Wednesday, May 13, 2015

REVIEW: 'Arrow' - Oliver Battles Ra's al Ghul Again to Protect Starling City from Destruction in 'My Name is Oliver Queen'

The CW's Arrow - Episode 3.23 "My Name is Oliver Queen" (Season Finale)

Everyone's lives are in danger as Ra's al Ghul puts forth his final plan. Oliver must decide if he's strong enough to take on this new role and what it will mean for everyone on Team Arrow, and his soul.

Arrow certainly tried something different in the overall structure of the third season. Yes, it still was all building to yet another attack on Starling City. It's gotten to the point where Captain Lance knows it's May because the city is under attack. But Ra's al Ghul was a very different villain than Malcolm Merlyn in Season 1 and Slade Wilson in Season 2. His motivations were never as abundantly clear as those two previous villains. That character was more gruesomely arch and reserved. His sole ambition was to stir up inner turmoil amongst the main characters. After two seasons of external and emotional threats, it was ambitious to do things differently by having so much of the driving action this season centered around the inner conflicts of the characters. It was a stylistic choice that didn't always pay off. Sometimes when the scripts weren't strong enough, the characters were lacking in a way that made it difficult to understand their actions. The show should still be celebrated for taking such a risk in the first place - even though the ultimate execution wasn't as proficient as the show was aspiring to be.

The action of the finale is centered entirely around Ra's al Ghul's plan to release the bioweapon on Starling City to cement Oliver as his successor. That has been the crux of the Ra's character arc this season. This portrayal of that particular character is of a man reserved and contemplative. He is still violent, gruesome and lethal when he needs to be. He has caused so much pain both physically and emotionally for the main characters this season - especially during the second half. And yet, he is also a man whose sole drive is in controlling the future of his organization. This isn't a Ra's with some big goal directed at the rest of the world. This is a Ra's who cares about the League of Assassins and who is working tirelessly to ensure its future survival in the hands of someone worthy of the throne. It was an interesting depiction of the character. He manipulated everything in Starling City to force Oliver's hand. He made Oliver take up his place as Al Sah-him. He wanted to handle this successor in the same way that he rose to the position in the first place all those years ago.

It's because of his intense focus and drive of this mission that ultimately gets Ra's killed in battle. He was so certain that Oliver had been chosen to replace him. During their first battle on the mountain, Oliver did not die. He rose from the dead to continue fighting. That was a sign that Ra's no longer had to fight this enemy. He had to embrace Oliver - for he was able to do what so many men were incapable of doing. The destruction and pain Ra's has caused Starling City, Oliver and his friends is his way of showing of love. Oliver stood out amongst all the other men who fought in battle. Ra's saw something in Oliver that then consumed him with ideas of control. He needed Oliver to succeed him. Even when Oliver has shown that he was never truly on his side, Ra's made sure that Oliver could see the devastation first hand so that he can still rise to being Ra's. Oliver attacked Ra's several times during this finale. He sabotaged the plane traveling them to Starling City. He tried to kidnap Damien Darhk - Ra's biggest enemy - to trade for the bioweapon. When both of those plans failed, Oliver confronted Ra's in battle once again. That was the only option left as the virus had started to spread throughout the city. Oliver needed to end things once and for all with Ra's. And yet, Ra's was still hoping that all of this would still force Oliver to serve as his successor.

That sole drive was his true vulnerability. He was desperate for Oliver to accept his position as heir to the demon. That allowed him to lower his guard for a moment and ultimately be killed by Oliver. That was a poignant moment that had nice parallels to the very first time the two of them fought. Sure, the stakes now are significantly higher than they were before. Millions of people will die if Oliver is not successful in battle. Fortunately, he is. And yet, he still gives Ra's the honorable words spoken to the dying by the League. Oliver is embracing the fact that he had to become someone else in order to win this fight. He is no longer Oliver Queen or the Arrow. He fights to protect his city one last time. But he still gives Ra's the respect he needs in the end. That's what makes the journey feel compelling - especially when it's paired with the flashbacks that show Oliver as a much more ruthless man.

Of course, Oliver is able to save the entire city again because the rest of the team survived death and could stop the spread of the bioweapon. They don't do so because they suddenly trust Oliver again. They recognize that the city is in danger and do their best to protect it. They all make that choice to rise above and fight in order to protect this community that means so much to them. They shouldn't forgive Oliver for the bad things that he did during his time undercover with the League. It was some pretty dark stuff. And yet, they all still had to work together in order to save Starling City from destruction. Sure, it's a little weird to see how quickly Felicity opens up to Oliver again. It's because of her that he has the proper motivation to win in battle with Ra's. However, she was crying out just last week that she trusted Oliver only to be betrayed yet again. And now, she's making sure that he survives this entire ordeal just because he shares his dream of being somewhere far away from the city and the League with her. It's not a completely earned moment because it forgets so much of the pain between the two of them for the sole sake of things ending happily for them in the end.

For all the questionable decisions that the show made this season though, it did succeed in showing that this is a team of heroes. Oliver started this journey as a lone man trying to protect his city. His biggest character flaw has been his constant desire to do everything by himself. That was apparent up until the very end of the season - where he thought Malcolm was the only person he could trust with his master plan. It's great that Diggle, Laurel, Thea and Ray will rise above to protect the city when it needs it the most. It's because of Oliver that that is all possible. And yet, he doesn't need to be the city's sole hero anymore with the burden of that always hanging over him. He is allowed to be happy for the first time in a long while. Sure, as he rides down the coast with Felicity, it's clear that the happiness won't last all that long. But in the moment, it's an effective character beat that also honors the true development of the ensemble. Diggle has become a hero. Laurel has become a hero. Ray is the process of becoming a different hero. And Thea has become a hero. They will stand and protect the city. And that is just a wonderfully exciting prospect heading into the fourth season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "My Name is Oliver Queen" was directed by John Behring with story by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg and teleplay by Marc Guggenheim & Jake Coburn.
  • It was so great seeing Thea in the red outfit for the first time as well as Felicity in Ray's ATOM suit.
  • Speaking of Ray, his tinkering with nanotechnology saved the city from this potentially deadly outbreak. And yet, that's also what leads to a massive explosion later in the episode. It's probably the beginning of his story in becoming more like the comic book version of the character. But that process will likely be dealt with further on the Arrow spinoff show, Legends of Tomorrow, he'll be a part of next season.
  • While it is great seeing Barry in Nanda Parbat (and Diggle's reaction once again to his speed), it was odd that he popped up for a moment to break everyone out of the dungeon only to disappear back to Central City. Oliver's crossover appearance on last night's The Flash was more exciting - even though it made much less sense logistically.
  • Damien Darhk has been confirmed as the big bad for Season 4, right? There's been enough foreshadowing in these last few episodes for that to be true.
  • Also, Malcolm is now the new head of the League of Assassins. That could be very dangerous next season as well. Even though he has been helpful to the team throughout this season, neither Oliver nor Nyssa will forgive him for killing Sara.