The League of Assassins has loomed large over the third season of Arrow. Malcolm’s attempts to escape the death sentence he’s been saddled with has been the motivating factor for much of the season’s overarching story, and yet, “Nanda Parbat” is one of the first times the show has depicted the league in full force. Nyssa has been popping up here and there since the second season and there have been more than a couple agents of the League who have appeared from time to time to deal out their bloody form of justice, but the series has never truly delved into the group. There’s been conversation after conversation about just how dangerous the League is, and while there have been hints of the League’s power it has been hard to truly connect with those dire warnings since the League has been primarily talked about rather than wholly engaged with.
One of the problems with talking about the League as frequently as Arrow has is that it can make it hard to care about the group. The old adage is true: “show don’t tell.” And, while Arrow has shown us the League from time to time, it’s done a whole lot more talking about them. After a certain point, the talking becomes dull, and when most of that talking revolves around dire warnings about impending death it starts to feel like that doom is never actually going to arrive. Sure, we know the League has teeth, but if they rarely show up to bite in and tear the show’s world to shreds it feels like they’re not really a threat so much as an abstract plot motivator.
At first, “Nanda Parbat” starts to fall into this same trap, rehashing material about whether the league is dangerous enough to justify the deal with the devil that the Queen siblings have made. Thankfully the episode sets up this material here to actually pay it off as Thea decides to give Malcolm up to the League, allowing them to capture him and return him to Nanda Parbat for his punishment. It’s good to see the assassins in action once more and what’s better is that the show takes the opportunity to show the assassins on their home turf.
By relocating the action to Nanda Parbat itself the series gets to devote more time to Ra’s al Ghul. Ra’s has been used sparingly so far this season, making just three appearances over the first fifteen episodes, and, much like the rest of the League, his character has suffered from not physically appearing on screen frequently. There’s obviously a balance that needs to be struck here. Ra’s is a mysterious figure who works from the shadows, so he can’t be on screen with the same frequency as a villain like Deathstroke was last year, but his appearances have been too infrequent to truly allow him to make an impression on the series despite the fact that he ran Oliver through with a sword in his last outing.
“Nanda Parbat” goes a long way towards solving this problem by actually giving Ra’s some real attention. In particular, it gives Ra’s screen time where he’s allowed to do more than just show his prowess as a warrior. Matt Nable carries the right air of ancient supremacy for the character and the speeches he’s given in this episode allow Nable to invest Ra’s with a real sense of world weariness. Nable’s compelling when he’s allowed to do more than just brandish a sword and he finally gets to do that here, building to the end of the episode when he reveals that he doesn’t intend to kill Oliver but instead desires to appoint him as successor to the title of Ra’s al Ghul.
The reveal itself isn’t necessarily shocking. It’s one of the only things Ra’s could do in the scenario other than killing Oliver, but Nable’s delivery puts the moment across elegantly. Paired with his earlier storytelling about encountering a magician in the 1800’s, “Nanda Parbat” lends an actual sense of depth and sadness to the character, allowing him to become more fully rounded and thus more real to the audience. Ra’s has been a threat absent any real character, a boogeyman meant to motivate the characters, but here we finally start to get a sense of who this man is and what he desires.
The lack of clarity when it came to the League has been something that has caused problems for this season. In fact, while Ra’s and his desire to exact vengeance upon Malcolm Merlyn was clearly one of the most important aspects of the season, it was never entirely clear just how important or unimportant Ra’s would be to the overall story being told. He was a threat, certainly, but it was hard to say if he was an out and out villain to be defeated or a stepping stone along the way to the ultimate threat that the team was likely to face.
“Nanda Parbat” doesn’t entirely resolve that issue, but it does at least serve to finally flesh out Ra’s character. Now that the audience knows what Ra’s wants it’s much easier to understand the larger tale being told. It’s not hard to guess that Oliver will ultimately turn down Ra’s offer and it’s similarly safe to assume that said refusal will result in some sort of greater conflict between Team Arrow and the League. There isn’t time for much else, so with only a third of the season left to go, hopefully things have finally started coming into focus.