In the season-three premiere, there’s a great sequence where a drugged Arrow hallucinates that he’s punching Oliver Queen — a fun and clever way to set up the season’s identity theme. Since that time, Oliver’s existential crisis has been more talk than walk. (“I don’t know who I am”: Arrow season-three drinking game.) But tonight, with the debut of Al Sah-him, the identity war seems to have ended with the Arrow as the victor, and we finally get a glimpse of what an Oliver Queen–less world is like. Hint: It’s got a lot more scowls.
The episode kicks off with a training-torture montage showing Oliver’s initiation into the Cult of No Personality. (Stephen Amell in a wet T-shirt somehow makes water torture seem less morally culpable.) The montage is nicely interspersed with a nighttime exhibition sword fight between Al Sah-him and Ra’s Al Ghul. Ra’s is pleased with the progress Al Sah-him has made in the past three weeks, but has one more test of loyalty. Enter Maseo, who brings out a hooded and bound Diggle. Dig’s accused of returning to Nanda Parbat in the hopes of freeing Oliver. Dig tries to appeal to “Oliver,” but Al Sah-him is all, Na na na na na, I can’t hear you, and stabs Dig in the heart.
Of course everyone and no one dies on Arrow. The slayed “Dig” turns out to be some rando Nanda dude. Ra’s reveals that he’s been exposing Al Sah-him to ancient herbs meant to bring forth someone’s conscience. The big-baddie voodoo only made Al Sah-him think he was seeing Dig. But still, Al Sah-him was willing to kill Dig, vision or no. Thankfully, the real Diggle is safe in Starling City, and running late to a dinner party he and Lyla are hosting for Thea and Felicity. Team Arrow is nobly trying to push through their grief, but their lost friend/lover/brother haunts the room. The group toasts to Oliver, who is “gone but not forgotten.” Sniff, sniff.
It’s jarring at first seeing Team Arrow casually sitting down for dinner, and I realize how little the show lets us witness small acts of normalcy, like eating with friends. Almost all of the Starling City action this season has been centered around the vigilante activities, a likely by-product of nearly every main character being in on Oliver’s secret and Oliver losing his day job. There’s no longer a need to meet up with Laurel for coffee or have a business meeting with Felicity. It’s vigilante work, all the time. I hope season four finds a way to breathe some of this everyday life back into the series a little more.
Dinner isn’t normal for everyone, though. Nyssa is at a restaurant with Laurel, who is trying to teach Nyssa the wonder that is dipping a French fry in a milkshake. Nyssa’s skepticism, trepidation, and, ultimately, joy as she dips the fry is delightful. (I would very much like to watch a Travel Channel series that features Nyssa traveling across the country, dubiously exploring American pastimes.) Nyssa’s joy ends when Laurel admits that she’s been hiding the fact that Oliver has accepted Ra’s offer to succeed him as heir. Nyssa takes Laurel to task for lying and breaks the bad news: Nyssa is a walking dead woman, and the Oliver whom Laurel knew is likely gone by now. Laurel and Nyssa try to warn Felicity and Diggle about Oliver’s brainwashing, but both remain skeptical. Felicity is especially steadfast in her belief that “Oliver is still Oliver,” mirroring her denial in “Left Behind.” But just in case, Laurel and Dig head out to back up Nyssa against Al Sah-him.
Felicity stays behind at Palmer Tech, and Thea walks in unexpectedly. (Thea’s explanation for her sneaky entrance: “My dad’s a supervillain … and you left your doors unlocked.”) It’s the first time these two characters — the most important people in Oliver’s life — have shared a scene alone in three years. It is playful and heartfelt and immediately makes me wish we had seen more of this all season. Thea, anxious to get out of her depressive funk, wants to help Felicity and “Mr. Diggle” (hee) save the city. When Felicity dodges her inquiries, Thea confronts her: “I cannot be handled right now!” Hear, hear! Felicity is forced to admit that Oliver may be in town, but that he may not be Oliver-Oliver. Also, he might be trying to assassinate Nyssa. Does Thea ever get good news?
Speaking of not-good news, Al Sah-him has kidnapped Lyla! His first attempt to capture Nyssa was cut short by Laurel’s canary-cry contraption, so now he’s going to draw Nyssa out. He gives Dig 30 minutes to bring him Nyssa, or the wife gets it. What follows is a scene at Nyssa’s hideout, where Dig demands that Nyssa turn herself in. Laurel fiercely protects Nyssa and tells Dig he can’t trade Nyssa for Lyla. The nerve on that girl, I swear. Laurel’s been training with her for only a few weeks. Maybe she was mad about not being invited to the Team Arrow dinner party? Yes, yes, I understand her larger point about finding another way and not wanting Dig to bear the burden of that choice, but I’m also like, pfffffffftttt. While Laurel had some decent scenes this episode (with Dig in the van, with Nyssa at dinner), this was not one of them.
