It’s so rare to see Oliver smile, and it really is a lovely sight. “The Offer” is what we might call a reset episode, an hour primarily devoted to sifting through the fallout of the big revelations that led us into the show’s recent mini-hiatus. It’s not a bad episode, by any means, but it’s a story that is largely played in a minor key, with the climactic battle at the precinct providing the only really big blast of action in what is otherwise a largely contemplative Arrow entry. More than anything, “The Offer” takes stock of where the characters now find themselves. For as much as Oliver finds peace, or something like it, by the end of this episode, Thea is more lost and more hurt than she has ever been. Captain Lance is at best estranged from both his daughter and the Arrow, and it’s really hard to blame the man. Laurel and Nyssa end the episode by bonding over their difficult fathers, and that’s easily the second most heartwarming thing that happens tonight. I mean, that title sure as hell doesn’t go to Malcolm Merlyn, who once again pads his father of the year credentials by goading Thea into killing him. This is just generally a night for deranged family dynamics.

There’s a bit of wonky storytelling structure in just how the episode shows Oliver reacting to Ra’s al Ghul’s offer, though it all makes sense in terms of Oliver’s character. There’s just no way that Oliver would ever seriously consider the offer in Nanda Parbat, and it would be frankly ridiculous for him to even countenance what Ra’s has to say when surrounded by all the reminders of what the League of Assassins actually entails. Oliver has no trouble dismissing the reality of being Ra’s al Ghul, but the idea of it proves more alluring, when his separation from Nanda Parbat transforms the prospect from a living nightmare to a possible escape from all his failures in Starling City. Basically, Nanda Parbat would be a terrible place to be, but Oliver is far more willing to consider it as a place to go. Like most vigilantes, Oliver is an absolutist: Something is either wrong or right, with little room for nuances or shades of gray. It’s easy to reject Ra’s in no uncertain terms when all he has to consider is the essential immorality of the League. It gets more difficult when Oliver turns his own unforgiving lens on himself, and he finds his crime-fighting career wanting. It’s the comparison that trips him up.

That binary view of the world is part of what leads Oliver toward considering the offer. He is either doing good or doing bad, and Oliver struggles to define what that would mean on its own terms. As he points out in his final speech to Felicity, there was a time when all he needed was the knowledge that he was doing the good that his father wanted him to, and indeed that belief was enough to justify a crime-fighting approach that bordered on spree killing. Oliver has never been the Arrow for the sake of glory, but he does need affirmation, because with his father’s vision broken, he needs someone else to tell him that his cause is just. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that he cares so much about what the show’s only plausible surrogate father figure—sorry, Malcolm—thinks of him, and why it hurts so much when Lance turns on him, particularly when the captain’s grievance is so completely legitimate.

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to suggest that Ra’s al Ghul is yet another readymade replacement for Robert Queen, if only because, as much as the character’s status as a father to Nyssa is important, the episode tends to position Ra’s and Oliver more as worthy equals than as father and son. But we needn’t get Freudian with this: If Robert Queen’s mission gave Oliver the authority that comes from fulfilling familial duty, and Lance offered the Arrow the approval of the law and the moral forthrightness that underpins it, then Ra’s al Ghul provides Oliver with a still deeper, more ancient conception of justice, one in which Oliver is granted the power to declare he is in the right through sheer force of will.

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So it’s all the more heartening when Oliver ultimately realizes he does not need anything so grand or remote to make his quest for justice worthwhile. Oliver at episode’s end embraces a more incremental view, as he realizes that it is enough to know that his and Roy’s and Diggle’s actions have helped ensure that some police officers—not all of them, but some—who would have perished instead survived the assault on the precinct, and that it is sufficient for Oliver to know that, because of him, their families could rest easy knowing the Arrow is out to protect them. This isn’t necessarily an earth-shattering realization; indeed, it’s a narrow takeaway in keeping with the largely subdued tone of the episode. But once again—and huge credit goes to Stephen Amell here—the moment feels so much bigger than that because of the simple, honest happiness in Oliver’s smile. His is not a smile of triumph, or of optimism. Rather, it reveals the simple contentment that comes from knowing precisely why one does what one does. It’s a lovely, well-earned moment, even if it’s likely that Ra’s al Ghul’s Arrow impersonation is going to complicate that fleeting moment of certainty.

Elsewhere, Thea continues to benefit from the decision to bring her officially into her brother’s world, even if it has been hell for her from a character perspective; she has gotten so much more to do, but it’s all been pretty damn miserable for Thea herself. Much like her onscreen brother, Willa Holland has grown so much in the role of Thea: Where once she struggled to convince as anything other than the annoying bratty sister, here she manages to make vaguely plausible an operatic, over-the-top scene like Thea’s attempt to convince Nyssa to kill her. Just generally, Thea gets a bunch of scenes that need to happen but are damn hard to write effectively: It’s difficult to craft a satisfying scene in which a character begs for someone else to kill him or her, especially when said character doesn’t actually get their her wish. Thea gets to experience both sides of that scene, as she also has to fight back whatever urge she might feel to turn her oft-stated desire to kill Malcolm into actual reality.

That’s really what defines “The Offer,” as the characters all consider alternative paths, easier in some respects and much harder in others. The episode doesn’t necessarily affirm everyone’s choice—given Arrow’s general moral compass, it’s fair to say Thea makes the right decision, but it’s clear she takes no solace from that fact—but it does provide Oliver and his compadres the time and space they need to assess just what it is they are trying to accomplish. This isn’t an episode about changing one’s ways, but rather about making an active choice out of the courses that one had previously been on passively. That’s worth devoting some time to, especially if this now clears the path for Arrow to get really crazy down the stretch. And yeah, there’s plenty of reason to think that’s precisely what’s going to happen.

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Stray observations:

  • So, uh, Shado just popped back up in the flashbacks? I’m going to go ahead and say, yeah, I’m a bit surprised.
  • For a moment, I thought that Ra’s might only have made his offer to Oliver as a gambit to bring out the worthy heir in Nyssa. Nah.
  • I kind of hope that Malcolm settles into a new role as Oliver’s perpetually bloodied wacky roommate. Should be fun!

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