If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!
Nyssa Raatko, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, leader of the League of Assassins, arrives in Starling City to track down Sara Lance. Though she is there on business for her father, it’s revealed that Nyssa and Sara had a romantic relationship and Sara ran out on her lover. Sara helped get Laurel to the hospital following her apparent overdose. Oliver checks on her and finds Quentin and Dinah Lance by her side. Baffled by her condition, Oliver has Diggle look into the results of Laurel’s bloodwork, which reveal she was poisoned by snake venom. Oliver is surprised by Nyssa and Sara’s past when he thinks Nyssa is there to kill Sara, having poisoned Laurel to draw her sister out. Sara tells Nyssa that she can’t go back to the League and that she is no longer in love with her. Heartbroken, Nyssa kidnaps Dinah. Sara tells Nyssa she’ll return in exchange for her mother. Having gotten some of the snake venom off of one of the assassins, Sara takes it and meets up with Nyssa with her father. With Dinah free, Sara falls into Nyssa’s arms. When Quentin and Dinah rush in to help Sara, Nyssa threatens to kill them. The Arrow intervenes and they fight. He promises that he can save Sara but Nyssa won’t hear it. Sara stops the Arrow from nearly killing Nyssa. He gives Sara a mixture from his island herbs and saves her life. Sara begs Nyssa to let her go. Nyssa complies and says that Sara is released from her obligation to the League. Laurel is devastated and hurt to see Sara is still alive. Felicity learns the truth about Thea’s father and tells Oliver at the risk of losing him. Oliver offers to help with Moira’s campaign but tells his mother that they no longer have a personal relationship. Flashbacks reveal Sara agreeing to go on the boat with Oliver and the Lances’ reaction to learning of the boat wreck that weekend.
For a full recap of this episode, visit our handy episode guide.
I’m not a fan of a trend in modern comics and comic adaptations, be they live-action or animated, of the effort to instill diversity in their worlds. It’s not the diversity part that is the problem; our world is diverse and these things, these modern myths, should represent that diversity to the fullest extent. As someone of minority heritage, I welcome and relish in that, and fully support it. No, my issue stems from the sledgehammer ways in which these pushes for diversity are often done, often making the statement blatantly about the diversity when the intent is to embrace the normality of it. It’s a very thin and tricky line to deal with and, more often than not, it’s not handled gracefully or nonchalantly.
In the lead-up to ‘Heir to the Demon,’ the marketing for the episode leveraged the fact that Nyssa and Sara shared a romantic past. This is a shift from the character of Nyssa Raatko in the comics, who is very much a heterosexual and goes on to bear children. The possibility with this shift was exciting but also left a feeling of apprehension that it could come across as exploitative in the name of diversity. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here. Sure, they use the reveal to punch up a couple of scenes, but that’s mainly to shake both Oliver and Quentin Lance from their previously held perceptions. While the specter of the League of Assassins floated above the heads of everything, this was very much a story of a jilted lover looking to both figure out why she was left and to win back her love. It’s a story any one of us could relate to, and I’m grateful that everyone handled it with finesse.
While the Sara of the pilot episode was clearly there to both show how much of a cad the younger Oliver Queen was and gift some charged emotional currency between Oliver & Laurel and Oliver & Quentin upon his return to Starling City, the character has very much become part of the fabric of the show. Her role is as catalyst and it’s become quite intriguing to see the ripples her presence causes in every aspect of the series. Her appearance in the past island timeline dramatically altered that landscape. Her return to Starling earlier in the season thoroughly shook up the Arrow’s and Quentin’s worlds. Now, the reveal of her survival to Laurel and Dinah Lance spins that family off into unknown territory. This after the hunt at the belief of Sara being alive brought Dinah Lance back into the lives of her daughter and ex-husband in the first season. All of this is supported by an earnest, fragile, yet fire-tempered performance by Caity Lotz.
It’s Lotz and guest star Katrina Law that really sell this story, imbuing it with a sense of emotional urgency that really edifies its importance. Interestingly, that ups the emotional stakes for each of the other story threads on display, like allowing all here to be an open wound. Everything about the Lance family flashbacks is meant to continue to inform us about the tragedy of that boat wreck that altered the worlds of all of these people, most specifically fill us in on the relationship between Laurel and Sara. There really is nothing like the sibling relationship in all its various iterations, and it’s curious how Laurel reacts elated at the supposed hallucinations of her believed-dead sister and then turns around and casts her very much alive sister into the flames of hell upon consciously seeing her in the flesh.
