Arrow S3.12 "Uprising" review

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It’s a cornerstone of comic book mythology that heroes – and more than a few villains – are born out of tragedy, whether it’s an exploding planet, a murderous mugging in an alleyway or your dear old uncle popping his clogs just in time to drum the words “With great power comes great responsibility” into your selfish little bean of a brain.

“Uprising” gives Malcolm Merlyn the secret origin treatment, told in flashback form to give us a breather from the ongoing Hong Kong narrative. It’s standard issue fare as far as backstories go: he vows revenge for the death of his wife, only to discover that taking a life doesn’t solve anything (it solves even less when you’ve taken the wrong life, of course). It’s a commendable attempt to deepen our understanding of the character but ultimately it backfires. Somehow Malcolm seemed an infinitely more complex and compelling figure before this week’s episode. Retrofitting him with such a well-worn motivation only serves to make him less ambiguous, less interesting, less of a story force. There was a magnetism to his hazy morality. John Barrowman does his best to sell Malcolm’s essential nobility but I can’t help feeling the character’s a more effective foil for Oliver as a mercurial trickster figure.

Arrow Trivia

The newspaper story on the death of Malcolm’s wife has a byline for David MacLean, a shout-out to the show’s storyboard artist. His other genre credits include The Flash, X2 and Caprica.

This episode’s other ambition is to give Oliver a suitably heroic homecoming. There’s some obvious (and by now traditional) borrowing from Nolan’s Bat-verse: both the long trek home from the mountains and the citizens banding against their oppressors shamelessly ape elements of The Dark Knight Rises. Here, however, the episode just misses: while there’s a stirring shot of an arrow shooting into the climactic melee, soundtracked by the show’s theme, Oliver’s return to Starling doesn’t feel nearly as triumphant as it should (and it should, by the essential laws of dramatic physics, feel equally as big as his apparent death in the mid-season finale). It’s left to Felicity – still the soul of the show – to give his comeback some real emotional resonance. The ever brilliant Emily Bett Rickards manages to make the words “I’m glad you’re not dead” sound like a slam.

Elsewhere I liked the sight of Red Arrow and Black Canary working in tandem, feeling like a team-up strip in an old DC Comic being brought to life. And Roy, of course, earns the funniest scene of the episode as a hilariously dismissive Lance sees right through his superheroic disguise. “Harper!”

Arrow is broadcast in the UK on Sky 1 HD on Thursday nights, and Arrow in the US on Wednesday nights.

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WritersBeth Schwartz & Brian Ford Sullivan
DirectorJesse Warn
The one whereWith Oliver still missing and the police abandoning the Glades, its up to Team Arrow to finally confront Mr Brickwell

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Available platformsTV
Nick Setchfield
Editor-at-Large, SFX Magazine

Nick Setchfield is the Editor-at-Large for SFX Magazine, writing features, reviews, interviews, and more for the monthly issues. However, he is also a freelance journalist and author with Titan Books. His original novels are called The War in the Dark, and The Spider Dance. He's also written a book on James Bond called Mission Statements.