WHAT A (MID-SEASON) FINALE!!
There are definitely some parallels to previous mid-season finales: Malcolm Merlyn, a tense battle, a moment of death for Oliver are all running themes in these fall finale episodes. I can’t say it was my favorite though, for a few reasons: I think I knew too much going in. Everyone knows Oliver can’t take Ra’s Al Ghul! And I think Stephen teased at some point (I’ve watched a lot of Stephen Amell Q&As okay?) that the episode might end over a cliff. Also, the other two major focuses of this episode were Laurel and Ray and if you didn’t know my feelings on them before, you’ll find out now, so that also dulled by excitement. BUT overall I am happy with what this episode means for the journey the rest of the season will take.
I have a lot to say about the end and the journey it will lead to, so I’m going to try keep the actual recap portion as short as I can. This episode is merely transition and shirtless ab fights than anything anyway.
Oliver sings Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb” (literally all I think of when I see the episode title, I don’t even know the words to the song, just the title) as he climbs up a snowy mountain. They keep flashing forward to this during the episode — notice: it mirrors The Flash’s flashforward in that mid-season finale. But this episode is unique in that is has flashbacks, the present, and flashforwards! You’d think only The Flash, with it’s extreme time traveling potential would get all wibbly wobbly like that, but Alex Kingston is in this episode and strange things happen when River Song is around.
In the present, Oliver delivers Lance some criminals wrapped neatly in a bow (Merry Christmas!) before getting attacked by the League of Assassins. Turns out, our flashback friend Maseo (now known as Sarab), is in the League! He and Nyssa tell Oliver he has 48 hours to learn who killed Sara or people of Starling City will die.
Thea and Laurel meet at the cemetery — interacting for the first time since before Roy arrived in season 1, I wanna say?! Thea learns that Sara is dead, she seems genuinely shocked. It’s hard to remember that they would have grown up together-ish, since Laurel and Ollie were dating and Sara was his on-again off-again chick on the side.
Felicity, meanwhile, is throwing buckets and buckets of shade towards Ray, because he sort of dipped after the kiss, and she’s sick and TIRED of men treating her this way. It’s a wonder that Oliver doesn’t get this cold shoulder! She heads back to the Arrow Cave and learns of their deadline and gets right to work. Caitlin sent the DNA sample over and… who killed Canary? OLIVER! Well, we know that’s not true and we know who has motive and means to make it so: Malcolm Merlyn. Felicity tracks Malcolm’s movements: turns out a plane dropped Malcolm back in Starling the night before Sara’s murder. And he brought a guest: THEA MERLYN/QUEEN. Thea thinks she was in Corto Maltese the entire time, but she returned to Starling and what if THEA murdered Sara–!
Oliver refuses to hear it, even though Roy, Diggle, and Felicity point out the connections to him. The DNA match is close enough that it could be Thea’s DNA rather than Oliver’s and she has been lying about her relationship with Malcolm. Oliver tries to get the truth out of her, first as himself, but he’s clouded by his love for her, so he goes as the Arrow. And he gets some shocking truth: Thea learned a few tricks during her time away!
Oliver realizes that she’s been holding back from him, but it’s confirmed when Malcolm pays him a visit that induces much rage. “I figured, when I spared the man who murdered my mother, that I would never kill again. I was wrong.” Merlyn sends Oliver a text vid (cuz why not?), of THEA KILLING SARA! Merlyn used Thea to kill Sara to get Oliver to kill Ra’s (phew!) to wipe out all blood payment owed to the League, which would erase Malcolm’s crimes too (phew!). If Oliver doesn’t confront Ra’s, they will come after Thea. Thea wasn’t herself, however, she was under the influence of Vortura, a drug which makes someone easy to suggestion with no memory of their actions.
Roy says the obvious: “If you fight Ra’s al Ghul, he’ll kill you.” Oliver doesn’t think so, because now he has Thea as proper motivation. Oliver meets with Ra’s, Nyssa, and Maseo and takes the blame for Sara’s death. No one really believes him, but Ra’s accepts the challenge and Oliver has 12 hours to settle his affairs. (Besides saying goodbye to his team, what else is there? More on pondering the human side of Oliver later1.)
“It’s been 67 years since someone’s challenged me.”
- Lazarus pit?!
- Who challenged you, Ra’s? Might this be an important character someday or was it just the length of time that was important?
- 1947… hmmm.
Oliver goes on a farewell tour: He says goodbye to Thea (who lies to him some more about her skills and about the reason the window is shattered in front of the Christmas tree…) and hints to her that he’s doing all this for her (worst Christmas for her, no? She kept talking about how she’s got no one and he’s leaving her, with Merlyn of all people). He says goodbye to Roy and Diggle. “I would rather die than let you go it alone.” JOHN DIGGLE LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! And Roy gets a hug! <3 And then we get our Olicity scene.
