So a few episodes ago I grumbled that Arrow had wimped out of a potentially intriguing story arc by rejecting the chance to install Oliver as the new Ra’s al Ghul. This, then, is the sound of me chowing down on humble pie. Hey, it could do with a little more salt but it’s not bad as far as humiliation goes.
“Al Sah-Him” – Arabic for “arrow”, no less – is at heart a trial of faith for characters and viewers alike. Can Oliver really be playing on Team Ra’s now? Felicity clings to her belief that “Oliver is still Oliver”. Dig maintains “There is nothing that Ra’s al Ghul can do that can turn Oliver against the people he loves.” And as viewers we can’t shake our conviction that Oliver has something up his sleeve, that his even-more-taciturn-than-usual demeanour is simply a front for a cunning plan and that at any moment he’ll turn the tables with a wink… Dig’s in on it too, right? And Lyla? Maybe even Laurel, Nyssa and Felicity too?
But no. This episode maintains the mystery of Oliver’s true allegiance to the closing moments and beyond. It’s a clever scripting choice, keeping the intrigue burning and twisting our expectations nicely. Oliver’s opening battle with Dig feels like such an obvious put-on that the moment Oliver runs him through with a sword is genuinely startling (and yes, it proves to be a hallucinatory fake-out, but the moment’s still an effective one). At this point it’s deliciously hard to predict where this season-wrapping storyline is heading. Even if Oliver truly is brainwashed he’s surely doing near-irreparable damage to Team Arrow – his real fight with Dig is upsetting to watch, given the bond between the bros.
Laurel unleashes the devastating sonic power of the Canary Cry. The Black Canary of the DCU was originally given this ability by supervillain the Wizard, who meant it as a curse. Later comic book lore has reimagined it as an X-Men styled genetic mutation.
Helmer Thor Freudenthal brings some style to the proceedings. The opening training sequence is particularly well executed – sparks strike off steel as blades clash by firelight; disorientating close-ups unfold to the sound of drums and a voice declares “You are Al Sah-Him…” There’s another cool visual touch later on in the episode as Nyssa’s blades deflect Oliver’s arrows in flashes of silver. And Mr Freudenthal clearly loves his flashback transitions, matching up imagery for some seamless shot-changes – just look at the close-up of a tracking device turning into close-up of a bomb. Neatly done.
Elsewhere the once meandering Hong Kong flashbacks have a greater sense of urgency now that the bio-weapon has been unleashed. And it’s fun to see the Nyssa/Laurel sismance – is that even a word? – continue to grow. For one glorious moment I truly thought they were going to rock up at that diner in costume… But hey, do people really dip fries in milkshakes? Is that a thing? Really?
A strong, engaging episode this week. The countdown to the season finale is building nicely.
So Thea moves one step closer to becoming the new Speedy. There’s precedent in the comics: Mia Dearden became the female Speedy in Green Arrow Vol 3 44. She’s the creation of Kevin Smith. Yes, that Kevin Smith.
Did You Spot?
So who’s the Damian Darhk mentioned by Ra’s al Ghul? Introduced in Titans 1 in 1999, the creation of Devin Grayson and Mark Buckingham, he’s an enigmatic, deceptively youthful figure connected to criminal syndicate HIVE (“a hive of agents”, as Ra’s puts it). He’s rumoured to be the Big Bad of Arrow season 4. And no, no relation to Batman’s League-reared son Damian.
Did You Also Spot?
The opening spiel gets a subtle shake-up as Stephen Amell now informs us “My name *was* Oliver Queen”. The show also repurposes the familiar words “I had to become someone else… I had to become something else”, using them as a clever counterpoint to Oliver’s assumption of his new identity as Al Sah-Him.
Arrow is broadcast in the UK on Sky 1 HD on Thursday nights, and in the US on Wednesday nights.
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