There’s a lot to unpack in Arrow’s latest episode, “Unchained”. Roy (Colton Haynes) returns, a new enemy matches Felicity’s (Emily Betts Rickards) hacking skills, and Thea’s (Willa Holland) bloodlust is slowly killing her. But in reality the aptly titled “Unchained” is about Oliver (Stephen Amell) again coming to terms with the fact he can’t control everyone’s lives, even if he has good intentions. For Oliver, giving up control is difficult, but he’s learning that he has to let those closest to him make their own decisions.
“Unchained” begins with the surprise return of Roy Harper (a.k.a. Arsenal), who we last saw in season three taking the rap for Green Arrow and then going into hiding. Unfortunately for Roy, his situation hasn’t exactly improved. He’s stealing high-powered tech from all around Star City. After he attempts, and successfully, heists an ultra-battery from Palmer Technologies, Team Arrow catches up to him, and Oliver subdues him with a tranquilizer arrow. Back at the Arrow Cave, we discover Roy is being blackmailed into committing these robberies. Someone’s threatening to reveal his true identity, which, if released to the press, would ultimately show that he’s not the Green Arrow, with fingers left pointing toward Oliver Queen.
Roy’s predicament becomes more peculiar when he drops that the person threatening him calls himself the Calculator (Tom Amandes). After examining the tech stolen, Felicity determines it’s being used to build something called a “web nuke”, which can destroy the Internet. Honestly, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at that premise, and the Dr. Evil-ness of it all, but Team Arrow takes their web nukes very seriously.
Since it’s technology that’s the target, Felicity takes point and hacks into the Calculator’s mainframe. This leads an exchange of words between her and the Calculator, who appears to be equally adept at computers, technology, and hacking. Though their conversation is brief, Oliver and Felicity decipher that the Calculator isn’t going to destroy the Internet, but instead he’s going to use the web nuke on hospital and city computers, which would lead to the death of everyone in the Star City. Later, Felicity uses some cyber security tech called a “battering ram” to penetrate the Calculator’s firewall only to discover that his henchmen are installing the web nuke at Flint Hills Data Farm facility.
Team Arrow rushes to the facility — including Roy in his classic red Arsenal garb. They take out the Calculator’s henchmen, while Felicity and the Calculator himself engage in some hacker smack talk that feels decidedly different from any of her previous interactions with baddies on the show. Eventually, Team Arrow come to find out the only way to stop the web nuke is to blow it up, and shooting an arrow directly at it will do the trick. But whoever shoots the arrow might not make it out alive. Roy makes a pretty courageous move by volunteering to destroy the web nuke while the others escape. Oliver tries to talk him out of it, but Roy counters, “I’m the one who brought this maniac into your lives. I need to do this. This is my choice. It’s my life”. And with that, Oliver grimaces but nods in approval. Fortunately for everyone involved, Roy blows up the web nuke and makes it out of the explosion alive.
Roy isn’t the only one to have to unchain himself from Oliver in this episode. Thea isn’t in very good shape as we learn that her bloodlust, which was temporarily relieved though Damien Darhk’s (Neal McDonough) magic, is returning. This time, however, if she doesn’t kill, she will die. Oliver is convinced the only way to save her is to find Darhk and have him use his magic to heal her permanently, but Thea doesn’t want Oliver to be in Darhk’s debt. Oliver wants to do everything in his power to ensure Thea survives, but she informs him that it’s not up to him. “I have to try,” Oliver says. “No, you don’t. It’s my life,” Thea responds. Even Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), Thea’s father, knows he cannot force her to kill someone to quench her bloodlust because “…it’s her life. It’s her choice.”
At the episode’s conclusion, we see a tearful goodbye between the ailing Thea and Roy, who decides its best for him to leave Star City again. Both of them have shown that they want more control over their own lives, but that control still doesn’t mean they can be together. Their love story is once again put on hold.
“Unchained” might be one of the most densely packed episodes this season, as it briskly moves from scene to scene with little room for the viewer to catch their breath, but somehow Arrow’s writers make it work — quite well, I might add. It’s a wild ride, but when it all comes together, “Unchained” makes for some fantastic storytelling.
NUGGETS AND TIDBITS
After being MIA the previous few episodes, Curtis Holt/Mr. Wonderful (Echo Kellum) is back for a brief cameo. His biggest contribution is a pep talk to Felicity after a deflating company presentation. The longer the season goes on, the more it’s starting to feel like Holt was never meant to be much more than a background character.
If you couldn’t tell by their quippy hacker battle, Felicity and the Calculator have history. After Felicity second go around running Palmer Technologies presentation goes very well, the Calculator approaches Felicity and she greets him with “Dad?”
The major shocker in ”Unchained” comes at the episode’s conclusion when Nyssa Al Ghul (Katrina Law) emerges from the shadows and reveals herself to Oliver at Thea’s bedside. Nyssa tells Oliver about an elixir called the lotus that can reverse the effects of the Lazarus Pit. The kicker is that she won’t give it to Oliver unless he kills Malcolm Merlyn. Should set up for some interesting developments next week!