Arrow TV Reviews

TV Review: Arrow, “Unthinkable” (S2/EP23) – What a Twist

To read our other Arrow episode reviews please go here.

This is part 3 of what has unofficially been a 3-part finale, Arrow‘s producers clearly challenging themselves to outdo last season’s monumental finale.  What they gave us in part 3 was almost non-stop action, and the type of episode remarkably fun to watch just as long as you don’t think too much about it:

  • Airdate: 5/14/2014
  • Director: John Behring  (Vampire Diaries, Numbers, most recently directed Arrow‘s “Birds of Prey” episode)
  • Writers: Arrow‘s EPs Greg Berlant, Marc Guggenheim & Andrew Kreisberg

THE RECAP –

Team Arrow –

Unthinkable
As far as entrances go, this one did not suck

Roy’s not so super punch of one of Slade’s goons attacking them in the clock tower proves the mirakuru cure works.  Luckily, Diggle’s ex-wife/gal pal Lyla uses a helicoptor and bazooka (a bazooka!) to bail them out.   Lyla and Diggle head off to do something about Waller’s incoming drone strike, Roy departs to check on Thea, and Sara leads Nyssa and the League of Assassins to Oliver’s super secret Verdant lair to offer help in taking down Slade.  

Team Diggle – 

With an assist from Deadshot, whom they free from his Suicide Squad cell, Lyla and Diggle get into a stand-off with Waller, who is mighty impressed Lyla would commit such treason considering while pregnant with Diggle’s child.  Not exactly the way Diggle wanted to learn about that.

Team Merlyn –

Malcolm’s not even mad Thea shot him; he’s impressed. That she shot him is proof that she’s a Merlyn, dangit, but he had Kevlar padding on so he’s totally fine.  Horrified, Thea runs away to Roy only to have him mostly lie to her face about everything, his deception revealed when she uncovers his Red Arrow gear while packing their things to run away together.  Deciding she can’t trust Roy, we close with Thea driving away in a limo with Malcolm to destinations unknown.  Thea Queen is dead.  Long live Thea Merlyn, who will never be weak again.

Team Arrow…Again

Oliver, Sara and the League attack Slade at Queen Consolidated, but he escapes via zipline.  The bastard leaves poor, crazy Isabel behind, Nyssa gladly snapping her neck, instantly warning Oliver that his refusal to do what was necessary is why his city burns.   Does this mean Oliver must kill Slade?  Not necessarily.  Felicity’s suggests they try and outsmart him.  So, knowing that Slade has taken Laurel hostage, believing her to be the one Oliver loved the most, Oliver stashes Felicity at Queen Manor to say safe because she is actually the one he truly loves.  However, it’s a performance meant to be seen by Slade on his not-so-secret cameras in the house, tricking him into capturing Felicity.  

While Felicity’s abduction occurs off-screen, we see Oliver, Roy, Sara, and the League decimate Slade’s last remaining goons in a tunnel, mixing together good old fashioned butt kicking with well-placed arrows instantly delivering the cure to their formerly super-powered foes.  

Unthinkable

Once Oliver is called by Slade to come and see Felicity die he distracts ole eye patch McGree long enough for Felicity to stick him with the mirakuru cure and Sara to sneak in and save Laurel from the goon holding her.  The gals make a run for it, leaving Oliver and Slade to duke it out, their fight seamlessly switching back and forth between the present and their final fight in the past on the Amazo.  Back then, Slade was trapped under rubble on the boat immediately after having sent Sara to an apparent watery grave, and Oliver chose to stick an arrow through his eye rather than give him the cure.  Now, Oliver uses trick arrows to wrap a cured though still crazy Slade to a post, refusing to take the easy kill shot afterward.  

Unthinkable
With Slade neutralized, Waller calls off the drone strike.

Wrap-Up –

Sara leaves Starling City, rejoining the League of Assassins as payment for their assistance to Oliver but also because she genuinely wants to return back to the life she had with them.  Laurel and Quentin seem surprisingly fine with her leaving to be an assassin again, bidding a temporary farewell.  As a parting gift, Sara gives Laurel her the black leather coat off her back as well as a whispered permission to be there for Oliver.  Literally like one minute later, Quentin spits up blood and falls to the ground, having unknowingly been suffering from internal bleeding from his earlier fight trying to protect Laurel before she was taken.  We end unsure if he has died or not.  

Oliver stashes Slade in an ARGUS underground prison cell back on the island, and has an open-ended conversation with Felicity about just how well they each sold their part in the “I love you” charade.  We end with Oliver flashing back to reveal that after “killing” Slade on the island he awoke in a bed in Hong Kong, ushered away to work for Amanda Waller.

