Television series tend to be lumbering beasts, built to move in a specific manner and slow to change course when problems arise. Series can evolve and shift direction, so it’s essential that shows figure out some ways to reframe their central story engine if the series is to run for an extended period of time. But doing this is a slow process of discovery where the creators figure out just what makes the show work at its best.
All of which is to say that “The Offer” never manages to convince the viewer that Oliver is going to take Ra’s al Ghul’s place as the head of the League of Assassin’s because it would simply be too big of a shift for a television series. At least, that is, for a television series that is going to run for any significant length of time. Taking Oliver away from the rest of the cast and installing him as the leader of an ages old order of secretive assassins is a move that would decimate the very fabric of the show and as such it’s not something that can ever plausibly occur, or at least plausibly become the new status quo for the series moving forward.
This is a common problem for television series though, to have impact the stories being told needed to walk the viewer up to the edge of precipitous change only to pull everything back at the last moment. It’s not an inherently bad thing for a show to tell these kinds of stories, the trick arises from attempting to figure out some way to make the ultimate status that is returned to exciting and meaningful. Whether that’s in reinvigorating and reaffirming the core of the series or using the trials that the characters underwent to shift their relationships in meaningful ways.
“The Offer” runs into trouble though because it never figures out believable character stakes. Oliver returns from Nanda Parbat and suddenly winds up in full on crisis mode after Ra’s has told him his quest will end with him isolated from his friends and unsuccessful in his goal to protect Starling. The issue being that Oliver’s crisis of conscious comes on too fast and is ultimately too easily dismissed. The episode is too mechanical, placing this obstacle in front of Oliver because it has to have some sort of time between him being offered the role of Ra’s al Ghul and his eventual refusal. The not quite believable aspects of the story arise when Captain Lance suddenly turns on the Arrow and Oliver conveniently walks in on Felicity and Ray Palmer while they’re getting a little too romantic. The material feels rote and solely designed to animate a conflict whose endpoint is already known by the viewer.
Sure enough Oliver ultimately determines that he will not take Ra’s offer, but the episode never figures out exactly why this is, or at least offers little more than vague platitudes that are arrived upon thanks to an inspirational speech from Felicity. The viewer learns nothing new and the episode winds up exactly where just about any audience member could have guessed it would.
“The Offer” isn’t a total bust, it has the same strong action sequences that the series always brings out and it also ends with a moment that promises plenty of excitement to come thankfully. During the course of the episode both Malcolm Merlyn and Maseo warn Oliver that Ra’s “offer” isn’t truly that. Ra’s expects Oliver to accept. The way he calls his return of Malcolm to Oliver an advance while talking to Nyssa says as much, and once Oliver has refused him Ra’s arrives in Starling disguised as the Arrow while murdering his way through the surviving villains from the week’s main plot.
This season of Arrow has been building to this direct, extended conflict between Ra’s and Team Arrow all along, and while we received a taste of the coming perils that Ra’s would bring in “The Climb”, it now seems that Ra’s is fully in play. He will do anything within his power to force Oliver into the role he is soon to leave behind and while his first gambit seems to be forever tarnishing the public perception of the Arrow it’s also exciting to think about just what Ra’s will do to achieve his ends. “The Offer” doesn’t show us much on that front, but at least it ends with the series pointed in that direction. The viewer may have known that Oliver would never take up the mantle of Ra’s al Ghul, but we don’t know where this conflict will lead and that’s an area that can lead to strong, compelling storytelling a viewer can become wholly invested in.