It's Christmas time in Starling City!
You know what that means -- no, not Green Arrow shooting tinsel arrows and roasting criminals on a yule log. A mysterious copycat is picking off Oliver Queen's scraps. Adam Hunt is our first victim, who you may remember as the first target when Oliver first returned after his five year absence. The case finds Arrow forming a tenuous alliance with Detective Lance, who is quick to realize that the killer is not 'The Hood' he has been chasing all this time, much to the chagrin of the (of course corrupt) police commissioner.
Despite the dark antagonist, the writers find a little room for holiday cheer. Oliver hearkens back to his father's annual Christmas party, lamenting that the Queen family isn't celebrating. His attempts to fill his father's shoes goes over a little better than a fart in church, particularly with Thea who shows her bitchy side yet again (her words!). "Arrow" has had a few hiccups in the characterization department this season, some episodes stronger than others, and this one unfortunately falls on the weak side. It all seems so rushed and not at all genuine, ultimately not leading anywhere in particular that we haven't been before.
Kimberly Smoak finds a connection between the names in Walter's mystery book and the targets of the hooded vigilante. Unfortunately, John Barrowman's Merlyn is one step ahead, leaning on Moira to get her husband under control before he gets in too deep. Barrowman's big bad is a fantastically evil character, at once charming and menacing, taking pleasure in manipulating his human chessboard no matter how horrible the consequences may be. The only low point of this subplot is that Walter is presumably gone for the forseeable future, and after just returning recently. The writers probably should have just left him in Australia if he was just going to be yanked from the story abruptly yet again.
We get our first island flashback in some time, and it's a doozy. Oliver is faced with a decision: revenge on the mercenary who kidnapped and tortured him, or a ride home... via that same mercenary's plane. The merc sheds some light on the island as well, noting that Lao Tzu was used by the Chinese as a island prison for their most dangerous offenders. The highlight sees the return of Deathstroke, another alleged prisoner on the island, who has his second fantastic fight scene with mentor/sensei Yao Fei.
Overall, the episode seemed torn in too many directions, the Black Arrow providing a great antagonist but the storyline being unfortunately distracted by the various subplots. The revelation of who the mystery archer actually was didn't really play into the flashback (wouldn't Deathstroke have been a better choice?) as in previous episodes, so consequently the two threads clashed instead of presenting an overarching theme.
Final Grade: B-