“No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it. White shores... and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” Pippin was right; that doesn’t sound so bad. However, Arrow has something very different in store for its cast this week as death is indeed the beginning but of a very different journey. One from which there may be no return.
The Fallen – With Thea’s injuries beyond medical expertise, Oliver Queen is left with one choice to save his sister’s life: To accept Ra’s al Ghul’s offer and join The League of Assassins in exchange for resurrecting Thea in their Lazarus Pit. He has accepted his choice but will his friends? Meanwhile in Hong Kong flashbacks, Oliver, Maseo, and Tatsu go after General Shrieve and the alpha/omega bio-weapon.
We all knew that despite The League’s killing and crime wave antics, it would still take something bloody spectacular to make Oliver Queen accept the offer of Ra’s al Ghul. Then last week the crafty little Demon’s Head pulled a Last Crusade on Oliver, leaving him no choice but to seek the pit that heals and pay the price and using it. In many ways this is a mirroring episode to 16’s “The Offer” only with the element of free will removed from his decision making process. While this does make the episodes story quite minimalist, it does deliver a lot of unexpectedly rewarding material in watching different characters deal with the events. The episode’s promo had already spoiled the Olicity “one last night” bombshell and while that was still an enjoyable scene (the tender music is especially touching); it’s the surprising setup that really packs the punch as Ra’s genuinely opens up to Felicity about the importance of saying goodbye in a way he never could. It's a similar great moment as Diggle accuses Maseo and all the League of cowardice, “The League of assassins, you’re feared for your bravery and power but all I see are a bunch of weak men running from their lives”. Many scenes also capture some impressive visual grandeur from The League’s mass welcome to the pit ritual itself. The episode does a good job of simply explaining and defining the pit principles via Merlyn’s early warnings i.e. “in rare cases”, making it clear that Arrow won’t be running its many dead characters through the waters like a sheep dip. While Thea appears to recover quicker than most implied from the severe consequences of resurrection, the show runners have confirmed that her trauma will extend into season 4 so this should make for a great character storyline as she battles to fight off the after effects in a similar way to Roy’s post-mirakuru guilt.
Despite having many enjoyable moments, the main story is not without its faults. The biggest issue is the lack of character-balancing. Stephen Amell puts in a terrific performance as Oliver, but once they reach Nada Parbat, too many faces feel like passengers rather than participants. The biggest victim is Diggle spends too much time in the background rather than injecting his usual point of conscience. Merlyn too becomes little more than a plot tool as an action asset and means of finding the mandatory scary fortress secret exit. The last time he was within League central, he horrifically tortured. Even if the focus needed to stay with Oliver it would have been good to see Merlyn explore some of those feelings. This is intended as a more serious episode, so it feels harsh to criticise a lack of lighter material. There are a couple of little gems like a Miracle Max/Princess Bride “mostly dead” reference but there’s still the feeling that with improved writing more could have been incorporated to break up the gloomier tone .
The Hong Kong flashbacks have been struggling in recent weeks. This continues here but becomes more noticeable by being the only story outside the main (bar a brief Ray/Felicity break up moment). The truck chase action sequence is brilliant with some great stunt work form Oliver’s car skating to Tatsu’s truck scaling. The trouble is that again these scenes are lacking purpose and more importantly a conclusion. While the ending they deliver is potentially huge, it’s delivered in (literally) a very through away fashion. There is some attempt to tie the events back into Maseo’s present die mindset but they’re really too little too late.
Thanks to certain tell tale Flash promos, the climactic imagery isn’t as impacting as it should be. The reveal of Oliver’s “Al Sah-him” League name along with his familiar branding is a nice touch but overall it’s an ending that’s long been on the radar. Where the show takes it for the remaining episodes will be the ultimate payoff which could very well be amazing. The absent Nyssa still feels like a wild card waiting to be played in Oliver’s deal, but rather than escalate towards the series climax, this episode really pushes the emergency stop leaving many inside scratching their head. The big moment has now happened, and if the main events will switch from Starling to Nanda Parbat for the remaining episodes the season may struggle find suitable closure for many of its supporting cast (especially those leaving). This may actually explain the increased Flash crossovers in order to cover more ground, but that can’t be the solution for everything.
The Fallen marks the season’s first slip of an episode since the early and underwhelming “Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak”. An episode built too heavily around a single purpose and event but does achieve its goal and now, hopefully, will allow the normal excellent service to resume. It must also be given credit for successfully introducing magic into its world, which combined with last week’s affirmation of superpowers (via metahuman Deathbolt) marks a significant broadening of Arrow’s horizons that could open some brilliant possibilities for next season. Arrow may fall a little this week but, like one of its own, that doesn’t mean it can’t rise again.