Arrow – Season 4 Episode 13
“Sins of the Father”
Arrow picks right up from Nyssa’s ultimatum and has Oliver dealing with his limited options to find a way to save Thea’s life.
Nyssa making a play for Malcolm’s position as head of the League of Assassins has been a long time coming as she has always been enraged that Malcolm has taken on the mantle of Ra’s Al Ghul. She doesn’t think that he deserves it and feels that something has to be done about it.
Trying to use Oliver as an instrument to make that happen is pretty confusing to me as what really stops her from defeating Malcolm in combat herself to make her worthy of taking his place? She definitely has the skills and the cunning to do so plus the trial by combat is firmly in their vaguely defined code so this seemed like the easy solution.
I like Nyssa as a character as she brings a certain mystique to the show that Katrina Law always puts across really well. There’s always anger beneath the surface with her but she also seems as if she is in complete control. It’s a fine line and played very well. She also fits in well with the rest of the cast and helps to ground the bizarre mysticism that surrounds the League.
The ultimatum is basically a drama heightening device to give Oliver a stake in Nyssa’s conflict with Malcolm and Thea becomes the prize. It’s a good way to really test Oliver’s attempt to be a better man this season by putting him in an impossible situation that seems to only end with the death of someone. Either he does nothing and preserves his vow not to kill which means that Thea dies or he kills Malcolm so that Nyssa surrenders the cure meaning that Thea can live. I suppose he could also kill Nyssa and try to take the cure from her that way but that doesn’t really come up and she probably has put in some sort of contingency in case he has that idea.
At first Oliver tries a diplomatic solution. Laurel appeals to Nyssa’s better nature to get her to agree to a less violent solution which lessens the pressure on Oliver to compromise his ideals in some way. It’s a nice scene that serves as a reminder of how close Laurel and Nyssa were last season. Nyssa speaks softly to Laurel and clearly respects her and regards her as a friend. They talk about Sara who is somewhere in time and space at that point. Thankfully the episode leaves that out because the last thing we need is more dumbfounded looks when people find out about time travel.
Speaking of which, when in this continuity is the Legends of Tomorrow pilot set? Laurel already knows about time travel but only found out about it last week so it doesn’t seem to fit anywhere as it would have to be during this episode. The tone doesn’t quite fit as Arrow is very emotionally intense right now but things seem to be very settled in that episode. None of that has anything to do with this review but it has me puzzled, I’ll get back on topic.
Nyssa’s revised terms are contingent on Malcolm being reasonable and having the best interests of his daughter at heart but that can never be counted on. He does agree to meet with her but of course he plans to betray her. Considering there’s still a lot of episode left at that point there’s no other way it could have gone. Nyssa’s too honourable to do the betraying but Malcolm is a snake so it could only come from him.
This kicks off a drawn out war where Nyssa’s forces take on Malcolm’s and there are a number of scenes of black clad ninjas fighting other black clad ninjas. It’s all technically impressive but it gets hard to follow after a while and seems to be happening in a bubble until the fight is taken to the streets of Star City and innocent people are in danger.
Team Arrow become useful and fully part of events at this point. My major issue with season 3 is that the whole League of Assassins and Ra’s Al Ghul story didn’t really seem to fit into what Arrow is supposed to be about. The basic premise of this show is that Oliver Queen and his team work to save a city that really needs help. When much of the story is vague, mysterious and happening elsewhere it really takes away from that and becomes really hard to follow. An attempt was made to tie the whole thing to Oliver personally but on the whole it really felt like it wasn’t clicking as well as it needed to.
Ra’s Al Ghul was a big problem with that as he had no real connection to Star City so was unable to resonate as a villain. Contrast that with Malcolm who was –and still is- a product of his environment, Deathstroke who wanted to tear apart everything that Oliver held dear and Damien Darhk who is eager to manipulate the city for his own reasons. Villains work better in this show when they are present and developed fully alongside the main cast where Ra’s Al Ghul was removed from all that in an attempt to keep a certain mystery about him.
This use of the League works better than any other because it’s easy to understand exactly what is at stake. Why is Nyssa going to war with Malcolm? She wants to control the League. Why doesn’t Malcolm relinquish his power? He doesn’t want to. Why is Oliver involved? They are both putting Thea in the middle of their conflict and forcing him to choose. These are all simple motivations with an implied complex backdrop and it works well as a result.
I like that Oliver remained determined that he wouldn’t compromise his principles throughout the episode. Even Diggle told him that this is the point that he needs to kill Malcolm as there’s no other way out but Oliver is determined not to go down that road again and sticks to his guns on it because he is sure there’s a third alternative. He also makes that clear to Malcolm when he asks Oliver to put himself in his place and decide. Oliver won’t kill because he’s sure there’s another way. In effect he passes the test and proves that he’s a better man than he once was.