THE REVIEW

Back in July, Arrow Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim told ComicBookResources that season 2 would be about Oliver’s transition from vigilante to hero:

“This has always been about the first two years of Batman Begins. Right before the show premiered, we had a meeting with the head of the studio and we basically said, it’s about going from being the Hood to the Arrow to Green Arrow. We knew all along that it would take us two years to do that.”

We didn’t know at the time just how much he meant that because “Unthinkable” is clearly their attempt to conclude not just season 2 but the first two seasons altogether.  They gave us the heads up on that when the “Previously On Arrow” segment didn’t just summarize recent episodes but the entire Slade Wilson story arc going back to last season.  However, maybe they got a little too blunt with it by making sure we got the point and having Oliver outright declare in his final conversation with Slade that he had become a hero.  No stone cold killing anymore, even sparing Slade, i.e., the bastard that killed his momma.  Oliver once let a mad man with a bomb destroy half of his city, but this time he saved all of it, albeit with an implied high level of civilian casualties due to Slade’s marauding goons.  Plus, while things don’t look good for Quentin by episode’s end there was no definitive Tommy-like fatality among the regular cast meaning Oliver not only stopped the bad guy without killing but saved all his loved ones, albeit after deciding to let Slade do whatever the heck he wanted to with Laurel.  

Unthinkable
Did this show seriously just kill off Detective Lance? Come on – he just finally became Detective again.

That’s all fine and good, but other than adding “To honor my friend’s memory I must be someone else; I must be something else” to the opening voice-over of every episode it’s not exactly like Oliver’s quest to transition from hood to hero has been a consistent through-line of season 2.  Sure, early on he killed Count Vertigo to save Felicity even though Felicity pleaded with him not to violate his moral code for her, and with “Unthinkable” having Felicity again taken hostage the two managed to neutralize the enemy without killing this time.  Plus, Oliver’s arguments with Canary were usually over the do’s and do-nots of killing for vigilante justice.  However, there are multiple other occasions throughout the season, such as the entire finale of the Russia episode, where Oliver was flat out killing people or allowing deaths around him with no reference to any kind of qualms about the carnage.  So, in the context of this individual episode and in comparison to last season’s finale Oliver’s ascension to hero status works remarkably well, but it feels more like something they kind of forgot about on occasion this season.  

It’s perhaps a minor qualm for an episode which was likely Arrow‘s most ambitious and technically challenging yet.  There were people descending tall buildings via zipline, bazooka launchers, a sinking boat whose interior chambers were flooding with water, a massive brawl on a bridge/in a tunnel involving almost every major cast member (Roy’s archery skills seemed a tad sudden) plus a guest star and many extras, and shots of a military drone about to level of a major metropolitan city.  Some of their effects shots were a bit wobbly, like the bazooka, and some of their staging of the Amazo fight could have likely benefited from more time on set, as Slade being trapped under scaffolding seemed sudden and Sara clearly got a bit lost in the shuffle there, indicated by some super obvious ADR work from Caity Lotz (e.g.,”Come on, Ollie!”).  However, you’ve got to admire what they were trying to accomplish and just how often they pulled it off, e.g., managing to make that brawl on the bridge actually easy to follow.

While all of this effort was appreciated and mostly paid off in unfailingly engaging, if at times over-insistent, action, the action doesn’t ultimately mean anything if the dramatic stakes aren’t there.  On that count, there was an element of “Unthinkable” which felt oddly anti-climactic, likely because it simply tried so hard but ultimately could not live up to last season’s finale.  In that scenario, the doomsday device of the bomb so perfectly placed almost every major character in mortal peril, giving us opportunity for a heartbreaking call from Quentin to Laurel when it looked like he wasn’t going to make it.  Here, however, the doomsday device was again a bomb, but, crucially, not one we could see a practical prop of and whose immediate geographic impact was unclear.  Sure, it was going to level the city and thus all of our favorite characters in it, but it’s not like we have real sense of Starling City as a town full of citizens worth caring about.  Moreover, it never truly seemed to be in doubt that all the heroes fighting the bad guys during the big brawl would win.  As such, we were mostly made to worry about whether or not Slade would slice Felicity’s throat, with whatever threat to Laurel left mostly undepicted.

