On the D/L – Arrow
Season 3 Episode 4 – “The Magician”
After what seems like an eternity, Arrow finally has Oliver learn that Malcolm Merlyn is alive and well. Sara’s death also brings Nyssa Al Ghul (Katrina Law) to town to get to the bottom of it and avenge her ex lover. Also, happy 50th Arrow, here’s to 50 more!
In many ways the audience knowing that Malcolm Merlyn didn’t kill Sara through the fact that we know he was nowhere near Starling City when she was killed robs this episode of some of the mystery. It would have been far more effective if the question had remained open as to whether Malcolm was the killer and put us on the same level as Oliver allowing us to address the question over whether he’s being sincere ourselves. Doing it this way would have given the episode a greater sense of urgency as Malcolm is a really obvious suspect so why not play with that possibility a little longer?
John Barrowman was great in this episode. He played the sincerity of his claims very well and makes some really interesting points as to why it would be a stupid idea for him to kill Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter’s lover. There’s a great intensity to Merlyn in general that has Barrowman acting firmly against type. This role couldn’t be further from the anythingising, wise cracking immortal that is Captain Jack Harkness and it’s great. I really like to see Barrowman acting more subdued and injecting so much menace into his performance. Merlyn clearly has an agenda but it’s completely unknown what it might be. There must be a reason beyond Thea that he has returned to Starling.
Despite the knowledge that we have regarding Malcolm’s innocence of this crime the mystery is played up really well with each of the characters playing to their strengths in investigating it. Oliver is working double duty here by trying to keep Nyssa from killing Malcolm while trying to hunt him down. I do get the sense that Ollie is overwhelmed by everything that’s going on here and isn’t really sure what to do next. He is really struggling to keep control of the situation as well as wrestling with the notion of killing Malcolm. Oliver used to be a killer and might still think that it’s an easier way to deal with things but he has made a vow to be better than that. I really enjoy that he still battles with the urge to make an exception every now and again.
Nyssa really reminds the audience that she is a force of nature. She is rational enough to recognise that it’s a good idea to work with Oliver to increase the chances of success but she really doesn’t have time for Oliver’s morality and is bent on revenge. Her grief is being dealt with by bringing Sara’s killer to justice and nothing will stand in her way. Her scene with Oliver towards the end of the episode is particularly powerful at establishing both characters as immovable objects destined for some kind of epic clash before too long.
Since I’m talking about Nyssa it makes sense to segue into the introduction of her father Ra’s Al Ghul (Matt Nable) who appears very briefly at the end but has an impressive presence already. The scene is nicely enigmatic and Ra’s already seems cold and calculating. His dismissal of Sara as a member of his league actually paints him as a suspect for her murder and I really liked Katrina Law’s quickly buried anger that her father would talk about Sara in that way. Not much can be taken from such a brief appearance but he seems mysterious enough and I look forward to seeing more.
Laurel is used really well here with her character arc primarily involving her stance on killing. Her initial reaction is one of grief and pain when she gives Nyssa her blessing to kill Malcolm and avenge Sara but once she has time to reflect on it she realises that killing Malcolm won’t actually solve anything and comes round to Oliver’s way of thinking that there is a better way to do things. Laurel is still fitting into this world in lots of ways so to see her learning the value of life and what it really means when someone takes a life is an interesting piece of growth on her part. I also like the mutual respect she and Nyssa end up having for one another. Maybe Nyssa will offer her more tips later?
Quentin Lance was used sparingly in this episode but it is establishing a theme of him being kept away from the action and, in this case, the truth. He still doesn’t know that Sara has died and to see others tiptoe around him just feels wrong. Obviously it’s the characters making the mistake of keeping such a thing from him and that mistake will probably prove to be a costly one. It also adds weight to the scene where he calls Sara and leaves her a message when we know that she’ll never hear it and that Quentin will never hear his daughter’s voice again. Really heartbreaking and dramatic stuff and I’m convinced there’s an emotional explosion coming very soon.
Thea and Oliver have a refreshing new dynamic. Both have promised to be more upfront about things going on in their lives and cut out all the secrets. Ollie is still keeping his vigilante identity a secret but when it comes to pretty much anything else he is being upfront. Telling Thea that he had discovered that Malcolm was still alive was clearly difficult for him to do as his instinct is to protect her through lying but it’s good to see him fighting through is discomfort.
What Ollie doesn’t know is that Thea is countering his honesty with some lies of her own. She has kept her connection with Malcolm Merlyn a secret from everyone around her as well as her recently learned skills. It’s possible that she knows Oliver’s identity but that’s a secret she hasn’t even told the audience just yet. This new dynamic means that their scenes were dripping with subtext as the audience was in on the reality behind the fiction Thea was telling Oliver. I like this change in Thea, it brings her into a situation where she could easily become something of an antagonist to Oliver and that’s fascinating.
As usual the action was dynamic and interesting despite the fact that hooded figures end up looking very similar when in motion as quick as the fight scenes depicted here. The three way tussle between Malcolm, Nyssa and Oliver was visually very impressive with some great martial arts on display. It never fails to impress how fluid the action is on this show.
I did have some notable issues with this episode. First of all it struck me as odd that the blank piece of paper in Sara’s boot was revealed to have hidden writing on it and that Ollie had to be told this by Nyssa. The scene even points out that he has seen this sort of thing before. Surely he’s smart enough to have that be the first thing he tried? It furthers the plot along sure but it didn’t feel very organic to have it done this way.
Malcolm Merlyn like to be pretty public for a guy who is supposed to be dead. Surely the destroyer of The Glades is famous enough to be recognised by someone in the middle of a public place. For someone trying to be clandestine he is being a bit overt and theatrical for someone who is hated by millions.
This will make me sound like a broken record but I missed Felicity. She was over on The Flash during the events of this episode and only appears briefly but without her presence defusing the tone of the episode slightly it was all a bit too intense and dark. There was some counterbalance needed to Laurel and Diggle’s assertions that Malcolm should be allowed to die and Felicity would have provided that I think. It’s a testament to how good her character is that her absence from one episode could have such a profound impact.
Oliver in Hong Kong really isn’t doing it for me. The flashbacks aren’t tying into the overall plot of the episode well enough for me. I can see the link between becoming comfortable with idea of following Waller’s orders to kill people in contrast with him deciding not to kill in the present but the link is very tenuous for my liking. It doesn’t help that these scenes aren’t all that interesting to watch either. I miss the island.
Well done Arrow for making it to episode 50 and the event is celebrated nicely here. The mystery of Sara’s death is given some momentum despite the fact that the audience already knows they’re chasing a dead end by pursuing Malcolm Merlyn. Despite all that Malcolm is a great antagonist and it’s more than welcomed to see him interact with the main characters.
Nyssa being around added some intense friction to the events and gave Oliver something else to worry about. Oliver is impressively challenged in this episode as he wrestles his urge to kill Malcolm as well as prevent Nyssa from killing him.
A fresh dynamic for Oliver and Thea that flips the honesty/deception roles round so that it’s Thea doing the lying rather than Oliver makes things more interesting and Thea’s new focused attitude is great to watch.
Quentin Lance still not knowing about Sara’s death is dramatic gold and adds an undercurrent of melancholy to the scenes featuring him where her name is brought up. His enforced ignorance is a great story running through the season.
Some issues are abundant here like the major clue to the mystery being something that the team could and should have found on their own but didn’t because it wasn’t time for them to go on this hunt without Nyssa helping them. Felicity’s absence was deeply felt in this episode and at times made things too dark and serious without any sign of levity to allow the audience time to catch their breath.