“This Is Your Sword” pretty quickly goes back on the biggest development of last week’s episode. It turns out that Oliver hasn’t actually been indoctrinated by the League of Assassins and has merely been playing Ra’s with the intention of dismantling the League from within. It’s a revelation that winds up sucking a lot of wind out of the show’s sails as it renders the cliffhanger and multiple other scenes toothless. When Oliver was on the side of the enemies the plot had an unexpected charge and a sense of the unfamiliar, when Oliver’s just a double agent things return to the status quo as a splintered Team Arrow is all working towards the same objective.
Just look at the end of the episode, while the hour tries to instill some doubts about Oliver’s actions thanks to Diggle’s anger about Oliver taking his wife hostage last week it’s pretty hard to believe that there’s any real threat to the group when Ra’s drops the vial of the Alpha and Omega virus and seals them away to die. Partially that’s because it’s pretty much impossible for a show to kill off the majority of its cast in one fell swoop, but it’s also because Oliver is clearly not being influenced by Ra’s. We’ve seen him conspiring with Malcolm and attempting to right his relationship with Diggle which means he’s probably not going to let his friends die.
Whatever the plot machinations are (perhaps Oliver swapped out the virus or inoculated his friends to the virus at some juncture), the scene falls flat because Oliver’s motivations and true allegiances are no longer unknown. That charge has disappeared and after last week’s exciting episode that structured itself around the completely evil seeming Oliver it’s a bit of a letdown. There are positives to the reveal, Oliver not being brainwashed means we’re unlikely to be subjected to a hackneyed speech from Felicity that breaks through the brainwashing to Oliver’s true self just before he destroys Starling, but the negatives outweigh the benefits here, leading to an hour of television that lacks a propulsive core.
There’s still fun to be had, in particular the episode’s centerpiece that features a big old fight between the League and the rest of Team Arrow, which now includes Tatsu in full Katana garb. It’s a sequence that lets each character have their due as they attempt to stop Ra’s plans to deploy the virus in Starling and showcases Arrow’s strong fight choreography. It also manages to climax in the most compelling scene of the episode as Tatsu kills Maseo and mourns his death as he slowly slips away in a moment that recalls her sorrowful lullaby to Akio we’ve seen in the flashbacks earlier in the episode. The flashbacks have been problematic more than a few times this season but this moment lands nicely, showcasing just how much Tatsu and Maseo were broken by the death of Akio.
While that portion of the flashbacks accentuates the main plot of the episode the finish mostly fails to do anything of note. Once Akio grows increasingly sick, Maseo and Oliver strike out to get a cure from General Shrieve. The problem with this portion of the plot is that Maseo has said in previous episodes that Akio died so it’s a futile mission from the very start. The only reason the characters embark upon it is to allow Shrieve the chance to reenter the story and to further enforce the deadly nature of the virus. Seeing that there’s no cure ups the stakes in the present but it didn’t do anything to propel the story in the past. That speaks a lot of the problems this episode has and the season has had as a whole.
All season there’s been a disconnect between all the disparate elements of the series, and, while things have started to cohere as the season has come to its close, those issues have still persisted. Simply put, the mechanics of the story have been at once too overt and not clear enough. It’s been all too obvious how the show has been manipulating things towards a certain endgame while also having too many extraneous pieces on the board that have had stories running in parallel with the main action. This third season has been overly busy and surprisingly inert all at once which has led to a year that’s been only fitfully involving.
“This Is Your Sword” is a prime example of that problem, vacillating between exciting, engaging set pieces and storytelling decisions that rob the hour of its narrative momentum. With only one episode left it’s possible that Arrow will be able to draw everything together into a satisfying finale, but it’s too late to salvage many of the missteps that have been made along the way.