This is actually a very addictive personality thing to do to throw blame of all one’s ills on other people and external forces — though there certainly is truth to Sara, again, being the catalyst to the number of events in the past six years for the family — and that’s clearly not aided by the history of these sisters. The striking aspect of these flashbacks, as well as Sara’s earlier account of her older sibling, is that as much as they give backstory on Sara to the audience, they actually instill stronger emotional life and character into Laurel. That is a very important development for the series as it rolls on, as Laurel’s role and destiny become ever more important. While Laurel’s reaction to Sara in the present is venomous and disgusting — full credit to Katie Cassidy for investing so much heartbreak and vitriol in the scene, and the courage to present someone so unsavory on her continued downward spiral — it’s also quite believable, even if far from being completely fair.
Just as raw this hour, perhaps even more so, is Oliver. Clear that his feelings for Sara are complex, cluttered, and unresolved, especially given the fact that the love of his life is her sister, it was honestly still a bit shocking to see how flustered he was by her being back in town. Even more by the surprise revelation of her romantic relationship with Nyssa. That left him in a such an agitated state that Felicity’s reveal of the truth of Thea’s parentage cut him extraordinarily deep. As shocked as he was to learn of Moira’s participation in Malcolm Merlyn’s plans last season, he’d astonishingly kept faith in that familial relationship, sticking by his mother’s side through thick and thin. It’s why he’d stand behind and beside her asinine plan to run for mayor of the city, even though his personality would quickly dismiss any such thing if it were anyone else. (Why he’ll continue to stump for her campaign now when he doesn’t trust her to his very core runs contrary to his whole crusade and very being.) That’s what makes the exposing of this latest lie so devastating; Oliver didn’t want to believe how devious his mother could be, but he knows it to be true.
For as cathartic a scene as was the confrontation at the mansion between Oliver and Moira, the better scene was at the rally where Oliver has to speak for his mother just after finding out the truth. The scene comes off quite awkward, and frankly, if I’d been at that rally I wouldn’t have found Oliver’s lackluster introduction that inspiring or supportive. Though it’s hard not to think the dialogue was written in this fashion — it almost seems as though he’s forgetting much better lines — Stephen Amell perfectly captures the collapse of reality in Oliver’s head as he’s trying to maintain some decorum. Yes, there’s a moment where he’s consciously deciding that he has to keep up appearances, but it’s amidst a swarm of everything he believes crumbling and is nearly an automatic response. There is a very strong irony in Oliver denouncing his flesh-and-blood for lying when he does the very same thing every day of his life. Obviously, intent and motivation are the delineators for him here, but the fact he could do it during that speech almost without thought was an interesting counterpoint to his disgust with Moira. Later, to see how exposed Oliver was in telling his mother that they were through but for the public perception, and then in the final scene leading to these two equally chafed souls giving in to raw passion, it was testament to how live and on-point throughout the episode was Amell, really carrying across the emotional theme.
What was a bit more baffling, and yet altogether not upon reflection, was Felicity. Her digging into Tempest activity is not a surprise, nor her conversation with Walter, given their past. The confrontation with Moira at the Queen mansion, though, was head-scratching. It took a repeat viewing to gather the motivation here, and Moira states it plainly. Felicity cares for Oliver and she really doesn’t think through her actions here. She merely wants Moira to admit the truth to Oliver because she doesn’t want this person so dear to her to have this kind of hurtful truth kept from him. Did she really think that she would shake Moira from her reasoning? Did she realize that if it backfired, which it basically did, that she would now be on Moira’s radar? There’s this aspect of the like of the character that initially causes one to think this is out of character, but you need only look at the way she overstepped her bounds with Walter back when she was first introduced, the very things that endeared her to us, to recognize that this was very much a Felicity Smoak thing to do. Not very smart, but very much in character. That left her just as raw and exposed — at last, a sliver of backstory! — and set her up to spill the truth to Oliver, setting a very important development in motion. It’s hard to know what to make of this path of deviousness they are setting Moira down, and even what seems to be the soiling of Walter’s staunch character as well, but this confrontation with Felicity was a turning point.
