Of all the possible scenarios that could have come out of Moira Queen conspiring with China White and the Triads to assassinate Malcolm Merlyn, the one involving the Hood revealing his true identity to Tommy Merlyn came as something of a surprise. And this late in the season, it's good to see Arrow playing a bit with the status quo, while attempting to flesh out two key members of the supporting cast who'd been relegated to the sidelines as of late.
'Dead to Rights' is the second Arrow episode to be written by DC Comics' Geoff Johns; the first was 'Muse of Fire', and 'Rights' stands as the stronger of the two. Perhaps that's because Johns was given the opportunity not only to play with more established characters, but was also afforded the chance to push the series' narrative forward in a more compelling manner. That said: the potentially disastrous decision Oliver makes near the end of the episode may dictate the events of the rest of the season as strongly as the reveal of the Undertaking.
It's true, the season's overall narrative could pan out differently and the fact that Tommy Merlyn is aware his best friend is also the Starling City vigilante may turn out to be no more important than the fried fish he and Ollie had for lunch. But considering the level of importance that's been placed on the (barely) elder Merlyn, and his part in the oft-referenced Undertaking, it stands to reason that Tommy's knowledge may play a key part in the progression of Malcolm's relationship with his son, and possibly the Dark Archer's battle with Arrow.
Surprisingly, though, the episode manages to have far more up its sleeve than just Ollie's decision to pull back the hood in Tommy's time of need. Johns also focuses a considerable amount of attention on Malcolm and Tommy, giving them both some much-needed depth and making their relationship a little more defined.
Until a few weeks ago, Tommy had existed as something of a reflection of the man Oliver had once been. He appeared to be living the same trust fund-fueled lifestyle that Oliver Queen had become notorious for prior to vanishing for five years. After Malcolm cut Tommy off from the Merlyn piggy bank, the character had sort of languished in the margins of the series, appearing now and again to remind viewers that Oliver and Laurel were once together and that there will soon be a nightclub feeding house music directly into the Arrow Lair.
Despite not being directly named for the first half of the season, Malcolm certainly faired a little better than his son. He rose to prominence after delivering a major whooping to Arrow just before the holiday break and by revealing himself to be, if not the architect of the Undertaking, certainly one of its supervisors. But he was still something of an enigma, as he had formerly been known simply as the Well Dressed Man, and even after the reveal of the Dark Archer's identity, much of Malcolm's character remained shrouded in mystery. There's definitely a lot of appeal in keeping the sinister forces of a series hidden in the shadows, but at a certain point, finding out at least a portion of what makes them tick is going to make them far more interesting in the long run. And to a degree, this episode offers that insight.
Earlier in the episode Tommy and Oliver have a conversation about the fractured relationship between the Merlyns, and it becomes clear that the resentment Tommy feels toward his father is not born out of having his trust fund taken away; it stems from Malcolm's two-year absence following the murder of his wife. There had been hints that the death of Tommy's mother had a profound affect on Malcolm, and there is a bit more explanation here as to how that event not only put a literal and figurative distance between father and son, but it was also the catalyst for Malcolm to acquire the skills that would make him the Dark Archer and fuel his desire to reconstruct the Glades – even if it costs thousands of lives in order to do it. Malcolm tells Tommy that he'd been to a place called Nanda Parbat (which will certainly mean something to DC Comics fans), and there he met a man who clearly changed his outlook on life.
In addition to deepening the relationships (whether they're aware of it or not) between Oliver, Tommy and Malcolm, the episode also makes better use of the villains Deadshot and China White than it has in the past. Certainly with Deadshot, his introduction in 'Lone Gunmen' was something of an anticlimactic letdown, and although he and Oliver don't directly engage one another this time around – Oliver only becomes aware of his presence after detecting a curare-laced bullet – that works out good for Floyd Lawton, as the assassin gets to keep his one good eye and manages an upgrade on the other thanks to China White.
Like the series itself, 'Dead to Rights' is far from perfect, but it does manage to highlight many of the things that Arrow does well, without getting too soapy about things. But, more importantly, the episode hints at things to come, and manages to combine some of the narrative's larger implications with a character that was long overdue for some attention.
- The progression of the flashbacks has slowed once more, but there seems to be a real relationship between Oliver and Slade brewing. Slade even manages to display a sense of humor by asking if Oliver hoped "aircraft maintenance is genetic."
- Moira appears to have gotten off scot-free in regard to her role in Malcolm's attempted assassination. It will be interesting to see whether or not she remains so aggressive as the Undertaking approaches, and if her dealing with China White will have some ramifications for her down the road.
- In addition to briefly mentioning her family had a canary at one point in her childhood, Laurel's story for the episode contained the arrival her mother, in the form of Alex Kingston (Dr. Who), who seems convinced that Sarah might still be alive.
- There's a nice moment when Malcolm nearly reveals his identity as the Dark Archer to his son. How might things have turned out differently if that had not been interrupted?
Arrow continues next Wednesday with 'The Huntress Returns' @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview of the episode below: