Despite all the problems with Arrow’s third season, “The Fallen” manages to work, tying together many disparate plots into one cohesive hour that is propulsive, full of emotion, and driven forward by the strong characters that the series has been building from the very first episode. The episode itself is fairly simple, detailing Oliver’s decision to give in to Ra’s wishes in an effort to bring Thea back from the edge of death, which means the episode has to be carried on the backs of the characters and their interactions. It’s up to the task.
Part of why is that “The Fallen” acts as the final conclusion of a tragedy that’s been slowly building over the course of the season, an inevitable tragedy that’s been subtly growing. It’s why this season has felt unmoored at times, but here, everything comes into readily visible focus as Ra’s finally pushes Oliver too far. Ollie can’t let Thea go, so when Ra’s promises him a way to save her he sees no option but to save her at the expense of his own identity.
Ra’s consistently claims that this is Oliver’s destiny and he’s merely helping him fulfill it. The impossible to avoid endpoint of Oliver’s journey, and Oliver finally seems to agree with Ra’s. It’s a big shift and seeing Oliver assenting to this change is powerful after nearly a full season of resistance against Ra’s. In the catacombs, when Felicity’s plan to secret Oliver from Nanda Parbat fails and Oliver asserts himself as the heir to the demon, Amell’s performance is chilling. In that moment it’s clear just how committed Oliver is to his new path and the tragedy of it rings clear.
That tragedy is carried through more elements than just Amell’s performance and the plotting though. At the beginning of the third season, the show’s title card updated the arrow that was on display. It was a shift that was never explained and seemed to have no purpose other than replacing the fairly standard graphic with a flashier new one. The end of the episode reveals that wasn’t the case, the new arrow logo is actually the mark of the League of the Assassin’s. It’s a striking reveal as it effortlessly ties in an element of the series that was seemingly benign all while reinforcing the episode’s feeling of inevitability. The writers clearly knew where this plot was heading and layered in this detail from the very beginning of the year, Oliver was destined for the League, and while neither he or the audience knew this fact the show was fore fronting that there was no way for him to avoid this fate.
The entire episode taps into that feeling of inevitability as characters fight to avoid moments they knew would come but hoped to never encounter all the same; the centerpiece being the romantic coupling of Oliver and Felicity. Ray finally realizes early in the episode that Felicity still loves Oliver and the pair break it off as Felicity heads off to Nanda Parbat, unwilling to believe that Oliver’s about to leave her life forever. Even when Ra’s gives a shockingly convincing and impassioned speech to Felicity about taking the opportunity to say goodbye, a chance he never had in his prior life, Felicity still can’t accept it. Seemingly taking Ra’s advice and admitting her feelings for Oliver fully but ultimately deciding to try and rescue the man she loves rather than letting him slip out of her life.
Felicity’s stubbornness and Oliver’s loving appreciation for her ultimately futile actions makes the pair’s parting all that more bittersweet. Everything seems to fall apart in this episode and it does so in ways that can’t be avoided, no matter how hard the characters try. There are glimpses of hope, the flashbacks highlight just a hint of Maseo’s former self as he briefly remembers what it’s like to fight for those he loves rather than simply kill for the League, but things are grim by the end. Team Arrow’s returned to Starling absent Oliver, Thea’s future is uncertain thanks to the mysteries of the pit, and Oliver has given up his former identity as he prepares to take up the role of Ra’s al Ghul; ending the episode garbed in the clothes of an assassin.
It’s unlikely Oliver’s going to remain in the league for long, there’s still three episodes left in the season which is more than enough time for him to both fall in and out of their clutches, but “The Fallen” works so well because it makes it seem as if there’s no other place Oliver could, or would ever, be at this point. For this hour Ra’s is right, this is Oliver’s destiny, and when Oliver accepts his new name and role it seems as inevitable a tragedy as it possibly could.