Review by Logan
“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
These are the words of Harvey Dent in Christopher Nolan’s beloved film The Dark Knight. They are compelling and ultimately prophetic words, as Dent goes on to transform into Two-Face, one of the most horrifying character changes in the entire trilogy. And with the latest turn of Arrow‘s third season, they are attempting to replicate that concept; to turn the hero Oliver Queen into the new Ra’s al Ghul.
With that comes an entire set of interesting and prodding philosophical questions. I’m reminded of a recent study I’ve undertaken in the book of 2 Chronicles, wherein you find that every good king Israel ever had committed some outstanding egregious act against God, often in the last days of their lives. Even the great Josiah, who revolutionized his kingdom at only 16 years old, goes against God’s command and goes into battle with Pharaoh Neco, and as a result is killed in that battle. I walked away from that study with a humbling thought: that no measure of great acts and impressive faith in the past or even the present guarantees faithfulness in the future.
Such is the lesson from flip-flops such as the one with Oliver Queen. We’ve already explored in previous reviews how Oliver’s turn to the dark side presents questions about whether we can be bought and for how much, prompting us to search inside ourselves to find just how moral, and just how committed to Christian morality, we truly are. Combine these two concepts and we have a very compelling and thought-provoking character study of how a hero falls from grace.
That’s a lot to take in, and it’s very ambitious for a show that has spent two and a half seasons branding this character, especially the more recent episodes wherein he has a hard and fast no-kill rule. And in addition to this transformation, you see some of the real damage: what the betrayal to his cause does to those around him who had joined in his crusade.
It’s nearly impossible to pick just one example of this. It could be Diggle watching his life’s purpose get stripped from him. It could be Felicity reconciling the fact that she now loves an assassin. But more importantly, much more importantly, the one whom he made this transition to save is the one who is truly crushed by its far-reaching effects: Thea.
It turns out that we had it wrong when we were speculating at the beginning of this season. You see, we all thought that when Thea went off with Merlyn that he was going to turn her into a villain, and the end of this season would show an epic sibling battle in the form of the Arrow versus a new lithe female villain. I thought she would turn into Cheshire; others had similar theories.
But this is going in a different direction. Instead, Oliver is becoming the villain, and Thea the hero. While it’s difficult to truly buy Oliver’s rapid transformation, the progression of this plot point is a grim reminder of just how easy it is for us to slip into the darkest places of humanity. It’s a reminder that no matter how much good we have done, no matter how faithful we have been, no matter how moral we have been, the past does not guarantee the future.
I’m sure that Oliver will be back in his green hood by the end of the season as the Arrow. And I’m fine with that. It’s the way that these shows go. But the progression of this story shows a vulnerability, and an immorality, even, that makes Oliver Queen more accessible on a level rarely granted in these shows. Because Oliver, like me, can be bought. Oliver, like me, can collapse into a moral degradation despite previous successes. So perhaps the lesson here is similar to that of Josiah. Never become complacent, and never mix up your priorities, or else you may very well see yourself become the villain.