The position Tommy Merlyn has been in since learning of Oliver’s extracurricular activities as the Hood, and rekindling his relationship with his father Malcolm – despite remaining unaware the Dark Archer’s true identity – has not necessarily been a main topic of conversation in Arrow, but it’s certainly been a presence that’s felt whenever Oliver and Tommy pretend their relationship hasn’t been irrevocably altered.
But, as is said multiple times during the episode, “People can change.” That’s a popular device for writers – especially those in television – to use when a character is on the verge of some making a shift in his or her importance to the plot. Of course, in ‘Unfinished Business,’ it also applies to Oliver’s time on the island and his strength-training under the guidance of Yao Fei’s daughter, Shado, but, more importantly, it has to do with Tommy literally returning to his father’s embrace and all the potential issues that can arise from such a reunion.
Throughout the episode, several references are made to the kind of trust-fund brat Tommy was – the kind that had regular run-ins with the law, and participated in the kind of illicit dealings that put drugs in the hands of Starling City’s ever-partying youth. All of this comes up due to a young woman who was last seen at Ollie’s club, Verdant, being killed shortly after leaving and the police finding traces of Vertigo in her system.
Naturally, everyone’s attention turns to the brain-fried lunatic that created Vertigo in the first place, but he’s been rambling and drooling in Starling City’s mental hospital for several months now. After a brief visit with the Count, Oliver (and later, Det. Lance) are both convinced it can’t be him since he’s so far off the rails that even the Joker would tell him to tone it down a little bit.
But the reemergence of Vertigo and the mystery of its continued existence without the knowledge of the Count takes a back seat to the far more interesting and surprisingly well-drawn drama that erupts when Det. Lance has no choice but to follow the evidence, even when it leads directly to Tommy Merlyn.
There are some loaded dramatic elements that actually manage to have some decent heft here, as Lance’s need to investigate his daughter’s boyfriend threatens to destroy the tenuous accord between him and Laurel, while having the police snooping around Verdant, looking for traces of Vertigo puts Oliver, Diggle and Felicity directly in harm’s way. And, of course, standing uncomfortably somewhere in between is Tommy Merlyn, who decides running a legitimate business so his friend can have a cover to go out and kill bad people isn’t exactly what he signed up for.
And it’s too bad, because at one point in the episode, Oliver finds himself in a potentially disastrous position that no amount of island super-herb or Felicity data wrangling is going to fix. Detective Lance has a legitimate search warrant and knowledge of a sub-level to Verdant that Tommy paid a city inspector $10k to overlook. Naturally, Lance figures that mysterious level is where Tommy (and probably Oliver) are cooking up batches of Vertigo, but once he gains entrance to the Arrow Lair, Lance is greeted with a rather boring collection of spare chairs and boxes of expensive-looking liquor – even Oliver is slightly taken aback.
In the end, Oliver may have dodged a bullet in terms of the law, but he’s inadvertently caused a far more dangerous problem that’s directly related to his exploits as the Hood and the upcoming Undertaking. But most importantly, Oliver discovers something about who the Hood is after beating himself up for not killing the Count when he first had the chance.
After a near-fatal run-in with the true criminal – the Count’s physician and an overgrown orderly with rage issues – Oliver is faced with a choice of whether or not to take the life of a truly helpless man, or if the Count’s current circumstances seem like punishment enough. Of course, this conclusion is only reached after Oliver and Diggle kill the drug-dealing physician and his orderly, but the pass Oliver gives the Count speaks more to the Hood’s understanding of when lethal force is necessary and when he can stay his hand.
Oliver learns that despite the high-stakes game he’s playing, sometimes a little mercy can go a long way in differentiating the good guys from the bad (even though he promises to help Diggle hunt down Deadshot). And with Tommy aligning himself with his father, this option to show mercy may soon be put to the test.
Arrow returns Wednesday, April 24 with ‘Home Invasion’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below:
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