Arrow "S3E21 Al Sah-him" - Review: There's a new villain in town...

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Arrow "S3E21 Al Sah-him" - Review: There's a new villain in town...

Some groups have some crazy initiations. Whether for fun, character building, or the pure sadistic pleasure of those with the power, they love putting the newbies through their paces. When I was at the university, the term even got banned after the rugby team decided to make their new recruits run a few naked miles down a busy main road (too many loose tackles I guess). Though I think Oliver Queen would gladly sprint down route 66 in his birthday suit over enduring whatever The League of Assassins has in store for his induction on this week’s Arrow.

Al Sah-him – As the rest of the team come to terms with Oliver Queen’s departure, he’s suddenly back in town in pursuit of the rival to his ascension, Nyssa. after all The League’s heavy mental programming, is there anything left of the man they knew in the assassin that confronts them? In the flashbacks, Oliver and the Yamashiro’s try to flee Hong Kong following the bio-weapon release.

Last week’s episode disappointed many, and even angered some. The biggest question it raised was what direction the remaining episodes would take now that the biggest built-up event had taken place. The results are both unexpected and brilliant. Rather than watching a pouting and conflicted Oliver go through League life. the series has made him a full blown antagonist! Right from the new credits voiceover, the episode makes it clear that this is not Oliver Queen or The Arrow; This is Al Sah-him, and it works courtesy of believable mental programming/drugging techniques and some terrific acting from Stephen Amell to make it clear we are seeing a  different character. This yields many rewards from the opening training montage to Oliver’s more advanced and uncompromising fighting style, but it’s the reaction and acceptance of his friends to the change that provides the real dramatic punch. Such as the action scenes that pit them against Oliver and the League, forming a nice metaphor of fighting for Oliver against Al Sah-him. Writer’s Sullivan & Aldrich throw in some great lines expressing their emotional conflict. From Felicity’s reflections of Oliver sacrificing his soul as well as his body to save Thea to Dig’s sentiment in the face of death that really nails it, “I don’t care if the hood is black or green, you’re still you!”. There’s a fantastic ironic contrast to the team accepting Oliver’s fate to his previous absence. We’ve seen them coming to terms with Oliver’s death, believing nothing could be worse only to find out how wrong they were.

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Yet again, in this season, the Hong Kong flashbacks prove a weak link. Even with a very big plot tie to present day events, there just isn’t enough significance to this flashback story in isolation. Amanda Waller’s removal by stern fisted DC movie executives and the continual absence of General Shrieve deprive these scenes of antagonistic focus.  The bio-weapon release feels like a serious blip in continuity. The amount of bodies and fleeing infected people in the market scenes imply a major disaster. The kind of event that should really have been mentioned in the events of previous episodes for comparable drug-based stories or even city devastations like The Undertaking. There is a nice Resident Evil vibe to the sudden outbreak scenes that’s something we rarely see from Arrow, but the final nail in Hong Kong’s coffin is the almost throwaway delivery of Akio’s impending demise. Let’s get Oliver back to that damn island as soon as possible.

Many supporting characters have a great episode, most notably, Nyssa. Katrina Law’s been immensely fun on several occasions this season by dipping into Nyssa’s girl behind Ghul, and her shake and dinner date with Laurel are no exceptions. Her new position as a central plot figure for the remaining episodes makes for a really tantalising prospect and another great twist on this adaption of the Daughter of the Demon storyline. Thea is also faring better now  that she’s speeding towards Speedy (it looks like we’ll see her masked in the finale like with Roy last season). While she has had some decent stories, she’s spent too much of this season just being the plot tool of Oliver’s motivation, (getting her back home, saving her from Merlyn, Facing Ra’s for her, joining the League for her – a very over used trick) so moving her into a more active team role in retribution for Oliver’s sacrifice is a much better development for her. Lyla is a welcome sight back in the field and does very well in her captivity scenes with Oliver.

Finally, there’s a very blatant but promising setup for season 4 in Oliver and Ra’s ruined town discussions. There’s been rumours blowing about for several weeks that Damien Darhk (and of course H.I.V.E.) would be the next big bad but now, that’s all but sealed Ra’s divulges his back story while linking him to many past events in the show. It’s interesting how they’ve presented him as past rival of Ra’s al Ghul, not just for the differences from his comic origin but the potential bigger picture implications for the next season. In the likely event that Oliver finds a sneaky escape clause out of his League contract, we could still see them reuniting again over Damien as a common enemy. The biggest upshot of this is that it provides good grounds to keep the enjoyable Matt Nable around as Ra’s al Ghul. Although from a fan point-of-view many would agree that the most exciting prospect of bringing in H.I.V.E. and Damien Darhk is easy means of bringing Deathstroke back with a vengeance (hopefully via ex-wife Adeline Kane to add that story into the mix). Finally, it’s worth observing that Darhk is a good change up on the past 3 seasons by being a tech and intellect-based opponent unlike the combat centred foes of Merlyn, Deathstroke, and Ra’s al Ghul. It should bring Felcity into the main story much better by giving her direct adversaries (like Bug-Eyed Bandit in the recent Flash crossover) rather having her just cry and fall in love everyone all season long (We love Miss Smoak but she needs greater variation in her stories).

It’s a good recovery episode from last week but still carries the odd niggle. Maximum respect to Felicity for the “Darth Oliver” remark, and of course, the end finale setup that I’m sure a Nolan-esque Harvey Dent would have something to say about. Al Sah-him like several episodes, this season proves that Arrow has the strength to take its leading character out of the spotlight and still deliver. Oliver Queen may be dead but Arrow sure as hell isn’t.

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