Throughout the course of this season, Oliver has constantly found himself at odds with his team and has almost always been cast as a quasi antagonist. Even though Arrow casts him as the “bad guy” (in the wrong) in those intra-team squabbles, he has always remained the hero of the story—until tonight. Continuing Arrow‘s current hot streak, “Al Sah-Him” sees this season-long idea become more literal as Oliver is turned into a certifiable villain who poses a threat not only to the remaining members of Team Arrow, but also to Starling City. He’s become his own worst nightmare. It’s very reminiscent of Harvey Dent’s line (delivered by Aaron Eckhart) in The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.”
There’s plenty more to love about this episode. Most importantly, Diggle is the main protagonist in tonight’s episode. Plus, Nyssa is given some welcome character development, and we finally learn the purpose of those frustrating flashbacks.
Tonight’s episode kicks off with a montage that takes us through Oliver’s three week mental reprogramming (read: brainwashing), a process all new League of Assassins recruits must undergo. It involves sensory deprivation, some light starvation, and, according to the subtitles, sword clanging, i.e. a lot of sparring against Ra’s. To understand the extent of Oliver’s transformation, the sequence ends with Oliver hallucinating, due to a drug Ra’s gave him, Maseo capturing Diggle trying to infiltrate Nanda Parbat to free him, and Ra’s instructing Oliver to kill him, which he goes for without any hesitation. Yes, Oliver Queen is indeed only alive in the past. There only remains
Darth Oliver Al Sah-Him.
Ever so proud of his heir’s progress, Ra’s takes Oliver on a stroll through “a place only the dead call home,” a.k.a. the ruins of Ra’s’ home village. Clearly, Ra’s has never listened to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” because he instructs Oliver that under no circumstance should his sole remaining hater (challenger to his reign) be allowed to keep hating. She, Nyssa al Ghul, must be eliminated. Ra’s insists on this because he failed to end his challenge’s life, a man named Damien Darhk, who joined the League at the same time as Ra’s, and now Damien remains a thorn in Ra’s side as he leads a group called H.I.V.E.
Back in Starling City, everyone’s still torn up about having to leave Oliver behind in Nanda Parbat. Diggle, Felicity, and Thea are leaning on each other for support, while Laurel’s friendship with Nyssa continues to grow. After taking down a mugger, Laurel takes Nyssa out for her first black and white milkshake and introduces her to the deliciousness of dipping fries in said milkshake. This lovely dinner, which features Nyssa smiling for the first time ever, is ruined when Laurel reveals she’s been lying for three weeks and tells Nyssa about Oliver accepting her father’s offer. Clearly, Laurel learned nothing from what happened with her father.
Hearing the news upsets Nyssa because not only did someone she trusts lie to her, but this development also means that Oliver and the League will try to kill her. And, that they do. They zip-line into Starling City like badasses. Refusing Team Arrow’s help, Nyssa goes to the rooftop where Sara died to face Al Sah-Him alone, and it doesn’t go well for her. Oliver disarms her and is about to deliver the final blow when Diggle and Black Canary—breaking out her new and improved Canary Cry (courtesy of Cisco)—show up to save her. Outnumbered, Oliver flees by jumping off the side of the roof (#theatricality). (Another indication of Oliver’s transformation: He primarily uses a sword throughout this whole episode.)
One of the highlights of tonight’s episode is watching how much Laurel and Nyssa’s friendship has developed. Earlier in the night, before Laurel ruined by revealing she’s been keeping secrets, Nyssa told Laurel that these past few weeks have been the happiest she’s ever been and thanks Laurel for taking her in when she was alone and adrift. Al Sah-Him’s arrival brings Nyssa back to the real world as she remembers she’s not actually normal. “But, I am Daughter of the Demon. Happiness was never something that was meant for me,” Nyssa says. Laurel is not ready to give up on her friend and tells her that if Oliver can change, then so can Nyssa.
NEXT: Matchmaker, matchmaker
Diggle and Felicity are also very shaken by this new Oliver. When Nyssa told them of the League’s brainwashing protocol, they firmly believed Oliver would fight back and wouldn’t forfeit his soul. They learn just how wrong they were when they return to Diggle’s home to find Baby Sara crying and Lyla missing. Oliver calls and tells Diggle that Lyla will be returned to him if he hands over Nyssa.
Cue Desperate Diggle, who is worried about his wife and pissed off as hell that the League crossed this line. What little compassion Diggle felt for Nyssa goes out the window as he demands that she turn herself in to ensure the safe return of his wife. It’s Team Arrow newcomer Laurel, however, who reminds him that this is not how they do things and there’s always another way.
