“The Magician” proves to be a solid, character-focused episode, more concerned with interior conflict than the kind of globe-hopping action we saw in “Corto Maltese” last week. It’s powered by the bonds of family and big emotional beats: reliably juicy stuff like love, grief, loss and the fine art of vengeance. I’d call it Shakespearean but Shakespeare’s just a little short on hi-tech arrows.
Everyone’s still dealing with the aftermath of Sara’s death. It’s the collision of these aftershocks that’s driving the drama here. Nyssa’s in conflict with Laurel, contending that a father has the right to avenge the death of his daughter. Laurel flings guilt at Nyssa, claiming she’s responsible for Sara’s death. Both of them crash up against Oliver’s newfound moral code and his insistence that he’ll no longer kill (this year’s Hong Kong flashbacks are clearly concerned with how he became season one’s amoral killer – his knifing of Adam Castwidth plays as shockingly brutal, and his line “I didn’t realise that having a conscience was a burden” carries a weight of irony in hindsight. How much of the man we met in that first year was programmed by Amanda Waller?).
There are scripting moments that don’t quite deliver the required impact. Mainly that’s a consequence of the way the season’s been unfolding its narrative. The audience already knows that Malcolm’s alive and so that pre-titles revelation has no real bite. Yes, it’s a surprise to Team Arrow, but not to us. Likewise Oliver’s revelation to Nyssa that Thea is Malcolm’s daughter feels like characters playing catch-up with the viewer. Still, John Barrowman’s clearly having fun being back from the dead, bringing undisguised relish to such shameless comic book dialogue as “No prison can hold us!”
Ra’s al Ghul is played by Australia’s Matt Nable. He’s a former Rugby League player turned actor. You may know him from Riddick.
It’s good to see Katrina Law as Nyssa again. She brings a cool, clipped sense of threat to the daughter of the Demon but also ladles on the sauce with her parting shot to Laurel: “Don’t forget to turn your hips. It’s where the power comes from…” I’d like to see her as a regular.
And then, of course, there’s Ra’s himself. His shadow has hung over Arrow for a while now – given that the show owes an early debt to Batman Begins you might even argue that he’s been a hidden presence since episode one. He’s introduced to us with a due sense of occasion and hints of reverence to Batmancomic book lore: is that a genuine, immortality-bestowing Lazarus Pit that we glimpse him rising from? The trace of Australian accent may seem an odd fit for an Arabian eco-terrorist but you can just about reconcile it with the character’s stateless, international nature. If this truly is the more fantastical Ra’s of the comics then he’s lived in many, many places over many centuries… Who’s to say he didn’t have a spell in Oz?
Nanda Parbat, Ra’s base of operations in the comic books, is traditionally depicted among the mountains of Tibet. Arrow appears to have relocated it to the Middle-East – this incarnation of Ra’s has his lair in an impressive desert temple that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.
Did You Spot?
Another mention for Ferris Air, the aviation company owned by Carol Ferris, love interest of Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan in the comics. She was played by Blake Lively in 2011’s Green Lantern movie.
Did You Also Spot?
Ken Zhi Jansen is another obscure lift from the DC Universe. Known as Master Jansen, he’s the sensei at the ashram where Oliver trained in the art of archery. The creation of Dennis O’Neill and Neal Adams, he was introduced in The Flash 218 in 1972.
The Smoak is much missed this week. As the reference to her presence in Central City hints, she was guest-starring in the Flash episode “Going Rogue”.
Arrow is broadcast in the UK on Sky 1 HD on Thursday nights and in the US on the CW on Wednesday nights.