Sometimes, you should leave the hype alone. For the last week and a bit we’ve been promised that this week’s episode of Arrow, the last before a month-long break, was going to huge. Not just huge, but HUGE! I believe there was also a twist promised. Alas, like a lot of season three thus far, “Nanda Parbat” seemed a messy collage of the various storylines this year, and where they are all going is not so much a complicated question, as a swampy haze that leaves you lost and confused. Nearly two-thirds of the way through the season it feels like the writers have lost track of where they’re going, and that ending “twist” doesn’t lend a whole lot of confidence.
Although “Nanda Parbat,” as the name implies, deals with the reappearance of Ra’s al Ghul for the first time since he stabbed Oliver and left him for dead, the real focus of the story ends up being Thea. There is something compelling in the core idea of the episode, that Thea lost and looking for absolution, or maybe just a way to cope, with the knowledge that she was the one that killed Sara under Malcolm’s influence. Willa Holland‘s rarely been given anything terribly challenging to do as Li’l Speedy, but her genuine mixture of confusion and guilt about something she had done, even unknowingly, was terribly palpable.
Once could almost read the week as the Thea apology tour. She reaches out to Laurel to tell the elder Lance sister that she was responsible for Sara’s death. Laurel is understanding, but what she can’t get her head around is why Thea would work with Malcolm. Hearing Thea explain about the nebulous dangers of the League you realize just how weak a threat they are if they can dedicate so many men and resources to avenging one fallen soldier. At the very least, it seems as though that the League of Assassins has a lot of free time on their hands.
Thea apparently agrees that helping Malcolm is whack, so she drops the dime to the League with Malcolm’s whereabouts. Case closed, right? Not so fast! Oliver is concerned about the further effect on Thea once she realizes that she had her own father killed. Of course, everyone on Team Arrow is like, “Who cares?” But Oliver is emphatic that Malcolm must be saved, which is weird because even Oliver admits that Malcolm loves his daughter too much to use the evidence he has that shows Thea as Sara’s killer. So why, Oliver? Why go to Nanda Parbat? Why face Ra’s al Ghul again? Because that’s the only way he’ll become a Jedi?
Actually, sort of. The twist is that Ra’s al Ghul, impressed with Oliver’s bravery and tenacity, offers the Arrow the chance to lead the League. Well, Oliver is noticeably jobless, so who knows? I’m a bit confused by why anyone would think this is a good idea, the characters on the show presented with the decision, and the writers giving them their thoughts and actions. This is the League of Assassins, right? Meaning killing. Meaning that thing that Oliver doesn’t do anymore. Nyssa even mocked Oliver for not killing in the midst of Slade’s siege, so what are Oliver’s League credentials aside from surviving a Ra’s al Ghul beat down?
One wonders how Nyssa will react to this news. Malcolm teased her that her love for Sara makes her unworthy to succeed her father in Ra’s’ eyes, and Ra’s has made it known that he doesn’t care so much for avenging Sara as he does for delivering justice unto Merlyn. Perhaps the show is setting up a Nyssa/Oliver showdown of some kind, with Nyssa blaming Oliver for first stealing Sara and now stealing the League. The more compelling question for Nyssa right now is how she’ll react to Thea’s confession, will she show that cutthroat League desire for cold justice or will she show mercy out of extenuating circumstances?
There were a lot of nice little moments in “Nanda Parbat.” I liked how Laurel and Nyssa shared happy memories of Sara, I liked how Roy showed Thea how he was addressing his own guilt, even if he was essentially stalking the family of the police officer he killed while high on Mirakuru. (There’s a whole show about that now, Roy.) And Oliver and Diggle got a couple of nice bro moments to bond, which have been few and far between this season. I like how Diggle realizes the real reason Oliver wants to go to Nanda Parbat, the slightly egocentric fact that he’s never lost that big before when he fought Ra’s. It would have been nice if we had seen more of Arrow winning before he got run through with the sword, because most of Oliver’s major victories thus far – Merlyn, Slade, Brick – have been by the skin of his teeth.
The episode’s other big development was that Ray Palmer finally got suited up as Atom, or rather A.T.O.M. Yay, it’s the TV version of Iron Man! The whole scene where Palmer suits up is a carbon copy of the scene in the movie Iron Man where Tony Stark suits up for the first time, except in this instance it’s the TV version, with a TV budget and the TV quality visual effects of A.T.O.M. flying through the city. On top of it all, this supposedly great leap and new addition to the DC TV hero pantheon happens in the show’s final minutes.
A much more provocative a development, at least on the Palmer front, is that he and Felicity get busy. You know, in the Biblical sense. What begins as genuine concern for Palmer’s well-being as he’s thrown himself full into A.T.O.M. armor development turns into another charming Felicity moment where she life hacks and computer hacks Ray to get him to take a break, and one thing leads to another as you think it would when you’re in the presence of Brandon Routh wearing only a towel. I’m not sure Felicity’s own dubiousness about being romantically involved with another superhero has been resolved, but I’m sure she’ll have some thoughts about Ray leaving bed in the middle of the night to go flying in his new A.T.O.M. suit.
The only thing that really met expectations this week, was another pointless flashback. General Matthew Shrieve, who was introduced with such prominence last week appeared only to thank Oliver for his service before it seemed like a happy ending for everyone. Of course, we know that there was no happy ending, not for Oliver, and not for the Yamashiro family. The drawn out gun fight between them and supposedly A.R.G.U.S. shooters lent nothing to the story details we want to, and merely served to be another pointless tease in explaining how Maseo and Tatsu became estranged, how their son died (we assume), and why Maseo came to be an admittedly defiant recruit in the League.
Basically, the whole episode seemed like more placeholder and merely indulged in more set-up, and when you get to episode 15 in a season, you need to start paying some things off. To compare, episode 15 of Arrow’s second season was “The Promise,” in which Oliver learned that Slade was alive and behind the resurgence of Mirakuru, while in the flashbacks when see the moment on the island when their friendship breaks and they become enemies. It was a key episode, one that the season had been building up to, and one that informed what happened through until the end of the season. In the end, despite assurances, “Nanda Parbat” feels nowhere near that seminal.