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Familiar Faces and Talk Of Oliver’s Never-Ending Guilt, Arrow “Unchained” 

Familiar Faces and Talk Of Oliver’s Never-Ending Guilt, Arrow “Unchained”
Photo Credit: Liane Hentscher/ The CW

Felicity: First Sara then Ray then John’s brother, who’s shocking return can we look forward to next?!

With this one comment, Felicity summed up this whole episode better than I ever could! And the answer to her question is MANY! Nyssa, Shado, Tatsu, Roy and Felici-dad all provided us with unexpected reunions this week. Most of these characters came back to tie into the whole Thea-knocking-on-death’s-door-while-Oliver-shoulders-the-blame storyline. Roy’s return, thanks to Felicity’s dad, provided a sweet moment (and possible goodbye) between him and Thea. While Nyssa and Tatsu battled over the potential antidote. And the Shado illusion flashback foreshadowed Oliver’s eventual process through the guilt and towards acceptance. Let’s take a closer look.

Photo Credit: Liane Hentscher/ The CW
Photo Credit: Liane Hentscher/ The CW

At this point, it seems pretty clear that Thea will be the eventual tenant of the much-discussed Season 4 grave. Obviously, with a show like this, anything could happen, but the way this episode played out, it definitely felt like the beginnings of a goodbye to the character. That being said, there’s no doubt that Oliver will take it harder than anyone. He’s a master when it comes to blaming himself for any and all problems, a point that was repeatedly made clear (and often in an awesomely funny way) in this episode.

First when he condemned himself for not noticing that Thea wasn’t herself lately:

Felicity: How is it that you always manage to blame yourself for everything?

Diggle: That’s his superpower. Guilt Arrow.

Then again when he took responsibility for Roy sacrificing himself and having to leave Star City:

Roy: Do you ever get tired? Carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders like that all the time?

Oliver: Haha, you sound like Felicity. And Diggle.

I love that writers acknowledge that this issue has been repeated and repeated and repeated so many times throughout the series (heck, I mention it in at least three out of every four of my articles!) and that they’re able to make light of it and turn it into a bit of a joke. Even Oliver was able to laugh at it! Which is something we rarely see. Speaking of laughter, I also couldn’t help but notice that Roy seemed a lot lighter. And funnier. And more confident. Before, he was always troubled and a little brooding, but this time, he was quick with the quips and seemed really open and focused on others (especially with Thea) rather than in turmoil over his own issues. I don’t know if it’s being on his own or just being out of Arrow’s shadow and not having to live up his standards, but I like it.

Photo Credit: Liane Hentscher/ The CW
Photo Credit: Liane Hentscher/ The CW

Anyways, back to Oliver’s guilt. The present wasn’t the only time this point was highlighted, but fortunately, when illusi-Shado highlighted Oliver’s darkness in a flashback, she provided a little more insight.

Shado : You need to forgive yourself for what you’ve done.

Oliver: Unfortunately, you’ll need to be a little more specific.

Shado: You had the chance to leave this island, to return to your family, they miss you terribly.

Oliver: I can’t go back to my family, not the way that I am now.

Shado: Then it’s time to start changing. The only way out, is through, Oliver.

Oliver: That’s what Amanda Waller said. Through what?

Shado: Through your own darkness, let it go.

Oliver: I don’t know how.

Later in their session, she pointed out that Oliver’s darkness is his guilt, which is clearly something he’s still working on wading through even in the current time. That being said, guilt is not something you choose to experience so the issue is not that he has guilt, but rather how he deals with it. Clearly, he was able to move “through it” with Shado enough that he was able to return to Star City and reunite with his family so there’s proof that it’s possible. However, in true Oliver fashion, he’s not willing to go down without a fight and do whatever he can to attempt to avoid that guilt first. In this case, his first inclination is to make a deal with Darhk. (Ironic how he has to “move through the darkness” and now he’s walking right to it, no? This situation is chock-full of symbolism, but more on that another time.) When he tells Thea his plan, she recognizes the danger and immediately balks.

Thea: It’s not like he’s gonna be willing to help me.

Oliver: If there’s something that he wants. Something that I can trade him.

Thea: Ollie, that’s insane. Not to mention stupid. I can’t let you owe Darhk a favor.

Oliver: And I can’t let you die. I won’t.

Thea: It’s not up to you. I know how you take everything on, everyone’s problems, it’s one of the things I love most about you but you can’t fix this one, Ollie.

Oliver: I have to try.

Thea: No you don’t. It’s my choice. It’s my life.

She’s right. Oliver is a fixer. But having already experienced the effects that death had on her once, as well as what everyone sacrificed to save her, I can’t really blame her. This mystical magic stuff has no clear cut solution and there is not doubt that being indebted to Darhk will not end well. Oliver obviously isn’t ready to accept this at first, but sometimes a serious heart-to-heart with your once mortal enemy, who shares a similar love for your last remaining family member, is what you really need to see the light.

Merlyn: Leaving the epic stupidity of your plan aside, this isn’t either of our decisions.

Oliver: Malcolm, do you want her to die?

Merlyn: Of course not. Do you have any idea how badly I want to put a knife in her hand and force her to slit someone’s throat. I’ve come this close to dragging someone in her for her to kill and the only reason I haven’t is because that would be about my feelings and not Thea’s. Oliver, sometimes the greatest act of love is no action at all. It’s her life, it’s her choice.

I mean, whaaat?! How does Malcolm Merlyn have so much wisdom about love?! Wow. But for him to give up fighting for basically the only person he cares about besides himself is HUGE and a big sign, especially since he, more than anyone, understands what they’re up against. He would clearly have no qualms about allowing her to keep killing people (something Oliver isn’t as willing to partake in) to survive, but he knows that won’t really be the life she wants or deserves. Not to mention, doing so would only subject her to the same guilt and darkness that Oliver faces again and again and I can only imagine he wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, especially his sister. And so, for once, Malcolm Merlyn is the voice of reason and Oliver decides that he will follow Merlyn’s lead, standing aside and allowing Thea to make her own choice. And he seems pretty settled with that decision. Until Nyssa arrives.

After busting out of Nanda Parbat and fighting Tatsu for the magical lotus flower that will heal Thea, she presents it to Oliver with one condition – kill Malcolm Merlyn. I have to admit, this was well-played on her part; however, if Oliver is truly ready to abide by Thea’s wishes, he has to know that killing Merlyn is not what she would want and would only consume her with that same guilt. That’s not to say I’ve completely ruled out Merlyn sacrificing himself or something Darhk-related coming in to play, but now that he’s come to accept the situation, I certainly hope this doesn’t force Oliver back into his guilt-ridden darkness. Especially since he just had that epically monumental respect-filled-handshake with Merlyn. Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that Oliver will waiver and look for another way out of it, (let’s be honest, he wouldn’t be Oliver if he didn’t), but now that he’s made it this far towards acceptance, I hope he can keep moving forward.

Arrow airs Wednesday at 8/7c on The CW.

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