You can’t rightly feature Ra’s al Ghul’s proper television debut without a shirtless sword fight, can you? “The Climb,” the midseason finale of Arrow, featured that and so much more in an episode guaranteed to leave fans breathless until the series returns on Jan. 21.
The myriad subplots and character arcs dovetailed into a single, cohesive narrative this week as Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Assassins arrived in Starling City, threatening to kill innocent citizens unless Oliver Queen solved the murder of Sara Lance (within 48 hours, no less). Ollie was forced to comply, and his search led to a shocking discovery.
While vastly entertaining, this season hasn’t really featured a primary antagonist. This week, we had two: Ra’s al Ghul and perennial master villain Malcolm Merlyn, who reminded viewers that Ollie’s first and greatest arch-foe is a master manipulator who’s willing to transform his daughter into a monster to achieve his goals.
Much to Oliver’s horror, Sara’s killer turned out to be Thea, as initially suggested by the Queen DNA on the arrow and seemingly confirmed by Malcolm’s video depicting the murder. These revelations brought into focus Malcolm’s master plan: He used a rare drug to manipulate Thea into committing the murder, leaving Ollie with no choice but to confess to Ra’s al Ghul that he had killed Sara, thereby protecting his sister. If Ollie then killed the Demon’s Head in combat, Malcolm would no longer be pursued by the League.
As master villains go, Ra’s is a force of nature who does what’s necessary because it’s his nature to kill. However, Malcolm is the true villain here, willing to sacrifice his own daughter. You don’t really hate Ra’s for his actions; you almost respect him. He desires to find and punish Sara’s murderer. Malcolm, on the other hand, only wants to save his own skin. If we have to label one of the villains as the “big bad” of Arrow, it’s clearly Malcolm Merlyn because of his selfishness and disregarded for his own family. But that doesn’t make Ra’s al Ghul any less dangerous.
As terrific as Liam Neeson was as Ra’s in Batman Begins, Matt Nable’s portrayal of the Demon’s Head in “The Climb” is more true to the character created by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams so many decades ago, shirtless swordfight and all. This Ra’s is every inch the megalomaniacal assassin comic fans enjoyed for so long. In fact, Ollie was no match for the master of the League of Assassins in their episode-ending mountaintop battle. Ra’s easily ran Oliver Queen through and tossed him off a cliff, leaving fans hanging until Arrow’s Jan. 21 return.
It’s possible Oliver will end up taking a bath in a Lazarus Pit, as Ra’s hinted at his own advanced age during the battle. But until then, it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll survive both the sword wound and the fall.
Speaking of swords, there was a bit of surprise surrounding Maseo Yamashiro. We all expected Maseo to be dead in the present so his wife Tatsu could become the vengeance-driven Katana, but it seemed from this episode, that it was Tatsu who died in battle with China White, a confrontation depicted in this episode’s flashback. Not only was Maseo alive and broken by his wife’s supposed death, he was also Ra’s al Ghul’s chief lieutenant, and present for Ollie’s defeat.
One of the more annoying subplots of the season was also dealt with, as Laurel continued to hide Sara’s death from not only her father but also her newly returned mother Dinah Lance (played by the always-welcome Alex Kingston). By episode’s end, however, Laurel confessed to Dinah that Sara was indeed dead, and confided that she wants to avenge her sister, to which Dinah gave her blessing.
This week’s episode of The Flash brought the arrival of Firestorm, and while we’ve not yet seen Ray Palmer become the Atom, we are getting close, as he unveiled his ATOM suit to Felicity after confiding his secret origin to her. TV’s Ray Palmer is vastly different from his comic counterpart in that the origin of this Atom is steeped in tragedy. It was revealed that Palmer’s wife was murdered during Slade Wilson’s rampage in Starling City, inspiring the brilliant scientist to find a way to fight for justice. The comic book Atom’s origin never had that edge of tragedy, but this change works for television. And oh, yeah, Palmer’s ATOM suit is a modified OMAC robot. How’s that for a bit of DC synergy? With the suit revealed and Palmer’s plans unfolding, Felicity now must decide whether to stick with Ollie or join his crusade.
That may be a moot point, however, as the image that took us into the winter break was Oliver Queen plunging off a mountain and Ra’s al Ghul walking away triumphant.