**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.04 of Arrow, “The Magician.”**
Game 7 of the World Series was on last night, but did we care? Nooooooo, because Nyssa al Ghul, daughter of R’as, Heir to the Demon was holding Oliver at arrowpoint and demanding to see Sara Lance, daughter of Quentin, Heir to the Plot Device. (If you’re wondering if I’ll ever get over the death of Sara Lance, I will not.)
It was worth tuning in, though, because while we had an unpleasant dearth of Felicity Smoak (who was busy in Central City, overdressing for trivia night and kissing cute guys on trains) it was made up in spades by the hissing, growling, menacing presence of Nyssa. I’d even venture to say that this episode finally felt like the Arrow of old, even if there were still some fundamental problems with the continuing story arc.
As I’ve ranted and raged in previous reviews, I think this show really messed up by killing Sara when and how they did. We were then promised more of Caity Lotz (presumably in backstory, because we’ve already done the ghost/hallucination thing) and an exploration of why Sara was even in Starling in the first place, yet we were then treated to two subsequent episodes that just had our characters scattering in different directions. I’m happy for Diggle and his baby, and I’m happy to have Thea back and better than ever, but this episode more than any should’ve progressed that crucial Sara plot forward. The presence of Nyssa all but indicated that. Unfortunately, this episode made very little headway in the case of Who Killed Sara Lance. The writers took out the mystery surrounding Malcolm by showing him spending the summer training Thea all the way in Corto Maltese, so logically, the viewers knew that he was very low on the suspect list. We were able to draw the inevitable conclusion: Malcolm Merlyn didn’t kill Sara. Back to square one. (Spoiler: next week is a Felicity episode, so that brings the total up to four episodes since we saw Sara fall from that rooftop.)
Meanwhile, we have our three major players running around trying to scream the loudest about solving this mystery. There’s Laurel, who is making everything about herself — which is fine, it’s based in grief and that plays realistically, but that doesn’t make it any less grating to watch than her spiral into addiction last season. Laurel spends the episode crying, hounding Oliver about killing Malcolm no matter what, and struggling to prove to Nyssa how tough she is. Nyssa, rightly, sneers that Laurel is unfit to wear Sara’s jacket. She senses the fire in Laurel but not the strength, not yet, and she knows what that jacket symbolizes; she knows why Laurel is wearing it. It’s not that Laurel will never be worthy, it’s that she’s not ready yet. And Laurel, as usual, is desperate to prove that she is ready.
Nyssa is out for blood, because she’s been an assassin her entire life, she doesn’t know anything besides vengeance. She wants to punish Malcolm because he might be lying, and she’s not interested in giving him a chance. She’s forced to hear some harsh truths about her father, R’as, but she’s not necessarily ready to hear them yet. It’s clear from every word and every expression that she loved Sara deeply, but she is decidely single-minded when it comes to honoring her love.
Oddly, it’s Oliver who is trying to make all of his decisions based on what Sara would want. He’s patently wrong most of the time, though. He invokes the “what would Sara want?” argument every time Laurel talks about him killing Malcolm, and isn’t that the exact conversation he and Sara had last season when Roy was whacked out on Mirakuru? Sara was a trained assassin, and even if she started on a heroic identity arc shortly after that, she still ended last season by rejoining the League of Assassins, making the choice to basically be a contract killer.
Oliver could argue that Sara wouldn’t want him to kill in her name, and maybe he’d be right about that, but that’s never actually what he said. Still, he’s the only one not acting out of a selfish grief-based place. Felicity accused him of not having feelings two weeks ago, and he argued back that he doesn’t have the “luxury” to grieve, but the upside is that he’s working really hard to make rational, fact-based decisions in his quest to find Sara’s killer, and in his own way, he’s actually honoring her more fully than her girlfriend or her sister can.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s no right way to grieve. Laurel and Nyssa’s reactions are just as understandable as Oliver’s is. But it’s nice to see Oliver’s perceived aloofness actually being played positively rather than brooding-ly. So that’s something!
I also want to point out that I think the writers made a huge tactical error by having Laurel and Nyssa bouncing off each other so often this early into the Laurel-becoming-the-Canary arc. Nyssa is a steamroller in a scene, most of that is Katrina Law but a good portion of it is the nature of the character. She radiates danger, rage, and power. People like Sara, Oliver, and Diggle, they match Nyssa in skill and strategy. Felicity matched her in heart and wit (and admittedly, Felicity and Nyssa only shared a small scene, which I think was also strategic). Then there are people like Roy and Thea, who are still learning to be lethal and powerful. They both knew when to stand down: Roy, at the beginning of the episode, when he stood silently and let Oliver stand between himself and Nyssa; and Thea later on, when Nyssa came for her and tranquilized Roy in the process.