Oliver tries to put on a cool front with faint smiles and rosy cheeks, but Felicity isn’t buying it. She has a favor.
“If it’s you asking, I’ll do it.”
She knows he’s stopped killing (and we know she loves him for it), but she knows that if Oliver doesn’t kill Ra’s al Ghul, he’ll die. So she pleads with him to do so.
“I don’t doubt that you can beat him (though you should, Felicity, you really should). I’m terrified you won’t kill him.”
If anyone could ask Oliver to kill again and have him even consider it, it’s Felicity. We saw that with the Count in season 2. He offered to do whatever she wanted before she even asked (and when she said she wasn’t going to ask him to stay and he said he appreciated it? It’s because he would have seriously considered staying.) Oliver keeps his front up, stating he knows two things:
“I’m someone that will do whatever it takes to save my sister.” He then gives Felicity the longest forehead kiss (and most beautiful last, loving look) before he tells her the second thing he knows: “I love you.” He said it. Without pretense, without maybes or backwards declarations. He said it and then he left…!
Poor girl has a complex about this now (as we saw with her cold shoulder to Ray), Oliver CANNOT keep doing this to her. But in this moment, it was about Oliver needing to tell her one last time, because while he says he can beat R’as, he’s mostly trying to convince himself. He doesn’t think he’s returning.
The battle goes as expected (“Take off your shirt. It’s tradition.” The loosest explanation that no one asked for concerning shirtless Stephen Amell. Not one person needed an explanation. LOL2), with Ra’s DOMINATING Oliver.
It was actually interesting to think about, it’s been a while since someone has caught Ollie of guard like that. If I remember correctly, Oliver didn’t fight Slade in the present properly until he’d been given the anti-mirakuru? And even if that’s not true, their last stand off was more evenly matched than this fight. Oliver really didn’t stand a chance. As Ra’s says a prayer? over Oliver, Ollie flashes back to the people he loves: his father, his mother, Thea, and Felicity.
“Forgive and have mercy upon him. excuse him and pardon him. Make honorable his reception. Protect him from the punishment of the grave. And the torment of the Fire.”
Ra’s not only throat punches Oliver and slices him in the side, but he stabs him in the stomach and drops him off a cliff–!!!!!!!!!!
I’d already caught that Ra’s words were very Jesus on the cross: “Forgive and have mercy upon him” (as Jesus says regarding his executors: “Forgive them for they know not what they do”) but the sword to the side is also very Christ on the Cross. And since we know Oliver will be returning, probably as a new man, it’s a different, subtler take on the usual Christ symbolism and for that I truly appreciate the Arrow Writers.
All in all, it was a battle Oliver was always going to lose.
And that’s okay.
There is a point in most TV series (especially action/adventure shows like this one), where everything seems to burn to the ground. It’s the awful part where you get to it in your rewatches of even your favorite TV shows and you wonder if you can stomach those episodes again. Not because they’re bad, but because they’re painful for the characters. They reach a low point that it seems they can’t get out of, a fire they must endure to come out the better for it. At some point, Buffy dies, Angel gets buried at the bottom of the ocean — my fellow NOCs can probably give a Smallville example — I’m sure your favorite long running action/adventure show (any drama really) has had a moment like this one.
This episode was Oliver’s fire. He’s been struggling as a character this season. He ended season 2 on a high that made him feel invincible. Even Sara’s death hasn’t shaken that from him. Starling is safe under his watch, he has his sister back, he has Merlyn in the palm of his hands (or so he thought), he has two loyal friends to watch his back, and he has Felicity by his side (though he’s denying himself that last bit of happiness). But he’s still struggling inside. Internally, he can’t reconcile Oliver and the Arrow.
He’s been “trading away pieces” of himself since before he returned home. He’s never really figured out Oliver Queen. Everything since he’s been back was a front for the Arrow: buying the club, owning QC — and both things relate to his old self. The club represented party!Ollie, the person he was trying to make people think he still was. Becoming CEO of QC was who he was supposed to be had he not been a screw up and hadn’t gotten on that boat. But neither is who Oliver is now. He hasn’t figured out how to use what he has learned in the last eight years to better himself as Oliver in the present.
And now he’s dead.
Well, not dead — his name’s on the title card (though his name was on the side of Queen Consolidated too and look how that turned out), and Stephen Amell still posts pictures from the set, and as much as we yell at Oliver, the show can’t live without him (or his abs). So we know he’ll survive this moment, but it’s important. The little teaser moment after the episode had Merlyn saying mysteriously “Oliver Queen is dead.” And certainly this will probably appear true for our characters when we return, but it isn’t Oliver who died. Oliver’s been dead since the island. It’s the Arrow — as he is now — who died.
