Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) is dead. Long live Ah Sah-Him.
Let’s bitch it out…
Coming hot on the heels of last week’s resurrection themed visit to Nanda Parbat, Arrow continues its winning streak with an episode that traffics in circularity. As the series heads into its third season finale, there literally is no status quo for #TeamArrow, and yet if they had the visual and narrative cues that we have, they might be able to find their way out of the current situation.
As it stands, Arrow has firmly delivered on the promise to explode its central premise. The shift is clear in Oliver’s newly recorded introductory voice-over, which dispenses with the five year island bit and confirms that the “save my city” portion of the show is kaput. Oliver Queen spent three years defending Starling, but that is in the rearview now. The opening montage sets the tone and establishes the formula for what is to come as we see a series of repeated motifs: Oliver training with Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable) outside the fortress, Oliver sleeping on his side in chains, getting fed questionable looking gruel and basically being tortured / indoctrinated into the League of Assassins. It’s a brief, but important, sequence because this is effectively the last time that we will see Oliver Queen alive.
The rest of the episode belongs to the remaining members of the team. Once again they’re trying to pick up the pieces left behind in Oliver’s wake. Several weeks have passed and Laurel (Katie Cassidy), Nyssa (Katrina Law) and Diggle (David Ramsey) have taken it upon themselves to keep the city safe. It’s the obvious way for the team to process their grief (which is why its hardly surprising that even Willa Holland’s Thea gets into the action before the end of the hour). No one has really moved on, but they’re clearly trying to work up to a place of closure and accept that Oliver won’t be coming back.
Naturally his reappearance immediately throws everyone into upheaval. Dispensing of rival Nyssa is categorized by Ra’s as a necessity to prevent fractures in the League, but it carries with it a sense of ritual, especially after the opening scene when Oliver is figuratively made to kill Diggle as a kind of final exam. Taking out a live competitor is the next logical step and the cliffhanger finale that he must eradicate his hometown is a grander version of the same idea. In this way there is a sense of circularity in the League’s action, just as there is a visual repetition scattered throughout the episode.
Several objects take on a token status that are referenced before and after Oliver’s return, including the black & white milkshake that Laurel shares with Nyssa in the diner and the framed photo of Diggle and Oliver from the wedding. The obvious sentimental value of both objects silently reinforces the sense of loss and grief that Laurel and Diggle feel; just as Felicity’s (Emily Bett Rickards) tearful visit to the Arrow lair does. It’s a simple visual technique that is admittedly a little bit hokey, but emotionally it works. The result is an episode filled with repeated images that anticipate one another (Diggle’s fictitious death in the opening precedes his near execution by Oliver later; the Alpha/Omega virus in the flashbacks lay the foundation for Ra’s final reveal, as does the barren landscape of the town he burned to the ground).
In this way, ‘Ah Sah-Him’ also lays the groundwork for the fourth season of the series. Oliver’s pursuit of Nyssa is an effort to prevent the kind of splinter that occurred when the current incarnation of Ra’s let an adversary slip away. This individual is blamed for several of the major plot points of the series, including the purchase of Malcolm’s (John Barrowman) earthquake device from S1. If there was ever any doubt of how
Oliver Ah Sah-Him will be made to interact with his former friends, it will be in the union of their respective forces to take down this shadowy new adversary.
But first they’ll have to survive the viral outbreak that is teased by this week’s conclusion.
- I’m glad that Nyssa is given a stay of execution by her father. Not only does the character have potential to be a larger part of the show’s world, she brings out an interesting dynamic in several other characters. Plus we can now look forward to a whole host of uncomfortable situations now that she and Al Sah-Him are engaged!
- Laurel is making strides in her training, but she has a way to go. She’s still semi-regularly getting her butt handed to her by run of the mill perps, but at least she’s got that Canary scream down pat (thanks Cisco!)
- While I still hope that Thea disappears into whatever narrative ether Roy fell into, I do applaud her moxie in proactively recruiting her father’s help and preventing Ah Sah-Him from killing Diggle.
- Big props to the writers’ for refraining from backtracking on Oliver’s brainwashing. I kept waiting for the moment that Diggle or Felicity would get through to him, but Ah Sah-Him never wavers. Using Lyla (Audrey Marie Anderson) as bait is the most obvious way to demonstrate how far gone he is – it’s a bit predictable (and unfortunately reduces Lyla to the status of victim), but it works.
- Finally, Nyssa is right that Americans do like to fry everything, but Laurel’s response (it makes everything taste better) is just as true. Not sure about dipping fries into a milkshake, though.
Your turn: what did you think of Ah Sah-Him’s introduction (and Oliver’s “death”)? Did you appreciate the ritual and circularity? Are you glad that Thea stepped in to save Diggle? Did you bristle at Lyla’s victimization? Are you happy that Nyssa survived? And do you agree that Ra’s nemesis will be the next Big Bad? Sound off below.
Arrow airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on The CW. Here’s a glimpse of the next episode: