Nyssa Al Ghul has returned to Starling City and she is ill pleased to learn of Sara Lance's death. She's also reluctant to work with Team Arrow in tracking down Sara's killer, but she does let Oliver Queen know one thing - Malcolm Merlyn is still alive and Sara's mission was to confirm that fact.
Faced with the return of his oldest enemy, Oliver must decide how much his newly-forged pledge to never kill again means. All of his allies - Laurel, Roy, Diggle and Nyssa - think he could be forgiven for ignoring the code this one time. Or at least standing aside while Nyssa does what needs to be done. But there is one question nobody but Ollie has considered - what if Merlyn is innocent of Sara's death and the real murderer is someone else?
At the same time, Oliver and Roy work to reestablish their respective relationships with Thea, as she works to restore the Verdant night club to its former glory. Both of them are still unaware that Thea has known of Malcolm Merlyn''s return for quite some time. And that he is far closer to Team Arrow than they suspect.
There aren't any specific story references, but the overall aesthetic of this episode is reminiscent of Chuck Dixon's Green Arrow run, with an idealistic hero trying to maintain his moral code after being thrust into a world of political intrigue and secretive martial artists. There's also a touch of Dennis O'Neil's Justice League, in which Oliver Queen was the one JLA member willing to stand against the group based on his individual principles, as Ollie does when he suggests that killing Merlyn for the wrong reasons can't be justified by how much Merlyn deserves death for his crimes.
I have said many unflattering things about Katie Cassidy's performance as Laurel over the past year so please keep that in mind when I say that - for one moment - there is a flash of who Black Canary should be in her performance in this episode, which I dare say is her best in the show to date. When Ollie invokes Sara's memory and asks if Sara would really want Merlyn to die in response to Laurel's demands that Ollie kill Merlyn, Laurel doesn't even blink and says "Yes, I do." in a way that perfectly conveys the sentiment "Yes, I do and you're kidding yourself if you think Sara - who you tried and failed to turn into a hero because she's too vengeful - would not want Merlyn dead, regardless of whether or not he was her murderer!" It is idealism versus practicality and exactly the kind of argument Ollie and Dinah would have in the comics, though not over this precise point. For the first time in a long while, Laurel does not feel surplus to the show and she actually seems like a member of Team Arrow in her scenes in the Arrow Cave rather than an interloper.
Something clever I noticed about the script by Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle is that Oliver has displayed actual character growth and development beyond his taking up his comic-book counterpart's idealistic code of honor. Throughout the episode, we see Oliver standing on principle despite how inconvenient it is to him personally.
Does Merlyn deserve to die? Probably, but while Ollie would easily break his oath if people were in danger (remember his killing of The Count in Season 2?) he is ill at ease with killing someone for the wrong reasons. The flashbacks parallel this through Oliver's argument with Amanda Waller. Ollie is willing to work with Waller to a point but he refuses to tolerate innocent people being threatened to ensure his good behavior and he has strong objections to Waller's scheme to blow up one airplane in the name of killing one target.
The episode title - The Magician - is a reference to Meryln's stage name in the original Green Arrow comics - Merlyn The Magician.
According to this episode, The Magician was Malcolm Merlyn's code-name in the League of Assassins as Sara Lance's was The Canary.
Laurel's hair has been getting noticeably blonder over the past few episodes since Sara's death. Has she been coloring her hair as a way or honoring her sister? Or is this a suggestion of what is to come?
Oliver digs through the cans in Sara's hide-out and notes that one of them was her favorite. Could it be canned chili - a favorite of both Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance in the comics?
Nyssa confirms that Sara's mission in Starling City at the time of her death was to look for Malcolm Merlyn and see if the rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated.
Nyssa confirms that Malcolm Merlyn was a member of The League of Assassins but was allowed to leave provided he continued to work according to their code of honor. The Undertaking to destroy The Glades violated that code, though the specific reasons why are not given.
There are several reasons, based on Ra's Al Ghul's code of honor in the comics, that Ra's might have objected to The Undertaking. In the comics, Ra's is something of an eco-terrorist and the potential ecological damage that could be caused by Merlyn's earthquake machine would be something he'd find objectionable. It could also be because of Ra's belief in revenge needing to be handled personally and attacking an entire neighborhood rather than an individual to be sloppy on Merlyn's part. Or Ra's could just find the death of hundreds to be incredibly wasteful and the whole idea of The Undertaking to be far too showy given that The League of Assassins is meant to remain hidden and secretive.
