Arrow: 322 “This is Your Sword” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Previously on Arrow: to save his sister, Oliver was forced into joining the League of Assassins by Ra’s, who promptly brainwashed him and sent him to track down and kill Nyssa al Ghul, the newly gone-rogue daughter of Ra’s who posed a threat to Oliver’s place as Heir to the Demon (a fairly tricky first few days at the job). Oliver, seemingly completely under the spell of the League, kidnapped Diggle’s wife, Lyla, and almost killed Diggle, convincing Team Arrow that Oliver was indeed actually brainwashed. Meanwhile, back in Nanda Parbat, the ever-changeable Ra’s displayed his terrible parenting by deciding that Nyssa must marry Oliver, before revealing Oliver’s final task before becoming the new Ra’s: releasing a bioweapon over Starling City…
This week’s penultimate episode, This is Your Sword, saw events escalate considerably leading in to next week’s season finale, to generally strong results. Interestingly, This is Your Sword wasted little time in revealing that Oliver’s brainwashing was in fact merely a charade concocted with Malcolm to take the League down from the inside. It’s a twist that had the potential to be disappointing by killing a big source of suspense and voiding some of the dramatic heavy lifting done last week in convincing viewers that Oliver really was too far gone, but it pretty much works – last week’s outing with Oliver as the villain was fun, but having the show’s central hero as a brainwashed pawn isn’t a particularly sustainable concept, and would likely have lost its novelty quickly.
The reveal that Oliver is merely pretending also introduced an interesting new dynamic between Oliver and the other members of Team Arrow, slightly irked by his overenthusiastic attempts to convince Ra’s of his loyalty last week. It’s not something that works throughout the whole episode – often, Diggle’s righteous fury feels a little manufactured for extra end-of-season drama – but shaking Team Arrow up a little is a great way of sticking to the more personal vein of season 3’s story arc. Season two saw Starling City up in flames in the penultimate episode, so it’s fitting for a season heavily focused on the personal character drama to see Oliver’s long-held friendships and personal life up in flames at this late point in the season instead of his city. The trademark large scale, bombastic action will be present and correct next week (proving that Starling City really is the worst place to live in America), but for now the choice to go for a smaller-scale and more intimate build-up to the finale is working very nicely.
Up until last week’s reveal of the Alpha-Omega bio-weapon, the character of Maseo was the only constant link between the flashback story in Hong Kong and the present day story involving the League of Assassins – but This is Your Sword saw the two ongoing plots intertwine a little more as Oliver’s time in Hong Kong began to come to a close. The synchronicity between Akio and Maseo’s deaths in Tatsu’s arms was an affecting parallel, and Maseo’s death was a fairly well executed coda for a character who had run his course in the present day – after giving some pretty strong indications that Maseo was going down the path of redemption, Arrow delivered a more nuanced exit for the character than a standard boilerplate redemption story, with Maseo refusing to back down against Tatsu and receiving a sword in the gut in return.
Unfortunately, the air seems to have gone out of the flashbacks themselves. On the bright side, the Hong Kong story does deliver a fitting emotional punch with Akio’s death, which, as mentioned above, parallels Maseo’s passing in the present in a reasonably subtle way, and does justice to a moment that has been mentioned and foreshadowed since the mid-season finale. However, where This is Your Sword’s flashbacks really stumble is the execution of General Shrieve, the eventual Big Bad behind the Hong Kong plot – it’s actually the first episode where we’ve seen the character as a proper villain, and it’s safe to say the army general is a heavy step down from the flashback villains of the past two seasons. With motivations that don’t even make that much sense and a standard, vaguely cartoonish characterisation that breaks very little new ground, Shrieve doesn’t work at all as an interesting villain, and as a consequence there’s very little intrigue concerning the flashbacks – when the cliffhanger of the Yamashiros and Oliver being surrounded by army men comes around, it’s hard to particularly care about what happens next.
Meanwhile, in the present day, Arrow tied up some loose ends concerning Roy, who made a fairly abrupt exit three weeks back. Thea’s scenes with Roy aren’t exactly packed with excitement, but they work well as an epilogue or sorts to the show’s longest running romance, and provides a little more closure for Roy than he was afforded in his exit from Starling City. They also work nicely as what could very well be the final step in Thea’s road to taking on the identity of the vigilante Speedy after her dress rehearsal last week – Roy leaving the Arsenal suit to Thea is a great passing on the torch moment that opens up a whole new world for Thea’s character.
This is Your Sword’s central action scene as a slightly extended Team Arrow took on some fairly incompetent League assassins was a fantastic centrepiece that helped elevate the episode – giving every character a chance to shine (especially Felicity and her impressive tablet throwing skills), this scene worked as something of a tribute to the enormous world of vigilantism Oliver has opened up. It also allowed the ATOM to have a meaningful role in an action scene for the first time in a few weeks, with a chase scene in the skies that may have had some fairly ropey effects, but can be forgiven for the heaps of ambition involved in trying to go for Iron Man-level spectacle.
With the plan going slightly pear-shaped once Team Arrow was captured, things only got worse as Malcolm decided to expose Oliver’s deception to Ra’s. Arrow hasn’t always done the most exciting things with Malcolm’s character this season, and he’s been on the sidelines ever since Oliver’s first trip to Nanda Parbat, but nonetheless it’s this sort of slimy, manipulative and fluid allegiance shifting as displayed here that distinguishes Malcolm as a character at this point, so it’s fun to see both the writers and John Barrowman make Malcolm more of a rogue and unstable element in the motley collection of heroes, adding some spice to the fairly straight-laced and righteous (almost too righteous?) Team Arrow.
This being the penultimate episode, you would expect a fairly major cliffhanger to leave viewers hanging until the finale – and This is Your Sword certainly delivers, to the point of actually overplaying its hand. Seeing Oliver lock up Team Arrow and seemingly betray them was a great twist that paid off the uncertainty surrounding his charade with Ra’s, and the visual of Team Arrow lying unconscious on the floor with the ‘deadly gas’ spreading throughout the room was striking, yet the idea suggested that most of the show’s regular cast is dead at the end of this episode is a entirely ridiculous idea to swallow.
It almost feels as if the Arrow writers were trying to one-up themselves with the ‘biggest cliffhanger ever’ – and that, admittedly may have worked well if two or three major characters had been in that chamber, allowing the possibility to be genuinely open that Arrow might ape Game of Thrones by culling a couple of its biggest characters. However, simply placing everyone in there just doesn’t work – the bigger the cliffhanger, the more underwhelming the resolution is likely to be, and there really doesn’t appear to be much of a chance that Arrow will follow through with this ending; so by trying to go for the biggest ending possible, Arrow has essentially set itself up for disappointment early next episode.
Despite the fact that Team Arrow are probably going to live, next week’s season finale promises to be a major game-changer, as Oliver finally takes on Ra’s al Ghul himself for round two. Let’s just hope it goes a little better than round one…
This is Your Sword is a solid penultimate episode, setting up the fireworks next week in an entertaining manner – yet it’s marred a little by unexciting flashbacks and an ending that fails to really convince.