His solution felt a bit too easy but as I said, there’s no reason that Nyssa couldn’t have challenged Malcolm and sorted this out between them but as a representation of that third alternative it works well enough. The only way to ensure that neither of them dies as a result of his idea is to stand in for Nyssa in the trial. There’s constant message of them being married throughout the episode which seems to only be brought up to establish his right to do so as her husband. Even at that it feels dubious as Nyssa is randomly respectful of the forced arranged marriage which really doesn’t fit her character at all considering she resented it last season.
Oliver’s fight with Malcolm was a great call back to the first season. Malcolm told Oliver that he would never be able to win because he has no idea what he’s fighting for and to an extent Malcolm was right as Oliver was unable to truly defeat him. This fight is different as Oliver is fighting for his sister’s life and is fully committed to making sure that Thea survives. With that fuelling him he easily defeats Malcolm and cuts off his hand so that he can pass the ring to Nyssa and put an end to all of this. It’s a bit of a coup that strains credibility but I appreciated what was being fought for rather than the mechanics of what made the fight possible.
Malcolm’s motivation for not giving up control of the League to save Thea is explained but fairly dubious. He mentions that the League have been responsible for manipulating world events for centuries and that kind of power is more important than Thea’s life to him. It’s not something he wants to give up to Nyssa for reasons that are undefined other than him being power hungry.
I would like to see an exploration of why Malcolm was concerned about having Nyssa in charge. Whether it would corrupt her crossed my mind. The fact that she disbanded the League completely made sense considering she destroyed the Lazarus Pit and has always seemed opposed to the standard practices. Not having the League around removes the potential for Arrow to get bogged down in vague mysticism again and frees Nyssa to do more interesting things. Maybe she could be a regular addition to the cast or join the Legends of Tomorrow team should it get a second season. Her character could really go anywhere after this.
Malcolm’s reaction to his humiliation at the hands of Oliver was very in character. He held Oliver’s son over his head earlier in the episode and the payoff came when he made Damien Darhk aware that Oliver had someone he cares about even more than Felicity. This really ups the stakes and seems to support my theory that William could be the one who occupies the grave.
Equally, Thea is back on the table for that as well. The reason I think this is that this show started with Malcolm being the antagonist and his contribution in the last season as well as this one suggests that he is being groomed for a repeat performance as the big bad of season 5 should Arrow be renewed. Since season 5 would likely provide closure on Oliver’s exile it would be fitting to mark it as the end of his journey towards his humanity in the present day as well. Malcolm would serve as a good counter to that and would provide a solid thematic link that carries throughout the seasons. As Oliver becomes more human, Malcolm becomes more inhuman. It’s a simple conflict and since the characters have history the potential for a satisfying antagonistic relationship is already strong.
For that to happen and really count for something Malcolm will have to do something that Makes Oliver hate him enough to want to kill him. Being directly or indirectly responsible for Thea’s death would do that as well as showing how distanced from his humanity Malcolm has become. It would be great and it would make Thea’s death matter in a way that no other death on this show has.
In the background Felicity is dealing with the return of her father. I was very surprised that their first scene together in the episode had him reveal his identity to her as well as telling her that he knew hers. It prevented the posturing that I was expecting to continue for a while but also somewhat robbed the show of a few episode where Felicity gets to know her father while not knowing he’s a villain that they’re trying to take down.
A lot of their scenes together go about as you would expect them to. She resents him for abandoning her but he’s acting sincere enough to make her doubt her feelings about him. What makes it interesting is that she tested him by showing him restricted material at Palmertech and catching him out when he attempted to steal it. She gets him arrested and just like that, no more Calculator. I suspect he will be back but for now that has been put on the back burner.
I found it interesting that Felicity was adamant that people don’t change which really conflicts with Oliver trying to prove to everyone that he can and has changed for the better. He firmly believes that it’s possible and has to prove that to Felicity as well.
Emily Bett Rickards had a lot of strong material in this episode as she wrestled with her desire to believe what her father was saying but also wanted to heed her mother’s warnings. When Donna Smoak drops her fun loving persona then it’s time to really pat attention.
I like that Felicity’s story was thematically linked to the rest of the episode despite not being connected on a story level. She was struggling to deal with her father just as Nyssa struggled to come out from the shadow of hers. Malcolm is in theory torn between his duties as Thea’s father and his desire for power. Oliver even admits for the first time that his father was not a good man despite how he chooses to remember him. The effect fathers have on their children was all over this episode which makes the cliché title feel like the most appropriate choice.
It is said every week but I’m not at all interested by the flashbacks. So little time is devoted to them that the desired impact is lost. The idea of changing morality ties into the rest of the episode but Taiana struggling with Oliver killing her brother and beginning to accept it a short time later doesn’t work. It’s like I keep saying, there’s very little story stretched across the entire season.
An interesting if imperfect episode that tests Oliver’s changed morality in a really practical way. The mechanics of the situation are dubious but all of the characters play to their strengths. Unfortunately the flashbacks still slow the episode right down.
• the intricate test of Oliver’s renewed morality
• strong acting from every member of the cast
• revelations that create interesting potential for the show
• vague action sequences where people in similar costumes fight
• the flashbacks