Arrow: Heir to the Demon review

The daughter of Ra's al Ghul comes to Starling City to confront Black Canary and Green Arrow! Here's our review.

I’m of two minds about Arrow‘s latest episode, “Heir to the Demon.” Usually, when Arrow lays on the comic book guest stars and gives us at least one solid action sequence full of the kinds of choreography and stunts that fans have come to expect, it covers up a multitude of sins. “Heir to the Demon” fulfills both of these by the bucketful, with a visit from Nyssa al Ghul (guest star Katrina Law, playing the daughter of a Batman villain, no less) and some terrific, comic book classic Green Arrow and Black Canary team-up scenes. The problem is that “Heir to the Demon” gets at least as much wrong as it gets right, and some of the “wrong” is a dark cloud that may hang over the rest of the season. Major spoilers ahoy!

The biggest problem with Nyssa is the show’s decision to make her primary motivation to get Sara back an emotional one. If you’re going to introduce a same-sex relationship between what should be the show’s most serious villain to date (she’s got the backing of the entire League of Assassins, she’s a skilled archer that can fight with the best of them, and her dad is Ra’s al Ghul…you don’t mess with this lady) and a capable hero like Black Canary, don’t spoil it by having the badass villain of the pair behave like a jilted lover. No matter how much talk there is of the oath that Sara swore to the League or the power that Ra’s al Ghul wields, Nyssa often comes across more “please come back” than “I love you, but I will totally kill you.” There’s already enough tension between these two with the concept that they were once in love and that Nyssa is to bring her back dead or alive. The attendant melodrama cheapened the impact of what should have been a really smart conflict between those two.

The Moira Queen for Mayor subplot remains one of the more inexcusable things that Arrow has ever attempted. Not the worst, mind you. That’s reserved for somehow allowing Laurel Lance, the ex-girlfriend of the defendant’s daughter, to become prosecutor on Moira’s capital murder trial. Then again, here we are, three or four months on, and the same woman who was involved in a capital murder trial is now running for mayor. I can buy snake venom ninjas and super power serums a lot easier than I can buy that nonsense. And when the show’s title character is talking to the season’s villain and spouting dialogue like, “I don’t want my mother’s candidacy to affect our friendship,” it doesn’t do much in the way of making our hero look particularly bright.

You know who does come out of this looking great? Felicity! The only good scenes in “Heir to the Demon” that didn’t involve costumed people beating the crap out of each other revolved completely around Felicity. It’s Felicity who realizes that a shady bank transfer was made to the doctor who delivered Thea. It’s Felicity who puts two and two together when she sees Walter is lying to her. It’s Felicity who has the guts to confront Moira Queen in her own living room about her knowledge (and not back down when threatened). And it’s shy, awkward, non-confrontational Felicity who has the backbone to look Oliver right in the eye and tell him the unpleasant truth. And in public, no less! I will give this week’s Arrow credit for this much: the way that scene was played (we never see Felicity actually tell him) and Oliver’s immediate reaction were priceless. I am on record as someone that does not want to see Felicity and Oliver in a romantic relationship, but Emily Rickards and Stephen Amell continue to have the best chemistry and the strongest character moments that this show has seen all year, if not ever.

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There are some otherĀ high points, too. Nyssa’s intro at the Starling City airport is all kinds of cool, and later in the episode during her battles with Green Arrow and Black Canary, she is absolutely “supervillain worthy.” This may be the most Black Canary-heavy episode we’ve had so far, too. The scenes with Canary and Arrow charging into battle on a motorcycle, popping wheelies to deflect Nyssa’s arrows, and Canary’s incredibly badass motorcycle to moving van transfer stunt will get your pulse racing. If you had any doubt whatsoever that Black Canary is completely unafraid to die, certainly more than any other character on the show, she dispels that not once, but twice. Sara/Canary is turning into a great character (and Caity Lotz might be the most physically convincing female superhero we’ve ever seen), and it’s good to see she’s looking like a more constant presence for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, Sara’s “No…no more killing” (collapse) at the episode’s climax was…not great. It didn’t help that it was preceeded by canned supervillain dialogue like “If you want to join your family so badly…” I’m sure you can fill in the blanks, there.

There were no island flashbacks. Instead, those scenes were used to show the Lance family in the lead up to and immediate aftermath of the wreck of the Queen’s Gambit. Other than getting Alex Kingston (a terrific actress who is utterly wasted in this thankless role) a few minutes of extra screentime, there was nothing essential about these scenes. We already knew how seriously Sara betrayed Laurel by getting on that boat, we already knew just how devastated the Lance family was afterwards, and we already suspected that Sara and Laurel’s relationship may have already been strained beforehand. Last week, I wondered if Arrow was treading water midway through season two by recycling the earthquake machine from season one. These little hunks of tedium did nothing whatsoever to dispel that theory.

Why not use these flashbacks to substitute for the endless amounts of expository dialogue the show needed to explain Sara and Nyssa’s relationship? According to Nyssa, Sara was starving to death and “waiting to die” when she was found by the League, and Nyssa nursed her back to health. Sara insisted that she didn’t love Nyssa because she saved her, but because, well…she loved her. That sounds like one hell of an interesting story, doesn’t it? So why didn’t they show us this stuff instead of the CW soap-by-numbers crap with the Lance family? At the very least it would have brought more of the Sara/Nyssa dynamic into focus, and perhaps given us an opportunity to sympathize with the villain.

Just in case any further proof was needed that recent episodes of Arrow have regressed to the show’s pre-awesome state, we even got a Smallville-style musical outtro/makeout scene to cap things. Not good. Don’t get me wrong, folks…I love Arrow. I look forward to it every week. I stuck with it through an uneven first season and was rewarded by an almost impossibly cool second season (well, the first half). ButĀ “Heir to the Demon” just feels like a tremendous missed opportunity on so many levels. It failed to establish Nyssa as a credible threat and it failed to make the show’s first major same sex relationship interesting or believable. Worst of all, it doubled down on the few truly bad decisions the show has made this year (the endless and increasingly unsympathetic emotional breakdown of Laurel and the “every citizen of Starling City must have a really, really short memory” subplot). I’m not giving up hope, though. The recent comments by Andrew Kreisberg and Greg Berlanti about what they have in store for the rest of the season are too delicious for me to ever get despondent for too long. Still, they’re gonna have to do better than episodes like this.

DC Universe Watch

If there were any easter eggs this time around, I was too busy rolling my eyes to spot most of them. Other than the reference to Nanda Parbat, there were some really iconic “comic book” moments when Green Arrow and Black Canary rode into action to take on Nyssa, though. I could have done with another thirty minutes of that.

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It’s interesting that Arrow has decided to split the difference on the pronunciation of Ra’s al Ghul’s name. Nyssa pronounces it the “correct” way as “raysh” while other characters have been heard pronouncing it the more common “roz.” I wonder if they’ll actually try and explain the discrepancy at some point. This is what I’m reduced to this week, folks. Nanda Parbat linguistics.

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2 out of 5