Arrow Season 3, Episode 4: “The Magician”
Written by Wendy Mericle and Marc Guggenheim
Directed by John Behring
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on The CW
It was only a matter of time before Oliver Queen’s morality was tested in the face of Sara’s death: no matter who may have committed the crime, Oliver will struggle with the decision to kill them and betray the vows he made in season two. Surprisingly, “The Magician” is that episode, though it replaces the actual killer with recently-returned Malcolm Merlyn, doubling down on the test of The Arrow’s humanity: even if he didn’t think Malcolm killed Sara (who we find out, was sent to Starling to hunt him down), Oliver had to decide whether to let a man who murdered over 500 people live. That particular tweak is really the saving grace of “The Magician”, elevating an otherwise obligatory set of scenes (Nyssa gets pissed off, Laurel gets pissed off, Malcolm teases Oliver and pisses him off… you catch my drift) into a fully-formed hour of dramatic television, highlighted by a three-way fight and underlined by the frustrations of Team Arrow and the dead ends they’ve faced.
Obviously, the strongest parts of “The Magician” are those featuring John Barrowman: anytime one of Arrow‘s Big Bads (between him, Deathstroke, and now Ra’s, that makes three) comes through town, the heightened sense of drama that comes with their performances (Barrowman and Bennett; obviously, we haven’t seen enough of Matt Nable yet) always elevates the material of Starling City. Without the presence of Merlyn and Nyssa, “The Magician” would just be another episode this season where Arrow hits a dead end hunting down Sara’s killer, while Laurel stands around yelling and pointing out that she’s training to fight somebody (they’re really not being coy with this one, going so far as to have Nyssa apologize for “misjudging” her as someone who couldn’t wear Sara’s leather jacket).
With Merlyn throwing insults in Oliver’s face in plain sight, however, “The Magician” is able to become a different kind of wheel-spinning episode, one that features great scenes like Diggle suggesting Arrow might just want to let Nyssa put a few pointy ones through The Magician’s neck. It’s a great litmus test for how dedicated Oliver is to “saving his city”, even in the light of tragedy: where his lone kill last season showed that Arrow was still a man defined by his grudges and failures, killing The Count (the first one; Peter Stromare lives!) after Arrow’s attempts to protect the city from him failed (and he threatened someone in his family, if I remember correctly). Here, Arrow doesn’t take the easy way out, and it really speaks to how far the writers of the show have brought him since the muddled first season of the show: where killing someone and justifying it would be the easy way out for the writers, keeping Malcolm alive is a tougher decision, both for the creators and the narrative itself: the Dark Archer remains a viable threat in the Arrow world, continuing to influence Thea (into wearing really short tank tops, I can only presume) and a constant reminder that Arrow still has no control over his world, even after two years of fighting to reclaim the city he loves.
There are probably parts of “The Magician” we can do without: Laurel’s constant bitching remains the show’s lone frustrating element, an unfortunate byproduct of having her grieve and train at the same time, rather than grieve while kicking ass around Starling City. There are even intriguing elements to be found here, however: Nyssa more than hints she might take her into the League, which certainly marries well to this new vigilante philosophy Laurel’s become so fond of (she’s really leading the Murder Malcolm train in this episode, even more so than the assassin in town trying to kill him). The point is that no matter where Arrow goes right now, it’s finding ways to make things work, even though these episodes have been nothing but world-builders and teasers for what is to come; but after proving last season they know how to take all these moving parts and making awesome television, I have full faith that Arrow knows exactly where it wants to go this season (and more importantly, exactly how to get there).
– Roy: save the parkour for when an assassin ISN’T pointing a bow at your girl.
– speaking of Roy, I’m TOTALLY in on Thea and Roy this season, for the first time ever. They would make such a kick-ass duo!
– Laurel: “It’s killing me he’s still out there. It’s killing me.” Snore.
– Ferris Air is an awesome Green Lantern reference! Not that we need another super hero TV show right now — but wouldn’t he be a great recurring character on Arrow and The Flash?
– Lazarus Pit! Ra’s al Ghul! Shit’s getting crazy!