The producers and cast have been going on and on about how this season is about identity. And the first run of episodes have been about Oliver as the Arrow: swift justice, superhero friends, pushing away his human feelings and desires. I believe the middle portion of the season will focus on Oliver as Oliver. When he returns, things will be different. Diggle will be with Lyla and Baby Sara, Roy will be left to save the city (with Laurel as Black Canary if instagram photos and teasers have anything to say), Felicity will be sidekick to a new superhero (and Roy/BC I’d assume she wouldn’t just leave them), he’s even learned that Thea can protect herself.
And with Ray/Roy/Laurel (as much as I think she’ll screw it up at first) protecting the city, Oliver won’t need to be the Arrow 24/7 anymore. He can figure out who he is as Oliver. Barry told him that he could still be an inspiration as Oliver Queen (because the Arrow’s a douche).
So even if he suits up when he returns (and trains to go after Ra’s again), I think he will start thinking more about who he is as a man, as the son his parents don’t get to know now, as the brother he’s trying to be by going on this crusade in the first place, and as the lover he wishes he could be. Will he go after Felicity (who will presumably be kissing on Ray — even though he’s an awful stalker and I hate that)? His “I love you” and their kiss being his last thoughts as he fell off that cliff tell me that he still isn’t shying away from his affection for her — he just thinks he can’t be with her but she’s literally his last thought before death. With a new lease on life (kinda literally), he may find that he was wrong about his ability to be with her.
Will he find a job that this Oliver wants to do? The world is open to him. So the middle third will be an exploration of Oliver as a man. And we all know the threats won’t end and that while there are plenty of other vigilantes around to put away the criminals of Starling, but none of them can do it like The Arrow can. So he’ll still be crime fighting, and the last third of the season will see him finally melding into himself as the Arrow and Oliver — something he’s glimpsed from Barry is possible.
So Oliver needed this smackdown. He needed this death. He’s died once before (well, once in a major way, his awakening on Hong Kong wasn’t really a true moment of death in the way that I am talking about) and that was mostly on paper. He’s been to the brink of death before, but his death on the boat wasn’t as final as this, his life didn’t appear before his eyes (not even just in a production, let’s show them kind of way. Those other moments don’t seem to have been moment where Oliver’s life would have flashed before him). And from that experience, rose a hero. But now, the man must rise — this is getting very movie trailer, I’ll try to stop now — we hopefully will finally learn who Oliver Queen is. And this I am ready for.
As much as I enjoy where this is taking us, there were things I didn’t love:
Ray. Just… Ray. I think the writers aren’t realizing that stalking isn’t romantic. It’s creepy. [Ed. note: If you’ve ever watched Superman Returns, it’s kind of his go-to move though. –KC] It’s making me more uncomfortable than a serial killer stalker in a Lifetime movie. Because he thinks it’s normal and okay. In a Lifetime movie, the stalker knows it’s wrong on some level and doesn’t care or their obsession outweighs morality, but here, Ray is just so matter of fact. “I pinged yourself phone. Again.” Not okay! Especially when Felicity is literally doing secret superhero work — she needs to put a reign on that before he finds out everything (well, for awhile she doesn’t need to worry about it I guess).
But his behavior makes me more and more upset, partially because he’s not being called out on it and it’s getting more and more personal. Okay, you stalked her at her old job, or while at work in the building you own, but going to her house? Going to find her, presumably at a club where she’s trying to unwind after you left her hanging (but where she’s secretly at her real home fighting crime), is a bit much. And with no recognition that his actions are creepy, it’s hard to see that it will get called out and stopped anytime soon. So that’s a sigher.
ALSO, if you’ve ever watched Chuck, you’ll recognize Ray’s plot is the same as Routh’s character Daniel Shaw: his love (wife/fiancee) was murdered and his somewhat shady actions and intrusion on the OTP are all due to his grief and efforts to rectify the death. Maybe this is a comic origin storyline, but I’ve been there done that with this actor, so — yeah.
LAUREL. Literally everyone knows that Sara is dead EXCEPT HER FATHER. It’s painful and it’s getting more and more out of hand. Unlike the Ray thing, this isn’t necessarily a writing issue, but a character one. Laurel needs to tell her father or STOP telling everyone BUT him. She’s terrible at lying (gonna be really bad for when she’s trying to be a superhero) and it’s written all over her face. And at some point Lance is going to get suspicious and wonder why Sara really isn’t popping in or calling. And it will break his heart worse to know she kept it from him. I think the Laurel portion of the story slowed the episode down because, while we got to see Alex Kingston’s wonderful face, it didn’t really add much except that Thea doesn’t think she killed Sara and that Dinah wants Laurel to get revenge. That could have been two scenes rather than however many it was. So that was also a bit frustrating.
