**This post contains spoilers for episode 3.21 of Arrow, “Al Sah-Him”**
I have great news! I didn’t hate every single aspect of this episode! It’s refreshing, really, because I know these reviews have gotten very doom-and-gloom of late, and the silver lining is that we are almost at the end of the line. Our long national nightmare known as the R’as al Ghul storyline will hopefully be a distant memory. (That’s me being optimistic.)
How great were Nyssa and Laurel? And I’m not even saying it in a “Nyssa was great, and Laurel was there!” kind of way, I mean I genuinely liked both of them in this episode. I think for a long time what Laurel really lacked was a good dynamic to bring a new dimension to her. All we see is her dealing with grief and fallout from other people’s actions (Oliver, Tommy, Quentin, the list goes on and on and it’s filled with men) and reacting accordingly. I didn’t always agree with her reactions, and eventually it got redundant because she never got new material. It felt like every time Katie Cassidy got a new script, it basically said “grief and anger” and that’s about it. She got a reprieve for a while when she got to actually be a sister when Sara was around, but then Sara was tragically taken from us and Laurel amplified her grief and anger. Even her short-lived arc with Ted Grant (why did he leave?) was fueled by vengeance.
But as we saw on The Flash a couple weeks ago, it IS possible for Laurel to smile, to banter, to talk about something other than all of the injustices of the world, even if it’s just for a minute. Cisco Ramon has that effect on people. And thankfully, someone got the message because we got to see Laurel palling around with Nyssa, eating fast food and sipping milkshakes and just chatting like normal friends. It really demonstrated that when Laurel isn’t written just to frame Oliver’s story, she’s capable of being dynamic and interesting.
It doesn’t hurt that it was fun to see Nyssa out of her comfort zone, dipping a fry in a milkshake and making an amazing face of intrigue and slight disgust before she tasted it.
Even when it all went downhill, and Laurel finally broke the news of Oliver’s ascension to the League Throne, we got to see the best aspects of both characters as the events played out. Laurel stayed fiercely loyal and protective, searching for alternatives and refusing to back down, while Nyssa bravely accepted her fate and went off to battle like the warrior we know and love. Laurel’s refusal to trade Nyssa was endlessly endearing, and I’m pleased to say that the only good side effect of this whole R’as al Ghul fiasco is that I’ve softened my opinion on the Black Canary.
So that was the great news. Unfortunately… that’s the extent of it.
When an episode starts with Oliver stabbing a hallucination-version of Diggle through the heart, that doesn’t make me think “Oh, thank God, it was just a hallucination!” It makes me certain that Oliver is capable of killing his best friend and brother. They did this to raise the stakes for the showdown later in the episode, but after a weak 30-second montage of Oliver getting tortured and laying sideways in a cell, it’s just awful. I find it hard to believe that someone who survived on an island for two years (at least) was so easily breakable — that it was so easy to make him stare blankly at his friends and family.
He’s instructed to remove his rival heir to the throne without mercy, and Nyssa warns Diggle and Felicity before going to face the fight. They’re all horrified when Oliver shows up on a rooftop and doesn’t seem to recognize Diggle and Laurel.
The hard part about watching Felicity and Diggle’s steadfast faith in Oliver’s ability to withstand brainwashing is how wrong they end up being. Either Oliver really isn’t as strong as they think he is, or he is only pretending to be brainwashed; if it’s the latter, then he still abducted the mother of his godchild and almost fatally stabbed Diggle in the ensuing gun-and-swordfight. Either scenario is likely, because let’s face it, this wouldn’t be the first time Oliver endangered loved ones For The Greater Good.
But the long-reaching consequences of his brainwashing are damaging to the structure of the show, because Oliver is a powerful weapon in his own right. If he’s capable of being manipulated and brainwashed into a killing machine (sort of like Roy when he was on Mirakuru) then that means he’s innately vulnerable for the rest of the series. The conceit of the show up to this point was that Oliver’s heart was his biggest asset as a hero. If that can be taken away by a few weeks of vague “reprogramming techniques” then what do we even have to hold onto as viewers? So really, either scenario is terrible in my mind.
How many times are we going to have to hear “Oliver, this isn’t you!” before they accept that this is who he is now. And I don’t mean this expressionless, wooden R’as al Oliver from this episode, I mean the Oliver we’ve been dealing with ever since Sara died. He’s lied and manipulated and treated his friends and loved ones like crap, because he’s been convinced all along that he knows what’s best for everyone. When Felicity extends this plea to Oliver in that warehouse, she’s wrong. He’s standing there facing off with his friends in a R’as al Ghul costume because that is who he is. There was no cosmic force of events that led him to being in that place at that time — it was all choices he made on his own, aided and abetted by Malcolm Merlyn.
Increasingly, Felicity’s insistence of Oliver’s steadfastness and strength of character began to ring false as the episode wore on, and not because she didn’t believe it, but because we were tired of hearing it. We are tired of hearing the excuses, even from Diggle, for Oliver’s actions over this season. At this point, I can’t think of an endgame or resolution that will make me okay with anything that’s happened.
If things weren’t whisky-tango-foxtrot enough as it was, the episode ends with R’as sparing Nyssa her life at the last minute (for the head of an assassin organization, he sure is sparing a lot of lives lately) and then demanding that Oliver marry Nyssa to “unite our families.” Nyssa, of course, would rather die, and I don’t totally blame her. She definitely got the crappy end of that deal.
Lastly, the family scene with Thea, Felicity, and the Diggle family was admittedly cute. It’s really important that the show is finally having Thea and Felicity communicate closely. It’s also important to note that Thea is in infinitely more pain than any of the rest of them. Oliver was the last vestige of her family, he was her champion and ultimately her hero, and the only reason she doesn’t feel alone in the world right now is because of John and Lyla thoughtfully taking her in. This is something that I absolutely want to continue seeing, no matter what happens with Oliver in the future, because I am sick and tired of seeing Thea be treated as an afterthought or a pawn by these writers.
– The Canary Cry was a letdown. Sorry.
– Did anyone else notice the weird blocking in this episode? A lot of staring off in weird directions, walking across rooms pointlessly, turning away from other characters at odd beats… it was all very awkward.
– R’as mentioned Damien Darhk, which has caused the internet to predict that we finally know the identity of Felicity’s long-lost father. More importantly, he’s presumably the leader of H.I.V.E., thus he’s likely the Big Bad for season 4. Here’s hoping they cast this villain correctly.
– “What is a black and white milkshake?”
– “I will not cower in the shadows, waiting for death.”
– In the flashbacks, they manage to take down an attempt to release a virus, but unfortunately it’s already taken hold in Hong Kong. The episode ends with Akio falling ill.
– Lyla was a total badass during the fight scene.
– I love that Thea was the one to stop Oliver in the end.
– Oliver is killing now, by the way. Ultimately, Tommy’s death meant nothing after all.
– Felicity finally breaks the news to Thea that Roy is alive, and she gives Thea his contact info and the choice to move away and start fresh, or to stay in Starling City and continue grieving.
– And, surprise! R’as wants Oliver to unleash the exact same virus from the flashbacks on Starling City! Because apparently Starling City is a modern-day Alexandria! Time truly is a flat circle.
Tomorrow night: going to the chapel and we’re gonna get maaaaaarried! It’s funny to me because I actually imagine it going a lot like any of those KGB spy marriages. Or, like, Oliver and Nyssa sitting in marriage counseling. C’mon. If you don’t laugh, it’s just tragic.