Arrow’ season 3 lets loose its 12th installment of the year with “Uprising,” as Malcolm Merlyn partners with the remaining team for a final assault on Brick (Vinnie Jones), and Oliver makes his grand return to Starling City.

Last week’s installment “Midnight City” saw Team Arrow reluctantly accepting Laurel’s help as Black Canary to bring down Brick’s hold over the Glades, while Malcolm urged Thea to flee town with him for fear of Ra’s al Ghul, so what does the 12th episode of ‘Arrow’ season 3 bring? Can the team still press on without its hooded leader?

Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘Arrow’ season 3, episode 12, “Uprising!”

Wow. There was a lot to take in and appreciate tonight (my notes jumped to that rare fourth page), and first things first, credit needs to be heaped on the ‘Arrow’ team for keeping things so consistently exciting in the first three-episode mini-arc of 2015. Not only did “Uprising” offer a strong and thrilling conclusion to the saga of Oliver’s exodus from Starling City, but so too did tonight’s hour pay off a good deal of emotional setups over the season, including Merlyn’s initial return, Oliver coming to accept his sister’s need for a father, and especially the team’s differing reactions to seeing their friend alive and well.

The Dark Knight Rises’ may not do ‘Arrow’ any favors as a basis for comparison, though the Christopher Nolan film’s influence can feels splattered all over “Uprising,” right down to the all-out street warfare, and a man in a black mask brawling with a bald behemoth. I’ve found that people often undervalue ‘Rises,’ in that it made for a resolute conclusion to the Batman saga, even in failing to live up to the emotional stakes of its predecessors. By the same token, ‘Arrow’’s decision to focus its “Uprising” around Malcolm Merlyn’s emotional  journey proves a tricky one to navigate, even if its ultimate resolution puts the major threads of the prior two episodes to rest.

More than the jarring flashback sequences of John Barrowman as a Malcolm Merlyn twenty-one years his junior (Jack Harkness unfortunately ages in real life, though we can understand forgoing the greater evil of recasting the role), the fact remains that glimpses into Merlyn’s past don’t offer many new insight into the character’s motivations beyond what we already knew. At best, visions of Malcolm’s descent into darkness over Rebecca’s death remind us of the character’s one-time humanity, but only just enough to support the catharsis behind Malcolm opting not to kill Brick in the present.

It’s a clumsy setup, one that “Uprising” struggles with on a few occasions (moving Roy from one scene to the next to convey the same information about Malcolm proving the most egregious) , and while positioning Brick as Rebecca’s killer doesn’t quite shake the feeling of retcon, it does afford Merlyn some development in a roundabout manner. Oliver’s sudden reappearance brings out Malcolm’s confession of wanting to stop the cycle of violence that took away his own family, a subtle, if indirect means of showing the character’s ability to regret what he’d become. ‘Arrow’ likely wouldn’t ever reach the point of true redemption for Malcolm, killer of 503 Glades residents* though the wonky emotional beats get us far enough down the path to accept the necessity of his sticking around to train Oliver and Thea against Ra’s al Ghul.

*‘Arrow’ would love everyone to forget that Oliver murdered dozens of criminals throughout the first season, even as Felicity and Diggle denounce Merlyn for being a killer. Hell, Merlyn even does it himself, ascribing to Oliver that killing changes a man, without the slightest hint of irony in who the sentiment was spoken to.

Bringing Merlyn into the fold brings with it dire consequences however, seemingly the last straw in Felicity’s waiting for Oliver to come to his senses against of overwhelming madness and death. The closing scenes between the two don’t quite escape the feeling that ‘Arrow’ wants to invent obstacles to keep Felicity and Oliver at a distance, though the team’s tech genius raises some strong points toward the effect Oliver’s crusade has on the women in his life. I’d doubt if Felicity and Oliver remain at odds for longer than a few episodes, particularly with Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer only likely to stay through the season, but credit where it’s due for Emily Bett Rickards and Stephen Amell giving their all to pitch a bitter, if vaguely manufactured rift between the pair.

Elsewhere, “Uprising” thoughtfully kept Laurel at arm’s length from complete superhero-dom, again acknowledging her early entry into the crime-fighting world in conversation with Ted Grant. The pairing of Laurel and Roy has proven particularly effective in the last few episodes, bringing a genuine sense of vulnerability to the action sequences, where Oliver and Sara were often previously unflappable. Not only that, but returning Ted offered a nice surprise alongside Bex Taylor-Klaus’ return as Sin, even if the rushed staging of the final battle made it momentarily unclear who had challenged Brick to a fight. Sin’s return also served the long-awaited purpose of cluing Quentin in* to his daughter’s death, a relief considering how benched the great Paul Blackthorne has seemed all season.

*Secret identities have become increasingly hilarious here, especially now that Quentin so easily recognized Roy, yet can’t fully distinguish between his daughters, and seemingly doesn’t want to see the obviousness of Oliver’s involvement in it all. Worse than that, Thea should almost certainly recognize the timing of Oliver’s return with the Arrow’s, another easy comparison to failings of ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’ That said, how could Thea even have fallen asleep, given the warzone erupting in her city, and the knowledge of her father’s mission that night?

We’ve reached the conclusion of the mini-arc that bought us back into ‘Arrow’ season 3, and the overall fun factor of tonight’s “Uprising” well covered for any lingering structural issues. If anything, the biggest oddity to arise out of tonight’s installment would be the underplay of Oliver’s odyssey home, arriving with relatively little initial fanfare. Surviving the duel with Ra’s still doesn’t have a clearer explanation beyond “penicillin tea” and a will to live, and the Demon’s Head still doesn’t quite register on the personally villainous level of Slade or Merlyn before, but Malcolm’s arc at least pivoted neatly into the next arc for the season, training Oliver for a rematch. Tatsu’s (occasionally difficult to understand) words also left me wondering what Oliver might be willing to risk sacrificing to defeat Ra’s al Ghul; perhaps Thea, or even his own secret identity, but for now, ‘Arrow’’s third year keeps building some much-needed steam.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • So, did Roy not remember to tell Sin about Sara after the big fight?
  • Also somewhat unclear: why was Rebecca Merlyn’s murder pinned on a random thug for so long, when others so quickly identified Brick as the culprit?
  • Giving Diggle the beat of declining Merlyn’s offer was a nice touch, considering how little he had to do this week otherwise.
  • Ted’s fight against Brick was especially cool to see, though an extra few beats might have helped it land, especially without a refresher to identify the Wildcat mask at first glance.
  • I’ll say it: I miss the Quentin that didn’t rely so heavily on the Arrow, and strove to do the work himself. Not sure how much longer this vague heart condition need be stretched out.
  • …What did Oliver attach his exit zip-line to?
  • We were denied a scene of John Barrowman getting his ass handed to him by a child. I will not forget this.

Well, what say you? Did ‘Arrow’ hit the mark with its 12th season 3 installment? How did you feel about Oliver’s return? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and check back next week for our review of ‘Arrow’ season 3’s latest, “Canaries” on The CW!