*Yes, there's spoilers in here! Just to be safe, the important ones are covered in spoiler tabs.*
"My friends call me Dig. You shouldn't even speak to me."
Over the past few weeks,Arrow caught me and many others by surprise when it had so many characters do something shocking: open up and tell the truth. In a show that's full of lies, drama, and strong reactions, suddenly, a lot of the cast is acting way more reasonable than usual and characters who were once not all that great are now likable. Awesome, right? Even though this episode promotes Ra's al Ghul's role -- and don't worry, he does get plenty of focus -- much of this episode is a character study that aims to show us just how these people are handling so much pressure.
It's not very long, but I really enjoyed the brief conversation Ra's had with his daughter. It's a reminder that he doesn't care that Nyssa was in a same sex relationship; he cares because he was certain it would end with Sara breaking Nyssa's heart. So, when Malcolm tries to use this against Nyssa, you'd think she'd shrug it off or even laugh at the obvious attempt at messing with her, yet it still impacts her and I can't tell why. Something tells me she doesn't exactly view her father as deceitful. Still, the chance to see Ra's acting like father was interesting and I loved the other scenes with him. We get another reminder that yes, the dude is very old and the way he spoke with Malcolm Merlyn was perfect. "Face your death with honor. Or at least dignity." Matt Nable is killing it.
Can someone please tell me why Oliver needs to train with a sword when that's not even what he uses in his assault on Ra's fortress? I get he'd want to improve that skill -- especially since he was humiliated in his previous fight -- but when the skill gap is that great, you stick to what works, man! Pack some trick arrows and call it a day, dude. Then again, Oliver sure is stubborn.
Now that so much of the truth is out there, a lot of the characters are acting in a way more rational manner. The show gets a little too heavy at times, but many of the open conversations had me totally absorbed. There were so many heart-to-heart conversations and most of them were effectively handled. I can't help but love how reasonable and rational so many characters are being. Yes, some make some drastic or foolish decisions, but when you take a moment and wonder what's going on in their heads, the decisions are at least understandable. Thea's guilt is eating her up and we know how driven Laurel can be. (Who else was hoping she'd pull the canary cry device and not a gun?) Just about everyone got a proper amount of attention here. Yes, even Roy and Diggle! It was nice seeing the show give a lot of love and focus to so many different characters. When it comes to the one-on-one convos, my highlight was the one between Laurel and Nyssa. It was totally unexpected and surprisingly moving. Unfortunately, all of this makes Oliver less likable. The dude just comes off as a stubborn know-it-all and refuses to keep people even remotely in the loop or even meet them halfway. After all that he's been through with them and his latest experience, you'd think now more than ever he'd at least elaborate a bit. I understand why he's holding back to some degree -- anyone paying attention later on will get why -- but it's like he's not even trying to reassure the people he cares about or justify his actions to them at all. I understand he'd be embarrassed to say why, but shutting down and barking orders -- especially when there's so many great character-driven scenes -- makes the guy come off as an unlikable dictator. With Laurel, he doesn't focus on what they'll do once Ra's is no longer a threat. "We need Malcolm now, but.." Something like that could have made for a more meaningful conversation, but instead he blocks people out. And what's up with not even saying "I love you" to his sister before he leaves? Cold, man.
There's a lot of drama here and thankfully, there's a fair amount of action to help break up all of the heavier material just a bit. A couple of the matches didn't leave a strong impression (Malcolm fell way too easily; the Ollie/Nyssa one wasn't put together in a very exciting way), but the final action sequence was so good! It was so badass when Olier just casually picked up a flaming arrow that was shot at him and then fired it back right at the enemy. The whole sequence was simply shot well and spread out in a fun way. It's a little odd that these highly trained dudes are now jobbers, but whatever, it's not a big deal to me. The focus on stealth and projectiles was a nice change of pace from the hand-to-hand skirmishes we frequently see.
Laurel vs. Malcolm was an unexpected treat. Now, I say "unexpected" because I'm delighted they had Thea tell Laurel the truth so soon after she discovered it for herself. We all know they could have held onto that card for awhile, but instead they gave us some immediate payoff and I can't be the only one who's thrilled by Laurel's immediate reaction. Yes, her going after Malcolm by herself is foolish, but can you really blame her? After quite some time and so much pain, she finally knows who's responsible and, seeing as she's certain she can't win in a fair fight, she brought a little something extra. I wish that something extra was the sonic device, but hey, can't win 'em all. Overall, what they're doing with Laurel and even Thea continues to really win me over.
The past scenes didn't seem to add much to this episode. It still feels like they're slowly building towards a big reveal and a death. They telegraphed the death of Tatsu and Maseo's son awhile ago, so unfortunately, that'll probably make it less shocking if it happens.
Ray and Felicity are as charming as ever in this one (unless you don't like them, then you're out of luck for a few minutes). It's a nice escape from all of the overly dramatic and heavy material. Sure, we all saw a certain something coming a mile away and I won't go "ONLY ON CW!" about Ray walking around in a towel because, well, I'll blame that on him being so tired and out of it, but their scenes offered some good laughs and, despite being predictable, I still thought the big moment between them was handled well. Maybe I'm just a sap, but I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, the way the show is marketed took away from just how joyous the costume reveal and testing it could have been. A little tough to be blown away by that when it was revealed over a week ago.
Totally blunt here: I don't like the ending. It's drawing way too strong of a parallel to Batman's story and the decision doesn't feel justified to me. I understand if Ra's thinks Oliver has potential, but to make that decision so soon didn't seem earned. I just don't buy Ra's having that much respect and praise for Oliver. Surprised and impressed by his return? Sure. Is that enough to say, "Yeah, I want you to one day take my place." No, I don't believe so. It's baffling why Oliver would even consider the option, too. The preview makes it seem like he's torn over the decision, but the guy has spent how long telling himself not to kill again? Answer: a long time. And it's no secret that the League of Assassins deals out justice in a way he isn't cool with. Maybe he thinks he can change that, but that seems silly because I can't imagine anyone there humoring the idea. Guess we'll just have to wait and see how the follow-up is handled.
Random thoughts: Who else wanted to scream "GO!" when one assassin made a run for it? Ollie and Diggle already established that no one can escape, so to have them stand around and say stuff like "if he gets to the fortress, we're dead" while this guy flees felt redundant and unnecessary. I'm guessing the nanites have a limited range? Otherwise, Oliver could have just used that to track him. Did anyone else catch Thea say she shot Sara in the chest with arrows? She didn't, it was the stomach. But maybe she didn't watch the video? Seems odd to be specific like that without knowing. All of these are small criticisms, but they stood out to me. Oh, and Boba Fett! Interesting they'd choose a character who's now owned by Marvel, but it was still a funny and completely unexpected name drop.
Here's the thing about Arrow: I have a lot of smaller criticisms (which I'm sure you're more than aware of by now), but that's because it's a show I'm passionate about and I do enjoy it a whole lot. We're spending so many hours of our lives watching this show and thinking about it, so we expect it to get better and better or at least consistently win us over. In the end, what I liked about "Nanda Parbat" leaves a stronger impression than what I believe didn't work. Most of the performances were solid, there's some satisfying drama, I'm loving Ra's al Ghul, and the final assault sequence was quite cool. When I reflect on this episode tomorrow, those are the things I'll probably be thinking about, not the mountain of minor criticisms I have about the show. Even though I'm not a fan of the ending, it would be premature to jump to conclusions and assume I know how it'll be handled or how some will react. Here's hoping they twist it in a way that feels more appropriate. All in all, I think this episode deserves 4-stars. I enjoyed it, but a lot of smaller things prevented me from really loving it.