Spoiler alert, everybody: Oliver didn’t accept the offer to become the new Ra’s al Ghul. The real question is whether or not that conclusion was ever in doubt. When Arrow went on its month long hiatus after “Nanda Parbat” and offered up a trailer ending with Oliver turning to the camera and declaring, “Maybe I should be Ra’s al Ghul,” I could muster little more than a snarky reaction, fearing the show was straying too far away from its original identity. Moreover, I reasoned Arrow was simply setting itself up for a story with only one obvious conclusion, specifically that Oliver would say no to the offer to become the head of an international terrorist organization. Come on, this isn’t Joss Whedon’s Angel which completely changed formats in-between seasons 4 and 5, taking its heroic title character from an avenging detective helping the helpless to being the head of an evil corporation which he meant to change from the inside. It’s a little early in the season for Arrow to truly do something like that. So, while it’s faintly possible that maybe next season we’ll get to see Oliver Queen in fancy robes, routinely dipping into the Lazarus Pit of Nanda Parbat, for now we were always heading to him deciding that maybe Starling City really is better off with him around as opposed to without him.
“The Offer” reached that seemingly inevitable conclusion honestly. Oliver Queen, while initially dismissive of Ra’s offer, was actually tempted, and I kind of loved it. All superheroes eventually reach the “We are not so different, you and I” stage of their relationship with a villain. Ra’s accurately predicting exactly what was going to become of Oliver upon his return home is not dissimilar to the middle section of Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie when the Willem DeFoe Green Goblin offers to team up with the Tobe Maguire Spider-Man. He says the city will turn on him because what the world likes even more than a hero is seeing a hero fall, an argument quickly confirmed by spinning newspaper headlines. Peter Parker’s confidence takes a hit, but Mary Jane picks him back up, leading into that signature upside down kiss. After that, Spider-Man runs into a burning building to save people because it’s the right thing to do.
“The Offer” was kind of like an episode-long version of that rather familiar segment of the superhero story, with Arrow’s template being “The Demon’s Quest” where Ra’s al Ghul offered to make Batman his heir. Matthew Nable’s quietly charismatic and increasingly intriguing version of Ra’s simply let Oliver, Diggle and Malcolm walk as a peace offering, forgiving all debts thus allowing the show to rather efficiently clear the deck and re-set things for us. Oliver was back in Starling City and freeing Nyssa from her cage before we knew it, answering no questions in his dickish way and begging the world to give him a case to work as a distraction. We had left the show on multiple cliffhangers, and they were all rather quickly explained, Nyssa declining to kill Thea, Oliver being allowed to leave Nanda Parbat and contemplate the offer, and Ray Palmer….okay, actually, his whole “I am Iron Man now!” thing was barely dealt with.
What we then got was something this show used to prioritize which is a fairly straight-forward, enjoyable case of the week centered around the writers’ version of some relatively obscure DC villain, in this case the tight-lipped scientist-turned-criminal called Murmur. He was wrongfully imprisoned after admitting to a crime he didn’t commit. Once freed, he sowed his mouth shut and started a criminal operation to steal diamonds to be used to create special armor-piercing bullets. That means we get the show’s standard fight between the good guys and bad guys in a warehouse, some kind of interaction between the good guys and Captain Lance, Oliver being characteristically impatient, culminating with a final battle either in one of the show’s existing sets or in some nondescript Vancouver nighttime setting. In this case, that final battle happened at Starling City’s police headquarters, seeming like every single cop other than Captain Lance got mowed down even though it’s implied later than many survived.
Yes, thank you, Arrow. This is the type of stuff I love to watch from you. Incrementally push the season-long plot forward while giving us a fun or at least visually intriguing villain. At some point, have Oliver turn his back to other members of Team Arrow while he’s delivering a dramatic speech in the Arrow Cave (because then we get to make jokes about how often Oliver fails to actually look at the people he’s talking to), and throw in a touching moment between Oliver and Felicity. In “The Offer,” Oliver did the now-familiar dramatic walk through the Arrow Cave while talking to Diggle, and for a change Felicity stopped short of outright hostility or yelling and had a good natured conversation with Oliver. I was as relieved as Felicity to see Oliver actually smile and say “thank you” at the end. Granted, that scene was ultimately in service to furthering the Oliver, Ray, Felicity love triangle, but doesn’t it seem like it’s been too long since we’ve seen people actually be nice to each other and share a smile together on this show?
