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"I thought the vigilante finished off the Count?"
Arrow has been a very solid action adventure series basically since it started airing but the last few episodes have been especially great. After taking some time off about a month ago, the superhero show came back with an added sharpness and spectacle not to mention much improved, well, everything (from the writing to the acting) which might be the result of it being renewed for another season. The CW's commitment to Arrow went from tentative to all-in and that faith seemed to almost immediately come across in the product itself over the last few weeks and probably also added a few coins to the budget since the action sequences and scope are even more impressive then they already were. "Salvation" contained more than a few of those well crafted set pieces not to mention made our hero reflect on his own choices in the face of another vigilante and recruit another ally for his exploits on the island.
"Can you hook me up?"
This week, however, is all about "Unfinished Business" and the first bit of it for the crime fighters has to do with the return of "Vertigo," the drug that not only ravaged the Glades but hit a little too close to home for Oliver thanks to Thea's dangerous experimentation. Speaking of Thea, there are no other Queens in the episode which is a bit odd for a couple reasons, namely, the little sister's aforementioned intimate involvement in the drug's first appearance and how "Unfinished Business" felt more unfocused and sprawling even though it featured fewer characters than usual. Don't get me wrong, there was still a lot to like but I spent the intro praising how sharp the show has been since its last hiatus so it's only fair to also point out the minor slip before Arrow takes off for another few weeks. Sorry. It's true, the series will be sitting out the next two Wednesday nights which might be why a lot of last night came across as set-up for the home stretch.
"This guy didn't fail the city, the city failed him."
And the events of episodic consequence, albeit clever, severely underused Seth Gabel (The Count) minimizing his role to misdirection and/or a morality over time measuring device for Ollie. He was still a lot of over-the-top fun but ultimately the whole story line lacked a little punch. "Unfinished Business" opened with a high young girl wandering from Verdant to the front of a moving car and her death not only brings the police into the fold but Detective Dad (more on the Lances and Tommy to come) is also kind enough to alert Oliver of the situation before going to interview the Count at the insane asylum. Arrow, thanks to the tip, is one step ahead and it doesn't take long for him to realize that the former distributor of the dangerous narcotic is not mentally fit to be running the current op. Or is he? No. He isn't. For a while this thread leads you to believe the villain has escaped only to have Oliver eventually figure out that he never actually left.
"All those years on that island, guess you really did go crazy."
In another twist, it turns out the 'Doc' is really the one behind the scheme (like I said, clever) and he waterboards our hero into chugging back a whole lot of the ooze from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Green! At least this time Arrow is smart enough to bring the antidote with him and manages - with the help of Dig getting his hands dirty/having his back - to thwart the villain of the week's plans to make money selling drugs. Yeah. A bit of a let down motive and storyline for a superhero series, realistic and gritty or not. And the dangerous hallucinogen, just like the first time it made an appearance on the series, was very reminiscent of a lot of Batman Begins, it's just too bad they didn't make the Doc Jonathan Crane (and, you know, not die in the end) because that could have been really awesome and also play into the whole set-up the rest of the season theme running through the episode.
"People can change."
Another one of the "Unfinished Business" threads that felt like a lot of set-up without too much payoff involved Tommy and his various relationships. Tommy is a fine supporting character and I am interested to see what they do with him (especially after the closing moments) but the clash with Ollie over their histories and him quitting the nightclub felt like the show simply going through the motions in order to get to the cliff-hanger ending of the warm embrace. Like I said, knowing what we know about Malcolm (John Barrowman rocks) and the Merlyn moniker, I'm wondering if we'll start to see a little like father, like son action. Either way, in the future Tommy is going to be put in that awkward situation where he has to choose between his villainous father and vigilante best friend. Tommy also was pretty much the driving force behind both Lances' stories as well, with the father and daughter upholders of the law squabbling over Detective Dad investigating her boyfriend's shadiness. Isn't it a crime to bribe city officials? No arrest on that one?
"Draw the bow."
The island once again does a nice job of mirroring the main theme of the contemporary plot, this time by highlighting the two sides of the hero's growth, namely, his transformation into a merciless killer and then his struggle to regain his humanity. I'm not going to fault the flashback thread for containing a lot of 'set-up' because that's basically what the storytelling device has been doing all along, showing his character develop incrementally as he builds a team to fight the baddies and get off the island. Oh, and that means a lot of weapons and fight training, as well as a healthy dose of wisdom when the teacher is Yao Fei or his daughter Shado. That water bowl training trick was a page right out of the Mr. Miyagi playbook. That's a Karate Kid reference, by the way. To counteract the poise of his new teacher, we still have the rugged and loveable Slade Wilson around to knock Ollie down if he's feeling too good about himself. No battles with the mercs though, but we can all look forward to next week's shooting lesson.
"You two have unfinished business."
Finally, we get to the titular case of 'unfinished business' and, although I do enjoy Dig getting his own agency and the show pursuing his vegeance-adventure, it is probably the part of the episode most emblematic of it being more concerned with laying the groundwork for the further instead of delivering a thoroughly solid one-off. Normally I'm not one to complain about serialization but it's hard to have almost an entire installment of a predominantly episodic show devoted to prepping fans for what is to come. Having said that, do I want to see Dig get revenge on Deadshot? Hell yes! The famous DC Comics villain first appeared very early in the series ("Lone Gunman") before resurfacing a few week's back in "Dead to Rights" to rekindle Dig's desire to take down the scum responsible for the death of his brother. Especially now that he's stepping into the husband-father hole that the murder left behind. It was also nice to see that Ollie has Dig's back since the latter always knows just when to show up and doesn't mind getting his hands dirty.
Arrow returns with Episode 20, "Home Invasion," on Wednesday, April 24 at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.