[This is a review of Arrow season 3, episode 22. There will be SPOILERS.]
In the penultimate chapter of Arrow season 3, the drama is almost entirely centered on Oliver’s long con to take down the League of Assassins from the inside, while the rest of Team Arrow is left to question whether or not he is actually in league with the League or working against them in semi-secret (because Oliver sure isn’t shy about telling Malcolm and Diggle his plans). More than the lengthy back and forth concerning Oliver’s allegiance, however, the plot of ‘This Is Your Sword’ works to bring the Hong Kong flashback sequence full circle – not only showing that Maseo was behind Ra’s getting his hands on the bioweapon Gen. Shrieve unleashed on the population, but also bringing Tatsu (in her full Katana gear) back from the snowy isolation in which she was last seen.
While it’s great that the show worked to pay off the flashback sequences in this way (culminating with a clash of swords between doomed lovers and grieving parents Tatsu and Maseo), it’s a shame that such a significant portion of the season was only made to feel relevant in the final few episodes. And now, with Maseo falling victim to Tatsu’s blade – in a sequence that, to its credit, does carry some emotional weight – the dramatic heft of his story is handed over to her. And considering we’ve seen so little of Tatsu in the present day storyline, it would seem as though she is destined to become little more than a plot device.
The Maseo-Tatsu relationship is intended to establish a sense of what’s at stake with Oliver and the people he cares about. It is the darkest possible road that Ollie can travel down as he continues to navigate the murky waters of Ra’s al Ghul’s demands and the labyrinthine, multi-step procedure of ascending to the role of the Demon’s Head. Obviously, the notion of Oliver being killed by someone he loves would be the ultimate penalty for what was perhaps the high-risk gamble of trying to con Ra’s in the first place. The episode does a nice job establishing this connection, but it is ultimately undercut by the early reveal that Oliver’s in cahoots with Malcolm to try and bring the League down from the inside.
The incessant double-crossing that then takes place once Team Arrow arrives in Nanda Parbat (they’re really racking up the frequent flyer miles) doesn’t help matters much. There should have been some significance to the scene where Oliver calls for a secret meeting with Diggle, only to be reprimanded for placing Lyla in danger, and told that the bromance is off. However, the inconsistent reminder that this is all a grand ruse kept getting in the way of the moment’s ability to sell the consequence of Oliver’s actions.
He is acting against Ra’s, but he is doing so in a way that will jeopardize the relationships with the people he holds most dear. As far as stakes go, those are pretty good – especially for a storyline that seems hell bent on having the storyline culminate with a threat to Starling City, for the third time in as many seasons. We want to see the bonds between Oliver, Diggle, Felicity, etc., threatened because the emotional investment in them and their continued success is so high. The camaraderie of Team Arrow is one of the most important factors in what makes the series so appealing. But with all the moving parts – the flying to and from Nanda Parbat, the lengthy, seemingly endless procedure to become Ra’s al Ghul, and the inconsistent façades of both Oliver and Malcolm – it’s difficult for the series to express how this matters beyond simply telling the audience.
Furthermore, Felicity continues to be on hand just to fret and potentially burst into tears, which is intended to demonstrate how dire the situation really is. To a certain extent, that’s been working. The shift in her normally bubbly, optimistic personality is rendered clearly, but the pervasiveness of a single emotional tone feels like a waste of Emily Bett Rickards’ talents, while also robbing Felicity’s character of the agency she deserves. Of all the characters travelling to Nanda Parbat to try and rescue Oliver, Felicity’s want should speak the loudest, and yet she is relegated to a tearful mess, grieving a man who is not yet gone.
Even Oliver’s nuptials to Nyssa don’t read as game changing, even though they should. Perhaps if the Wedding of the Century had happened earlier in the season, if Arrow had been able to develop some kind of relationship (antagonistic or otherwise) between Oliver and Nyssa, this might have felt like more than set-up for the finale. But the two characters barely have any time together, and the fact that they’re not able to discuss their situation dilutes the importance of it – there’s no weight to their wedding beyond the implications of the ritual. Instead, the focus is shifted to Ra’s al Ghul’s obsession with carrying on his lineage and acting like a feudal king. Which not only comes across as weird, gross, and somewhat uninteresting, but it’s also an obvious attempt to underline what a bad guy he is.
There’s still a chance next week’s season finale will wrap up the Ra’s al Ghul storyline in thrilling and dramatic fashion, one that sells the idea of identity the season has been pushing for since the premiere. After all, finales are one of Arrow‘s strong suits. But it is going to be doing some heavy lifting to make the second half of season 3 feel like it matters beyond intimating change for Diggle, Thea (who, in Roy’s departure, seems positioned to become Speedy), and Laurel with regard to their standing in Team Arrow. Let’s hope the show is brawny enough to make it happen.
Arrow will conclude season 3 next Wednesday with ‘My Name Is Oliver Queen’ @8pm on The CW. Check out a (spoiler-ish) preview below: