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TV RECAP: ‘Arrow’ – S3E21 – “Al Sah-Him”

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The CBS series Person of Interest is good at a great many things, but one of its prize assets is the way it will alter the opening voice over to suit the narrative or theme of a given episode. This week’s Arrow followed in that tradition with the words, “My name was Oliver Queen.” To reflect last week’s development where Oliver joined the League of Assassins, stepping up to declare himself the heir to Ra’s al Ghul. Oliver is now not Oliver, but Al Sah-him, the Arrow. So now what? Well, there can’t be two heirs to the demon running around, can there? Time to settle old scores and take out the artist formally known as the heir to the demon, who right now is enjoying a french fry dipped in a milkshake.

To start, let’s just say that it’s an easy out to have the suggestion made that part of Oliver’s initiation in the League and becoming the next Ra’s al Ghul includes brainwashing. We can add that to the list of all the other stupid things that Ra’s has done to push Oliver into becoming his heir, apparently the saying about attracting more flies with honey doesn’t have an Arabic translation.Wasn’t there a move in between sullying Oliver’s good name, bringing about the ruin of his operation, and attempting to kill his sister and letting his refusal to join the League be his final answer? If conditioning that man he’s trusting with this League is the weirdest thing Ra’s came up with this week… Well, more on that later.

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Looking at the matter of Oliver’s conversion from how the narrative’s structured, it undermines the drama to say that Oliver is only partially responsible for his actions because he isn’t himself. It’s also hard to buy Team Arrow turning their back on him because you know there’s a piece of them that thinks he’s still worth saving. Even though the episode climaxed with an all out fight between Team Arrow and the Oliver-led League when Oliver kidnaps Lyla to force Diggle to give up Nyssa, it’s pretty obvious that the door’s still open for a reunion, and likely a happy-ish one.

Despite the loss of their leader, Team Arrow does seem kind of happy-ish. There’s a family dinner at the Diggles with Thea and Felicity, while at the same time Laurel and Nyssa enjoy a burger and fries after a hardy night of crime fighting and training. The mood is ruined though when Laurel reveals that Oliver has accepted Ra’s al Ghul’s offer, and Nyssa knows that it means he’ll be coming for her soon.  Not on Laure’s watch.

It might seem obvious that Team Arrow would know what to do, except it’s not really. Nyssa’s a killer and she’s a member of a group whose idea of justice is swift, brutal vengeance. On the other hand, Oliver has been ordered to kill her, and really Nyssa isn’t all bad when one considers her love for Sara and the fact that she had helped out Team Arrow once or twice. One could see the argument from both sides, and it’s an externalization of the team’s struggle with what to do now that Oliver’s gone. How do they proceed two members down? What are they about without the Arrow theme? Should Diggle be wearing an “identity concealment” outfit?

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What isn’t up for debate is the emphasis on female bonding in this week’s Arrow, there was a lot of it. From Laurel designating Nyssa her new BFF, to the enjoyable interplay between Thea and Felicity that we didn’t know we were missing. Have Thea and Felicity ever had a conversation just the two of them before tonight? That seems a little weird that the two most important ladies in Oliver’s life have never really talked to each other, but this week’s episode made up for the oversight as Thea and Felicity bond over losing Oliver. It had all the right bittersweet notes and a couple of good moments with Felicity’s unusual sense of humor.

The positive message of this week’s Arrow is that the ladies are alright. Thea gets her own super-suit, a blend of a League uniform and the Arrow outfit, and armed with a bow and arrow, she stops Oliver from killing Diggle and forces his retreat. It’s nice that Malcolm, not exactly father or the year material, didn’t try to shove his agenda on Thea when she asked for help, or try to talk her out of it or block her out. He said, “How can I help?” Which is a lesson that Oliver never learned when one of his apprentices first comes to him to learn the ways of vigilantism.

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After the fight, in the new Palmer Tech Arrow-Cave, Diggle regroups with Laurel, Thea and Felicity. It’s interesting to see Arrow, once a bastion for bros being cool and buff and kicking ass, now be a kind of sorority where the ladies are the ones in charge. They may not be as skilled as the boys (yet), but they’ve got the heart and the will, and it will be particularly fascinating to see where this progressive development in superheroism ends up going in the last two episodes of the season. And by the way, how did you like Cisco’s updated Canary Cry? Pretty slick, in my opinion.

But if the Arrow-Cave’s become more egalitarian, then at least the League is a He-Man Women Haters zone through and through. Nyssa’s punishment for betraying her father is that she’s going to be married off to Oliver because either Ra’s forgot to say Bazinga after he suggested the idea, or he was reading a lot of Jane Austen on the weekend. Of course, Ra’s is so old he probably remembers seeing Austen’s books in the new release section of the book store. At least Oliver and Nyssa can agree on marriage being the last thing they want to with the other. I wonder if Ra’s is looking for some grandchildren he can teach how to sword fight in his retirement.

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More interesting than Ra’s outdated mode of gender politics is his own personal history. Apparently, sending Oliver after Nyssa has less to do with spite and more to do with teaching Oliver a lesson he himself learned too late: never take a rival for granted. Ra’s had a friend who wanted to lead the League, but Ra’s was chosen instead, and before he took that chance to eliminate him, the rival escaped with some League resources and men and went into business for himself. His group is H.I.V.E. and his rival is Damien Darhk.

Now this has nothing to do with Damien Wayne, the son of Batman and the grandson of Ra’s al Ghul. Damien is a separate character who was introduced in the the Titans comics in 1999. It’s more or less canon that H.I.V.E. is going to be next year’s big bad, and if Damien is their leader, does that mean the League is going to play a role on into next year? The extraordinary unevenness of this season makes that prospect dubious, but if it’s the intent of Ra’s to finally find a way to take out his old opponent, then his forcible recruiting of Oliver to help him find Damien and eliminate him makes a lot of sense. Or at least as much sense as anything that Ra’s has done this year.

Still, the fight scenes were incredible this week, thrilling and excellently staged. The stakes were real, and there was genuine emotion behind those showdowns, like the swordfight between Oliver and Diggle. After all the talk of being brothers seeing the brutal clash of steel really spoke volumes about how far Oliver had fallen in such a small stretch in time, and although we cheer when Speedy arrive and puts an arrow in her big brother’s arm, in the back of your mind is the idea: this is still Arrow, and the Arrow has to be the hero of Arrow and not its villain. So brainwashed or not, we know Oliver will be back. (We also know this because the season finale is called “My Name is Oliver Queen.”)

Category: reviews, TV

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