It remains to be seen if this was a turning point for the League of Assassins plotline. While introducing Nyssa and her connection to Sara added an appropriate and necessary emotional component to it, it will seem a bit anti-climactic to tie up that plotline on this resolution. Ra’s al Ghul and the League are such a significant presence to introduce into the series that it would feel like a huge missed opportunity, especially given the connections established with Malcolm Merlyn, as well. Given that there are 10 episodes left in the season, that very importance of their presence, and what we’ve all come to know of Arrow, we’ll just call it silly to believe that storyline is wrapped up and leave it at that.
Again, though, it’s that emotional component that is the most compelling aspect of this chapter. Nyssa Raatko is a relatively minor character in the pantheon of Batman supporting cast, but using her instead of her far better-known half-sister, Talia al Ghul, allowed them not only freedom with the character but the opportunity to invest personal relevance into this plotline beyond the existing lost Sara found and transformed by this group who has now betrayed them thing. We got a taste of that latter plotline earlier in the season as Al-Owal was sent to either return Sara to Nanda Parbat or kill her. By not repeating that, they not only made the storyline more interesting but also gave it heart, and with that, higher stakes and consequences. Oliver was spot-on in telling Diggle that if Nyssa were to die, Ra’s al Ghul wouldn’t hesitate to unleash hell upon all. But now that both Malcolm Merlyn and Sara Lance are associated with Starling City, and word of the Arrow has likely gotten back to Ra’s, it’s easy to see the city becoming more important to him and the League.
Papa’s plans aside, setting Nyssa’s motivations up as two-sided allowed for her to be much more fascinating than Al-Owal proved to be. More than an assassin coming to take care of business, a jilted lover who is then rejected again makes the response more dangerous and the possible outcomes more unexpected. Law does a wonderful job presenting someone who is fully inhabited and completely sure of herself. That first scene in the airport not only let the audience know who we were dealing with, but also established a complete command of character. That was vital in establishing the threat that needed to exist throughout the episode but also to hook us into believing the relationship between the two women once she let her guard down for that first kiss. The work between Law and Lotz never let that belief down throughout the episode, and it made the moment where Sara arrives to free her mother and reveal that she’d taken the snake venom all the more poignant. Nyssa also proved to be a worthy physical opponent for the Arrow — that superb archery fight is the latest edition to a string of great action sequences on the show — further adding to her better-than-the-average guest villain status. One hopes they are able to bring her back down the line.
“Heir to the Demon” took what could’ve easily been a sensational story element and turned it into a strength of character that influenced the entire episode. The entire hour became a raw, exposed nerve that serves as a deepening of some continuing storylines and impetus for some new developments. It’s the kind of second half episode that elevated the series in its first season, but more importantly allows us to get to know these characters even more thoroughly. It’s a testament to the various strengths of the show.
Odds & Ends
- Absolutely love that everyone pronounces Ra’s al Ghul’s name “Rahz” and his own daughter pronounces it “Raysh.” Nice touch on the part of everyone involved.
- Where was Roy?
- A.R.G.U.S.’s role isn’t entirely clear. On one end, it would seem to be a covert organization unknown to the general populace, yet apparently it’s existence is known enough to have it be the organization that flags a rogue element coming in through an airport checkpoint.
- Ah, the return of the magic herbs.
- You have to like how the League uses scrims to make an entrance, and that the scrims magically disappear.
- So, why was Malcolm Merlyn released from the League?
- The motorcycle assault on the van was nice bit of action, and it was great to see the Canary Cry device employed again.
- Nyssa refers to Sara as “Altaïr al-Asfar,” which loosely translates from Arabic as “bird that is yellow,” a reference to Canary.
- Public appearance or not, it seems high time for Oliver to move out of the mansion.
- It’s nice to see Alex Kingston back as Dinah Lance, but can we start filling in some backstory and character on her. She’s just sort of there and with such an important character, there should be more to her.
- Watched the episode twice and still can’t figure out just why Laurel shows up at the docks. Did she follow Quentin? If so, how come she didn’t pop in on everything until after it had all ended and the cops arrived? If she supposedly came with the cops, how? She’s a disgraced former ADA. There isn’t a logical reason other than dramatic license.
- Interesting to see Slade Wilson spooked by the possibility of a Moira Queen candidacy. Also, though not definitive, this seems to point to Nicholas Lea’s Marc Francis not working for Slade and his efforts. So, just what else is going on here?