'Arrow' Recap: 'The Magician'

This week on Arrow the series turns to its own mythology as Oliver Queen and company -- sans Felicity Smoak, who was playing coffee-house trivia with Barry Allen -- delve deeper into the mystery of Sara Lance’s murder.

The investigation centers on the recently returned Malcolm Merlyn, otherwise known as the Black Archer. But it’s Merlyn’s third moniker, The Magician, that concerns us this week, as the League of Assassins (which gave him that name) is also pursuing the manipulative killer, with Sara’s former lover Nyssa at the lead.

The idea that Merlyn may have murdered Sara tests Oliver’s vow not to kill. Like a hero, Oliver sticks to his beliefs and refuses to even consider killing Merlyn, no matter how much Laurel Lance pleads. Speaking of Laurel, I’m having a real problem with her keeping Sara’s death from their father; it feels grossly immoral, and not something a woman who may soon take up the mantle of Black Canary would do. Laurel continues to walk that ambiguous line between justice and vengeance, something mastered by Oliver, as demonstrated by his almost-tranquil refusal to kill Merlyn.

Of course, Oliver knows Merlyn is the true father of his sister Thea, so his choice is tempered by his desire to shield her from more pain. When confronted by Oliver, Merlyn swears on Thea’s life that he didn’t kill Sara, something viewers already knew, as he was in South America training his daughter. This is enough to win Oliver’s reluctant trust, but certainly not that of Laurel, who begs Nyssa to kill Merlyn.

This is something Nyssa is more than happy to attempt, and she uses Thea as bait to lure in Merlyn, something Oliver can’t abide. So a nice action sequence takes place as Nyssa and Oliver fight each other and Merlyn. The sequence is fast-paced and builds excitement into an otherwise-uneventful – at least until the final scene, anyway -- episode. There’s such fluidity to the combat that it ups the ante on a show that already features some of the best stunt work on television.

As early as it may be, the season’s primary antagonist had yet to be established. However, that changes this week as Oliver faces down Nyssa for the life of Malcolm Merlyn. Oliver defeats the daughter of the Demon and sends her packing, which won’t win any favors from the League of Assassins. As Nyssa returns home, she reports back to her father in an awesome end scene that delivers on a promise that’s been teased for two seasons. We may not have Batman on any current television show (although we do have a young Bruce Wayne on Gotham, of course), but we do have one of his greatest foes: Ra’s al Ghul as the Demon’s Head make his debut in all his terrible glory. It’s fascinating that Arrow would delve into the world of Batman to pull an adversary for Oliver Queen.

As for Oliver’s old foes, Merlyn is still out there. We know he’s a master manipulator who wouldn’t simply let Thea return home unless he has a plan in place. I’m curious to see what that is and how it involves Ra’s al Ghul, who’s on his way to Starling City to find Merlyn and make Oliver pay for defying the League. Layers upon layers.

A few other things that deserve comment: I like Roy Harper, a lot, and I love his Red Arrow/Speedy/Arsenal costume, but man, was he beyond useless this week. To save Thea from Nyssa, Roy goes into a histrionic flip only to be taken out in a split second by the Demon’s Daughter. He also had to sit out the final battle with Nyssa because of the tranquilizer in his system. Hopefully, this episode will be the last time the series goes out of its way to remove Roy from the proceedings; otherwise this could become a bit of a running joke. At least he’s made the assistant manager of Thea’s reopening nightclub, so he’ll have a career to fall back on if he fails as a superhero.

We also have to discuss the flashbacks, as Oliver has to deal with the question of life and death on the streets of Hong Kong as an operative for Amanda Waller. Other than the promise he made to Tommy Merlyn, Oliver doesn’t want to kill in the present mainly because of the blood he was forced to spill by her. This week, Queen kills a man he was told was a terrorist only to discover he once held the leash of Edward Fyers, who murdered Shado on the Island. The flashbacks serve as a great complement to the episode’s main storyline, although there isn’t a lot of them. It also serves to make Waller an even greater foil to Oliver.

The episode evokes a great deal of the past, but it‘s the future -- and the coming of Ra’s al Ghul -- that will stay with us as we wait for the next clue as to who killed Sara Lance.

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