[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 16. There will be SPOILERS.]
There are a handful of big revelations handed down in ‘The Offer’ that expand upon Oliver’s current situation, and make the world of Arrow seem like a much larger, stranger place than it was before. Not that mirakuru-powered soldiers attacking Starling City weren’t strange enough in their own right, but there is something different going on when Ra’s al Ghul reveals the name is a title handed down over time – and that, yes, there is a Lazarus pit of sorts hanging around Nanda Parbat that has given Ra’s an unnaturally long lifespan.
The difference in Ra’s revelation is that it puts Oliver in the position to make a choice; one that will have a significant impact on his future, no matter which way he chooses. This is opposed to the way things usually go, which is for the storyline to ask Oliver and Team Arrow to react to a threat or to a series of actions requiring a response.
In that sense, ‘The Offer’ is very much reminiscent of Mike Barr’s ‘Son of the Demon’ story, in which Ra’s is depicted as a more complex, potentially sympathetic villain; one who is charismatic and convincing enough to make even Batman contemplate seeing his side. Here, the complexity of Ra’s position, and the titular offer he makes to Oliver – to take over the League of Assassins – feels as though it requires less of a leap in terms of the hero’s contemplation of it. After all, Oliver did begin his career as an assassin, and his early days as the Arrow were spent doling out harsh punishments against those who had broken his very specific code (with regard to Starling City).
When you look at it that way, all Ra’s is really asking of Oliver is to expand his previous method of operation on a global scale. And he sweetens the pot with the idea that the league can be bent to the will of Ra’s, meaning: if Oliver says no killing, then the league will respond in kind. Plus, there are the healing waters inside Nanda Parbat that would make life a whole lot easier for a guy who spends a significant part of his time running around while people are trying to kill him. At the very least, it might prevent Oliver’s body from looking any more like a road map to pain.
But the temptation of a long life and command of an army that can enforce its leader’s will are not what gets under Oliver’s skin; it’s Ra’s prescience in speaking about the Arrow’s future, and, more pointedly, his comments on Oliver’s struggles with identity.
All season long, Arrow has been focused on the battle between Oliver and the Arrow, the two halves of the same man whose existence seemingly negates the other’s desires. Ra’s puts it bluntly, telling Ollie that his duality will leave him wanting, as he can never truly have anything until the two sides become one. To the Demon’s Head, the answer is simple: have Oliver and Arrow identity merge and become Ra’s al Ghul.
The internal conflict this causes within Oliver is convincing, and it’s clear why the series brought Ra’s al Ghul to the Arrowverse in the first place. He is the kind of villain who defines the hero by the very thin line that separates the two – and in ‘The Offer,’ crossing that line becomes a palpable want. That is a trait of a good conundrum for a protagonist, as the audience sees the value in the choice they know he or she should not take. Ra’s offer seems too good to be true, and when things start going south, as Ra’s foretold, it seems like an even sweeter deal.
But therein lies some of the trouble with ‘The Offer,’ and it’s one that even characters like Diggle and Felicity recognize aren’t exactly reasons for Oliver to throw in with the League of Assassins. Having Capt. Lance denounce the Arrow, and then letting Oliver catch a glimpse of Ray and Felicity together are somewhat shallow motivations. And while the episode knows this, it responds by going too big, too quickly. Having Oliver contemplate the efficacy of Arrow is without a doubt the next logical step in making a decision as big as the one Ra’s has handed down, but it feels too big to be contained in a single episode. And while it’s understandable that an action-oriented series such as this would want to move toward the inevitable action as soon as possible, it would have been nice to see Oliver struggle with his decision a little longer.
In a way, Oliver’s decision is undercut by the inevitability that Ra’s will respond in a way that will force acceptance or a confrontation. However, at the same time, it is bolstered by the appearance of Murmur, whose attack on the Starling City Police plays a significant part in Oliver’s decision to turn Ra’s down (while also opening the door for Nyssa and Laurel to form an unlikely friendship).
For the purpose of the question at the heart of the episode, though, Murmur represents the kind of street level chaos that defines the Arrow. His is a more intimate, localized journey, rather than the epic, global one that Ra’s is offering. And so, understanding the scale of the Arrow’s quest, it makes sense that Oliver would be swayed more by the needs of the people in his life, from Thea’s personal struggles with guilt over what Malcolm did to her, to Felicity’s acknowledgement of how deep their friendship runs.
And with Ra’s coming to Starling City to besmirch the Arrow’s somewhat good name, those in Oliver’s life may play an even more important role in how he responds to this very personal threat.
Arrow continues next Wednesday with ‘Suicidal Tendencies’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a preview below: