This Arrow review contains spoilers.
“Nanda Parbat” is the sequel to “The Climb” in so many ways. There are obvious story and thematic similarities, of course, but this was even paced like “The Climb.” There’s a lot of important stuff happening all at once, but a few big moments aside, it’s surprisingly low key. This is very much the “middle act” episode of what I imagine is a trilogy. But unlike the rather ill-fated “Brick trilogy” this one has higher stakes and an a-list villain pulling the strings.
This is a good thing. I’ve been struck recently by how sure of itself Arrow has felt over the last few weeks. It’s done trying to wow everyone every single week with Marvel-style fan service (that’s not an insult, I love all of that stuff). It’s been moving along at a deliberate pace, and the unavoidable filler episodes aside, things carry some weight from week to week.
“The Climb” is one of those episodes. Look, we have an army of ninjas, Ra’s al Ghul, one of his daughters, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Arsenal (not in costume), the Atom (in costume, and we’ll get to that in a minute), Nanda freakin’ Parbat, and the first stirrings of the Creature Commandos…plus Katana. This episode doesn’t have to work any harder to impress anybody. Here’s a graphic novel’s worth of superheroes and supervillains, and they’re still letting characters talk things out. That’s tough to do.
It doesn’t hit the mark quite as well as “The Climb,” though. “The Climb” had that heart-stopping climax going for it, and “Nanda Parbat” does get a little talky. There’s an awful lot of the same ground covered, with the “should we/shouldn’t we” Malcolm Merlyn stuff, a lot of talk about “saving souls,” you get the idea. But y’know what? It mattered. Diggle asking Ollie to be his best man. Felicity making the first move on Ray. These were moments that couldn’t have been sandwiched in an episode with too many of the usual pyrotechnics.
Willa Holland delivered another tremendous performance as Thea. Remember in season two when Felicity was the show’s breakout character and now it’s hard to imagine not loving her to death every episode? Is Thea going to be that character for season three? Although I do feel like she got off a little too easy in her chat with Laurel.
I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the dialogue this week, which was just sick burn after sick burn:
“My friends call me Dig. You shouldn’t even speak to me.”
“It’s hard to remember a time when I was actually in love with you.”
“I will gladly tell you where to find my home, because you will die there.”
Okay, so after all this appreciation of things like “talking” and “acting” and “feelings” I should point out that the action scenes delivered just fine. That fight with Ollie and Nyssa on the docks by the helicopter was beautifully shot. Oliver and Diggle’s assault on Nanda Parbat had a heaping helping of badassery, too. I especially liked how that one dude just burst into flames. That scene could have been longer, honestly, but I’ll take whatever I can get.
If nothing else, it takes serious spine to scale things back like this. It also says something about how far we’ve come when an episode where Brandon Routh puts on a suit of armor and frakkin’ FLIES seems like “scaling things back.” While not the most exciting episode of Arrow, in terms of balancing everything we expect, it’s one of the most successful.
I sometimes advocate for shorter seasons. I love Arrow and The Flash, but after watching how successfully Agent Carter just pulled off an eight episode season, I often feel like these shows would benefit from being limited to 10-12 episodes like a cable show. Well, even if Arrow season three were following that model, “Nanda Parbat” would make the cut.
Now for the nerdier stuff…
Meanwhile…On an Island…
Well, this didn’t feel inconsequential this week, did it? It might have just been really noisy. This might qualify for the second most amount of gunplay we’ve seen in an episode of Arrow, that’s for sure. I do kinda wish that we’d go a few flashbacks without Ollie being teased with the prospect of going home. I’d like to see him settle into a groove in Hong Kong, accept his fate, and get on with it. The guy shouldn’t take anything for granted by now!
Obviously, we haven’t seen the last of General Shrieve, either.
DC Universe Watchtower
First up, the Atom. Or…ATOM. Obviously, this couldn’t be any further away from the shrinking Atom power-set of the comics. I wonder how much of this was just an overcorrection to avoid being compared to this summer’s Ant-Man movie? And I still feel like the Ray Palmer character has a little bit of a Ted Kord hangover. Flying aside, his arc could have worked just as well with the Blue Beetle.
The suit takes a little getting used to. I appreciate that they didn’t shy away from the use of the appropriate colors, and it moves a lot better than I expected it to. I’m also glad that they didn’t go the Iron Man route with how he flies. This thing has some grace and maneuverability right out of the gate, runs comparitively quiet, and I dig the blue aura. We got to hear our full-blown Atom theme music tonight, though!
But you’re going to have to stick with me a little on this next bit…
So far, there have been no Lazarus Pits in Arrow continuity. But this show sure does love to play with “pit” imagery, doesn’t it? From Ra’s reclining in that refreshing (rejuvenating?) spa, to lots of the wells we’ve seen hanging around in Nanda Parbat. They know what they’re doing.
But tonight also brought us the most explicit references to Mr. Ghul’s immortality so far. Or did it? Ra’s once again makes mention of living an unnaturally long life, but then he asks Oliver to be “the next Ra’s al Ghul.” They could be playing with themes from Batman Begins here (and the idea of Ra’s seeing Ollie as a worthy successor definitely echoes classic Ra’s al Ghul comic book stories, too), or it could be simple misdirection.
For more on how this show plays with Batman mythology, I respectfully point you here…if you aren’t sick of me by now.
My guess? It’s misdirection. I think we will see a proper Lazarus Pit before this show is over, no matter what the showrunners say. I think there’s more to Ra’s than meets the eye, and that’s saying something with a character like that. Malcolm Merlyn’s almost over-the-top display of terror when confronted by Ra’s is one thing to consider. It’s one thing to have a healthy fear for your life, but unless Merlyn knows something we don’t, that would have been a little much, don’t you think?
Unless, of course, Merlyn is still pulling strings here, allowed himself to be captured, and there’s a whole ‘nother layer to the mystery of Merlyn, Ra’s, and the League…
Thanks for reading. Let’s talk some Arrow!