It seemed impossible that all four Lances would escape their brush with Nyssa, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, entirely unscathed. As soon as Detective Lance promises that he will tell Laurel about Sara as soon as he gets back, I figured that the countdown clock had officially started. Sara was the likeliest casualty, giving her life in some noble sacrifice to keep her family safe, and it sure seems like that was her general plan. Her death may still be a long-term necessity, assuming Arrow someday wants to pass the Black Canary mantle to Laurel. Or, if Sara were to survive, then surely her mother would be executed as part of some cruel sacrifice, the harshest possible lesson on what it means to betray the League of Assassins. Hell, dying would at least have given Alex Kingston something to do, as she was largely a non-factor in her return as Dinah Lance. There was even the terrible possibility that Detective Lance might die.
But then, that would have been a major gut punch, and I should have realized that that isn’t really Arrow’s modus operandi. In nearly two seasons, the show has only killed off two main characters: Tommy and Shado. (And you could certainly argue whether Shado really earned that status, Celina Jade’s promotion to series regular status notwithstanding.) No, this show prefers to let its central characters live, and, as “Heir To The Demon” demonstrates, that can be a far more brutal punishment. When Laurel thought she had hallucinated Sara showing up in her apartment, her sister’s presence was a source of great comfort and strength, to the point that Oliver and Detective Lance are both convinced that Sara’s arrival saved Laurel’s life. But when Laurel is confronted with the reality of Sara’s survival, her sister stops being an idealized memory. For six years, grief over Sara’s death and a longing to see her again have drowned out all other emotions that Laurel might feel toward her lost sister, but those feelings no longer have any place. Sara becomes someone that Laurel can blame for destroying her life and their parents’ marriage. After all, it makes sense to remember someone with love when you know you will never, ever see them again, even if that person wronged you.
In both of Laurel’s major interactions with her sister—the initial hallucinatory sighting and the utter rejection in the final scene—she is projecting her own feelings, as she has been wont to do this season. It’s not hard to hear in Laurel’s invective against Sara some echoes of her past anger at the Arrow for Tommy’s death. What changes is she now knows Sara can actually be affected by what she has to say, and so Laurel lashes out. This isn’t likely to endear Laurel to an already skeptical audience, particularly considering she pours herself yet another drink before unloading on her sister. But Laurel hasn’t seen what we have; she hasn’t been given a front row seat for the unimaginable ordeals that her sister suffered through on the Amazo and on the Island, not to mention with the League of Shadows.
“Heir To The Demon” makes the best possible effort to explain just why Laurel cannot welcome Sara back like her parents did. It all goes back to tonight’s flashbacks, which depict the last day of happiness in the Lance household and the petty sibling jealousies that drove both Lances’ interactions with Oliver. The key moment comes right at the end, when Moira arrives to inform the Lances that Sara was also aboard. Katie Cassidy’s performance, in concert with the camerawork and the score, make it clear just how devastating this news is. She never even has the chance to grieve for her sister, because the very news of Sara’s death carries with it confirmation of the ultimate betrayal. Such deep trauma isn’t easily undone. For her part, Sara seems to feel she has waited and suffered enough—six years of such isolation is a long time—so there’s no guarantee that a reconciliation lies ahead. Every time it seems as though Laurel has hit rock bottom, Arrow finds a new way for her to dig deeper. I’d defend Laurel’s response as appropriately in-character and the most intriguing narrative choice for the Lances, but soon we need some sense of an upward trajectory before the show loses its handle on her character.
Indeed, if I have any particular issue with “Heir To The Demon,” it’s that I can’t fairly judge so much of what happens here without knowing what the next moves are. The episode blows up one of a potentially major background conflict when Nyssa releases Sara from the League, but what are the consequences of that development? This move may well provoke the wrath of Ra’s al Ghul against all of Starling City. Indeed, this temporary reprieve may just be a stalling tactic on the show’s part, a way to position the Demon as the big threat for a future season while leaving Slade Wilson enough time to conclude his business with Oliver. Nyssa herself is a difficult character to read, though that’s by design. As she says in her initial reunion with Sara, even she wasn’t sure whether she would kill or kiss her former lover. Arrow does a decent job downplaying the more salacious aspects of this revelation: Oliver hardly responds. Detective Lance, meanwhile, shows compassion and understanding without totally violating his relative conservative, old-school cop’s worldview. Much like Navid Neghaban’s guest spot in “League Of Assassins,” Nyssa is mostly on hand to take part in some particularly brutal fight sequences and to drop enigmatic hints about the wider world of Arrow. But her guest spot does feel like setup for a more substantial story down the road.
While the Lances are the focus of “Heir To The Demon,” Oliver endures his own crushing familial disappointment. The matter of Thea’s paternity has been floating around throughout the second season, but it was only really last week that it reemerged as a major plot point. As such, Arrow deserves credit for cutting to the chase so quickly. Oliver’s decision to sever all non-superficial ties with his mother is a huge development, but the deeper meanings of that decision aren’t explored here. In particular, the episode offers no hints of how Oliver looks upon Felicity in the wake of this news. If Oliver really does come to hate the messenger, then Moira’s warning to Felicity will be proven correct. That might suggest Moira has some genuine insight (maybe even compassion) underlying her actions, even if they are mostly self-serving. The show appears to still be making up its mind as to whether Moira should become a full-on villain—Susanna Thompson’s increasingly cold, calculating performance as Moira would certainly support that possibility—or if she should be something more slippery and ambiguous. Oliver has had to create what is effectively a third (or fourth, depending on how you would distinguish between his billionaire-playboy persona, his Arrow identity, and his personality when alone with Diggle and Felicity) identity for himself just to protect Thea from the awful truth.
There’s no way that such constant division and compartmentalization can be sustainable, particularly when Slade Wilson continues to lurk in the background. The reckoning is drawing closer, and perhaps the biggest unanswered question of “Heir To The Demon” is just where Moira Queen fits into it all. In the meantime, her newly estranged son is going to forget his sorrows by making out with the only other person on the planet who can understand his situation. If past precedent means anything, that should end really well.
- Stephen Amell continues to impress this season as Oliver, packing in a lot of emotions without relying on big, expressive moves. It’s clear just how tortured he is after Felicity tells him the truth at Moira’s big announcement, as a dazed Oliver seems to be reconsidered after each individual word just what he wants to say about his mother. His subsequent refusal to let Moira come within even a few feet of him was similarly affecting.
- Between the return of Alex Kingston and the introduction of a character called Nyssa, this incorrigible Doctor Who fan was feeling pretty good about tonight’s episode. Of course, if I’m being silly, I could still do with a face-off between Kingston’s Dinah Lance and John Barrowman’s Malcolm Merlyn, just because.
- Oh dear, folks, Slade Wilson is on the warpath. This ought to be just the right mix of amazing and completely horrifying.