Unthinkable

Ah, yes, Felicity.  I’ll admit to having been fooled by Oliver’s ruse, and my assumption is that Felicity did not know what Oliver was up to until he placed the syringe in her hand because if they were in on it together why wouldn’t she have simply had that syringe hidden on her before they entered the house.  Before their big reveal that it was all for show, my gut reaction to Oliver’s declaration of love for Felicity was similar to how I felt after Oliver rushed back into bed with Sara earlier this season: “Not like this.”  At this point, Oliver telling Felicity he loved her felt wrong, and not necessarily in the “I only see those two as being friends” kind of way.  It’s more in the “A couple of weeks ago that guy was asking another girl to move in with him” kind of way.  Plus, Felicity’s reaction was a lot closer to the “Well, this is awkward,” end of the spectrum than, “I love you, too, you big lug!”, which we now know is because he was placing the cure in her hand thus setting her up for capture.  While a clever way of defeating Slade, this was almost like a practice run for the writers to put those words into Oliver’s mouth and let Felicity hear them and see how we’d react.  By the end of the episode, we’re left with a lovely scene where Felicity does what she does, rambling on nervously, while Oliver does what he does, saying very little while (enjoying?) watching Felicity be Felicity.  One thing’s clear: if these two ever do kiss it won’t be wasted on a charade meant to fool a bad guy.  As for the will they/won’t they of it all, though, well, that’s a matter for another season, which has potentially established a new love triangle of Oliver, Felicity, and Laurel.

Speaking of which, it’s a good thing Laurel received some fine moments in the prior two episodes because she’s not really much of a presence in the actual finale, although I actually enjoyed the element of Oliver refusing to play Slade’s game and rushing to try and save Laurel once she’d been captured.  However, they did throw us a bone by again teasing us with Laurel’s possible future as Black Canary-she’s got the black leather coat now.

black-canary-cast-in-arrow-tv-show_1128

THE BOTTOM LINE

“Unthinkable” is an episode I enjoyed with minimal to no reservation upon first viewing, but upon second thought have started to question some of the plot twists, e.g., does it completely follow that Oliver knew about the surveillance in Queen Manor, how did Felicity manage to get caught without her stash of the mirakuru cure being discovered?  In that way, it seems a perfectly fitting end to the second season, which grew more comic book-y and clunky yet remained dramatically compelling with its continued efforts to always try and do just a little more than it could really handle.  The season began with Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle on that island, and it ended that way, too.  Some of its extra parts are gone (bye Isabel Rochev), spun-off to a new nasty territory (hello Thea Merlyn), or held off screen for an inevitable return down the road (Sara, Slade).  Someone may even be dead (poor Quentin).  However, it’s the Original Trio versus the world, as it should be.  Next step: get Oliver a job.  I hear Queen Consolidated needs a new CEO.  It’s old one was apparently killed by an international league of assassins who broke into the main office.  Strange, huh.  

THE NOTES

1. About the switch to Hong Kong at the end…A change of locale is, well, different, and they did try very hard this season to make the flashbacks feel more relevant and immediate.  However, the more history we accrue with these characters the less we really need to see their backstories filled in, at least not on a flashback-in-every-single-episode basis.  

2. First Moira.  Now Quentin (maybe).  New rule: Sara simply isn’t allowed to leave town anymore.  Every time she does a major family member dies.  Like right away.  Within less than an hour of her departure.  Or literally less than a minute after she says goodbye.   

3. Is it bad that I never truly believed this show would kill off Slade Wilson because he’s Deathstroke and Deathstroke is such a popular character in the comics?    

4. Kudos to Arrow’s lighting department for its work during the final island scene with Oliver and Felicity.  Due to the way the light hit her face, that might be the cutest Felicity has ever looked.  

5. If Lyla could so easily take out a fraction of Slade’s army of goons with a well-placed bazooka shot then why wasn’t Amanda Waller trying that before resorting to bombing the entire city?  

Arrow Harley Quinn

6. I can’t be the only one who really wanted Harley Quinn to pop out of one of those Suicide Squad cells when Diggle and Lyla freed Deadshot and other Squad members.

7. Well, Lyla blew up the clock tower.  So much for that potential landing spot for the Birds of Prey.  Thanks a lot, Lyla.

Unthinkable
Goodbye, Summer Glau. I hope you were paid extra for any day you had to wear that deeply stupid Ravager costume.

Well, I’ve said enough.  What did you think of this episode?  Let us know in the comments section.

9 comments

  1. I agree with everything you said/wrote. I am only not happy about Sara leaving. Is she a killer again? And Lance and Laurel were so casual and almost cheerful about it…

    1. That did seem strange, didn’t it? Bye-bye, Sara. So glad you’re leaving Oliver and us to go back to being a cold-blooded assassin. Remember, though – drop a line whenever you can, and “Dad, I’m busy killing someone right now” is no excuse. Okay. Love ya’, you little killer you. No, seriously, you are leaving to go straight up murder people as part of an international terrorist organization. I’m fine with that, but at least Nyssa seems like a stand-up gal.

  2. I hope they re-build the clock tower. They’ve got a full season of The Flash to do, but I’d really go for a half-season of Birds of Prey, maybe in the summer when the other shows are on hiatus. With Nyssa, who has no time for waffling or speechifying whether it’s from Oliver or a villain, but knows the worth of Felicity in the best introduction yet..

    I wanted Harley Quinn too. And I was very impressed with the whole final Oliver/Slade fight scene especially the cutting back and forth to the flashbacks.

    I like the title because for many of the characters what they had thought was unthinkable actually happened (beyond the usual Arrow adventures): Sara re-joined the League of Assassins, Thea left town not with Roy but with Malcolm Merlyn, Diggle is about to become a father. Oliver had to risk the life of the woman he loved to take down Slade (Marc Guggenheim’s tweet). Felicity’s ‘unthinkable’ was that Oliver could love her so maybe that’s true too.

    This is what I think happened at Queen mansion: Oliver took Felicity there to keep her safe and started to walk away. She wouldn’t let him and told him that she wanted to be ‘unsafe’ with them. At that point, knowing Slade had bugged the house and that shooting arrows didn’t pierce Slade’s armor, he did the unthinkable and set up Felicity to be kidnapped, hoping she would understand, in what seems like a Hail Mary pass.

    I love how the show has been positioned for next season. Oliver is broke (not logical but then neither is mirakuru) and will have to figure out how to get his family’s company back, although not the mansion because it’s too big for one person to rattle around in, Team Arrow is back and going home, Diggle has a baby and the ARGUS/HIVE stories to try to balance his life around, Roy is joining the Team, the audience knows where Oliver and Felicity are at (I hope they’re not faking me out again) even if they don’t, and Thea is off with Malcolm to train her dark side. Not to mention all those empty cells in the ARGUS super-secure prison (because really, why would anyone want to put a bad guy in Starling City’s prison at this point?

    The only off-note for me was the way Sara left. Last episode she was so upset at how her life was turning out that Laurel had to buck her up; now she’s smiling and passing the leather jacket on to Laurel and saying ‘it fits’, when it doesn’t yet. But having had Oliver spend all his time with Felicity and Sara, i can see why they did it. However, I hope they make Laurel Manhunter or another character because it would be very hard to follow Caity Lotz’s Canary.

    I hope Quentin is still alive because if not, that would make the second finale someone dies trying to save Laurel and as a tradition, it’s not a good one.

    1. “I’d really go for a half-season of Birds of Prey, maybe in the summer when the other shows are on hiatus. With Nyssa, who has no time for waffling or speechifying whether it’s from Oliver or a villain, but knows the worth of Felicity in the best introduction yet.”

      I’d watch that, maybe as a bridge show in-between the first and second halves of Arrow’s third season ala Agent Carter on ABC. I agree about Nyssa. There’s a refreshing bluntness to her speech patterns which in another context would made her a great sitcom character.

      “I wanted Harley Quinn too.”

      There are several things there. First of all, that scene cuts like the second before we get to see Lyla unlocking the door to the cell which housed Harley Quinn in the Suicide Squad episode. Secondly, the actress who did Harley’s voice, Tara Strong, actually kind of looks like her, albeit probably a bit older than she’s normally been depicted: http://www.themarysue.com/things-we-saw-today-508/

      “This is what I think happened at Queen mansion: Oliver took Felicity there to keep her safe and started to walk away. She wouldn’t let him and told him that she wanted to be ‘unsafe’ with them. At that point, knowing Slade had bugged the house and that shooting arrows didn’t pierce Slade’s armor, he did the unthinkable and set up Felicity to be kidnapped, hoping she would understand”

      I’m seeing now that a lot of people are arguing about just exactly when Oliver decided to set Felicity up like that, and a lot of those arguments contain interpretation similar to your one. Personally, my take was that clearly Felicity had no idea what he was up to otherwise why wouldn’t they just have hidden the syringe in her jacket or something before they entered the house. However, honestly, I think Oliver must have know what he was doing from the get-go, and that it was all part of his performance. Otherwise, if he knew that Slade had tapped Queen Manor why on Earth would he think it safe to ever stash Felicity there. I don’t think there was a “she’ll be safe” then “dangit, she won’t stay here. Fine, I’ll use her as bait” element to it. The progression we get is Felicity advising Oliver to try and have Slade kind of outthink himself, which Oliver reacts to in a “That gives me an idea” of way. The next thing we see he’s taking Felicity into Queen Manor. To me that indicates his actions there were always premeditated.

