There’s a moment in “Restoration” in which Malcolm Merlyn—now firmly established as the new Ra’s al Ghul—offers counsel to his daughter, who is struggling with her Lazarus Pit-bestowed bloodlust. His advice is, as ever, ruthlessly practical, as he explains the only way she will even be able to temporarily manage her dark impulses will be to indulge it. On one level, keeping in mind everything that has happened on Arrow up to this point, the whole thing is entirely logical. Mystical resurrection pits are going to exact terrible prices on the soul. That makes total sense, sure. Only way to deal with it is to do some killing. John Barrowman plays his latest bit of psychotic exposition with just the right level of easy confidence, pitching his advice as though it is simultaneously terrible and the most obvious thing in the world. It’s awful, yes, but not in a way that particularly demands to be remarked upon.
But then, Thea remarks upon it. She calls complete bullshit on everything Malcolm has just said, translating his operatic verbiage into its literal meaning: Dad just told her to go on a killing spree. The look on Malcolm’s face is priceless. Never has he looked quite so small, so powerless, so uncertain. He looks just like, well, a dad who has just been confronted with his own prodigious shortcomings. Thea’s sudden demand that just once Malcolm act like an actual father takes a lot of mystical mumbo jumbo that could be just hideously abstract and weightless—as it all too often was in Nanda Parbat under the previous Ra’s al Ghul—and locates it in very specific human emotions. That’s not to say the scene transforms into high drama. If anything, this is one of the funniest Arrow scenes in memory, in a way that blurs the line between intentional and unintentional comedy. But that’s a hell of a lot more relatable and more immediately than Malcolm portentously orating about indulging impulses or whatever.
The thing is that, if a show like Arrow runs long enough, everything about it is going to get ridiculous. A show can only ask its characters to respond to insane situations in a recognizably human way so many times before the whole thing just collapses under its own ludicrousness. That’s particularly true of a show like Arrow, which is a far grimmer and more serious proposition than its sibling The Flash, where everyone’s willingness to smile and crack wise can make it a little easier to believe people would just go with the flow. But, Felicity aside, Arrow demands more consistently dramatic reactions to the stories it tells, which is to say the reactions are consistently melodramatic. “Restoration” is legitimately trying to further the relationship between Malcolm and Thea, addressing issues of a daughter’s mistrust and disappointment and a father’s faltering efforts to overcome his own worst self and make things right with the one thing in this world he might legitimately love. It’s just … all that is told in the context of a story where said father is the leader of an ancient, murder-obsessed cult, and he tries to help his daughter by arranging for her to kill a couple of his own men. The very fact that Arrow would play this straight is itself kind of a joke.
And that’s what makes it all so brilliant! After a sprawling, misfiring third season, Arrow is trying to keep its focus as tight as possible, and making Malcolm the new Ra’s al Ghul gives a concreteness to the Nanda Parbat material that the show could never quite manage before. It’s all quite silly, yet it also all makes sense. We know Thea and Malcolm in a way we never did the old Ra’s, and so their story can be about something that isn’t just droning on about mysticism or whatever. The question of whether to bring back Sara is ultimately decided along entirely personal lines. Laurel can’t live without doing everything she can to save her sister. Nyssa rejects the plan because she refuses to countenance what might come out of that pit; leaving Sara dead is to her the ultimate sign of her love. And Malcolm? He abandons his sense of duty because he sees it as the only way to hold onto Thea, at least for a little while longer. The stakes here—the resurrection of a long-dead character, possibly at the expense of her soul—are so removed from the human experience, and Arrow doesn’t have the depth of character to make this play as high drama. But damn if this isn’t all entertaining, and that’s a triumph on its own terms.
Really, that’s the big general takeaway with “Restoration”: It’s fun, in a way Arrow hasn’t been since the very early days of the third season. That’s not to say it’s a lighthearted episode, though nor is it grim. Crucially, the episode lets Oliver continue to live up to the promise of a kinder, better adjusted vigilante. He and Diggle still have plenty to work through over the course of this episode, but Diggle’s rejection doesn’t cause the kind of existential angst we saw so often in previous seasons. Oliver is secure in the knowledge that he’s doing the right thing, which means he neither beats himself up over the latest mishap nor angrily asserts that everyone else needs to get with the program. Instead, he’s happy to remind Felicity that he’s not alone when he’s got her as backup, and he takes the time to point out that he didn’t technically take a bullet for Diggle. A lighter Oliver frees up the rest of the show to go into darker territory without the whole enterprise feeling oppressive. Sure, the way in which Oliver earns back Diggle’s trust is almost stupidly on the nose, but it feels earned in the sense that, well, it would be more fun for Oliver and Diggle to be friends again. As long as the show can be enjoyable enough to get us to invest in the desired outcome, that can cover a multitude of storytelling sins.
So yeah, I honestly don’t know if “Restoration” is a good episode of television in a straightforward sense. Certainly, it lacks the almost ineffable epic quality that elevated Arrow at its best, particularly in the back half of the Slade Wilson season. But the show at least recognizes that, if it has indeed reached the point where it’s irretrievably ridiculous, then at least the best thing to do is have some fun with it all. And really, this episode was ultimately all about the table-setting, with Sara’s return and the redoubled efforts to find H.I.V.E. suggesting more classically compelling narratives may well be in the show’s near future. Even if not, this is a version of Arrow I’m more than happy to have around.
- We’re officially starting to assemble the Mr. Terrific iconography! I’m not sure the Arrow creative team has tipped its hand as to its larger plans for Curtis Holt, but just the idea of having Mr. Terrific in a featured role on a live-action show in any capacity sounds pretty fun.
- Maybe it’s just because I’m aware Ray Palmer is going to be resurrected in time for Legends Of Tomorrow, but we’re all pretty much agreed it’s him who is communicating with Felicity on her phone, yes?
- I haven’t said it yet this week, so let me say it now: My goodness, Neal McDonough is a delight as Damien Dahrk. He’s so gleefully psychotic!