Recap: Arrow, “Nanda Parbat” (3×15)
Arrow, like most CW shows, is no stranger to chewing through plot as fast as the writers can dream it up, throwing climax after climax at the viewer with the hopes that at least the majority of the development will stick. “Nanda Parbat” is a perfect exemplar of that strategy, with so many rapid-fire developments that it took until the episode’s end for me to really comprehend how potentially game changing it could be.
I’ll start with that end: Ra’s al Ghul offers to disinherit Nyssa, heir to the demon, and instead pass his title down to Oliver instead. (Apparently the Ra’s al Ghul mantel is much like the Dread Pirate Roberts.) On one level, this offer is completely crazy: how does a bastion of straight and narrow heroism like Oliver “You have failed this city” Queen fit with the cold, brutal, murderous ideology of the League? Oliver has never demonstrated the same calculating utility as Ra’s, relying instead on emptions such as love and guilt to motivate him. (This is why I snort every time he criticizes Laurel or Roy for letting their emotions get the best of them.)
But, even though I was initially skeptical, on another level, Ra’s offer makes complete sense. Ra’s is tired. He’s a man who uses a Lazarus Pit like a hot tub; he’s been alive since at least the mid 19th century and radiates the air of a man who has seen and done it all. Even torturing Malcolm Merlyn brings him no joy – and Merlyn’s suffering would bring a smile to all but the most ardent pacifist’s face. Whereas Ra’s finds Nyssa a disappointment (the waters of parental disapproval are running pretty deep on Arrow right now what with Detective Lance’s estrangement from Laurel – watch out, baby Sara), Oliver is resilient and tenacious; he’s shown strength, fortitude, and power, which makes him a more worthy heir. And Oliver’s hubris – a quality that Diggle rightly points out is kind of a prerequisite for being a superhero – means that he has the confidence to lead, as well as the lack of tolerance for dissent.
That particular intolerance has plenty of opportunities to flare up in the early parts of the episode. Oliver gets mad again and again when those around him disobey his commands. Thea can’t live with the crushing weight of the secret that she killed Sara, so she goes against Ollie’s wishes and tells Roy… and Laurel… and Nyssa. Laurel ignores Oliver’s order to stay away from Merlyn and instead attacks him head directly, disparity in abilities be damned. Oliver is losing more and more control ever since he lost his fight against Ra’s, and even if he can’t see that going to Nanda Parbat is partially about his wounded pride, Diggle can.
Thea, and her inability to deal with the way that Merlyn played her, sets off the chain reaction of events that take Oliver and Diggle to Nanda Parbat. Roy, whose character has benefitted from finally finding a niche as the sweet, compassionate one, encourages Thea to share her feelings with someone other than her brother, lest she explode. But once she starts sharing, she burns the house to the ground. While I appreciate how quickly she went to Laurel to tell her the truth, the scene itself disappointed me. While it makes sense that Laurel wouldn’t blame Thea due to her lack of agency, she got there too quickly; the revelation needed more time to sink in and let her react. Laurel and Thea’s interaction is instead rushed and perfunctory, and the whole thing was somewhat of a betrayal of Laurel’s growth as a character – she isn’t just an object for other characters to act against anymore, but that’s how she feels with Thea.
Luckily, Laurel had her moment later with Nyssa, when the two bonded over how much they missed Sara and her laugh. Nyssa’s serenity while locked in a cage in the middle of the Arrow Cave (where do they normally keep that thing?) belies the depth of her grief. Like Laurel, vengeance and justice have merged in Nyssa’s mind, but both women realize that Merlyn’s death won’t bring them peace, or make the pain of losing the woman they both loved any less.
Unlike Laurel and Nyssa, Felicity is aggressively trying to mend her broken heart by throwing herself into protecting an increasingly scruffy and exhausted Ray. After feeling ineffective against Brick, Ray doubles down on his efforts to perfect the ATOM suit, eschewing his own well-being in the process. Felicity is having nothing of this; she encrypts his files so he’s forced to eat, shower, and confront her shirtless in his bedroom. I was actually impressed with how much mundane conversation about the Dutch masters that Felicity endures before she throws herself into his arms. Apparently, this encounter is just what Ray needs to reinvigorate himself, as he finishes his suit and flies though the Starling City sky while Felicity sleeps in his bed. Ray’s purpose has never been clearer, even as Oliver’s gets muddied.
But not as muddy as Thea. Roy tells Thea about the police officer he killed under the influence of Mirakuru, and shows her how his guilt still drives him to play fairy godfather to the cop’s widow and son, but she doesn’t buy the parallel. Sara was different, not just because she was a friend, but because Thea knew exactly who Malcolm Merlyn was when she threw in her lot with him. Nobody can convince her that she didn’t bring her victimization on herself, and after trading Merlyn to Ra’s in exchange for her and Oliver’s safety, she presents herself to Nyssa, hands her a sword, and tells her the truth. We’re left wondering how far Nyssa’s commitment to Sara, the League, and vengeance goes.
Odds & Ends
– Laurel to Oliver: “You know, it’s hard to remember a time when I was actually in love with you.” Ouch.
– Diggle is perhaps the most stalwart and honorable character on television right now. Sometimes it makes his character feel thin, but in this episode, the tension between his commitments to his family and to Oliver makes his goodness shine through.
– So where did Oliver take the Yamashiro’s son Akio after running from the firefight?