N.B. Grades seriously don’t matter, but I’m not actually giving this a “B.” This episode broke the traditional rating system. Check out the last paragraph for the actual grade.
I mean, I don’t even know what to do with an episode like this. “The Fallen” is an hour of television that starts with Thea’s death and ends with Oliver’s formal induction into the League of Assassins, and in between we get Ray and Felicity’s amicable yet wistful breakup, Thea’s Lazarus Pit-aided resurrection, more than one literally bone-crunching fight sequence, a soliloquy on lost love from Ra’s al Ghul, the release of a deadly super-virus in Hong Kong, and—oh, right, this—Oliver and Felicity declaring their love for each other with some passionate sex, followed by a bit of strategic drugging and a failed escape attempt that only serves to affirm the pair’s love. That’s hardly an exhaustive list: Among other minor details, I’m pretty sure this is the episode that gives us our first official confirmation that Maseo’s son is indeed dead. (Though yeah, that was a really safe assumption.) And, while we’re on that particular topic, let’s all just take a moment to recognize how awesomely cold-blooded John Diggle can be. He stands there, hears Maseo’s heartbreaking monologue about the name of his son, and then asks for the son’s name just so that he can ask what Akio would think if he could see his father now. I mean, damn.
Look, part of what I love about this particular take on the DC universe it its willingness to embrace its essential CW-ness. Arrow—and, in its own way, The Flash—can deliver all the superhero action, but at its best it anchors those sequences in the kind of deeply held emotions that are such a natural part of a channel that built its identity on teen soap operas. That relationship melodrama may come from a different place than comic books, but it’s all the same basic kind of storytelling, and episodes that bring out that overlap tend to rank among Arrow’s most impressive efforts.
“The Fallen” just isn’t that episode. It’s a roiling madhouse of a story, zigging and zagging from one wildly different theme to another. Some of the violations of tonal continuity are particularly striking: I get that Ray and Felicity have to break up at some point, what with the whole failed “I love you” a couple weeks back and the little fact that Brandon Routh now has yet another Arrow spin-off to headline, but is the right time to do this really right after Thea has been brutally stabbed and left in a vegetative state? Even granting that Ray doesn’t know just how terrible this latest situation is, that doesn’t change the fact that the writers know what else is going on, and they still include a scene that only really makes sense if it’s overridingly important that Felicity be more or less unattached when she finally hooks up with Oliver.
That sounds harsh, I realize, and that isn’t quite my intention. I’m just so stunned by “The Fallen” that my suspension of disbelief is barely hanging on, and it’s honestly hard to tell which of this episode’s myriad daring decisions are good and which are just kind of insane. Take Felicity’s big confrontation with Ra’s al Ghul, in which she threatens war with the League of Assassins to get Oliver back. It’s a nice scene for Felicity, one of several that more or less manages to walk that fine line of defining her character arc in terms of her love for the protagonist yet still allowing her to retain some sense of her own agency, her own individuality. It’s Ra’s al Ghul’s response that gets ever more insane, as he complements Felicity on her fire and launches into a lengthy monologue on the family that was stolen from him, presumably in his pre-Demon days. I welcome any storytelling move that reveals Ra’s al Ghul as something more than a megalomaniacal villain, but the destination of that monologue—in which he becomes the latest, most improbable mouthpiece pushing Felicity to declare her love for Oliver—is just so bizarre. In that moment, the long-teased Oliver and Felicity romance has subsumed every other aspect of the show.
That doesn’t have to be a bad thing in and of itself. The show’s romantic elements aren’t the primary draw for me, but I can appreciate those storylines when they’re well-executed, and Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards have enough chemistry to keep me invested in their characters’ feelings for each other. But to have Ra’s al Ghul become—and forgive me for phrasing it like this, but I can’t think of any other way to put it—an in-universe shipper? Points for audacity, I guess. And yes, it’s possible that this is all a bit of manipulation by Ra’s, a crafty way to defuse Felicity as even a nominal threat by distracting her with talk of her obvious heart’s desire. Maybe, but Ra’s sure appears genuine in his melancholy, and “The Fallen” is generally an episode that is powerfully, painfully, unashamedly earnest. It’s an episode where Oliver ends the escape attempt by getting the League to stand down and then immediately re-asserts his love for Felicity. It’s an episode where Maseo tells Diggle he has reminded him that he is more than just a shell. It’s an episode where Oliver really, honestly finds himself in a place where becoming the new Ra’s al Ghul makes some kind of sense, which speaks to the general insanity that pervades this episode.
Maybe this is the best way to understand “The Fallen”: This is an episode that ends with Oliver glaring at the camera, stripped of his old identity and dressed in League of Assassins garb, and that has to make sense in context. This has to be the logical conclusion of Oliver’s journey up to this point—something he acknowledges to Felicity—and, mad as it might sound, it’s hard to argue with the logic of any of Oliver’s individual decisions, even if it does break the hearts of his friends. Any episode in which the de facto voice of reason is Malcolm Merlyn is an episode in which the normal narrative frame hasn’t just been heightened, it’s been full-on flipped upside-down.
The only real choice Oliver ever has here is whether he will allow Thea to die; once he decides he has to save her, no matter the cost, his course is set. Beyond the fact that Ra’s probably would have just moved onto killing another loved one if Oliver had let Thea go, it’s hard to begrudge him this decision. After all, Oliver watched his father shoot himself in the head, and he and Thea both bore witness to Slade Wilson executing their mother. Tommy died in his arms, and Sara was unceremoniously killed by an unknown assailant that turned out to be Thea, kind of. This is not a man who should have to suffer any more tragedy, and I’m not sure I could have stood it if the show had actually killed off Thea; Oliver is already the universe’s punching bag, but he really doesn’t deserve that. Come to think of it, Oliver joining the League of Assassins might just be the most logical way for him to protect himself from the never-ending pain that apparently defines his existence. That almost feels like a point this episode could have made, if it weren’t quite so concerned with Oliver and Felicity.
Goodness, this episode is a mess. When it succeeds at what it’s trying to do, it succeeds more than any Arrow episode. When it fails, it fails harder than anything that’s come before it. Sometimes, that success and that failure happens simultaneously. Yeah, let’s just give this one the trusty old A/F grade and call it a day.
- “John, you’re the best man I’ve ever known. Whatever happens, you’re my brother.” Again, as ridiculous as so much of this episode is, when it hits, man does it hit.
- “She thinks Moira’s still alive.” So, uh, given that Thea appears to be herself by the end of the episode, I’m guessing we’re just dropping that and moving on, right?
- “This place is like a fortress.” Uh, pretty sure this place is a fortress.