Whilst Identity ended on a classic cliff-hanger, Broken Dolls progresses the story of Arrow at a fantastic pace. With Oliver rescued by a certain ‘bird of prey,’ it’s not long before his next problems are just around the corner. Starling City has an old villain prowling its streets: Barton Mathis, aka the Dollmaker (Michael Eklund). Previously incarcerated, Mathis has managed to escape the prison life and is on a mission to torment Starling City and the man who locked him up, Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne). It can often be argued that shows of this nature can be tailored too much towards a younger audience, but Broken Dolls is a fantastically dark, sinister and twisted viewing experience.
Yes, we’ve seen the likes of Count Vertigo and the Royal Flush Gang get watered down adaptations in earlier episodes of Arrow, but the Dollmaker is simply the best villain we’ve seen to date. With his M.O. being to turn young girls into dolls, Mathis is a truly memorable villain in the same mould as Jigsaw from Saw or the Elite Hunting Group from the Hostel series. He enjoys torturing young girls, and he’s got quite the grudge against the former Detective Lance. With Lance now reduced to working as an average cop on the streets, his superiors refuse to let him get involved with the hunt for Barton Mathis due to his previous encounters with the porcelain-obsessed rogue. With no other option, Lance turns to ‘The Hood’ for assistance in taking down a villain that has an eye for young Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy).
As the episode plays out like a horror movie, there’s also plenty of action and memorable moments. Broken Dolls has several moments that literally had me slack-jawed (which, may I point out, isn’t my natural pose) and in shock. The Dollmaker is set up as a major villain, and there’s a realness and sense of consequence about him, but we also get to see a slight glimpse more into the mysterious Black Canary (Caity Lotz), who crosses paths with Oliver. On the Black Canary note, we also get introduced to Sin (Bex Taylor-Klaus), who has close ties to the character. And yes, we get to see Canary’s sonic-scream utilised in a truly Arrow way… and it works.
Genuinely disturbing at points, Broken Dolls is right up there with the best Arrow episodes we’ve seen, arguably being the best. Whilst Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen is front-and-centre throughout, this episode is all about Paul Blackthorne’s Quentin Lance. Given more screen-time than he’s seen previously, especially this season, we get to see different layers to the Quentin Lance character. We find out just why his problem with the Dollmaker is so personal, we get to see him talk openly and emotionally to ‘The Hood,’ and we get to see some nice changes in the Quentin and Laurel dynamic. Speaking of which, Laurel Lance’s character seems to suffer a change of direction here, with her seemingly moving away from the sour-faced, bitchy, angry path that we’ve seen from her in the last few episodes. If I'm honest, you do find yourself kinda cheering for the Dollmaker when he's tormenting Laurel. Maybe that just says more about me.
With the sinister threat of the Dollmaker being the main thread that ties this episode together, there’s still so much more going on, and there’s apparently so much more to come. We get to see Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) tease the reveal of something big, but what could it be? The island flashbacks used here are dramatic and action-packed, and are we slowly seeing Manu Bennett’s Slade Wilson move towards his Deathstroke moniker? With monikers in mind, it appears as if we’re getting one step closer to the vigilante being called Green Arrow, or at least not just ‘The Hood’ anymore. And, as we’re given a glimpse into the history of Black Canary, we’re teased that a huge name from the DC universe is on his way… and no, we’re not talking about The Flash.
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