Considering how well the show has handled some of its earlier episodes (including the blinding mid-season finale), this week’s instalment is frustrating on a number of different levels. That’s not to say it doesn’t deliver handsomely in terms of character beats, action and humour, but it does give the unfortunate impression that the writers are floundering a bit.
The first problem becomes apparent almost immediately, when the show torpedoes all the hard work it did last week to make the characters and audience believe that Oliver had truly gone over to the Dark Side. There’s a tell-tale flicker on Oliver’s face when Maseo admits he gave Ra’s the Alpha-Omega virus and, sure enough, the next thing we know, Oliver is secretly meeting with Malcolm Merlyn (indicating that, as we suggested last week, Malcolm had indeed schooled Oliver on what to expect at brain-washing school) to discuss the fact that their hush-hush plan to destroy the League from the inside is in danger of going tits-up, thanks to Ra’s’ plan to destroy Starling City with the virus.
Speaking of which, last week’s cliff-hanger primed us to expect that the attack would take place this week, but instead the show drags its heels, with Ra’s preferring to fake-launch the virus in order to draw out the rest of Team Arrow, which, in turn, seems a bit pointless, seeing as he sent them all home last week.
For their part, Team Arrow require quite a lot of convincing to rush to Oliver’s aid, after he kidnapped Lyla last week. Diggle, for one, is still very, very angry about it and thumps a table just to let us know how gosh-darned angry he is. Needless to say, they’re not about to trust Malcolm when he tells them Oliver’s Al Sah-him routine is all an act, so Malcolm brings on… um… Tatsu, whom the team have never actually met, in order to convince them.
This turn of events is yet another frustrating mis-step from the writers. It feels ridiculously clumsy, essentially just moving Tatsu into play for her moving final battle with Maseo, but with no regard for story logic. At least the characters actually get to comment on how ridiculous it is – despite the unconvincing plot development, we do enjoy Felicity checking her grasp of the show’s continuity with Laurel when Tatsu appeared. (“We haven’t met her, right?”)
Although the show has hinted at Tatsu’s comics identity as costumed superhero Katana before (primarily by revealing her swords), this is the first time we’ve actually seen her in full costume and there was no set-up for that in the script, which seems like yet more clumsy writing. Either that, or there’s a deleted scene or two in the offing.
That said, the sword fight between Tatsu and Maseo is beautifully staged and Maseo’s end is suitably tragic and heart-breaking. It also means that the flashbacks finally have a point for once, with the symmetry between Tatsu singing to her dead son, Akio (yep, he finally bought it this week), in Hong Kong and singing to her dead husband in Nanda Parbat.
On the plus side, Katana is now presumably available for regular duties on Season 4, or perhaps in The Spin-Off (as we should definitely start calling it, seeing as how it still doesn’t have a name), alongside Roy and Ray. Let’s just hope Rila Fukushima is booked in for more voice coaching beforehand, though, as she currently struggles with exposition-heavy dialogue.
Speaking of Ray and Roy (Roy!), both are present and correct this week – Ray flying to the rescue and spectacularly taking out a virus-loaded plane (or so they thought) by CRASHING THROUGH IT before plummeting to the ground – still no Shrink Ray, though (hurry up, Ray!) – and Roy getting the proper send-off he deserves, courtesy of a visit from Thea.
This serves the added purpose of handing the Red Arrow torch to Thea, as Roy leaves her his costume, telling her that he always thought red suited her better anyway. Hopefully, we’ll see Thea suit up properly in time for the season finale, but either way, it looks like Speedy is firmly on board for Season 4. The whole Speedy / Red Arrow / Arsenal thing is difficult to explain succinctly – thankfully, that’s what Wikipedia is for – but suffice it to say that the show has done a good job so far with Arrow’s comics-ordained sidekicks. Speaking of sidekicks, is it a coincidence that he takes the name Jason? There can’t be many comic book fans who didn’t immediately think of Second Robin Jason Todd when that was revealed. A nice touch.
So, anyway, with Team Arrow convinced of Oliver’s deception, they head back to Nanda Parbat and immediately get involved in a terrific fight sequence. Quite apart from anything else, it’s great to see a fight take place in broad daylight for once. We love some of the details, too, such as Laurel not needing her blonde wig and mask outside of Starling City and the team’s different weapon choices and fighting styles (Laurel’s fighting skills have significantly improved, so all that training has finally paid off).
On top of that, kudos to the show for actually having a little fun among all the doom and gloom: pretty much every exchange with Malcolm is comedy gold (it is a great episode for John Barrowman generally) and there is a proper laugh-out-loud moment, when Felicity thinks she’s taken out a bad guy by hurling her broken tablet like a frisbee, only for him to topple forward with a Malcolm-delivered arrow in his back. “Oh, that makes more sense.”
Sadly, it’s all a ruse and Team Arrow are captured. Malcolm then rats out Oliver’s deception to Ra’s (although at this point we have to assume that’s an agreed triple-bluff), so Ra’s forces Oliver to kill all his friends with the Alpha-Omega virus to prove his loyalty, whereupon they all slowly choke and lose consciousness while Oliver gets on with marrying Nyssa. As cliff-hangers go, it’s obvious that someone at Arrow is a huge Flash Gordon fan.
The problem with this is that the reveal of Oliver’s Al Sah-him fakery at the top of the episode has a severely detrimental effect here, effectively stripping the ending of both emotion and dramatic tension. This is further underscored by a. the one-on-one Oliver has with Diggle (who, to be fair, isn’t ready to forgive just yet and is still angry), and b. the flashback sequences insisting (via General Shrieve) that there is no cure for the Alpha-Omega virus, meaning that it’s almost certainly knock-out gas, probably sleight-of-handed by Malcolm (he is called The Magician, after all). This is kind of a waste – how much more effective would it have been if they really believed he had “become something else”, as they say in the opening credits?
The other disappointment in this episode is the short shrift given to Nyssa, although we do, rather chillingly, learn that Ra’s forced her mother to have a child, just as he apparently plans to force Nyssa and Oliver to conceive. That should make things interesting next week, anyway.
Ultimately, despite some terrific action and some great character moments, this is a relatively disappointing episode, thanks to some poor scripting decisions and a lack of focus going into the season finale.
Season 1, 2 and 3 of Arrow are available on Amazon Prime, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, for free next day UK delivery on Amazon items, as part of a £79 annual Prime membership.
Where can I watch Arrow Season 3 online in the UK?
Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.