It’s the Arrow midseason finale, and after two weeks of Oliver’s brief, failed attempt at finding his vigilante soul mate in Helena Bertinelli (or, the Huntress), things in Starling City have once more begun to revolve around the corrupt white-collar businessmen who’ve “failed” the city, and the secret organization that grants the series use of John Barrowman, as well as the conspiracy cliffhangers it so frequently likes to end episodes on.

In that regard, ‘Year’s End,’ certainly gets its fill of short conspiratorial suggestions in before the credits role – not the least of which is the reveal that Malcolm Merlyn (Barrowman) has apparently been putting those fencing lessons (and more) to good use by co-opting Arrow’s M.O. to kill guys like Adam Hunt. The end result is Starling City’s police commissioner attempting to pin the murders on Arrow, even though the black arrows at the crime scene appear to be the calling card of another archer. Although this means a nemesis for Arrow, it’s not all bad; Malcolm does try to push Oliver (Stephen Amell) toward the whole Green Arrow codename idea – but that’s probably just so people don’t start referring to the Dark Archer as Other Arrow Guy.

This reveal certainly paints Malcolm in a new light. He’s gone from being a mysterious, but sharply dressed fellow, with ties to a conspiracy involving Robert (Jamey Sheridan) and Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson), to the guy who cut off his own son’s trust fund, to now a formidable adversary for Starling City’s resident vigilante. Finally, after months of being terrorized by a lunatic in a green hood, the obscenely rich have begun to fight back!

But that’s not all; apparently, Malcolm’s also forcing Moira’s hand regarding Walter’s ongoing investigation into the salvaging of The Queen’s Gambit, and the small matter of the money she embezzled. So far, even though she was instrumental in Walter’s investigation, it looks like Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) isn’t on the group’s radar – but perhaps they don’t consider anyone who so easily becomes entranced by the wonders of Windows 8 to be much of a threat. In the end, all of Walter’s snooping gets him kidnapped by the organization which promises to return him in tiptop (but possibly memory free) shape, after they unleash some plan that will leave thousands dead – just after the holidays, no less.

Before the Queen family can get totally bummed out on conspiracies resulting in mass murder and the fact that Oliver’s already poorly regarded secret identity is being besmirched even more by a guy who uses a compound bow, Oliver convinces everyone that his first post-island Christmas needs to be celebrated with a party in the Queen family tradition. Naturally, Thea (Willa Holland) isn’t too keen on the idea, but like everything else, she seems to go along with it just so she can appear uninterested the whole time. Thea’s long been one of the weaker elements in the Arrow character catalogue, and while its good to see the effort being made to craft some sort of interchange between her and Oliver, having them bond over candy canes doesn’t quite cut it. Other characters seem to benefit from dealing with one another; Moira has Walter (Colin Salmon) and Tommy (Colin Donnell) has the sometimes-interesting romance with Laurel (Katie Cassidy), so perhaps the introduction of Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) will help out in regards to Thea’s character struggles.

The episode also features a return to the flashbacks that had been missing while Oliver was dealing with the Helena situation. Other than spilling a bit of info about Yao Fei (Byron Mann) and asking us to recall just who Edward Fyres (Sebastian Dunn) is, there’s not enough of a reveal as to what exactly happened on the island – or at least not a substantial one to coincide with the midseason finale expectations.

While ‘Year’s End’ didn’t seem to pack the kind of punch its various surprises and reveals wanted, it did set the stage for some serious comic book villainy, come next year. As far as midseason finales go, however, if the intent was to put forth some suggestion of bigger things to come, then perhaps the episode managed to plant some seeds of interest. Oliver now believes someone other than his father is responsible for the list, and that this person is capable of pulling the strings of guys like the Dark Archer. At any rate, the thought of Arrow making Ollie a little more aware of a larger conspiracy and the existence of bigger bad guys than the ones he’d been taking out, feels like a step in the right direction.

Arrow has been a mostly enjoyable ride up to this point; so let’s hope these hints pay off in the latter half of the season.

Various other items:

  • Malcolm Merlyn being the Dark Archer could easily lead into Tommy Merlyn (Colin Donnell) becoming a villain (à la Harry Osborn in Spider-Man 2 & 3), but given the difference in screen presence between Donnell and Barrowman, let’s hope the elder Merlyn holds on to the bow for the while longer.
  • Can we move the flashbacks up to a time when Oliver’s hair was long enough that Amell can wear a different ridiculous looking wig?

Arrow returns Wednesday, January 16, with ‘Burned’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview of the episode below: