Arrow: 304 “The Magician” Review
Reviewed by Phil Boothman.
Holy cow, that really escalated things.
After a week of treading water and taking a pleasant trip out of the country last week, we dive straight back into the meat of things this week as the hunt for Sara’s killer escalates. As we saw at the end of last week’s episode, Nyssa al Ghul has returned to Starling City looking for Sara, and Oliver has the unenviable task of informing the incredibly dangerous ninja assassin that her long-term lover is dead.
Nyssa provides a hint that she might know who killed her and then leaves, but Oliver sends Roy out to follow her and they all meet up at one of Sara’s old safehouses. Nyssa then informs Oliver that Malcolm Merlyn is not only still alive, but also in Starling City: as Sara was sent to Starling by the League of Assassins to verify Malcolm’s presence, it seems pretty likely that he was the one who killed her.
Overall it’s a pretty huge pile of information that has just been dumped on Oliver: not only is one of his more dangerous enemies, and his little sister’s biological father, still alive after being on the receiving, and pointy, end of one of Oliver’s attacks, but he is likely the one who murdered his friend and former lover. This would be something of a burden for anyone to carry, but considering the other complications in Oliver’s life it’s a surprise at this stage of the episode that he hasn’t collapsed into a quivering, jelly-like wreck of a human being. Then again, there’s very little about Stephen Amell that is ‘jelly-like’, so that may not have been believable.
Anyway, with Nyssa’s help they are able to track Malcolm down and attack him, and he escapes using a real-life, honest-to-god smoke bomb, just adding fuel to the idea that, in this universe, Malcolm Merlyn is basically Batman: he’s a sufferer of personal tragedy, trained by ninja assassins, who uses theatricality and deception to defeat his foes, all the evidence is there. He then calls up Oliver and asks to meet him in a public place to tell him the truth, and once there informs him that he did not kill Sara, and the only reason he returned to Starling City was to look after Thea: he provides some pretty compelling Moira Queen-esque evidence of the ‘everything I’ve done, I’ve done for family’, and Oliver reluctantly believes his story.
However, things are made more complicated when Nyssa kidnaps Thea to use as leverage against both Oliver and Malcolm, and a pretty impressive three-way archer fight ensues in another one of the seemingly endless series of Starling City’s abandoned warehouses and industrial complexes. The fight comes to a rapid end when Malcolm not only reiterates his own innocence in the issue, but tells Nyssa that it is far more likely that her father ordered Sara killed for her so-called ‘depraved’ acts with his own daughter. It’s an odd theory that hinges on the idea that Ra’s al Ghul is a homophobe, but with the evidence provided it does seem far more likely than Malcolm being the one who did the killing.
So Oliver, who still believes Malcolm, informs Nyssa that, as bizarre as it sounds considering everything that he has done in the past, Malcolm is under his protection, and anyone who tries to kill him will be dealt with swiftly. When Nyssa tells Oliver that this is essentially an act of war against the League of Assassins, Oliver doesn’t seem overly concerned by this and tells her again that Malcolm is protected, forcing her to leave and have a moment with Laurel at Sara’s grave before heading home.
Even though it still leaves things inconclusive as to the identity of Sara’s killer, the present events of the episode provide a considerable leap forward in the overarching plot of the season, and they do it in an incredibly satisfying manner.
However, those revelations are nothing compared to what happens in this week’s flashbacks: in Hong Kong, Oliver is tasked with his first assassination for ARGUS, and he carries it out with surprisingly little hesitation. He manages to retrieve a flash drive from his victim, and with a little bit of help from Maseo’s son’s laptop, he discovers some damning evidence which provides links all the way back to the show’s first season: he finds that the man he killed was not just a man, but the handler with whom the mercenary Edward Fyers worked in season one’s island flashbacks.
Remember him? Fyers was the sinister British villain who swamped Lian Yu with armed and dangerous mercenaries in order to blow up a passenger jet going into China and therefore cripple the Chinese economy until his plan was stopped by Oliver, Slade and Shado and the passenger jet was saved. But as it turns out, the whole thing was a little bit more complicated than that: Fyers’ handler, the man Oliver just murdered, worked for ARGUS, and as Oliver confronts Amanda Waller about it, she tells him that the plan was put in place to kill a single occupant of the passenger jet. And, as if that wasn’t enough of a callback to season one, the target of Waller’s attack was an important figure in the Chinese drug trade: none other than Chien Na Wei, also known as China White, a recurring villain from the show’s first two seasons.
And finally, Nyssa heads home to a strange and exotic place that is presumably the often-referenced Nanda Parbat to report on everything that went down in Starling City. This being the League of Assassins, things don’t seem to go down well with the big man in charge, who reiterates Nyssa’s sentiment that Oliver Queen is courting war, and we finally get our first glimpse of Ra’s al Ghul.
See what I mean about things escalating with this episode?
A very interesting episode of a show that is getting more and more complex as time goes on, “The Magician” provides some good forward momentum on the overall story arc of the season, and ties things all the way back into season one. Not only that, but it’s extremely well put together and looks great throughout.