Emily Bett Rickards, Rick Gonzalez, Audrey Marie Anderson
Photo: Robert Falconer (The CW)

An Arrow villain has had it, well and truly had it. He is done. He loathes Oliver Queen and wants to scorch the earth on which he stands. He wants to inflict maximum suffering. So he does something that’s extremely dark and heavy and climactic. He targets the people he loves.

Now, guess the villain!

If your answer was, “well, pretty much all of them,” you’ve arrived at the primary issue with “The Ties That Bind,” a relatively well-constructed hour of television that nevertheless wholly underwhelms. Ricardo Diaz is dangerous in a way none of Team Arrow’s other foes have been dangerous, or so we’re told, over and over, again and again. I will admit that having the entire (and apparently super corrupt) police department on his payroll is something new. But Arrow seems to have forgotten that Adrian Chase was pretty damn lethal, not to mention a government official with a ton of knowledge about Oliver’s life and seemingly inexhaustible resources. It seems to have forgotten about evil wizard Damien Darhk, and Malcolm Merlyn, and dark days Slade Wilson, and poor old Cayden James, and the whole freakin’ League of Assassins.

You know what nearly all of those people did? Showed how serious they were about inflicting misery on Oliver—which is clearly way better than killing him—by targeting his loved ones. It’s a storytelling trope that’s not unique to Arrow, of course, but at this point they’ve rung that bell so often one could be forgiven for feeling slightly deafened by it. And yet for all the sturm und drang, pretty much nothing happens. It’s as though the show had one hour they needed to fill, so they shot up a bunch of sets, injured Curtis, gave Felicity and Oliver a bit of a fight, got rid of the whole Quadrant story, blew through a chunk of their pyrotechnics budget, and called it a day. In this episode, stuff explodes. Let’s move on.

There are four things that keep “The Ties That Bind” from being a total bust, however:

  • Item one: Solid, capable direction from Tara Miele, in her first outing for the show.
  • Item two: Loads of Lyla being very good at her job.
  • Item three: The Anatoly storyline continues to be dynamic and interesting.
  • Item four: Low ‘Hoss’ quotient.

Let’s start with that first one. This isn’t the most stylish or flashy (not Flash-y) episode in Arrow’s history, but you can’t say it doesn’t make good time. Miele’s tasked with quite a few big set pieces here, and while a few stretch this often implausible show past its plausibility breaking point, they’re all relatively easy to follow and reasonably compelling. The first in particular is a tense, even thrilling affair, and while there’s no way an unarmed and unarmored Oliver could take down all his suited-up, automatic weapon-wielding visitors without injury, it’s still a really well-handled scene. I hope she returns for season seven (seven!), because fight scenes you can actually follow and montages that don’t feel forced aren’t easy to come by.

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Audrey Marie Anderson
Photo: Robert Falconer (The CW)

Now, for item two: Audrey Marie Anderson kicking genuine ass. As Arrow’s cast has gotten bigger, and as their lives have become more complicated, family members have often been conveniently stowed away on missions, or in bunkers, or on vacation. (Example: Raisa’s most often included as a useful William disposal device: Raisa’s here, so go ahead and forget about William for awhile.) That means that when Lyla Michaels shows up, it’s usually because John needs to have some sort of emotional scene away from Oliver. Not even ARGUS involvement guarantees a Lyla sighting. It’s not as though Anderson has a ton to do here, but while her easy battlefield rapport with John is likely included to provide contrast, it still makes for a few immensely appealing sequences, both with guns and, in the case of Felicity’s marriage questions, without.

The best of these four is the Anatoly storyline, which continues to be a grounded, mercifully thoughtful relief. Much of that is due to David Nykl, who nimbly balances Anatoly’s grim humor with the very real stakes of the story, but Stephen Amell’s contributions shouldn’t be dismissed. As mentioned in previous reviews, the history between these two characters adds considerable heft to their exchanges. Still, in this hour at least, the most intriguing scenes take place between Anatoly and Diaz. Watching Nykl dissemble is gripping stuff, and while this all means that Anatoly is likely climbing any Arrow death watch lists out there, we’ve got these episodes, at least. (Hopefully he makes it through—Anatoly’s the best.)

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Item four explains itself. It’s nice being able to tolerate Rene again.

Still, the good doesn’t outweigh the bad. The villain problem isn’t unique to Arrow, or to superhero properties in general. Nor are all of Arrow’s villains a total snooze (though some of them have sure been better elsewhere.) But after all the shouting’s done, “The Ties That Bind” is just about the team reuniting out of necessity, with no hiccups, while shit blows up around them because another Arrow villain had the same old idea. Get a new schtick, baddies. Please. I’m begging you.


Stray observations

  • Why, at the beginning of the episode, is no one being cautious? Why are they not in a safe house? Have they all lost their minds?
  • William telling his dad to kick some ass was a nice little moment.
  • “So you switched gears from careful and precise to loud and messy?” Show, know thyself.
  • Comically henchman-esque cop is back! Great.
  • So... that’s a wrap on the Quadrant? Really?
  • Now that the bunker is toast, I’m guessing that’s a wrap on salmon ladder.
  • TAMVP: Lyla!

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