Arrow has become the embodiment of the speech near the end of The Shawshank Redemption in which Andy (Tim Robbins) tells his friend Red (Morgan Freeman) via a letter, “And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further.” If you’ve gone along with Sara Lance and Malcolm Merlyn returning from the dead maybe you’re willing to accept miracle-drug enhanced super soldiers. If you’ve gone along with Slade Wilson’s all-consuming quest to avenge the death of that girl who was nice to him that one time maybe you’re willing to accept him killing Moira Queen. If you’ve gone along with Felicity being a great source of one-liners and so joyfully lusting after Oliver maybe you’re willing to accept her as the new love of his life and all wrapped up in consistent romantic melodrama.
Now, if you’ve gone along with Oliver surviving his mountaintop fight with Ra’s al Ghul because he “had the will to live” maybe you’re willing to accept Ra’s al Ghul being obsessed with making Oliver his heir. If you have simply powered through and gone along with Oliver and Thea training with Malcolm because “only the student can defeat the master” maybe you’re willing to accept Ra’s devoting so much effort to Oliver because he appears to be the fulfillment of some ancient prophecy. And if you’ve learned to adjust to this now being a cinematic universe with superpowers maybe you’re willing to accept the idea of this being a universe in which magical waters can bring someone back to life.
If you’re getting a sense of déjà vu it might be because I have discussed all of this before at extreme length in prior reviews, to the point that I am actually bored of hearing myself talk about it again. Basically, if you learned to accept that this is no longer an even vaguely gritty crime drama but instead an unapologetic comic book soap opera (which it always kind of was, just way more so now) then surely you know that this show is going to do just about anything it wants to. In the case of “The Fallen,” that includes using a “magic hot tub” to save Thea, who may not be the same from this point forward, kind of like a non-evil Pet Semetary. Felicity tried to trick Oliver by drugging him after they slept together so Team Arrow (which I guess includes Malcolm now) could help him escape, but three people, an incoherent Thea, and an unconscious Oliver going up against an army of assassins was never really going to work. So, as if to complete the Dark Knight trilogy comparisons Oliver Queen is now a member of the League of Assassins, taking his place as the Heir to the Demon (granted, what Batman Begins did with its League of Shadows was massively different).
“The Fallen” was in so many ways a culmination of Arrow’s forever escalating craziness. And I have more recently adopted a “just go with it” philosophy because who really wants to be the guy still complaining about things months after they’ve ceased being relevant. You can pull a Captain Picard and scream, “This far, no further!” Or you can embrace the crazy and write rather cheeky recaps, reviews and/or Tweets both celebrating and mocking the often cheesy, frequently shirtless little Batman-wannabe CW drama that is Arrow. Or you can simply stop watching the show, as many apparently have. Or you’re someone who actually loves what the show has become (e.g., “Lazarus Pit! Lazarus Pit! Lazarus Pit!”). There are a variety of potential responses, really.
For better or worse, Oliver and Felicity’s romantic melodrama has become a crucial element of the show, and they finally consummated their love in what might have been the show’s longest sex scene to this point. For better or worse, they are seriously trying to turn Malcolm Merlyn into a slightly sympathetic figure, and his redemptive arc continued with him pleading with his daughter to let him be there for her as she adjusts to the whole “magically saved from near-death” thing. Actually, that scene was surprisingly effective. Bravo, John Barrowman. For better or worse, the theme of the season has been a Batman Forever-esque dilemma centering on identity, Oliver struggling with being both Oliver Queen and the Arrow. So, Ra’s al Ghul has been used to eliminate both options, coercing Oliver into becoming the bad guy so that his few remaining loved ones might live. Along the way we were treated to flashbacks in “The Fallen” which have long since ceased seeming relevant. I briefly worried that they were going to give Thea amnesia, and even thought that didn’t happen (whew) I now worry how much their strong character work with her this season might be undone by the looming effects of the Lazarus Pit. We ended with the sledgehammer imagery of Oliver being branded with a freakin’ Arrow tattoo to signify that even his new League of Assassins name, Al Sah-him, actually means “the Arrow.”
It…well, it is what it is. If you’ve been willing to come this far with Arrow, then “The Fallen” was half well-made, compelling drama for Team Arrow and half time-filling flashbacks which can be easily summed up in two sentences, “A chaotic car chase ensues as Maseo, Tatsu, and Oliver try to track the Omega-Alpha virus before it can be distributed. Oliver locates the virus, but the vial the virus is in shatters on the ground.” You can praise Ray Palmer for being such a stand-up guy during his break-up with Felicity, gush over Felicity and Oliver’s love scene, and champion Felicity for at least putting up a fight against the League, barking orders in a manner which elicited a nonverbal response of “I’ve never seen this side of you before, Felicity. I like it!” from Malcolm Merlyn, Starling City’s favorite terrorist and all-around Father of the Year. You can marvel at Matt Noble’s continued quiet dignity as Ra’s al Ghul, and geek out over Oliver’s old best buddy Maseo finally having a heart-to-heart with his current best buddy Diggle. And you can rush out to read any of the many interviews the producers are now giving to preview what’s going to happen on the show next week (vague spoiler: Nyssa’s going to be a badass).
