Arrow: 320 “The Fallen” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Previously on Arrow: after Roy Harper successfully took the fall for Oliver by claiming he was the real Arrow, Roy soon met his end in prison thanks to a slightly unfriendly inmate… except it was all a ruse designed to let Roy escape and begin a new life somewhere else. Roy said his goodbyes and departed Team Arrow – and soon after, Thea found a new guest in her apartment: Ra’s al Ghul. The ensuing fight didn’t last long, and ended with Thea becoming the latest Queen to be skewered with a sword…
This week’s episode, The Fallen, explored the fallout of Thea’s stabbing, and the final acquiescence of Oliver to Ra’s al Ghul’s offer. After a cursory introduction a few episodes back, the heralded Lazarus Pit played a larger role here, as Thea was resurrected in the mystical waters in exchange for Oliver joining the League – but strangely enough, neither Thea nor the Pit actually played much of a role in The Fallen beyond the first act. Malcolm’s doom-laden promises that the Pit ‘changes people in the soul’ promised a huge shift in Thea’s character once she emerged – but The Fallen barely delivered on that promise, with the ‘change’ simply amounting to some temporary amnesia on Thea’s part, before Oliver’s sister faded into the background for the majority of the episode’s second and third acts.
It’s a strange storytelling choice for an episode which pivoted around her injury, and Oliver’s love for her – and it was just one of the frankly odd forks in the road The Fallen took in getting from Oliver finding Thea bleeding out in her apartment to the final suiting up sequence. Allowing Thea a few more minutes of screen-time would have lent the fairly important fact that she was brought back from the dead a little more impact, but as it is, Thea’s resurrection doesn’t even feel like a particularly major part of The Fallen – instead, Arrow’s long awaited first on-screen display of an important part of DC mythology ends up as a footnote in an episode that’s far more interested in having Oliver and Felicity. Thea’s resurrection may come to play an important part in episodes to come – but the way The Fallen deals with her resurrection in the short-term was simply a little odd.
Oliver and Felicity’s love story has never been a particularly engaging part of Arrow – and it played a key role here, with both positive and negative results. Felicity’s inevitable break-up with Ray was a little bit of an afterthought – a box that had to be ticked at the start of the episode – but Brandon Routh and Emily Bett Rickards managed to deliver quietly emotive performances in a restrained and low-key scene that felt far removed from some of the more bombastic soap-opera scenes that Arrow has delivered. However, what followed with Felicity wasn’t quite as convincing – starting with an unexpected confrontation with Ra’s al Ghul.
I certainly didn’t expect Ra’s and Felicity to share any scenes until the season finale, if at all – and their confrontation yielded some very surprising material. Ra’s tragic origin story was a nice moment of character development that displayed a more human side of a character who usually comes across as a regal figure far removed from relationships and personal lives (Matt Nable’s understated, regal performance continues to be reliably strong), but the Demon’s Head subsequently encouraging Felicity to immediately announce her love for Oliver was certainly one of the stranger directions the scene could have gone in.
Ra’s al Ghul has been a general success this season partially because of the fact that the character is rarely outright ‘evil’, and can often be completely affable towards the heroes. However, Ra’s playing the role of matchmaker for Oliver and Felicity just didn’t work on any level – the flimsy excuse of ‘closure’ doesn’t quite make up for the general tonal whiplash of a scene that began with Felicity threatening war on the League, and the lack of ulterior motive for Ra’s slightly undercuts the character’s fearsomeness. It may have been necessary for a character to encourage Felicity to finally tell the truth to Oliver, but almost any other character present in the episode would have worked far better in the role Ra’s played. The moment itself doesn’t have much of an impact either (however, the extremely awkward cutting of the scene in the UK broadcast was at least unintentionally amusing) coming as a payoff to one of the least compelling parts of season three, leaving the Oliver/Felicity subplot in The Fallen as something that feels almost cynically precision-engineered to please a certain subsection of Arrow’s fan-base.
The Fallen wasn’t all bad – in fact, despite the major flaws of the episode, there was plenty of genuinely excellent material. The impact of Oliver finally choosing to join the League was well explored, with a strong, versatile performance by Stephen Amell anchoring several emotionally hard-hitting scenes. The final goodbyes as Oliver left Team Arrow behind at Nanda Parbat managed to sufficiently sell the gravity of Oliver’s choice – Thea’s resurrection may have been disappointingly underplayed, but the writing and acting manage to present Oliver’s transformation into Al Sah-Him as the beginning of a huge new chapter for the show, adequately displaying the importance of the development without slipping into melodrama.
Maseo has largely been anonymous in the present day sequences aside from his rescue of Oliver earlier this season, functioning as mostly a League mouthpiece – but The Fallen dug deeper into Maseo’s fractured emotional state in the present day. His scene with Diggle was one of the surprise highlights of the episode, finally confirming that season three’s flashbacks will end in the death of his son, Akio, and allowing the concept of the League itself to be intriguingly challenged by Diggle (who, despite being a little wasted this season, has emerged as a paragon for balancing family, vigilantism and past traumas and therefore as an interesting foil to both Oliver and now Maseo). Likewise, his assistance during Team Arrow’s escape attempt opens up the possibility of a redemption arc for the character in the final three episodes of the season (which would finally connect the flashbacks to the present in a meaningful way) – so when Ra’s spares Maseo, what would normally feel like a frustrating cop-out instead feels like something of a relief
The flashbacks also continue to improve after last week’s speedy recalibration, providing a welcome dose of action in a mostly character-based episode. General Shrieve and his inexplicable hatred of China (with barely any motive, I’m still choosing to believe that he had a bad experience in a Chinese restaurant once) isn’t a remotely interesting villain, and doesn’t appear on-screen, but the momentum and drive the flashbacks now have is helping them to feel considerably more exciting and engaging than they have all season. The mini cliffhanger The Fallen’s flashbacks end on (the MacGuffin super virus being released in a busy Hong Kong market) also indicates that the writers have finally worked a decent amount suspense and intrigue into the flashbacks. It may have taken two thirds of the season, but I’m finally intrigued to see what comes next in 2010 Hong Kong.
With Oliver accepting the offer early on in the episode, it was clear that The Fallen had to end with his induction into the League of Assassins. It’s pretty likely that Oliver joining the League will take the character into some dark places – but the final scene as Oliver suited up in his new League gear was undoubtedly a great four-colour-esque moment that communicated his transformation efficiently without the need for a final montage. The route to this point was slightly circuitous and inconsistent – but finally, Oliver Queen is gone, and Al Sah-Him has taken his place…
The Fallen is a hard episode to describe – something of a curate’s egg, with several excellent emotional scenes mixed in with a disappointing underselling of the Lazarus Pit and a fairly uninteresting subplot between Oliver and Felicity. The good outweighs the bad enough to keep The Fallen above average – but with a few different storytelling choices, it could have been something much more.
Scene of the Episode: Suit Up – Oliver dons his League of Assassins outfit and receives a painful looking brand, finally accepting his place as heir to the Demon.