Meanwhile, a tied up Lyla tries and fails to get through to Oliver by explaining how Diggle joining Oliver’s crusade three years ago gave him hope and purpose again, things he lost in the wake of his brother’s death. This conversation helps us to understand why Diggle, and not Felicity, seems to be taking Al Sah-Him the hardest. Diggle and Oliver’s friendship is one of Arrow‘s core relationships. Diggle, not Felicity, definitely feels like the person Oliver connected with first upon returning. One of the joys of the past few episodes has been the multiple instances in which the show has shone a spotlight on this relationship because for most of the season it has remained in darkness while Olicity received all the attention.
Diggle, Felicity, Laurel, and Nyssa show up at the meeting point and exchange Nyssa for Lyla. But, we know that this isn’t that simple. Team Arrow breaks out concealed weapons and tries to fight back. They put up a decent effort, but it’s all in vain because the League still manages to capture Nyssa. Meanwhile, Oliver and Diggle duel, but Oliver eventually overpowers him and is about to kill him when Thea fires an arrow in his arm and threatens to send another one through his eye if he doesn’t let Diggle go. Looking as though he barely recognizes her, Oliver acquiesces and walks off.
Upon returning to Nanda Parbat, Ra’s al Ghul searches Nyssa’s belongings and finds a black vial, which was the real reason he sent Oliver after his daughter. Kneeling before her father and Oliver, Nyssa proclaims that she’s no longer afraid and welcomes death. Oliver is about to execute her, but Ra’s decides that spilling the blood of an enemy who is already broken would be gluttony. Ra’s’ conversation with Felicity last week introduced us to Hitch al Ghul. Well, tonight, Hitch al Ghul goes one step further and decrees that Nyssa will wed Al Sah-Him, therefore becoming Bride of the Demon. If you thought Nyssa was scared before, you should see her face right now. (ASIDE: In an alternate reality, Ra’s al Ghul is the host of a reboot of the old CW show Beauty and the Geek called Beauty & The Heir to the Demon. END ASIDE).
You know those flashbacks we’ve suffered through all season, well tonight’s episode finally revealed their purpose. The vial Ra’s took from Nyssa contains the Alpha/Omega virus. The final act of ascension to the Demon’s Head is the erasure of one’s life. Ra’s destroyed his own home village, and Oliver will do the same to Starling City using the virus. This is a very interesting twist because it positions Oliver as the season ending Big Bad and validates Lance’s worries—Oliver does bring death.
Wall of Weird:
- Flashbacks: Oliver, Tatsu, and Maseo race to stop the army from dispersing more of the virus. Once that’s done, they race home to pick up Akio and use the cover of the chaos to flee the city. Unfortunately, on their way out, Tatsu notices that Akio has been infected.
- Felicity tells Thea that Oliver would want her move to on and live her life, so she tells her that Roy’s still alive and gives Thea his contact info.
- Ra’s explains that Damien Darhk has survived for so long because he stole some water from the Lazarus Pit when he fled the League. He’s used H.I.V.E. to continue the League’s ways, and Oliver has crossed paths with the organization many times. Not only was H.I.V.E. responsible for the death of Diggle’s brother, but it was the organization that tried to buy Merlyn’s earthquake device last year, he helped Gholem Qadir (from the first Suicide Squad episode) find safe haven in Markovia, and he’s the one who hired Mark Shaw to steal a secret file from ARGUS. We’re probably going to meet Damien Darhk/H.I.V.E. in the finale and/or next season. If you have any theories/insight into how the show might adapt Damien and H.I.V.E., please share in the comments.
- Felicity suggests that they need to design Diggle some sort of costume/identity concealer if he insists on continuing to go out in the field—which reminded me of my wildest theory/hope: Diggle will eventually become Steel on the show.
- Shoutout to Stephen Amell’s performance tonight. Somehow he managed to make Al Sah-Him even stiffer (in a good way) than Oliver Queen. Also, his eyes looked frighteningly dead throughout.
- Nyssa had so many great lines tonight: “I’ve never understood your country’s need to fry everything.” “I am a normal person.”
- First rule of dining at the Diggle home: No Glocks at the dinner table.
- Felicity says, “Well, my mom used to feed me nachos from the bar at the Grand before I was off the bottle, and I turned out normal.” “…Ish,” adds Thea.
- Ray was conveniently out of town tonight. Quentin was also noticeably absent from tonight’s episode.