Similar to last season, we’re at the key point of “Arrow’s” third season where the writers are ignoring the standard TV episodic formula and instead start building to the home stretch that plays out much more like 44-minute movies.
And with everything packed into this episode — Black Canary vs. Merlyn! Raylicity! Thea’s true confession and deal with The Demon’s Head! The Atom’s first appearance! Diggle’s big favor! Oliver’s major decision! –this certainly would have felt more like the middle act of a full-length worth paying to see in theaters if it wasn’t for those annoying commercial breaks.
At Verdant, Merlyn is enjoying training his new charges — Oliver and Thea — and taunting Oliver for honing his skills with a bow instead of a sword. Thea has shut the club down for “repairs” while Diggle uses ARGUS tech to fortify it in case of a League of Assassins attack. About time they got some better locks on this place. The rest of Team Arrow watches the training session barely containing their loathing of Merlyn acting like he owns the place and giving Oliver orders.
Laurel compliments Thea on her fighting techniques and it doesn’t take long for that to eat away at her. Wrecked with guilt, Thea does the exact opposite of what Oliver warned her last week and goes to Laurel and tells her Merlyn used her as a pawn to kill Sara. For most of the series we’ve seen how Oliver’s lies have driven a wedge between his allies and this episode shows the flip side of why there’s some secrets he’d be better off keeping. Perhaps moved by Thea’s genuine sadness, Laurel accepts Thea’s apology, but tells her working with Merlyn now of her own free will is her choice. Thea takes that to heart and decides she’s not in the mood to get another Happy Father’s Day card … ever.
Showing a devious side that would make daddy proud, Thea lures Merlyn into an alley where he’s confronted by Black Canary. Merlyn mocks her as Canary is still no match for him, but this battle was just the set-up for the real conflict as Nyssa and her League of Assassins guard arrives. For all his supposed expertise at handling the League, Merlyn gets defeated too easily and is taken away. Once Oliver learns of Thea’s plan, he races off to a helipad to stop the League from fleeing with Merlyn. In a nice, wide open set piece featuring one of the season’s best laid out fights, Arrow ensnares Nyssa in a rope arrow as the League gets away.
Time for Merlyn to pay the price for his disobedience as he comes face to face with Ra’s. Even more so than his duel with Oliver, that his presence can make the show’s resident smug bastard Merlyn into a sniveling, pleading toady makes Ra’s look like an insurmountable threat to Team Arrow.
Oliver is furious with Thea for telling Laurel and Laurel for thinking she could defeat Merlyn. While he has Nyssa, Oliver knows he can get Merlyn back — not out of some devotion to the man who killed his best friend, but because he doesn’t want Thea to have to live with the knowledge of being responsible for her father’s death, like Oliver does with Moira. So it’s off to Ra’s base in Nanda Parbat. It felt a bit too soon for Oliver’s rematch as the rest of the team basically pleads with him all over again not to go for fear Ra’s will finish the job this time.
This time, he’s not going alone as Diggle tells Oliver he’s coming along after a pep talk from Lyla encouraging him to go help his friend like any good soldier would do. She asks if he’s asked Oliver the favor yet, but Diggle said the timing wasn’t right. Please don’t retire from Team Arrow, Dig!
Frustrated with Oliver’s apparent death wish, Felicity goes to check in on Ray, who’s nearly completed his Atom suit, but is at the point of exhaustion. Felicity locks his server up and basically blackmails him into eating, showering and sleeping before she’ll let him resume his work. Early on in the season, the Ray/Felicity pairing felt a bit forced, but with Oliver unintentionally continually pushing her away it makes sense for Felicity to be drawn to someone who wants to be with her. While the nap and shower helped, it turns out sleeping with Felicity was just the energy boost Ray needed to work out the last kinks in the Atom suit, which he takes for a test flight through the city skyline. Ray’s storyline has worked well for the most part, but I’m not really digging essentially making Atom the “Arrow” version of Iron Man. Granted, the effect budget probably isn’t enough to shrink Routh down every episode, but the Atom is a size changing hero, not a guy in a flying suit of armor.
Roy gets to share a new level of closeness with Thea as he can relate to her murdering someone while under the influence of something. Initially, she blows him off saying every time she sees Laurel she’s reminded of her actions, but Roy takes her to the house of the officer he killed. He’s given the officer’s widow and child money and helped out where he can I’ve a feeling if Thea emerges from this growing darkness within her, Roy will have to be the one to bring her back from the edge, not Oliver. If the end game is to reunite Roy and Thea, the writers are wisely taking their time getting there. Course that may not be in the cards as Thea releases Nyssa from her cell and tells her that she, not Merlyn, was the one who killed Sara.
At Nanda Parbat, Oliver thinks their only chance of getting Merlyn is by catching the League off guard and getting in and out. That plan is scraped almost instantly as League guards spot them leading to an arrow/shootout and the awesome visual of Oliver using a flaming arrow against a League assassin. They find Merlyn in chains a little too easily and in fact get caught in a trap. While chained up, Oliver confesses to Diggle that he was having nightmares of his previous defeat at Ra’s hands and needed to know he could defeat him. It helps explain some of Oliver’s less than sensible actions since returning from the brink of death and his willingness to do whatever it takes even aligning with Merlyn to defeat Ra’s. This episode did an excellent job of reinforcing the bond between Oliver and Diggle and transitioning it more from crime-fighting peers to brothers as Diggle asks Oliver to be his best man. Assuming they make it back from the confrontation with Ra’s.
This week’s Hong Kong flashback was almost so brief it nearly didn’t warrant inclusion. Oliver finishes his briefing with Gen. Shrieve and given the all clear to return home. We know that won’t happen of course and before Oliver and Maseo’s family finishes their visit, Argus goons show up to kill them. Maseo makes Oliver leave with Akio while he and Tatsu try to find another escape route. It was a quick moment, but one that will likely lead to why Maseo and Tatsu no longer mention their son.
Maseo brings Oliver before Ra’s, but instead of driving his sword through his chest again, Ra’s has another offer for Oliver — become the next Ra’s al Ghul. That’s an unexpectedly nice twist. For this to really capture the flavor of that Batman storyline, the show is going to need to introduce Talia.
We’re building toward another epic final stretch of the season and we’ve got a few weeks to wait out to see if Oliver takes Ra’s on his offer. With a League of Assassins behind him, Oliver could once and for all save his city, but is the price worth his soul?