Firstly, this is the second episode of tonight's mid-season finale. If you've missed the review of the prior episode, The Brave and the Bold, you can find that here. Right, let's get to it...
If you’ve been watching Arrow regularly over the last few years, you’ll be aware that the mid-season finales always tend to go off with a bang; Season 1’s mid-season finale saw Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) revealed to be the mysterious dark archer who had been attacking certain Starling City big-wigs, and Walter (Colin Salmon) was kidnapped in order for Merlyn to gain leverage over Moira Queen (Susannah Thompson); whilst Season 2’s crammed mid-season finale saw Shado (Celina Jade) killed during the island flashbacks, Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) turn up in modern-day Starling City, Roy Harper (Colton Haynes) fatally injected with mirakuru and then revived by Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), The Arrow was given a domino mask to add to his outfit, and a certain Barry Allen chap (Grant Gustin) wound up hit by lightning – that seemed to work out pretty good for Barry, mind. So yeah, point is, there was a lot to be expected from this episode. Did The Climb live up to the hype? Let’s find out.
The first big thing that’s noticeable here, and something that fans have been eagerly awaiting, is that things are firmly picked up with the whole al Ghul arc. After a fleeting appearance earlier in the season, we finally get to see more of classic DC villain Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable). Earlier in the year, when Oliver vowed to Nyssa (Katrina Law) that he would protect Malcolm from any League of Assassins attacks that should happen in Starling City, it appeared that The Arrow had made an enemy for himself in the legendary Demon’s Head. All’s been relatively quiet on that front until now, but Nyssa returns to Starling to make Team Arrow aware that unless Sara Lance’s (Caity Lotz) killer is found within 48 hours then a whole bunch of innocent Starling citizens will be offed. For long-time comic book fans, that’s an al Ghul move if ever there was one. And as it would just so happen, the DNA results are in on who Sara’s killer is. Thing is, the DNA trail on the arrows points the finger of blame at Oliver Queen!
With this seemingly impossible revelation, Oliver instantly believes that there’s some foul play at the centre of things courtesy of Malcolm Merlyn, tracking down the man who has so often been a thorn in his side. This is where Season 3’s most prominent arc, the whodunit around Sara’s death, finally gets its pay-off, as Merlyn reveals video footage of just who it was that fired the fateful arrows into the youngest Lance sister’s chest: it was Thea Queen (Willa Holland).
So there we have it, the big question that has loomed over the first half of Season 3 gets answered, although Ollie struggles to handle the cold, hard truth. Despite seeing it with his own eyes, how could Thea have done such a thing? To put his sister even further on the shit-list, she also goes all ninja when The Arrow pays the young Miss Queen a visit – a visit that she totally lies to Oliver about. The worrying thing for Oliver is that he has to pin the death of Sara Lance on somebody otherwise Starling City citizens will start to be slaughtered, but if Ra’s al Ghul finds out that the murderer was Thea Queen then Thea’s as good as dead, even though she was seemingly manipulated by Merlyn and has no memory of the event. So, as any good brother would, Oliver makes the foolhardy yet totally understandable decision to tell Ra’s that it was actually him who killed Sara. Yes, it makes no sense for a number of reasons, but Arrow has that covered. See, if this was certain other shows, Oliver would tell Ra’s, a truly wise man who has been around for centuries, that he killed his own on-off lover and then Ra’s would gleefully agree, making the villain of the piece look like a complete lunkhead. Instead, Arrow gives Ra’s a huge dose of instant credibility by having him know that Oliver is lying to him, but for that he will fight him all the same. Credibility and logic, people, it’s the way forward! Even though Ra’s has literally had about 2 minutes of screen time up until this episode, the way he is portrayed in The Climb gives him instant credence and weight as a truly powerful villain that The Arrow cannot stop. Matt Nable is fantastic in the way that he carries himself, coming across as both a worldly warrior and a man of near-infinite wisdom. And that’s key to Ra’s al Ghul; a character who has a twisted, skewed view on the world and its inhabitants, somebody who is absolutely clinical in his beliefs, and somebody who is of legendary status when it comes to combat. The Calm does a hell of a lot right, and how Ra’s is delivered is a thing of beauty.
