Review by Logan
Comic book series and shows operate on a certain unspoken rule of immunity. No matter how strong the villain, no matter how antagonistic the police, it’s always understood that the hero will be okay. He might get beaten and bruised and left for dead, but he won’t actually die. The police might believe lies about him, and might chase after him, but he won’t get caught. No matter what happens, he’ll be right back out on the street next issue. And because of this unspoken rule, it’s the stories that rebel in this regard that go down as the best and most creative stories. The Death of Superman. Spider-Man No More. Batman: Knightfall. In like manner, it’s when Arrow breaks this rule, or at least flirts with it, that the show breaks out of its mid-season slump and delivers a truly impactful episode.
(Spoilers, as usual)
Ra’s al Ghul’s threat to turn the city against Oliver is becoming ever more real. Not stopping at killing innocent people in the Arrow’s suit, the League kills the mayor, and nearly kills Ray Palmer, taking the final step in truly turning the city against the Arrow. If there was any hesitation in the police force before, the assassination of the mayor certainly sends them over the edge. With Captain Lance leading the largest manhunt in the history of the city, Oliver has to wonder if his crusade was ever worth it.
But rather than repeating the mistakes of previous episodes, the show doesn’t return again to a resolved internal conflict. Oliver has made up his mind and is sticking to it; rather the conflict is quite simply how Oliver can squeeze his way out of this one. What’s the result? He can’t.
What we have is a story that’s more plot-driven than character-driven, but I’m okay with that. The show’s quality has suffered when it has tried too hard to be a drama, failing to recognize that while dramatic elements add to the strength of a show, it’s quite simply an action series, and it delivers on that front, featuring one of the best choreographed fights of the season as Arrow, Arsenal, and the Black Canary take on the League, and a kind of thrill we’ve rarely seen since season one with the team on the run from the police.
In addition to giving us the best episode that we’ve seen in a while, it also gives a much-needed cumulative effect: it gives credibility to this incarnation of Ra’s al Ghul. He came right on the heels of Manu Bennett’s Deathstroke, who is arguably the best villain in the TV genre, and even a top contender when you include comic book movies. From his first appearance, Matthew Nable didn’t have quite the same commanding presence as Bennett, nor that of Liam Neeson’s incarnation in Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. But what he lacked in charisma has now been established through writing. I originally didn’t like the slow progression of the season’s plotline with the League, finding it unlikely and tedious for Ra’s to wait so long to act. But now, the actions of the character, established over a longer period, are showing just what he can do. Make no mistake about it, Ra’s is a legitimate villain.
All of this brings me to the closing moments of the episode. Following the events of the fight and chase, it’s clear that Oliver has met his match. With no other recourse, he determines to turn himself in, left with nowhere to run from the cops, and unwilling that any more innocent people should die on his account. That’s when a new question is raised: what about Oliver’s friends?
They won’t let him rot in prison, that’s what. The level of sacrifice shown by his friends at the end of the episode reminds me of John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” The level of concern that Roy, Diggle, Felicity, and Laurel show for Oliver is remarkable, and it adds a new level of depth to the show that I hope is expounded upon.
Lest you think that the episode is perfect, I will point out that there’s an instance of brief partial nudity, and Oliver’s confrontation with Maseo is a bit lacking. But the crux of the episode is much better than we’ve seen in a long time, and starts a momentum that I hope continues throughout the rest of the season.