Arrow Season 3, Episode 21 “Al Sah-him”
Written by Beth Schwartz (story), Brian Ford Sullivan & Emilio Ortega Aldrich (teleplay)
Directed by Thor Freudenthal
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on The CW
Since the show’s pilot, Arrow has always been concerned with what’s coming next; the next big threat, the next big story twist, the next possible antagonist. Infatuated with teases (remember how long it took them to inform us what “the book” actually was?) and littered with allusions of what is to come, Arrow understandably has trouble rooting itself in the present, delivering on the promise of the challenging heights it builds for itself to ascend. Season three has been example after example of that: and “Al Sah-him” is no different, continuing last week’s trend of piling on the twists and misleads, to the point that everything loses any coherence under a microscope.
Should we begin with how easily Oliver killed Diggle (though not really, of course) after only a couple weeks of training? For someone who forged an identity through three years of horribly paced flashbacks, you’d think it would be a little tougher for Oliver just to give up on who he is, just when he was approaching the point in his life when he could ask the right questions to himself, to figure out who he really was. That I’m willing to forgive; elasiticity with time is never Arrow‘s strong suit (leave that to The Flash), and it’s no surprise that the show rushed through the absolute eradication of his identity, something that he’d presumably been clinging onto for the last three years as he tried to find some sort of spiritual footing in the city he’d sworn to protect.
But no: “Al Sah-him” dismisses three seasons of character work to break down Oliver in the course of minutes – and is barely letting that sink in before they lay on the ludicrous turns of story. In short, Ra’s not only wants Oliver to return to Starling City to murder his daughter (who hadn’t actually done anything wrong; it was under the assumption she might lay claim to the throne), but he wants Oliver to destroy all of Starling City… even though that’s literally the same fucking thing that’s had Merlyn on his Most Wanted list since the end of season one. Literally the same thing: except in this case, it’s done for the Cool factor of having Oliver be the antagonist in his own story, all for the sake of Ra’s failing to recognize his daughter as the human being she is (knowing she is a lesbian, he marries her to Oliver, since the League is just a cult-y Straight Camp), and sending Oliver off to destroy the city he wouldn’t let Malcolm destroy just a few seasons earlier.
I mention the show’s propensity for looking forward, because this all ultimately serves one story: introducing H.I.V.E. as season four antagonists, with Ra’s delivering expository about who he fought to become head of the demon (a phrase I’m growing tired of hearing a half dozen times each week), thus providing the reasoning why Oliver has to kill everything and everyone before he takes over the League. In the end, Ra’s is just another terrorist on Arrow, tying in the Hong Kong story in just about the least effective way possible – Maseo’s son died from the virus Ra’s wants to use, which is a slap in the face if I’ve ever seen one. And ultimately, sets us up for ANOTHER finale where Team Arrow is trying to prevent a catastrophic event on Starling City – and like season one, for a silly external story that’s probably going to lead to some big world-changing event, or have emotional resonance shoehorned into it by killing off a well-known character (I’m looking at you, Quentin). All so… A.R.G.U.S. can return, H.I.V.E. can debut, Flash can return, Laurel can have a milkshake with Nyssa (that might take the award for Most CW Scene On A CW Show this year), and Thea can ascend to the rank of Dark Speedy (right? Isn’t the Pit supposed to have some effect on Thea except making her more wear more clothing?).
The only time Arrow has stopped looking towards the future and what’s coming next, it delivered the single best story of the series: Deathstroke vs. Arrow, a story that engulfed the world of the show (and its flashbacks) and gave them incredible pathos and emotion (plus the most badass villain suit ever). It knew its story was strong, and always retained its focus on the present and what was happening right then and there; seasons one and three are so concerned with what cool places the show is going, that it’s losing sight of what it’s trying to do right now, and makes it all feel like a mess of unrelated scenes, characters, and stories swirling around at random, only tethering themselves to the promise of things to come, be it with constant trailers showing “what’s to come the rest of the season” outside the show, or the incessant need to wink at the audience in the show, rushing through stories so it can nod to the audience and say “wait ’til you see this shit hit the fan.” Taking that approach only makes the shit-meeting-fan moments less satisfying; this season of Arrow had sadly forgotten this, and this week again suffers as a result.