa al Ghul or Malcolm Merlyn, it feels like it should have been this one. As it stands, though, their clearly shifting priorities throughout the course of the episode ultimately came across as confusing, occasionally bordering on contradictory. One moment, they each seemed willing to go along with Oliver's plan for a peaceful resolution - then, the next, they were at war. Nyssa was obviously reluctant to engage Malcolm head-on, in the beginning, but seemed eager to do so by the end. Malcolm repeatedly claimed to value Thea more highly than his leadership of the League of Assassins, yet repeatedly acted in a way that suggested the opposite - and, by the end of the episode, I still didn't know which was the truth.
In the past, each character was intentionally kept as something of a mystery to the audience - which is all well and good when they are kept off to one side, in more overtly antagonistic roles. But, here, they were each brought directly into the spot-light in a plot-line that was clearly about them - and, it quickly became a frustrating reminder that I really don't know very much about either of them (admittedly, the same could also be said of Noah Cuttler, by the end - but, that sub-plot wasn't actually about him, it was about Felicity).
At least the action was entertaining, though - as you would expect from an episode that features armies of highly trained assassins doing battle in the streets. Though, admittedly, the fact that they were all dressed the same did give some of the large action set-pieces a muddled feel.
In all, this was an episode which couldn't quite live up to its own promise. With the basic set-up of the episode's primary plot-line, it feels as though we should have ended this episode with a much better grasp on two of the show's most mysterious characters - yet, instead, I found that I had a very hard time getting invested in their conflict. By comparison, Felicity's much more mundane sub-plot, concerning her reunion with her estranged father, felt much more successful.