Master Jansen, the Buddhist monk, is named in honor of a character from the comics. Master Jansen ran the Buddhist ashram where Oliver Queen once took refuge after accidentally killing a young man. Jansen would later become a Sensei and traveling companion of Connor Hawke - the second Green Arrow. He was never given a full name in the comics, but here he is named Ken Zhi Jansen.
Nelson Plaza, where Oliver and Merlyn meet, is probably named in honor of Diane Nelson - the head of DC Entertainment.
Ra's Al Ghul - the leader of The League of Assassins - makes his first appearance here and so far seems true to form compared to the character in the comics. Introduced as an environmental terrorist and an enemy of Batman, he was created by Dennis O'Neil at about the same time O'Neil was redefining Green Arrow as a modern day Robin Hood - two of the greatest achievements of his career.
When we first see Ra's, he is emerging from some kind of pool or spa. This could be a reference to the infamous Lazarus Pit... or it may be an actual Lazarus Pit.
Oliver's new Tracer Arrow uses nanites to tag a target.
(After Nyssa says that Merlyn has violated the honor standards of the League of Assassins)
Roy: You guys are professional killers. That's a pretty low bar.
Oliver: I'm not a killer anymore, Laurel.
Laurel: But Merlyn is! He killed Tommy and 502 other innocent people. How many more people are going to have to die before you put him down?
Oliver: Do you think that's what your sister would want?
Laurel: Yes, I do.
Diggle: You have Felicity monitoring remote from Central City?
Oliver: No, she told me an idiot could run it.
Diggle: I will try very hard not to take that personally.
Oliver: I didn't realize having a conscience was a burden.
(As Laurel is working out at Wildcat's Gym)
Nyssa: I see you've been training. And wearing her jacket.
Laurel: If you're gonna stand there and tell me I'm not strong enough or tough enough, please don't.
Nyssa: Back at the cemetery I would have. But since then you have reminded me that the strongest metal is forged in the hottest fire.
Laurel: And what's that supposed to mean?
Nyssa: Don't forget to turn your hips. That's where the power comes from.
Reference is made to Felicity being away in Central City, as this episode happens at the same time as F104.
Thea has found new investors for Verdant and is already at work on rebuilding the club.
The League of Assassins use "ghost ink" that is revealed when paper is held up to a flame, just like "The List" Oliver was given by his father in the first episode.
The League of Assassin's source that Malcolm Merlyn was still alive was Moira Queen, who revealed she had the means to contact The LOA in 208.
Oliver refers to the events of 220 while speaking with Thea and how he thinks Moira was trying to tell them that Malcolm was still alive before the car crash that ended with her death at the hands of Slade Wilson.
At the episode's end, Roy is now employed as an assistant manager at Verdant.
In the flashback, reference is made to Oliver's refusal to kill Tommy Merlyn in 302.
In the flashback, Ollie makes reference to the climax of Season One's flashback scenes and how he stopped Eddie Fyers from shooting down Ferris Air flight 637 (123). It is confirmed that the woman we saw giving Fyers orders in Season One was Amanda Waller and that the entire operation - rather than a plot to disrupt the Chinese economy as Fyers claimed - was all to bring about the death of Triad leader Chein Na Wei aka China White - last seen in 202.
The final scene is set in a desert temple.
We learn that Sara visited with her father at some point in the past, looking for information on Master Jansen.
The Winick Factor
Averted hard, as Oliver manages to hold his own against Merlyn and Nyssa at the same time. One wonders - if Oliver weren't holding back and using non-lethal tactics - if he might have been able to defeat them both?
The Bottom Line
A solid episode that changes the game in a number of ways. We know Merlyn is up to something beyond protecting Thea, but we don't know what. We know an all out war with the League of Assassins is inevitable but we don't know what side our heroes may wind up on. And we're still no closer to knowing who killed Sara Lance and why. Still, all of the cast are given their moments to shine and things seem to be building at a slow boil.