Finally, there’s Laurel. She should be in the same category as Thea and Roy, though she’s considerably less trained and powerful than either of them at this point. But she’s Laurel, and she doesn’t know when to stand down. She challenges Nyssa (and Oliver) at every turn, but her challenges are almost comically feeble compared to the power and strength that Nyssa exhibits. Toward the end of the episode, when Nyssa and Oliver have an argument (Nyssa even hits him, and Diggle really Diggles that scene by placing his hand on his sidearm) over his decision to put Malcolm under his protection, both of them emanate lethal power as they face off and deliver guttural ultimatums about archnemesis and long memories.
Then Oliver turns to Laurel who just doesn’t command the same power, yet. And all she has for him is questions, always questions, always distrusting his motives and decisions, which is another reason she appears less powerful. After the commanding presence of Nyssa, who is walking away, Laurel seems more diminished than ever.
I’m not saying this to continually trash Laurel (or Katie), I’m simply pointing out that the disparity between Sara as the Canary and Laurel as the Canary is more glaring than ever when you bring Nyssa into a scene. If they wanted to make progress on this transition arc for Laurel, they really shot themselves in the foot in this episode. She got beat up by a man last week, and she still seemed closer to the Canary at the end of that episode than she seems at the end of this one. Even Laurel’s growing anger and desperation for justice and her boxing isn’t making up for the fact that she’s not progressing in other areas.
Malcolm Merlyn (who is the titular “Magician,” by the way, and also the subject of my favorite tweet from last night) has taken over a Buddhist monk’s house and has an office in one of the downtown buildings, yet no one seems to know he’s back until Oliver and his team run around telling everyone. Malcolm insists he didn’t kill Sara, and Oliver believes him solely because Malcolm claims he only came back to protect Thea, his daughter. Never mind that he was a terrible father to Tommy, and that Oliver has no way of knowing that Malcolm deeply regrets Tommy’s death. Still, Malcolm’s telling the truth (I think — it’d be the lamest of lame reveals if it turned out Malcolm did kill Sara) and Oliver spares the life of his sister’s father, simultaneously honoring his vow not to kill. I’m pretty sure this also puts Malcolm in Oliver’s debt, since Oliver won that particular three-way fight.
Thea has absolutely no reaction to being kidnapped, dangled from a ceiling, threatened about her “devil” father, and then released and caught by her incognito brother. She is so unaffected that Roy, at least, should be suspicious, but we don’t employ him at Team Arrow for his brains, we employ him for his knowledge of criminal activity in the city. Thea is grateful to her father for protecting her (even though he’s not the one who saved her?) and she plays her emotions very close to the vest, which is an interesting juxtaposition to Laurel. As unhappy as I am with the Canary arc, this Thea arc is every bit as great as my wildest dreams.
The only qualm I have with the storyline is that Malcolm still hasn’t told Thea about the Arrow’s true identity. This is either because it’s a card he still needs, since it’s not necessary right now for him to break Thea’s trust in her brother, or because he actually wants to protect her just like Oliver does. I’m not willing to buy Malcolm as the doting and over-protective father a la Quentin Lance, but I’ll keep an open mind.
Speaking of Papa Lance, he still doesn’t know about Sara’s fate, but he’s starting to get suspicious. He leaves her a message at the end of the episode, and it’s every bit as heartbreaking as you’d expect.
In the flashbacks, Oliver kills a man, complains about killing a man, bribes a kid off a laptop, and then demands to see Amanda Waller. He’s figured out that Fyers (remember Fyers? Remember when he was the worst thing about Lian Yu? Oh, simpler times!) was working for Waller when he was trying to shoot down that plane. Waller admits that she wanted to down that plane, but not to topple the Chinese economy, that’s total nonsense! No, she wanted to kill one person. One woman, actually: China White. That’s right — Oliver saved the very woman who has repeatedly terrorized his city, who has tried to kill him on three different occasions. Whoops!
Finally, we get our first look at R’as al Ghul, Father of Nyssa, Demon. And, you know, he’s none too happy with Oliver Queen, Son of Robert, Heir to An Empty Bank Account.
Next week: FELICITY WEEK! She created some kind of program that she doesn’t have the power to stop, and whoever is running it has brought the city to its cyber knees! I assume we aren’t even ready for the heaps of Felicity backstory we’re finally going to get. (And how amazing was she on The Flash? I forgot how great she and Barry were together!)