Yet I felt oddly disconnected from so much of “The Fallen.” A huge part of that is because I didn’t believe there to be any dramatic tension whatsoever regarding Oliver’s decision because the CW had already foolishly released Flash trailers and photos clearly showing Oliver dressed as a member of the League. So, the conclusion of this episode was never in doubt for me even though it tries pretty hard to make us momentarily ponder Team Arrow’s chances of escaping. That’s not a fair criticism of the actual episode, but it is the truth of my own viewing experience. More than that, because this was so much a culmination of everything season 3 has been building up to (well, minus anything with Laurel since she was busy doing her guest spot on The Flash) I found myself stepping back from it all and struggling to accept my own advice to “just go with it.”
Seriously, why is Ra’s al Ghul so adamant that Oliver be his heir? He’s dying, his daughter’s too emotional, Oliver impressed him during their fight, and there’s some ancient prophecy. Those are the explanations we’ve been given, though that prophecy feels completely tacked on, rightly and hilariously dismissed by Felicity in this episode. But I don’t know that I’ve actually felt why Ra’s al Ghul wants Oliver, so much of it keying off of that mountaintop fight scene the show swears was amazing and eye-opening and I mostly saw as being rather poorly staged and underwhelming despite the awesome ending. I understand the function Ra’s serves to the major theme of the season, and I appreciate them breaking away from the pattern of big bads being mad men with bombs. However, we’ve now reached the point where Oliver is a member of the League, and I don’t know that I completely believe it; Oliver’s decision, yes, the reasoning and way that decision was forced on him, not so much. Moreover, although Felicity and Oliver’s hook-up was elegantly executed the fact that it came in an episode in which they both taunted each other with lines like “I really don’t feel like doing our ‘Please don’t go dance’” and “We’re always saying goodbye to each other” highlighted how repetitive their mating dance has become. As such, it seems fair to question whether the long wait for their hook-up was actually worth it, although the time-honored TV tradition of stretching out will-they/won’t-they’s for as long as possible does by its very nature place couples into an inevitable holding pattern.
THE BOTTOM LINE
None of what I said means “The Fallen” was bad. Though ultimately perfunctory, the flashbacks did deliver characteristically strong action and stunts, and it was gratifying to see Felicity command the Team and try to pull an Oliver by unilaterally making a decision for someone else. It’s completely fitting that her actions actually made Oliver love her even more. However, I am having a flashback of my own to last year when I was telling myself to just go along with everything Slade Wilson was doing even though I didn’t completely buy all of his crying over Shado. I’m having that same experience with Ra’s al Ghul’s now temporarily successful quest to make Oliver his heir. More than anything else, I think I’m simply taking a moment to step back and marvel at how insane this show has become, a transition made more acceptable by the continued strong acting from Stephen Amell and company.
2. I’m still really hazy as to how specifically the League of Assassins operates. I want to see them do a charity fundraiser to pay for all of their expensive robes. Maybe a bake sale. I bet Maseo makes great cookies.
3. Did Felicity’s hair change style and color from her first scene to the moment she got on the jet and throughout the rest of the episode? Or was that just me?
4. We desperately need someone to put a big map on a table and point to Starling City and then to Nanda Parbat so we can finally get a sense of their distance from one another.
5. Missed Opportunity for a Joss Whedon Moment: Felicity could have interrupted Ra’s big dramatic speech by bumrushing him and pushing him into the giant pit he was standing next to. How could she have pulled that off? Well….
6. Oliver and Ra’s Are So Alike: Ra’s also likes to turn his back to people while delivering dramatic monologues.
7. That “just a shell” thing was a very weak attempt to connect the Maseo of the flashbacks with the Maseo of the present. Very weak.
8. Do you think Maseo now has carte blanche to do whatever he wants without any punishment since Ra’s refused to kill him since he’s too important?
9. The preview for this episode had a shot of the Sara Lance (or was that the Laurel Lance?) Black Canary walking by at League headquarters, as if in someone’s dream. Unless I missed it, that shot was nowhere to be found in the actual episode.
Collider – “Well we finally get to see Oliver Queen give in to Ra’s al Ghul, finally pushed over the edge (so to speak) by the death of his little sister. Honestly, I’m happy that the Arrow is making this personality change because the character is much stronger when he’s burdened with internal struggles. For three seasons, Oliver Queen has grappled with his true nature, first shedding the billionaire playboy image to become a hardened survivalist, then using his skills to become a vengeful vigilante, then softening his bloodlust by refusing to take lives unnecessarily. Sum total, it’s hard to say whether or not Oliver’s decisions have saved more lives or prevented more problems than if he would have never chosen to put on the hood. Now, Al Sah-him has taken the first big step on a path that will alter him once again, in ways that will likely put him at odds with his former allies and closest friends. A bold choice, Ollie. Let’s see how it plays out.”