The 30 minutes is up, and Black Canary, Dig, Nyssa, and Felicity arrive at the meeting place. Al Sah-him orders Maseo to search them for weapons. When Maseo reaches Felicity, she spits out, “Don’t you dare touch me.” An unsure Maseo gets the go-ahead from Al Sah-him to leave Felicity be. (Maybe there’s a little bit of Oliver in there yet?) Bad move, Al Sah-him. When Lyla is let go in exchange for Nyssa, Lyla runs to Dig, who says to tell Felicity this is “just like Jakarta.” Wink, wink. Lyla walks over to Felicity for a hug and immediately pulls out two Glocks that were hidden in Felicity’s jacket and takes out some League minions. A hypnotic fight scene ensues. Al Sah-him versus Diggle. Maseo versus Nyssa. Minions versus Lyla and Black Canary.
I have to stop and pinch myself at the glory of seeing that this amazing action sequence features so many strong women. This show does so much in terms of showcasing female physical strength. There is no “like a girl” in Starling City. Oh, but there’s one more woman who wants to fight. When Al Sah-him starts to best Diggle, Al Sah-him raises his sword for a final blow when, out of nowhere, he is shot in the arm by an arrow. It’s Thea! Looks like her Speedy alter-ego has arrived just in time. Al Sah-him scowls and looks for a moment like he’s going to lecture his little sister, but he just skulks off. His minions have already captured Nyssa, anyway.
After the fight, Thea is back in the loft, looking sad. This time, it’s Felicity’s turn to walk in unannounced. Neither one can stop loving Oliver, even in light of what he’s become. Felicity tries to brighten the mood by telling Thea that Roy is alive and that she could start a new life with him — if she wanted to. I’m kind of surprised Felicity waited this long to tell Thea about Roy. Sure, there was a lot going on, but wouldn’t Roy’s living be a great antidote to Oliver’s absence? This scene is followed by a sad montage of Team Arrow in mourning. Dig sighing at a photo of him and Oliver. Felicity crying in the destroyed foundry. Laurel aggressively dipping a French fry in a milkshake. Wait, what? I know she’s bonded with Nyssa, but it seems a bit melodramatic. It’s almost as silly as Laurel clutching the toy shark at the end of “Sara.”
Meanwhile, in Nanda Parbat, it’s revealed that Ra’s really wanted Nyssa back because she stole something from him: the Alpha Omega virus from the Hong Kong flashbacks. Dun-dun-dunnn. Ra’s wants Oliver to use it to destroy Starling City, as a final step in his ascension to becoming the next Ra’s Al Ghul. Having Ra’s use biochemical warfare weapons strikes me as outside his wheelhouse. But wiping clean any connection Al Sah-him has left in the world? That’s soooo Ra’s.
Oh, and Ra’s has one other minor, little, bitty request: Al Sah-him must marry Nyssa. When this is announced, there’s a very pronounced twitch of horror in Al Sah-him’s face.
Oh, yes, I do believe there is some Oliver in there yet!
HONG KONG FLASHBACKS
Oliver, Maseo, and Tatsu destroy what they think is the remaining supply of the virus, but not before Akio becomes infected. I’m not going to lie: Kind of relieved Akio’s on his way out so that this story line can be on its way out, too.
- “My name was Oliver Queen.” New intro!
- Damian Dark was once Ra’s rival, continues to “vex” him, and operates a “H.I.V.E.” of agents. Season four, here we come!
- Of course Mama Smoak would feed Felicity casino nachos before she was off the bottle.
- “No Glocks on the dinner table.” Probably should be a rule in everyone’s house, not just Dyla’s
- “This isn’t my first day,” says Laurel, who’s planted a tracking device on Nyssa, to an incredulous Felicity.
- Although this episode is ostensibly about Al Sah-him, it’s more revealing with respect to Nyssa. Katrina Law’s performance was superb throughout.
- This show needs a minimum of one Felicity-Dig hug per episode.
- “I don’t know what doctors’ orders are for when someone gets brought back from the dead, but I’m pretty sure getting into a fight with the League of Assassins goes against them,” Felicity says to Thea.
MISSING THE MARK
- The Hong Kong scenes seem superfluous and padded out at this point.
- Maybe it’s my old lady ears, but I had to rewind multiple scenes to find out what was being said; it was an extra-mumbly episode.
- Is it great to have the show’s sole gay character forced into a sham heterosexual marriage? Not my favorite plot choice, but I’m hopeful the writers have more twists in store with regards to Nyssa’s fate.
NUMBER OF SHIRTLESS STEPHEN AMELL SCENES: -2 (for having Al Sah-him wear more clothes than usual)
I’m in total denial that there are only two more episodes this season. Find me on Twitter, and tell me it’s just not so.