Arrow: 3.21 Al Sah-Him

My name was Oliver Queen. I worked three years to save my city. But to save my sister, I had to become someone else. I had to become something else.

With the new opening speech from the man who was Oliver Queen, Arrow entered some of its darkest territory yet as the hero truly became the villain. One of the biggest questions after last week was how Oliver could fully surrender to Ra's Al Ghul and leave everyone behind. Despite the appearance of the Lazarus Pit last week, there was nothing mystical about his transformation into Al Sah-Him. Instead we saw a man that was repeatedly physically and mentally broken until nothing remained of the hero we have watched for the last three years.

Okay perhaps there was a little added mystical herbs to break Oliver's mind, but it really all was about conditioning, so much so that when faced his best friend a prisoner before him, Al Sah-Him did not hesitate before running a sword through and killing Diggle. It may have been a hallucinogen induced vision, but for the audience it was still shocking and proved to demonstrate that there was nothing of Oliver left.

That change continued as Al Sah-Him returned to Starling City and his friends saw just what Oliver had become. With his mission to capture his 'rival' Nyssa, he went up against his friends more than once. Laurel actually saved Nyssa the first time, using her new 'Canary Cry' device Cisco built for her in the recent crossover episode of The Flash. But things took a more shocking turn as he kidnapped Lyla, leaving baby Sara abandoned in the apartment and then went head to head with his former allies.

What was perhaps most devastating was that the 'vision' from the opening of the episode almost came true as Al Sah-Him duelled Diggle. He was about to slaughter him before Thea arrived to shoot him through the arm with an arrow and save the day. Seeing Thea in her father's black hood, armed with a bow felt like a culmination of this season's arc. I suspected we would see Thea in action as a superhero before the season's end and this week took a big step forward, particularly when she turned to her father Malcolm at the end to finish her training.

This week we saw team Arrow trying to 'move on', talking about Oliver like he was already dead. The scene at Diggle's apartment before Lyla's kidnapping was beautifully done; friends and family of Oliver trying to find a way to deal with the big gap in their lives by bonding together and continuing the mission. Again, it felt like no mistake that Thea was part of this conversation. It wasn't all doom and gloom however; Diggle's flat refusal to don a superhero costume was priceless.

Oliver's return - as Al Sah-Him - actually made matters worse. With the Arrow left behind in Nanda Parbat, at least they could accept the loss and move on. But with him returning as a villain, threatening their very lives, it was something far more tragic. The Darth Vader or Angelus effect - hero turned foe - Felicity's use of 'Darth Oliver' was not without merit.

As for Oliver / Al Sah-Him, the events of the episode seemed to be just the beginning. Ra's saved him from killing his daughter, not because of love but because of the recognition of her strength and decision to marry them together. After all she had gone through, this was perhaps the worst moment for Nyssa. In her friendship and training with Laurel she had admitted how her life was consumed by duty, never enjoying the pleasures if life.

That it what made the milkshake and fries scene with Laurel in the diner so sweet; Nyssa finding pleasure in food was both lovely and sad in equal measure as she found something more than just her life in the League. Now she finds herself bonded to the man her father chose over her, neither having power or pleasure. It is a testament to Katrina Law's performance this series that she has made such a cold character so engageable. You genuinely felt sorry for her in the end.

We learned a great deal more about Ra's this episode, making him a fascinating character with depth and emotion rather than a stock villain. Al Sah-Him and Ra's Al Ghul's trip to the villain's former village revealed a second bad guy, the wonderfully-named Damien Dark. Ra's nemesis believed himself to be the true heir to the demon but escaped because Ra's could not find it in his heart to kill him. The tidbits of information suggested we have seen Dark before, or at the very least the consequences of his actions, such as the earthquake device Malcolm Merlyn unleashed on Starling City in the season one finale.

My guess is that he might be the general who unleashed the Alpha / Omega device on the poor inhabitants of Hong Kong. The flashbacks certainly took a bleak turn too as Maseo, Tastu and Oliver rushed to save the city as people died in the streets all around them and their son Akio began to meet his fate as he demonstrated the effects on the biogenic weapon. While Maseo's conversation with Diggle last week confirmed his son's fate, the absence of his and Tatsu's son in the present day has suggested the death of Akio for some time.

The flashbacks may have a second purpose too; in the episode's dramatic climax, Ra's presented Al Sah-Him with a vial of the Alpha Omega with the purpose of unleashing it on Starling City. Because as it turns out, every new Heir to the Demon not only has to eliminate his rivals but destroy his home. A former Heir devastated the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria with Cholera, Ra's slaughtered his home village and now Oliver must murder everyone in Starling City. Not only has Oliver turned to the dark side, now he is the big bad of season three. Given how happy everyone was in the season three opener, no one could have seen that coming.

Al Sah-Him was the bleakest episode yet with perhaps only Thea getting a glimmer of hope as Felicity revealed that Roy was alive and sent her off to join him. By the end Oliver was gone, Felicity was left weeping on the floor of the remnants of the 'Arrow cave', Diggle was trying to deal with the fate of his best friend and Laurel was alone once more after loosing her new ally and friend Nyssa. The stakes are higher than ever with two episodes to go; just how is Oliver going to find his way back before the end?

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