This week, “Arrow” is a tale of two episodes, as the first two acts are filled with forced conflict and clumsy soap operatic elements while the third sends the show spinning in new and exciting directions.
When I say soap operatic, ironically, I don’t mean the growing love between Felicity Smoak and Ray Palmer; that’s ctually the highlight of the episode. Emily Bett Rickards and Brandon Routh have a wonderful chemistry that pops whenever they’re on screen together. This week, Palmer is trying to finish his ATOM suit when Felicity comes calling, once again afraid she’ll have to watch someone she cares about follow the lonely and dangerous path of the crusader. Felicity forces Palmer to shower and shave, eat and sleep, and reminds him that under his armor there will be a human being. I guess Palmer agrees, and the two (finally!) hook up. Afterward, Palmer dons his armor for the first time, as we’re introduced to a very different sort of Atom.
It’s a cool moment, but did it have to be almost an exact image of Tony Stark donning his Mark II armor for the first time in 2008’s “Iron Man”? Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but this is almost shameless! Luckily, this version of Palmer is so darn likable that I’ll forgive anything.
Moving on to the main cast, where it feels as if conflict is forced into the first half of the episode, with Team Arrow at odds over how to handle the Malcolm Merlyn/ Ra’s al Ghul situation. Oliver hopes to keep Merlyn safe in order to team up with the Black Archer against Ra’s, while Laurel and Thea want to punish him for Sara Lance’s murder. Thankfully, we don’t have to deal another dark, secret plotline, as Thea confesses to Laurel the role she played in her sister’s death. Laurel, uncharacteristically cool-headed, forgives Thea, but she’s now more even more determined to punish Merlyn – as is Thea, who reports her father’s whereabouts to Nyssa al Ghul. Laurel goes after Merlyn and gets her butt handed to her, but Nyssa makes short work of him, and takes the Black Archer back to Nanda Parbat. The plot unfolds nicely, but all the teeth-gnashing and in-fighting becomes ponderous.
More drama follows, with Oliver – determined that Thea not be responsible for the death of her father – captures Nyssa and pursues Merlyn. That’s when things get good, as Oliver has to confront his fear of facing Ra’s al Ghul again. The series is handling Ra’s perfectly, giving fans the villain in captivating little chunks but never overusing him. The threat of Ra’s is almost as fearsome as the man himself. And what an iconic opening shot to this week’s episode, as the camera slowly zooms in on Ra’s bathing in an underground pool. All Batman fans should know what that means.
One of the byproducts of Oliver’s quest is a strengthening of his bond with John Diggle, who insists on accompanying him to Nanda Parbat. It’s a reminder of just how loyal Dig is, putting his duty to Ollie over even his newborn child. They’re quickly captured, and Oliver confesses to Dig that he’s been haunted by the thought of Ra’s throwing him off that cliff, which has gotten in the way of his mission in Starling City. Ever the soldier, Diggle understands, and teaches Oliver a lesson in courage – and also asks him to be best man at his wedding. Let’s just hope both of them make it to the ceremony …
Speaking of bonding, Laurel and Nyssa have a session of their own as they remember Sara. Nyssa paints a picture of just how alive and free Sara was, driving home the loss of such a free spirit. Nyssa is presented in a way that deepens her character, as she isn’t simply a mindless drone carrying out the orders of her father, but a woman who suffered the loss of a deep love. Thea must see it too, as she confesses her role in Sara’s death to Nyssa, who finds it in her heart to forgive.
But no one forgives Merlyn, who’s tortured by Ra’s. Oliver fails to rescue his arch-nemesis, but he doesn’t pay with his life – at least not yet. Ra’s has other plans for Arrow, who survived being run through and tossed off a mountain. That survival impresses Ra’s so much that the Demon’s Head wants to train Oliver to replace him as leader of the League of Assassins. Yes, the episode got very Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams, with Oliver offered the title of Ra’s al Ghul.
Now that’s a cliffhanger.
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