Malcolm Merlyn and Sara Lance: How 'Arrow' brings characters back the right way

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In the "Arrow" episode, "State vs.Queen," fans were treated to a bit of a shocker: Malcolm Merlyn ( John Barrowman) is alive and well and gleefully rigging juries. A few episodes earlier, Sara Lance ( Caity Lotz) returned to Starling City after her presumed drowning.

Whether you were surprised or not, it's important to note that "Arrow" pulled off a neat trick in bringing Sara and Merlyn back in ways that don't cheat the audience. Most shows fail miserably at this. But "Arrow" did not. Here are 5 reasons why.

1. Make sure the right characters come back.

A show like "Arrow" has lots of deaths. In order to make anything feel even remotely valid, it has to leave most of them moldering in the ground. Robert Queen is long gone. Tommy is, alas, no more. Even this episode's big death, Count Vertigo ( Seth Gabel), is pretty much final.

By leaving these people dead, a few others get to come back. The undead have to move the story along and not just fulfill the wishes of sentimentality. It doesn't matter who we want to come back -- it's who we need.

2. Have the reveal be only part of the drama.

If "State vs. Queen" had been only about who rigged Moira's jury to set her free, then Malcolm's return wouldn't have been very interesting. Who else could -- or would -- have done this? There isn't much of a surprise left at that point.

But "Arrow" went the smart route and made 90 percent of this episode about the return and eventual defeat of Count Vertigo. Merlyn's reappearance was just a bonus.

As for Sara, she made her first Black Canary showing back in the Season 2 premiere. Occasional sightings over several weeks eventually led to the Canary and Sara moving to center-stage. The audience never had to focus only on an impossible survival, because other stories were always moving along beside Sara's return.

3. Give us a reason to believe this is possible.

Sara survived the shipwreck in almost exactly the same way Oliver did. Malcolm Merlyn used tricks picked up from the League of Assassins (or wherever) to feign death -- and then presumably spent several months recuperating and planning his return.

Neither of these methods of survival strain credulity too much.

4. Throw in a few more twists.

So many TV shows have brought characters back from supposed deaths that this is not enough most of the time. Audiences today need even more shocking reveals if you want them to buy the "Nope! Not really dead!" line.

With Sara, the big twist was that a) she's a hardcore assassin now, and b) Oliver totally knew -- despite everything he told the Lances, his family, Diggle and the audience -- that Sara had survived the initial sinking. Once the audience knows this, faking death seems a given.

Things were a little different with Merlyn. Surviving was almost expected from a super-villain with rumored training from the League of Assassins. The shocker was Thea. An affair with Moira wasn't a stretch. That that affair produced Thea and that Merlyn has proof of this? Surprise!

5. Have fun with it.

The fun aspect of resurrecting Malcolm Merlyn was pretty easy -- John Barrowman's cheerful portrayal of evil never falters. With Sara, this was a little harder since the girl was previously little more than a plot device.

Then "Arrow" turned her into the Black Canary, a tough and damaged defender of rape victims who wasn't asking for anyone's help or sympathy. Yes, she was vulnerable at times, but you just know that Sara has figured out how to face the world on her own. The character, as a result of this, only enhanced the story. Plus, she gave Officer Lance a real reason to keep allying himself with the Arrow.


Did these strange survivals of presumed deaths work for you? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo/Video credit: The CW
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