In this episode of Arrow, so many things suddenly became clear. By the end we learn the real hero of the season, Ra’s al Ghul’s real villainous scheme, and the point of those tedious Hong Kong flashbacks.
The main plot of “Al Sah-him” confused me. I was baffled as to why Ollie’s friends were convinced that he was “gone,” or “dead,” or had “lost his soul,” because he committed the heinous crime of killing precisely no one. I found it particularly confusing because the Arrow team killed at least three of Ollie’s men. Why hadn’t they lost their souls?
I suppose it’s because they thought they were fighting for Nyssa al Ghul’s life. After Ra’s spends three weeks torturing, drugging, and brainwashing Ollie — to the point where Ollie murders a guy he hallucinates as Dig — he explains that he (Ra’s) wasn’t the only one selected as a potential Ra’s al Ghul. His competitor was Damien Darhk. Ra’s won the Ra’s competition and was ordered to kill Damian. He was “slow to swing a vengeful sword,” (oh god do I love the fact that the villains on this show are allowed to use language like that) and Dark escaped. Dark stole some of the Lazarus pit water and created a little organization called HIVE. Ollie may have heard of it. Ra’s explains that Ollie must bring Nyssa back (presumably for execution), so that such a thing can’t happen again.
Again, this confused me. The lesson I take from the story is that sometimes you really shouldn’t worry about getting the best guy for the job. What you should do is make a few compromises to ensure that succession is orderly, which means that Nyssa should never have been ousted as heir in favor of a guy who didn’t want the job in the first place.
Then Arrow clears it all up. Because when Nyssa gets dragged back to Nanda Parbat, Ra’s al Ghul recovers a vial from her sword. The vial turns out to be the alpha-and-omega supervirus from the flashback sequences. In the episode’s flashback the supervirus gets out, and Akio is a victim of it. We’ve guessed this for months and known it since last week, but this is the first time the flashback has really tied into the main story. We’ve been hearing about the supervirus all season because it was coming back. Some say that the flashbacks have been disconnected because they were Maseo’s story, not Oliver’s story. That might still be the case.
But the person this season is really about is Nyssa. It’s her story because she was ousted as heir, leaving Ra’s to cast around for alternatives. It’s her story because she stole the vial, knowing that Ra’s was going to make Oliver use it on Star City. And it’s her story because of the consequences of that theft. Ra’s stops Nyssa’s execution, and says that Ollie and Nyssa’s “blood” will “unite” their two families. Nyssa is going to be “bride of the demon.”
Okay. Let’s unpack this.
Nyssa and Ra’s have had a weird vibe since the beginning. We first really picked up on it when Merlyn implied that Ra’s had killed “the degenerate who stole his daughter’s heart.” Degenerate is an old code word for gay, and is still used on websites I’m absolutely not going to link to. While Merlyn was lying, he supported his lie with reasoning that would ring true to Nyssa. It was outright stated that when Nyssa chose Sara as her beloved, she did it knowing that it would put her out of the running for heir. Every conversation between Ra’s and Nyssa about Sara has contained phrases like, “You’re punishing my love for her. At least do me the courtesy of admitting it.” It stayed ambiguous until now. Now, not only is Nyssa expected to “unite” bloodlines, she has to marry the guy she does it with.
Ollie, let’s face it, has kind of been foofing around all year. He’s had no clear arc. “Oh, I want my company back — never mind, I don’t. Oh, I want Felicity — never mind, I can’t have her. Oh, I want Felicity to be with that other guy — and now I don’t. Should I kill people? It’s been, like, eight years and I still haven’t really decided.”
Nyssa, though in the background, has had a clear arc. She was part of a rigid organization. She fell in love with a woman, against the wishes of her father and leader. That love, and the way her father rejected her for it, caused her bit by bit to rethink and even rebel against the things she had grown up believing. She finally broke free of her society. She discovered her own morality, made her own friends, trained her own champions, and lived her own life. Now her past is catching up to her.
And it’s super patriarchal.