Of course, Oliver’s crisis of confidence and brief consideration of leaving everything behind poses the question of whether or not we believe Oliver would really be tempted by the offer in the first place. The show is fully aware of the fact that Captain Lance justifiably turning on him and Felicity shacking up with Ray do not exactly add up to earth-shattering changes which should cause someone to run away from everything. Good for Captain Lance because the way Oliver kept Laurel’s secret about Sara was reprehensible. Good for Felicity moving on, reminding Oliver that them not being together was his decision, not her’s. But both Diggle AND Felicity basically told him to suck it up, pointing out that his sister being more broken than ever before isn’t an additional reason to leave but instead a crucial reason to stay. Taking over the League of Assassins wasn’t really a chance for him to improve the world; it was a way to escape from it, especially now that everyone around him is increasingly asking him to be a better person, more honest, less of a jerk. His related “What have I actually accomplished?” is a little bigger than the show had time for, but Stephen Amell sold it beautifully.
The odd part is that “The Offer” kept refusing to actually end, dropping one surprising new twist after another, one totally regrettable (Shado’s alive? Please let that be a twin sister!), one supremely awesome (Nyssa and Laurel are new besties, and Nyssa’s version of a complement is to tell someone that they’re fighting was competent? Birds of Prey, here we come), and another kind of “Huh?” (Ra’s is going to defame the Arrow’s good name by killing people in Starling City while wearing the green hood). Oliver dueling with a rival archer whose identity is known only to the audience seems familiar but promising. The same could be said for Captain Lance having switched back to anti-vigilante mode. The potential that we’ll be getting way more of Katrina Law’s Nyssa going forward suggests we might be in for a far superior back half of season 3 mostly because it means the show finally realizes how good Katrina Law is. On the other hand, Arrow randomly bringing Shado back might indicate that this is still a wildly flailing show. But I really liked this episode so I’m going to ignore that and say that things might be getting better.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I think of it this way: If this was a normal drama or maybe even a sitcom, this would be the episode where the main character gets an exciting new job offer in a new city, the first half of the episode arguing for why maybe he should leave, the second half causing him to re-appreciate everything he has and thus deciding to stay. Cue freeze frame group hug ending, roll credits. I give Arrow’s version of that story an A for Stephen Amell’s performance, arriving at its inevitable conclusion honestly, giving Captain Lance a chance to finally stand up to both Laurel and the Arrow, and not just letting Oliver smile again but make it feel like he’d really earned it. Plus, I am a sucker for fish out of water humor, and I can’t wait for Nyssa to be Thor to Laurel’s Jane Foster minus the romance.
1. Spin-off Pitch: A family sitcom about Oliver, Malcolm, and Thea living together, sort of like My Two Dads with Thea as the daughter and Oliver and Malcolm as the father figures.
2. Willa Holland is Arrow’s most improved performer this season, and what they gave her in “The Offer” wasn’t exactly the most eloquent thing in the world. It was like at the same time Oliver was contemplating his verbal offer Thea was contemplating the do or do not of killing your own murderous father. That she ultimately walked away dejected, telling Oliver, “I’m going to go get soup for my evil father” was hilarious and sad at the same time.
3. Oh, yeah, the show just confirmed that The Lazarus Pit exists, and it has magic water. I am choosing to just go with it. Maybe now we know exactly how Caity Lotz will feature in the team-up spin-off: They’ll just use the Lazarus Pit to resurrect Sara Lance.
4. The passive-aggressive way Stephen Amell said “Palmer” when referring to Ray while talking to Diggle was hilarious.
5. The Arrow can now apparently fly for how else do you explain him vanishing into the sky while his zipline is not visibly attached to anything.
6.There’s some ancient prophecy about the man who survives Ra’s al Ghul’s sword becoming Ra’s al Ghul? Of course there is!
7. I still have a remarkably foggy concept of how the League of Assassins actually operates outside of the whole “Live in a mountain, bow to immortal dude, go out and assassinate people” thing. Maybe that’s all there is to it.
ARROW’S SPOILER-RIFFIC PALEYFEST “Look Ahead” TRAILER
HushComics – “Hush Comics gives ‘The Offer’ a C for tripping over it’s own feet. With such a grand, expansive story at their feet, the show is more focused on inner-drama among the well oiled Team Arrow than it does finding conflict outside the group. With Ra’s presenting a real threat and bringing the battle to Star City, hopefully the team will have no choice than to confront the bad guy. Plus, we have A.T.O.M. coming up, and nobody can take that away from us.”
ScreenCrush – “The Offer made a lot of headway in clearing off the cobwebs for some solid character work, it’s the overall story’s foundation that makes everything feel so shaky.”
ScreenRant – “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.”