      But I think this is exactly what the producers wanted – fans examining the material to try to suss out at which point Oliver was putting on a performance and when what he said was genuine or if there is really a marked difference between the two. I didn’t know how, exactly, but I thought their finale would be used to keep the shippers talking, and I think it has. I’m not saying that’s bad or anything; that’s just so how the producers of this show like to play it.

      “Oliver is broke (not logical but then neither is mirakuru) and will have to figure out how to get his family’s company back, although not the mansion because it’s too big for one person to rattle around in, Team Arrow is back and going home, Diggle has a baby and the ARGUS/HIVE stories to try to balance his life around, Roy is joining the Team, the audience knows where Oliver and Felicity are at (I hope they’re not faking me out again) even if they don’t, and Thea is off with Malcolm to train her dark side”

      Perfectly summarized on you part – they have really set themselves up nicely for next season, not to mention all the flashbacks now transferring to mainland instead of that island.

      “The only off-note for me was the way Sara left. Last episode she was so upset at how her life was turning out that Laurel had to buck her up; now she’s smiling and passing the leather jacket on to Laurel and saying ‘it fits’, when it doesn’t yet. But having had Oliver spend all his time with Felicity and Sara, i can see why they did it. However, I hope they make Laurel Manhunter or another character because it would be very hard to follow Caity Lotz’s Canary.”

      There was so much to digest with that finale that I didn’t really discuss the Sara part much, but there is an element of it where it kind of feels like Sara’s entire story arc this season was to basically not change at all. Sure, she appears to have made a deal with the League, but would probably be going back to them anyway because she wants to. So, they made such a point to emphasize her as “hero” in the penultimate episode, and then she’s off to be an assassin again the next episode? Maybe she and Nyssa are up to something and trying to make the League better. I don’t know. Based on the information we have at the moment, it doesn’t really work that well.

      Plus, Quentin dang well better not die. His keeling over like that was so something you just do because it’s the season finale, and you had decided not to kill anyone but not have a level of expectation to do so after Tommy last season.

      1. That seems strange about the Birds of Prey comic book because it’s still on the DC comics website for 9/10. . Maybe they are ending Birds of Prey as a distinct line and folding it into the Future’s End series. I’m still hoping it’s a gateway for Sara to come back on the show.

        If Oliver deliberately took Felicity to Queen Manor to put her into danger and get kidnapped by Slade without telling her what he was doing and getting her consent to do it, that is douchiness that is unforgivable. Run, Felicity, run, he’s no hero, And take Diggle with you.

        I think instead he had the plan in mind but was reluctant to do it because he knew how dangerous it was. He took Felicity to the Manor because even with it bugged, it was a place he knew was safe from the mirakuru soldiers since the foundry had been compromised and the clock tower blown up. Besides, Slade had the woman he thought Oliver loved so there was no need to go after Felicity. He told her to stay there and he would come for her when it was all over, and turned and walked away. Felicity stopped him and told him she wanted to be unsafe with him and the others, and that is when he said ‘I love you’ and gave her the syringe. Why would he walk away otherwise? He couldn’t have known she would stop him

        That’s my story and I’m sticking to it because otherwise Oliver would be irredeemable as a hero. But you’re right, it triggered a lot of discussion, which is what the producers and the audience want over the summer when there are no new episodes. The summer after House’s season 2 finale was great because there was so much to argue about the interpretation..

        I wonder if they’re still working out what to do with Laurel since Caity Lotz was such a hard act to follow as the Canary..

      2. “If Oliver deliberately took Felicity to Queen Manor to put her into danger and get kidnapped by Slade without telling her what he was doing and getting her consent to do it, that is douchiness that is unforgivable. Run, Felicity, run, he’s no hero, And take Diggle with you.”

        Yeah, if I’m right that really does paint Oliver in a negative light, although I remember that the AV Club reviewer argued how huge it was that Oliver would have reached the point to not only trust Felicity like that but also be able to do so without having to really tell her. It’s one of those, “That’s sweet,” things until you think about it even a second longer and wonder, “Hey, wait a minute….”

        So, I will not in any way try to dissuade you from the story you’re sticking to because it is a far more pleasant thought than mine.

        “I wonder if they’re still working out what to do with Laurel”

        Cynical response: I think they’ve been struggling with that ever since the first season finale. In a very practical sense, Caity Lotz was such a physical presence that it’s hard to imagine Cassidy doing the same stunts nearly as well, and I say that as someone who saw her mix it up with the Winchesters on Supernatural.

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