If we assume that Malcolm Merlyn really can teach Oliver to defeat Ra’s Al Ghul (which is a huge assumption that I’ll get to in a moment), then both Oliver and Felicity are right. Felicity is right because Merlyn’s crimes really are unforgivable and it should turn anybody’s stomach to work with him. He can claim that he was trying to protect his city all he wants, but he murdered numerous people and drugged his own daughter to get her to commit another murder (of Oliver’s friend and lover, no less). Felicity’s parting words (“I don’t want to be a woman you love”) were rather hurtful but also contained a lot of truth. Oliver goes through lovers at a rather alarming speed, and they tend to end up dead.
On the other hand, what is Oliver supposed to do? Ra’s Al Ghul killed him last time they fought. He has to be realistic about his chances when the League of Assassins tries to enter his city again. If Merlyn offers the only chance he has, then he has to take the bitter pill.
That last part struck me as rather silly, however. Only the student can best the master and therefore only Merlyn can teach Oliver how to defeat Ra’s Al Ghul? How exactly does that work? I teach martial arts, and there aren’t very many of my students who could beat me in a fight. Nor would I do very well against my grandmaster, and my students certainly wouldn’t learn how to beat my grandmaster from me. I suppose the justification is that Merlyn will understand Ra’s Al Ghul’s sword tactics and that Oliver will be able to discern a weakness in the technique by learning them. But even assuming that’s true, why not just have Maseo teach him? And besides by this logic, Merlyn would be able to defeat Ra’s Al Ghul himself.
So it all seems like a bit of a forced dilemma, but I suppose I’m ok with it for now as long as the show isn’t trying to force a Merlyn redemption arc. The flashbacks reveal a pretty sympathetic Malcolm Merlyn who is lost and doesn’t know what to do when his wife dies. His first kill was rather heartbreaking to watch. And John Barrowman’s hair to indicate his younger self was hilariously awful.
But he killed hundreds of people! And he brainwashed his own daughter into killing another person, all the while claiming to love and care for her. He’s just not redeemable. And I’m a little afraid that this seems to be where the writers are taking the show given how various characters talk about how Malcolm Merlyn truly cares. Roy, of all people, shouldn’t fall for that line.
On another note, I was rather happy to see Sin make an appearance. One of the things about Sara Lance’s story was that it was detailed enough to make its own TV series. It was so rich in fact that she had her own secondary characters one of whom was Sin. I was wondering if the writers were just going to pretend that Sin never existed and that Sara had never made a promise to Sin’s dying father. I’m glad to see Sin wasn’t just tossed aside and forgotten. But it still highlights what a stupid and insulting idea it was to kill off Sara’s character.
Last thought: that street brawl was an impressively big scene and well shot. But the two armies have some pretty strange tactics what with both sides lining up opposite each other and charging into melee range despite the fact that they both have firearms. Diggle was carrying an assault rifle!