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Well, that was a strange episode of Arrow. And not a good strange. I’m suffering from a serious case of whiplash after watching each of the characters repeatedly change their previously very entrenched beliefs at the drop of a hat. A good way to test the strength of an episode’s story structure is to take a character and follow his or her journey throughout the episode. If it flows from one point to the next smoothly, it’s a pretty solid episode. If the character makes strange jumps from one moment to the next- mentally or physically- something’s a bit off.
Let’s take Thea as an example. When we last saw her, she was swearing off ever speaking to Merlyn again, wanting nothing to do with the man who drugged her and told her to kill Sara. Even though the League was on their doorstep, she was firmly Team Queen. This week, we open with her and Oliver training with Merlyn. No explanation other than they need to prepare for the League. Sure, Thea gets some snarky one-liners aimed at showing us how much she still hates him, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s willingly working with Merlyn. Then, suddenly, the guilt of killing Sara becomes too much and she spills the beans to Laurel. There’s no emotional build-up. It just suddenly happens. And Laurel is totally ok with it- because, you know, it’s not like she’s ever spoken of how she will kill the person who killed Sara. Laurel just tells Thea to stop working with Merlyn because it’s all his fault. So Thea turns Merlyn into the League- the smartest darn thing she’s ever done.
We’ve been shown time and time again this season that Merlyn is just plain awful. Though he claims to love Thea, everything he has done has shown the opposite. He’s isolated her from Oliver and made her kill Sara. Definitely not Father of the Year. And yet, Thea, despite knowing everything he’s done to her, still inexplicably always works alongside him. She will say she hates him and that she wants nothing to do with him, but she’s always placed back into his orbit by the writers. It weakens Thea as a character to have her constantly contradicting herself by her actions. Having her turn Merlyn into the League is the smartest thing she has done in weeks. But why the hell didn’t she do it last week? Or at the start of this week? Why does it take Laurel telling her to stay away from him to make her act? That makes zero sense. Thea knows he’s evil. Has rejected him and his help. And yet, because Oliver says jump, she goes against everything she’s previously said and continues to work with him. And then Laurel, who she isn’t all that close to, tells her to ditch Merlyn and she immediately agrees.
Speaking of Oliver, man, what a tangled storyline he had this week. Like Thea, he’s been shown to be firmly anti-Merlyn. It’s hard for me to fathom why he would choose to have anything to do with the psychopath who turned his sister into a killer (you don’t see him having tea with Slade Wilson). I understand he’s worried about the League. But I seriously question his judgment in training alongside Merlyn and making Thea do the same. And it’s all done while Oliver adopts an air of superiority toward Thea, stressing that this is for her own good and that he just wants to save her from becoming a killer. His decision to try and save Merlyn from the League? Idiotic, really. Just plain stupid. Sure, he’s snagged Nyssa (which apparently doesn’t really bother Ra’s), but I’m totally on team Thea here.
There’s no way Ra’s is going to let Merlyn live, even if Merlyn tells him Thea shot the arrows. Even if Ra’s did believe Merlyn, isn’t it Merlyn’s fault? After all, hasn’t every single character told Thea that it’s Merlyn’s fault? That she can’t blame herself because she was drugged at the time? We’ve been drilled into believing this throughout the season. Heck, an entire subplot of this episode was spent telling us that while Thea and Roy feel guilt over their actions, they shouldn’t blame themselves. So, why wouldn’t Ra’s hear the same story and come to the same conclusion: Merlyn is the reason Sara is dead? Why save the man who turned Thea into a killer and brought the wrath of the League down on Starling City? Considering the episode hinges on saving Merlyn, this is a pretty huge plot hole to leave open. And that troubles me a great deal.
Oliver saving Malcolm Merlyn won’t save Thea. It will only put her in greater danger. The League will come after her to get to Merlyn and to get to him. He will potentially lose the last of his family, since the League certainly don’t live by his code. It won’t end well for anyone. I understand that Oliver stands by his “No One Dies” code, but at some point, the risks outweigh the rewards. And this was one such situation. When characters flip flop on their beliefs, it’s a problem. When we are led to believe a character is committed to something and they suddenly drop that staunch belief, it makes for bad character development (I’m looking at you, Laurel). But when a character blindly follows his path, not noticing when it conflicts with a central tenet of his personal belief, that’s a huge flaw in the writing. Oliver’s ridiculous decision to try to save Merlyn when the success of the mission would do nothing but hurt Thea was a mistake and really tanked this episode for me.
— I can only imagine sending Oliver to Nanda Parbat was so that Ra’s could offer him the position as the next Ra’s (making Merlyn’s line about Nyssa getting passed over true). I cannot imagine any situation where Oliver would accept the position, so even this “twist” is pretty lame. Also- what happens to the retiring Ra’s al Ghul? Is it like the Pope, and he moves into a cottage behind Nanda Parbat? Or does he have to die?
— Good for Felicity for hooking up with Ray. Although making the storyline about the launch of the ATOM suit into the C-storyline of the episode was a bummer.
— So Thea told Nyssa she killed Sara. But didn’t throw in a line about Merlyn drugging her. I can’t imagine Nyssa being easy on her considering the missing piece of information (if she knew about Merlyn, I’m sure Nyssa would just tell Thea it wasn’t her fault). Perhaps Laurel shows up and stops the fight. Or something like that. The show has done too much with Thea to have her get killed now (and, really, doing so would only reinforce the stupidity of Oliver’s decision).
— That was a lovely scene between Nyssa and Laurel.