Review by Logan
It’s been more than a year since Oliver took a vow to kill no longer. It’s been a rough year, and it was difficult for him to take down Deathstroke without killing, but he did it nonetheless. Nothing will challenge his resolve quite so much, however, as the revelation that Malcolm Merlyn is still alive.
Arrow’s adaptation of Merlyn has been an interesting one. Nabbing Doctor Who favorite John Barrowman as a villain, making him the father of Oliver’s best friend and father of his (half) sister, Merlyn has a lot of connection to Oliver beyond the fact that they both share a talent with archery. It’s because of Merlyn that Tommy is dead, and now, it appears that it’s because of Merlyn that Sara is dead.
The audience knows, from watching previous episodes, that Merlyn was likely in Corto Maltese at the time. He also swears on his daughter’s life that he didn’t kill Sara. Oliver, despite himself, believes him. Nyssa, however, is a different story.
The episode as a whole has set up an intriguing moral dilemma. Oliver has sworn not to kill, which was undoubtedly a good commitment for him to make. But what are they supposed to do with Merlyn? The dark archer has killed hundreds, and, as he points out to Oliver, no prison can hold him. So it seems that Oliver has to choose between killing Merlyn and allowing him to go free.
I am a little skeptical of Merlyn’s claim that he could escape from Oliver’s prison that is the current home to Deathstroke. Even for someone trained by the League of Assassins, that seems like quite a tall order to fill. Even so, that’s the decision that Oliver is presented with, which puts him at odds with Nyssa, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul and former—err—friend of Sara’s.
So what would be the moral option? The Bible tells us not to kill, but are there exceptions to that? In the Old Testament, when murder was outlawed, there were still certain times when they were to kill. You were not held guilty if you killed a man who broke into your house at night, and the Israelites were even commanded to wage war at times, and there was also capital punishment for certain offenses. But these are explicit exceptions. Is there any principle of vigilantism in scripture?
Certainly there are principles of scripture that tell us to defend the helpless and innocent. That’s what superheroes do. But vigilantism in the sense of taking the law into your own hands and killing people in vengeance is not scriptural. The scripture says “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
But could you justify killing Merlyn to save future lives? That’s the question that Oliver really grapples with. It’s not an easy decision, but we see him making a choice that values the sanctity of life and decries the evils of murder. In other words, Oliver made a commitment to refrain from killing, and he will remain true to that oath. Nyssa, on the contrary, still believes that Merlyn is responsible for Sara’s death, and is determined to seek vengeance for it.
When I first started watching Arrow, the thing that most concerned me was how Oliver was, in a sense, playing God. He took it upon himself to take lives from those he was fighting, and did so regularly as part of his M.O. What the show has done since the first season instead is to turn that M.O. on its head, and make Oliver more than just a violent vigilante—a hero. That comes out in this episode even more than in most.
On the negative side, this episode is a return to an unfortunate element from earlier episodes, with references to Sara’s past homosexual relationship with Nyssa. There are some references made to Nyssa “loving Sara with all of her heart,” and Sara being “the love of Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter’s life.” It’s important to keep in mind the scriptural perspective with this worldview. Homosexuality is denounced as “unnatural” (Romans 1), and that people who practice it will not enter the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6). Thankfully, these references were brief and were not the main focus of the episode.
With this episode and Oliver’s reaffirmation of his commitment, the episode is simultaneously moving in three directions. First, it advances the establishment of Merlyn and Thea as an impending villainous duo. Secondly, it confirms the fact that Merlyn did not kill Sara. Third, it hastens a face-off between Ra’s al Ghul and the Green Arrow. It moved a lot of things forward and had an intriguing theme to it, but it also didn’t pack much by way of surprises or plot twists.
It was cool to see Roy/Red Arrow used a little bit more in this episode. I suspect that as the show focuses more Thea’s path to the dark side it will involve him more. I’d really like to see he and Oliver fighting alongside each other consistently similar to how you might think of Batman and Robin, but that might be hoping a little too much.
It’s awesome to have Merlyn back, but I hope he returns to his earlier level of evil. It’s going to be difficult seeing Merlyn as a crucial villain with Ra’s al Ghul entering the picture, and I’m afraid this season could start to feel too fragmented as a result, but that could be solved by giving him a clear motive, and making the conflict between him and the League of Assassins connected to that motive.
Ra’s al Ghul’s cameo was pretty awesome, although it wasn’t quite as climactic as I would have expected. I haven’t seen this actor in anything yet, so only time will tell if he’ll live up to the character.
I still think Cupid is going to be Sara’s assassin. In the comics she’s ex-military, and it’s quite likely that she could be the target referred to in the flashback that Waller intended to kill aboard the flight that Oliver saved. Since Cupid is supposed to have an obsession with the Green Arrow, the fact that Oliver saved her life (even if inadvertently) could easily play into that.