“My name was Oliver Queen.”
With that alteration to the traditional opening episode recap, Arrow appears to have established its arc for the remaining episodes—namely, Team Arrow fighting to get Oliver back from the clutches of Ra’s al-Ghul’s influence. Indeed, the majority of “Al Sah-Him” acts as a confirmation that Oliver has been thoroughly brainwashed into accepting his new identity. And while an important notion to impart for the overall story, it results in the episode feeling a bit sluggish.
Things start off strong enough, with one of the most visually impressive montages in the show’s history—Oliver’s aforementioned re-programming into Al Sah-Him. Starting with shots of darkness illuminated only by the clash of metal swords, the montage depicts several fire-lit fights punctuated by reoccurring shots of Oliver being forced awake by a bucket of water. In a show that tends to take a lot of shortcuts to arrive at certain plot points, this is certainly an effective way of depicting Oliver’s transformation. That being said, I still wish there had been just a bit more real estate to show Oliver’s resistance to these rituals, as it does make his iron will seem more of the bendable plastic variety.
The same efficiency of storytelling, however, does not really extend to back in Starling City where, after only a few brief buddy-buddy scenes together, we are now supposed to buy that Laurel and Nyssa have developed a close friendship (and, unless I’m super misreading the vibe, a potential romance). We get this information via a fairly clunky scene where the two bond over French fries and milkshakes. This dynamic is important as the thrust of the episode concerns Team Arrow sticking its neck on the line for Nyssa, who remains a target of the League for rejecting her father’s choice of heir. Much of this desire to protect Ra’s’ daughter concerns Laurel insisting that it’s their obligation.
“These past few weeks, they’ve enlightened me,” Nyssa says to Laurel at one point. Again, it probably would have benefited the show to demonstrate Nyssa’s growing bond to her Starling City allies, rather than bluntly laying it out via expository dialogue. Then again, that also would have meant less time with the show’s more interesting storylines, so I’m not sure where I fall on how this plot point could have been better approached.
Team Arrow ultimately discovers that Oliver is not in control when he first tries to capture Nyssa and then proceeds to kidnap Diggle’s wife Lyla as incentive for Nyssa to turn herself in. The League and Team Arrow arrange an exchange, but—per Laurel’s pep talk—the gang attempts to fight their way out of the situation with both Lyla and Nyssa. Their well-meaning attempt quickly proves fruitless as The League makes away with Nyssa and Oliver only barely avoids slaying Diggle due to last-minute interference from a bow-wielding Thea.
Upon arriving at Nanda Parbat with Nyssa, Ra’s al-Ghul orders that, rather than having his daughter slain, she is to be Oliver’s new bride. It’s the kind of quasi-soap opera-like turn that I don’t think I can entirely get behind. Plus, at this point, Ra’s has spared way too many of his enemies. I know it’s his daughter and he’s probably just finding a loophole to avoid killing her, but, at a certain point, Ra’s’ long-term planning just seems idiotic. Nevertheless, the real twist of the episode comes when Ra’s reveals he is in possession of the alpha/omega weapon and that he plans to use it on Starling City, thus finally connecting that element of the Hong Kong flashbacks to the modern day. Speaking of which, the flashbacks are mercifully short this week, barely clocking in at a couple of minutes. The main gist is that people in the city are starting to die from the chemical emissions, including Maseo and Tatsu’s son.
Moreover, fairly early in the episode, Arrow also sets the stage for its next season after Ra’s relays the story of his rival to the throne, Damian Darhk. Apparently, after being turned away, Darhk went rogue and established his own organization. As it turns out, he has been the mastermind behind many of the minor plotlines in Arrow, including trying to buy the earthquake machine from Malcolm and sending Mark Shaw to steal A.R.G.U.S intel. Darhk has created a “hive of agents,” which is no doubt the show’s big wink to the organization H.I.V.E., which has stayed menacingly on the margins of the series since season two.
“Al Sah-Him” may put all the pieces in place for the final string of episodes, but it also seems to be approaching this conclusion in a very predictable manner. Any experienced TV viewer could very well map out the remaining bits of the season—Oliver goes about setting up for Starling City’s destruction, his team helps him remember who he is and they fight back against Ra’s and stop the bomb. They may lose people along the way (my money is on Maseo), but everything corrects itself by the end. Now, of course, it’s all about the execution, and Arrow has thus far been great with executing its finales, even if you could see it all coming. Not to mention, Oliver will have to figure out how he can continue being The Arrow if Roy is supposedly “dead.” But that’s thinking ahead, and we’ll get there in good time.
Also, fun game—try to take a shot every time someone in the episode says “Heir to the Demon.” You’ll be out shockingly fast.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.