Arrow: The Magician review

Ra's al Ghul comes to Arrow for the show's fiftieth episode, "The Magician." Here's our review.

This Arrow review contains spoilers.

It’s almost hard to believe that we’re now fifty episodes into Arrow. Did anyone ever think that we’d get fifty episodes of a Green Arrow TV series, let alone one that would get such acclaim by comic book fans? It’s remarkable that we’ve come this far, and I look forward to this show every week, and miss it when it’s gone. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that “The Magician” isn’t the highlight that it should have been. 

The main problem with “The Magician” is that it’s an extraordinarily talky episode. And it’s not the kind of talking that particularly moves the plot along. We’ve now been mourning Sara’s death for three episodes, which is fine. This is going to cast a shadow over the entire season. But there are serious pacing issues beginning to manifest, particularly with regard to this nonsense about Laurel continuing to chicken out about telling her Dad the truth. There’s only so many times they can work this angle, and the “his heart couldn’t handle the strain” thing is some bottom of the barrel daytime soap stuff. These two deserve better than that.

There’s another big problem here. Why are we hitting the reset button with Thea? I really don’t like the idea of her going back into club ownership. It’s too easy. Why go back to a status quo that wasn’t all that interesting to begin with? Bringing Roy back in as her employee is also a little silly. I realize that Thea clearly has some motives we aren’t privy to. I even suspect that she may have some post-hypnotic suggestion action happening with dear ol’ Dad, Malcolm Merlyn, and might not even be aware of why she’s doing what she’s doing. 

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In fact, I hope that’s it. Because the alternatives here are far too convenient and lazy, and I was hoping Arrow had moved past such contrivances. Also, the Roy/Thea stuff was kinda awful this week.

Now, this is where I’m going to lose a lot of you, I fear. I think I like the idea of Nyssa al Ghul a lot more than I actually like having her around. I wasn’t terribly impressed with her intro last season, and having her show up tonight to have lots of tense, “meaningful” conversations with Ollie and Laurel was ham-handed. I love having a badass like Katrina Law on the show, but Nyssa needs better lines and more of a purpose than to just be the heartbroken and/or righteously angry warrior lady. I did enjoy her final conversation with Oliver, though. That was cool.

Also, it was Nyssa who gave Sara the leather jacket? I…I just can’t. And then at the end of the night we get the “I see you’ve been training,” bit at the gym. Yeah. For a week. What a joke.

Seriously, given this character’s history over the last year, why do people not just laugh Laurel out of the room when she starts making demands and offering helpful suggestions like, “you should kill him?”? No. Sorry. On the other hand, I can’t decide who is more to blame for the Thea kidnapping, Laurel for suggesting it, or Nyssa for actually going through with it. This is the same Nyssa who just a few scenes earlier had been dismissing Laurel outright, and suddenly, because Laurel is talking “vengeance” she listens? This doesn’t do her character any favors.

Scattered throughout, there are moments that remind me that this is still very much the show I’ve been so thoroughly enjoying, even though this is the second lackluster episode in a row. I love the look that Roy gets when he makes that crack about Ollie’s mom. It’s another example of Stephen Amell’s comedic timing. Rarely deployed, but when he does it, it’s good stuff.

There are some interesting little developments scattered underneath all the nonsense, as well. It gets mentioned that Malcolm Merlyn’s Undertaking violated League principles, but at the time, didn’t it seem like exactly the kind of plan that the League would have been into in, say, Batman Begins? There’s definitely more at work here. Also, Nyssa telling Thea that Ra’s may be “the Demon” but Malcolm Merlyn is “the Devil” perked my ears up. Just like Sara’s early days with the League, there’s a story here that I really want to see told. As in, in flashback, not via lots of talking.

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As expected, things improve dramatically during the action sequences, which are kept to a minimum this week. John Barrowman dodging the arrow to the head was plenty awesome, as was the fight with Arrow, Nyssa, and Merlyn. It’s terrific stuff, but it’s not enough to save this one. 

Unfortunately, “The Magician” is just a really pedestrian episode. There is absolutely nothing that gets accomplished in this hour that couldn’t have been gotten out of the way much more effectively in fifteen minutes were this a show that had to get its job done in 13 episodes instead of 23. While there’s an effective contrast between Oliver’s “no more killing” rule in the present (even when it involves a dick like Malcolm Merlyn) and the fact that we watched him knife a defenseless old man in the flashbacks, it doesn’t excuse the fact that far too much of “The Magician” felt like wheel-spinning.

Who Killed Sara Lance?

Well, the minute Malcolm Merlyn became a suspect, we all had to know it was too easy, right? On the other hand, once he denies it as emphatically as he does, well…suddenly he becomes a suspect again. Part of me wants to believe that Malcolm would actually just want Ollie to be uncomfortable in his doubt if he didn’t really do it.

Then again, the idea that he is throwing it on Ra’s al Ghul actually makes me think it IS Merlyn, especially since there’s clearly a rift in the League. It would suit Merlyn well to drive a wedge between Ra’s and his daughter.

I’m not convinced. But I’m not not convinced, either. Help me out, please!

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Meanwhile…On an Island…

While I’m still quite relieved that we’re no longer on that other island, so far, nothing in this year’s flashback sequences has really distinguished itself as crucial. Yes, I know there’s a fairly significant DC Comics character getting quietly set up here, but right now, it’s just not enough. Especially with episodes like “The Magician” and “Corto Maltese” which felt lightweight and disjointed, this time would have been better spent in the present.

Ollie sure kills the hell out of that old man though, doesn’t he? Damn.

I got a chuckle out of the little kid. “You don’t have anything. You’re a bum.” If anyone is interested, I can also be bribed with candy.

DC Universe Watchtower

– Edward Fyers’ name comes up in the meeting with Ollie and Amanda Waller, but it’s not really that big of a deal.

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– Another Ferris Air reference, which makes…a lot so far this season between Arrow and The Flash. The Green Lantern easter eggs just keep coming, and I’d love to see Hal Jordan or John Stewart show up. For crying out loud, we won’t have a Green Lantern movie until 2020, so surely they can get away with something on this show.

– So, now that Nyssa knows where Sara is buried…it’s Lazarus Pit time! Right? Please?

– Also, was Malcolm so completely unafraid to die because he knew Ollie wouldn’t kill him…or because he’s got a Lazarus Pit stashed away somewhere? Hello? Is this thing on?

– Nanda Parbat looks pretty cool, as does Matt Nable as Ra’s al Ghul, who certainly looks like he stepped out of the comics.

This one felt pretty light on the DCU stuff, but that’s alright. Last night’s episode of The Flash had enough for both shows. But please, point out the ones that I missed down below. I’m still annoyed with myself that I didn’t catch the OMAC reference last week.

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2.5 out of 5