It might not be fair to think of Malcolm Merlyn as a problem for Arrow, given what a gift John Barrowman provides any ensemble, but it’s a fair bet the series isn’t sure what to do with him as a series regular. His Season 2 return proved a welcome surprise to energize Thea’s role in its final hours, while Season 3’s League business organically returned Malcolm full-time, and in Season 4, he’s just kind of … around. Probably talking about “bloodlust.”

Season 3 isn’t the kind of callback fans are likely anxious for, and one would imagine if “Sins of the Father” were to dive back into Malcolm’s place in the League, it might end with some kind of sacrifice to redeem his character. If we’re honest, Arrow has never quite held Malcolm accountable for the hundreds of deaths in Season 1 alone, and near everyone in the lair agrees that killing him to save Thea* is perfectly reasonable, yet Arrow seems unwilling to commit to that.

*Weirdest of all, any decision made between the lives of Malcolm or Nyssa completely steamrolls Thea’s wish to avoid further bloodshed on her account, alternately known as “the entire point of last week.”

The call signs are all there as well, to give Barrowman such meaty material in trading blows with Stephen Amell, both physical and verbal, almost even rationalizing the decision to sacrifice Thea by comparing it to Oliver’s own battle with Damien Darhk. The moment might even have worked, if the League’s role in this world wasn’t so frustratingly opaque, relying more on exposition than action. In earnest, Arrow could spend the entire hour on Barrowman’s explanation that Nyssa’s rule would adversely affect human history, but for all the centuries-long blood feuds, and Nyssa’s strangely uncharacteristic determination to use Thea as a bargaining chip, she simply shrugs and disbands the thing within minutes of her victory anyway. This was the organization fueling all of Season 3?

Well, Thea’s been cured, so hopefully we can all stop using the word “bloodlust” now, and Merlyn pivoted into the next terrible deed unlikely to end in his death. Bunch of civilians got caught in the crossfire, but I guess we’re going to ignore that too, for Thea’s sake.

Same as the fire pits that seem inexplicably to spring up around these people.

Arrow episode titles tend to have at least three layers, and I thought beyond Malcolm and Felicity’s father might lie some unveiling of Oliver’s deception over his son, but that seemingly huge omission got swept under the rug by Felicity’s focus on her own father. The unifying idea between the two falls in line with Season 4’s sense of optimism (as Oliver gets reminded twice tonight), matching Oliver’s unwavering belief in a peaceful solution with Felicity’s hopes her father has truly turned over a new leaf. In Felicity’s case at least, we haven’t spent near enough time with the man for his betrayal an incarceration to land (it might have been better served as the A-story tonight), no matter how strong the work Emily Bett Rickards puts in. Like the goth hallucination, it’s all cart-before-the-horse at this point.

“Sins of the Father” definitely had more organization than last week’s chaotic hour, but the high drama of nameless extras banging on swords by firelight isn’t any more exciting than it was last year, and still didn’t quite resolve any of Malcolm’s troubled past, nor tempt Oliver to kill any further than we’ve seen this season. I’m not willing to throw Season 4 in the same scrap heap with 3 just yet, but boy, if evil fathers and the willingness to kill aren’t played-out tunes at this point.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • The flashbacks picked up a bit, and I’m intrigued enough to see what “hell” Baron Reiter wants to dig up, but less so anything to do with shoehorning a romance between Oliver and … uh … I forget. At least it felt more in line with building toward Season 1 Oliver, but one wonders if these get more, or less relevant to the present-day in Season 5.
  • I hope the other writers threw things at whomever suggested the “we’re not so different, you and I” trope.
  • Was Diggle talking to Oliver from behind a pillar as he came down the stairs, while Laurel was waiting behind another pillar deeper in the lair? That is some impressively psychotic staging, folks.
  • Kinda tone-deaf, Felicity claiming that growing up broken was something all children without fathers might feel.
  • Yes, let’s release hundreds of trained fanatic assassins into the world with no prospects. Problem solved!

Arrow Season 4 will return February 17 with “Code of Silence”, airing at 8:00 P.M. on The CW.

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