I think Laurel has potential. I dislike her right now, as most of us do, but I am certainly open to giving her a chance. As I said on Hard NOC Life, this is her island, these years are her dark years where she’s broken, a constant open wound that keeps getting salt kicked in, just like island!Oliver. So it’s hard watching her now, but imagine if we were watching Island!Oliver straight through from the beginning; it might be equally as frustrating (not that he can’t be frustrating now LOL). So I’m open to her growth but she’s at a really unlikeable stage in her journey and it’s going to take time for her to climb (oh see what I did there?) out of it.
I also said in the NOC Flarrow podcast, that the flashbacks have been the weakest this season than any other — there’s been nothing to look forward to. I think they kicked it up just a tiny notch in this episode, with Katana going missing and the knowledge that something, presumably with his family, drives Maseo to the League, but it’s still not a strong enough draw for me. Even the Katana vs. China White fight seemed a bit out of place or for mere fanservice than storytelling.
Perhaps the story will be clearer when we return from hiatus.
As I said earlier, I think episode is mostly transition. I am okay with that. I’ve already seen mixed thoughts on the episode as a whole, but I think it served its purpose in getting us to phase 2 of season 3, which I believe will be the Oliver Queen portion. This is exciting. It could mean more Olicity, more smiling, more happy bonding with Roy and Diggle. He could finally meet Ray Palmer! He could tell Laurel to get over her selfishness and tell her father what he deserves to hear. He could be a whole new person! He’s died to be brought back to life for a second time.
- In the flashbacks, Oliver and Maseo must find a bioweapon named Omega, but it’s already been stolen by China White, who then comes to attack Katana and her son at their home. Then Katana goes missing… Is this what drives Maseo to the League? Oliver’s pretty vague on their last meeting, but it seems like Katana and her son don’t survive the season.
- So. There was that training scene where Ra’s kills one of his own. I think this scene serves a purpose that most of us viewers didn’t need. I don’t even read the comics but I know that Ra’s al Ghul is the baddest of the bad. But this scene was for the casual viewer, for the non-comic reader who doesn’t learn backstories from Twitter and Wikipedia who somehow don’t know what Ra’s can do. So I appreciate it for it’s practical purpose, but the majority of us already know how ruthless he can be. So it felt a bit out of place, a bit like action for action’s sake.
- I saw a comment online that said that this was something you do at a season finale, not a mid-season finale. I don’t agree. Simply because of the overwhelming fact that we know he survives somehow. Saving it til a season finale just makes us wait longer for the first five minutes to undo the death — and I all about the journey and the aftermath of moments like this, but dragging it out over a summer hiatus isn’t the move, this was much better because it’s so temporary, just like this mini-hiatus. So I prefer they have it here at mid-season than a season finale. It may feel weird on a binge watch, but network television isn’t written for binging just yet, not outwardly anyway.
- Ray shows Felicity the ATOM exosuit and she gets recruited by yet ANOTHER hero to be on their team. Felicity is BAE. But it looks like she’s going to have some free time from Arrow adventures, so she’ll probably be in the ATOM… tower?… for the length of hiatus. “Why does this keep happening to me?” Because you’re awesome and everyone would be lost without you.
I could say more (THEA’S IDENTITY JOURNEY, now that Oliver lost — for now), what does that mean for Thea as Sara’s killer, with Laurel and Malcolm’s roles in that? How will Thea react to killing Sara? Will she head back to Roy, who has similar problems with not remembering killing someone? Will the middle of the season be about Oliver Queen, or am I wrong and it’s all about The Arrow beefing up to take his revenge on Ra’s!? Will Maseo or Nyssa go after Oliver to either save him or give him a proper burial?), but then it’d be 4,000+ words and it’d take you until January 21 to finish reading it. But let’s chat in the comments. What did you think of the mid-season finale?! What didn’t I hit here that you desperately want to talk about? Feel free to leave a 3,000 word essay in the comments, I deserve (and WANT) it.
- Oliver’s trial by combat is a bit less epic than Tyrion’s on Game of Thrones, but has a similar outcome… ↩
- Have we ever seen Oliver’s scars so clearly since the pilot? Even then, the lighting wasn’t as good as the white snow. Now that we’ve seen Oliver’s old scars so clearly, we can look forward to the next time he’s shirtless to look for this new ones! ↩