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Arrow, Ep. 3.20: “The Fallen” crumbles under the weight of its own absurdities

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Arrow Season 3, Episode 20, “The Fallen”
Written by Wendy Mericle & Oscar Balderrama
Directed by Antonio Negret
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on The CW

On some level, I’ve got to admire Arrow‘s audacity this season. They’ve really carved themselves out a monumental task, attempting to juggle all these different dramatic balls at the same time – and at this point in the season, begin whittling them down so they can all fit neatly next to each other by the end of the finale. “The Fallen” are major steps in this direction – however, the sheer amount of nonsense “The Fallen” throws at the audience over the course of 42 minutes is jarring, bringing seasons-long stories to a head in an hour that feels both revelatory in how it pushes the season ahead, and restrictive in how it removes agency from its characters in pushing them to these important, new places.

This all centers on Oliver Queen, of course, who is compelled to take the job as head of the League when Ra’s kind of/not really murders Thea, sending them all to Nanda Parbat to put the Lazarus Pit to use (does it have a weird, completely unestablished and over-elaborate “ritual” attached to it? You better fucking believe it, buddy). The trouble really begins before the episode can even get to Oliver and his roller coaster of emotions – the first sign things are in trouble are when Ray tells Felicity he knows she still loves Oliver, and she dumps him as a thank-you for pointing it out (but not after asking for his jet). Once again, Felicity’s less acting on her own agency than she’s following around what other characters determine for her – which makes the moment where she tells Ollie she loves him (and then has sex with him) even less poignant than it already was, shoved into the episode after Ra’s basically convinces her to go sleep with him, since she’ll never be able to see him again.

Putting aside how ridiculously intricate the plan to seduce Oliver has been from the start, using Felicity as a weapon to motivate Oliver is an interesting idea this season has ignored, instead pushing her towards Ray Palmer in an attempt to make the audience give a crap about the entitled, not-Iron Man headed towards a spin-off next season – a story that comes to a dull ending, taking no more than 45 seconds before Ray’s explained to Felicity how she feels and she leaves. So in “The Fallen”, Arrow has nothing to do but give the audience the moment they’ve patiently waited for: except coming mere hours after she dumped Ray (and only a week after she spent an hour tripping over sentences around Barry again), it’s not quite as meaningful and convincing as “The Fallen” wants us to think it is.

The same philosophy applies to Oliver taking up a position in the League: sure, it sounds great on paper and looks great on screen, but how much is the show actually invested in this story? Will this redefine Arrow heading into season four? I highly, highly doubt it: and that makes all of this an interesting diversion, one which can explore the identity and persona of both Oliver and The Arrow without having to adhere to the same cast and rules of Starling City. I get that – but how Arrow‘s used it this season has been superficial, confusing, and mostly weightless, a lack of dramatic propulsion that makes itself clear when we get some half-baked story about Ra’s once having a family he loved (does the Head of the Demon need to be humanized? Attempting this same balance makes Malcolm’s character fly wildly between awesome and over-the-top, or a complete blank page, a character that will fit any form or behavior an episode needs, which is harldy the way to build out a consistent character.

So Oliver takes the job, Thea heads back to Starling a little “different”, and Felicity’s love is finally requited – though once again, they can’t be together because of frickin’ Nanda Parbat, where assassins learn to be people, then break their own codes when they go secretly knock up people elsewhere (lest we forget, HE HAS A DAUGHTER. Where did she come from? How did she get into the Leauge? Did he murder her sister and was like “Daddy’s not bringing her back unless you kill people, motherfucker!!!!”). We do find out that Maseo lost his son at some point, but an entire season of flashbacks has basically spelled this out to us, so there isn’t much to learn here, except that Ra’s has some bullshit explanation for someone breaking a rule that lets them get away with it (“controlled” by the identity he’s no longer supposed to be haunted by, if we are to believe the ritual at the end of the episode).

I wish I could buy into this whole League of Assassins story more – but what it’s done to Felicity as a character, and how it’s handcuffed Oliver and his team every step along the way is frustrating. None of it feels as epic or meaningful as what happened last season with Deathstroke – though back then, we did live in a world of Arrow where once you died, you actually stayed dead. Any one of these things could be pointed to as what’s befallen Arrow in this wildly uneven third season – its the presence of all of them within the framework of “The Fallen” that has me worried about the show heading into its final act of season three.

 

— Randy


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