And so, to get to the meat of this episode, the good stuff, the jaw-dropping stuff, we get to see Oliver Queen vs. Ra’s al Ghul… and it’s handled wonderfully. We often see Oliver Queen/The Arrow going up against seemingly unstoppable foes yet the Emerald Archer always comes out on top. Many presumed that this would be the case here, with a fight with Ra’s being built up to be tantamount to a death sentence. When Oliver reveals his ‘yeah, it was actually me that killed Sara, honest’ plan to Team Arrow, there’s a bleakness in the air, a sense of foreboding, of concern, that Oliver Queen truly is going up against an undefeatable opponent. Yet there’s also a deep sense of nobility to the whole situation, of Oliver essentially choosing to sacrifice himself in order to save sister Thea. But still, he’s bound to beat Ra’s, right? Ok, ok, ok, so he may not beat him, but at least he’ll get beaten down and return to fight another day, right? Right? Seriously?!?! Nope. In a fight, or let’s face it, an arse-kicking, that feels monumental and game-changing, Oliver Queen is dispatched with complete and total ease by The Demon’s Head. The beating is given even further gravitas by Ra’s and his sense of honour and nobility, with him commending Oliver on the pummelling he has put himself forward for. And then we have it, that moment. Run through with a blade and pushed off a snowy cliff, Oliver Queen is no more. Dead. Deader than Jo Brand’s sex life. Our hero, and Oliver Queen really is a hero by this point in the show, is seemingly a goner as we’re left with our mouths agape and with a hundred questions running through our minds, with the annoying mid-season break now in place for us to stew over things further.
Now whilst Oliver’s stint on death row awaiting execution was the clear focus and dominating arc of The Climb, there was also other notable moments on show. Maseo Yamashiro (Karl Rune) being shown as a present-day member of the League of Assassins certainly poses many a question as to how he got to this point and just what is to come in the Hong Kong flashbacks to send him down the path. One also has to believe that Maseo may yet have a hand to play in the resurrection of a certain Master Bowman. And on the Yamashiro front, we get to see a battle that could be described as Katana vs. China White during the flashback moments, with Tatsu (Rila Fukushima) under siege from the DC villain. Then we have Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh), who delivers a heart-breaking reveal as to why he is on course to become The Atom. Or should that be A.T.O.M.? In a tender moment, the often jovial and always charismatic Palmer reveals all to Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards). But then whilst Felicity shares some more sombre moments with Palmer in The Climb, it’s her final moments with Oliver that pull at the heartstrings the most. We also get to see John Barrowman’s Malcolm Merlyn at his slimy best, with Thea seemingly another who’s path is a little murky.
After a rollercoaster journey over the last few years, especially those moments of brutality and of The Arrow thinking nothing of killing criminals, it’s finally Oliver Queen’s humanity that is his problem now. The Brave and the Bold saw Barry Allen question some of Oliver’s methods, bringing the Emerald Archer to analyse some of his own ways. Here it’s his care for others, his love for his sister, that has him willingly embark on a no-win mission to essentially give up his life. With that climb, heavily reminiscent of Batman Begins, Oliver openly signed away his life in order to protect the things closest to him: his family and his city. To see Ra’s take the life of Oliver Queen with literally no hands, that was some very special television.
The Climb is right up there with the best of what Arrow has given us to date (arguably Broken Dolls and Unthinkable), giving the show a stunning send-off for its mid-season break. Do we really believe that Oliver Queen is dead? Yes. Do we believe that this is the last we’ve seen of him? Most certainly not. One word is all that is needed: Lazarus. Comic book fans will be fully aware what that word implies, although we’d expect to see a different take on things in Arrow. For fear of spoilers, maybe it’s better to let things play out rather than us speculate on what we think is around the corner. Regardless of how long Oliver Queen’s absence is for, it should make for compelling TV to see how the rest of Team Arrow, not to mention The Flash, react to the death of the centre-piece of Arrow.
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