The third season of “Arrow,” it will no doubt be remembered as the Ra’s Al Ghul arc, as just about every story beat and character thread was fueled by Oliver Queen’s war with the Demon’s Head. Of course, there were some intriguing directions for Oliver, Felicity, Thea, Diggle and Malcolm Merlyn, in addition to the season-long introduction of Ray Palmer and his transformation into the Atom, all of which culminated in this week’s finale. While the character work remained strong, particularly when it came to Oliver and Felicity, the final battle with Ra’s Al Ghul fizzled.
Remember, we’re talking Ra’s Al Ghul here – one of the major adversaries of the DC Universe and a villain who has historically taken Batman to the limit. In his early appearances on “Arrow,” Ra’s came across as an overwhelming force, going so far as to toss a mortally wounded Oliver Queen off a mountain during their first encounter. His very presence nearly pulled aart Team Arrow, and the mere threat of his arrival seemed to signal doom for Starling City. That’s why it’s so anticlimactic and disappointing when Oliver Queen rather easily impales Ra’s Al Ghul and soundly defeats the master of the League of Assassins. Let’s backtrack and see how this disappointing ending arrives.
Ra’s is seemingly intent on using the Alpha Omega virus to purge Starling City of life. However, as it turns out, his true plan is to destroy his arch-nemesis, the promised Season 4 villain Damien Darhk. Oliver reveals his long game, a plan only Malcolm Merlyn was in on. Oliver fights with Ra’s on the plane to Starling City, and rejects the name Al Sah-Him, declaring himself to be Oliver Queen. Ra’s escapes with the virus, and the chase is on. Team Arrow is able to find and defeat Ra’s agents, who had been transformed into living bio-weapons, while Oliver goes off to confront Ra’s. This is the thematic exclamation point to the season, as Felicity, Diggle, Ray, Laurel and the newly costumed Thea prove they can defend the city without Oliver.
One of the other main threads of the season comes to fruition when Quentin Lance has Oliver in his sights, yet calls Felicity to help the Arrow. Despite his Ahab-like obsession with taking down Oliver, he finally sees the light. This leads to Felicity donning the ATOM armor to save Ollie.
All this brings us to the moment when Ra’s has Oliver on his knees. He mocks Starling City’s protector, and is about to deliver the killing blow when Oliver just kind of slowly stabs Ra’s. Yeah, I know Oliver was trained by the Demon’s Head, but this is the man who easily impaled Arrow and tossed him off a mountain. It just seems as if the episode was running short on time and had to rush the final fight. It’s an anticlimactic victory in the face of a season-long build-up, and it flattens an otherwise-good episode.
To get to this point, Oliver had to make a deal with Malcolm Merlyn. Only Merlyn knew Oliver’s real plan and helped to inoculate Team Arrow against the Alpha Omega virus. Team Arrow survived exposure in Ra’s’ dungeon not only because of Merlyn but also because of the timely arrival of The Flash, who took out the League of Assassins in seconds. Now free, Team Arrow is aided by a costumed Thea Queen in her new identity as Speedy, a moment three years in the making.
With Ra’s defeated and Team Arrow so capable of defending the city, Oliver makes a momentous decision: to hang up his bow and be with Felicity Smoak. It’s an earned moment that could really have been an ending to the entire series. However, you know it won’t be long until Oliver is called back into action. But in the meantime, he certainly deserves some happiness.
But where does all this leave Ray Palmer? Why, in his lab tinkering with a miniaturization process for his ATOM suit. No, he hasn’t shrunk yet, but he did trigger a massive explosion that destroys the top floor of Palmer Industries. I guess we’ll have to wait unto the premiere of the spinoff “Legends of Tomorrow” to see how that one plays out.
Meanwhile, Oliver Queen might have rejected the title of Ra’s Al Ghul but Malcolm Merlyn has not. In exchange for his help in defeating their mutual enemy, Oliver agreed Merlyn could become the new Demon’s head. One of the more startling moments of the season occurs when the League of Assassins and Nyssa kneel before Merlyn. He may have saved the day, but he did so to fulfill his own desire for power.
I called out “Arrow” for a disappointing ending to the Ra’s Al Ghul story, but I’ll also give it a round of applause for pulling off a season that brought in elements from the Batman mythos and merged them into the structure of “Arrow.” I will pat the series on the back for incorporating The Flash, Atom, Katana and the Suicide Squad, and somehow making it all work. I congratulate the series for sticking the landing on the Thea Queen story and for finding a happy ending for Oliver and Felicity, even if it’s only temporary.
And if all that weren’t enough, we’re also treated to the transition into next year’s flashback storyline. This week, we see Oliver say farewell to Tatsu (whom I pray returns next season) and board a ship bound for Coast City. With talk of a missing Ferris Air pilot on “The Flash” and Oliver headed to Coast City, could we be seeing the introduction of Hal Jordan when “Arrow” returns? It may be fan wish fulfillment, but it certainly seems to be the case, doesn’t it? Especially considering the quest for Diggle’s new heroic identity seemed to begin this week, and he strikes you as someone who can overcome great fear …