I remember back in the first season of Arrow, there were a ton of breaks in the show. It was as if we couldn’t go a straight month without one break in-between episodes or something. It was quite frustrating for someone like me, who hadn’t really watched shows “live” before, binge-watching entire seasons being more my thing, and so it was one of the few things I didn’t like about Arrow. But I’ll admit that when an episode leading up to a break is as awesome as the mid-season finale back in December, or this week’s episode, “Nanda Parbat“, then things are very different.
“Nanda Parbat” this week is one of the most intense episodes of the third season yet, and also one of the best to date. Last week Thea found out that Malcolm had used her in his war against the League of Assassins, making her commit Sara’s murder. It was an emotional moment for everyone involved and the new episode picks from that point, affecting everyone once again. Thea makes a dangerous choice and then it is up to Oliver and Diggle to figure out a way out of this jam, while Felicity and Ray continue working away at his ATOM suit, which we finally saw in full!
“Arrow” proved once again this week why it is one of the best shows currently airing. After the months of mysteries and secrets and inner guilt, we finally got to see some catharsis for the majority of the characters. In the season-finale, Oliver tasted death when Ra’s al Ghul defeated him in single combat and left him for dead at the bottom of a ravine. He has spent the last few episodes recovering from that ordeal and getting his strength back, only to have to face up to Ra’s again. Laurel too has struggled to let her dad know about Sara’s death and now that she has, finally, she has to face his crushing disappointment and his loss of faith in her, while at the same time also accepting that Thea’s role in Sara’s death was one that the young girl didn’t have any control or choice over. For Roy, his struggle with his killing of a cop last year continued, but we also saw how he dealt with all of it.
But that’s all expected. These are all our main characters, and we expect all of this from them. What we wouldn’t normally expect, and which is where the writers of this episode struck gold, was in showing how Nyssa has dealt with Sara’s death, and what she remembers of her time with her dead lover, an arc that then ties into Laurel and Thea’s own arcs in this episode, elevating both of them immeasurably.
To take a moment from all of that however, I just want to mention that getting a full and proper look at Ray’s ATOM suit was one hell of a kick, something that I would want to experience again. It is a really rad-looking suit, very modernistic and also futuristic. The only snag though is that we don’t get to see even a hint of Ray’s shrinking powers, as from the comics, and all he really tests in this episode is the suit’s flight capability. Which is kinda okay I guess, but I suppose it ties into how we have a flying superhero in The Flash now, Ronnie Raymond and Dr. Martin Stein aka Firestorm. I guess Arrow too needs someone who can take the fight into the air now. Its great, but I just wish that things were a bit more substantial.
Anyway, to get back to the whole thing. Oliver told Thea previously that she was not to tell anyone else that she was the one who killed Sara, and not Malcolm Merlyn. But see, thing is, Oliver is someone who can internalize that kind of pain and not let it out so that it continues to chip away at his mental defenses. Thea is a very different sort of person to him, and for her the guilt is just too much. Yes, she wasn’t in control of her actions, but that’s a thin defense since all of it just means that her blood-father betrayed her trust and her faith and her confidence.
And so Thea Queen lashes out at Malcolm Merlyn in the worst way possible: she (somehow, goes unexplained) contacts the League of Assassins and tells them where to find him, and that he killed Sara. Which is where Oliver and John come in, with the two of them going to Nanda Parbat to bring Malcolm back since he is Team Arrow’s only chance at taking down Ra’s al Ghul and the rest of the League.
The reason I mention all of this is the reason that I loved this episode: every character opened up to another about their inner feelings and gave them all the truth about current matters or themselves. Thea revealed the truth about Sara’s death. Laurel admitted her mistakes to her father. Nyssa admitted the extent of her feelings for Sara. Oliver reveals the real reason he wanted to go back to Nanda Parbat. John owes up the extent of his feelings for Lyla and the next step they want to take. Felicity gives Ray some good talking to and is honest to him about how hard and rough he is driving himself in order to make the suit work. Laurel and Nyssa and Thea and Nyssa share some great moments together.
In fact, if you focus on that last part, you see that this episode is one of the best for the additional reason that it totally passed the Bechdel test over and over. In all their different ways, Sara’s death binds them all together, no matter how they knew her or what their connection to her was. She has brought them all in one place, at one time, and it remains to be seen where things go from here.
Because this episode has one hell of an ending. It kind of bothers me since it plays a bit too much into Batman territory, further solidifying comparisons between Oliver and Bruce, but at the same time I also like the fact that the continuity of the show is so different from the “traditional” comics continuity. That’s where Arrow always shines, when it takes concepts familiar from the comics, and then spins them its own way into something very different. Different but reminiscent, I should add.
In an episode where almost all the characters come out of the closet with regard their feelings and their ambitions and their goals, it is nice to see the action toned down a bit to let the story breathe. Yes, there’s the odd moment where Oliver and John take out far too many League assassins and you wonder where these flunkies are actually any good in a fight or not, given how easily they all fall. But, that’s never the main focus of the well-paced story. The focus is on character development, on transitioning everyone to a new status quo that will undoubtedly take effect three weeks from now when the third season comes back from its extended break.
All I know is that I’m going to be looking forward to that new episode, given how good this one was. As I said above, definitely among the best of the new season up until now.
More Arrow (Season 2): Link.