Choppy. That is the word that first comes to mind when I think about “The Climb.” The best Arrow episodes have a certain internal rhythm to them, an infectious ebb and flow that makes the mere task of having to wait however long it takes you to fast-forward through the commercials on your DVR an excruciating experience. I never felt that way with “The Climb,” which just kept haphazardly cutting from scene to scene, with an obvious effort in the early portion to focus on pairs, such as Oliver and Thea, Felicity and Ray, Laurel and her mom, and Oliver and his buddy in the flashbacks. While that made for some nice individual scenes it never quite came together. There was never a consistent flow to the episode, for me, because it was clear that too much was going on, a common problem for the always overly ambitious Arrow. I’d probably only think this because The Flash just got its extra 4 minutes from the CW for its mid-season finale, but this seemed like an episode of Arrrow which was severely limited by its running time.
That all being said, some of what just happened was pretty silly, about as silly as Oliver being asked to remove his shirt prior to combat because that’s the custom in the League. As is my own personal custom, I’ve taken to doing these reviews as conversational Q&A’s with myself, my way of working through the part of me that is increasingly critical of Arrow versus the part that still wants to love it. There’s only once place I can start with this, and it’s not the question over whether or not Oliver Queen is dead. No, the thing that demands an immediate discussion is the big reveal to the “Who Killed Sara Lance?” murder mystery:
Thea? Really? Thea Queen Merlyn killed Sara “Canary” Lance? Little Thea! Are you f’n kidding me?
Yes, Thea. A lot of fans had already predicted it would be her, although no one could have guessed it would be via “mind controlled by Malcom with a fancy plant.” The show had already eliminated Komodo, Malcolm, Roy, and even Cupid as possibilities, at least as the person who actually shot the arrows. The only candidates left were Ra’s Al Ghul himself, perhaps because he disapproved of Sara being with his daughter, either Huntress or Slade Wilson if they were out of prison, a new, mystery character, or Thea. Who the heck else was left?
Somebody better than Thea, that’s who. Literally any of the other candidates would have been a better choice than Thea Queen.
Why is Thea such a bad choice? From the halfway point of the first season the producers have been adamant that one of their earliest sins was that they had failed to fully integrate Thea with the rest of the show’s universe, and everything they’ve done since has sought to make an amends for that. They put her in that court-appointed job with Laurel, gave her a love interest in the form of Roy, and advanced her career considerably by making her the manager/owner of Oliver’s night club where she could more organically run into other characters in the show. They then put her through the emotional ringer with the death of her mother and discovery of her true parentage and had Malcolm break her down emotionally to build her back up in his own image. Now, she has shed any claim she had to being the show’s ultimate innocent since she, like Roy, killed someone while under an outside influence that robbed her of free will. This now draws Thea further to the center of the show than she ever has been before and into direct conflict with Laurel and potentially everyone on Team Arrow. When a character on a show isn’t really working sometimes the best thing to do is to make them a villain. That’s what Arrow just did with Thea without making her a full-on villain since she clearly has no idea she killed Sara.
Fine. Whatever. But if Thea is going to be the murderer you’ve got to do way more with her this season than the show has. Oliver got her back from Colto Maltese, she moved into a ginormous loft apartment, was almost killed by Nyssa, and later hired a stupid DJ for Verdant. That is literally all they’ve done with her.
They tipped their hand a little that Thea was more of a fighter now, but they ultimately showed just enough to make her a suspect while holding back just enough to make us forget that she was even a character on the show. If we had seen her kicking ass and continually training with her dad wouldn’t it have been a bit too obvious (to us) that she fit the same exact profile as Roy when he briefly thought he killed Sara?
Yeah, about Thea’s fighting – What the hell was that fight scene she had with the Arrow? Were we supposed to laugh out loud when she jumped over that balcony ledge at the end?
Of course you weren’t supposed to laugh, but I wouldn’t blame you if you did. That was all fairly terrible. It doesn’t make much sense that Thea would so quickly defend herself against Arrow yet clearly offer up no defense against Nyssa earlier in the season, although Nyssa did get the drop on her in a way the Arrow did not. More importantly, though, for all of the work Willa Holland has done to build herself up physically that scene mostly looked like a lesser stunt person (in one overhead shot I suspected it wasn’t actually Willa Holland) throwing awkward kicks as Stephen Amell mostly stood still. Her sparkly pants sure didn’t help. The capper was clearly her jumping over the railing after warning the Arrow to leave her and her father alone. Where on Earth could she possibly be safely landing from that high up in those clothes?
Did we really need to know that Malcolm is so evil that he’d brainwash his own daughter to kill someone as a way of erasing his own debts?
Not really. Malcolm’s treachery is well-documented by this point. That being said, dude, Malcolm’s plan is kind of awesome. He already lost while fighting the Arrow meaning he probably holds him in high regard as a warrior. He’s been running from the League ever since Moira brought them up as a threat last season. That’s a nesting doll way of building villains, i.e., you can’t wait to see the guy that the other bad guys are afraid of. So, why not turn his enemy against his other enemy, rightly calculating that Thea would be the perfect leverage. It does beg questions, such as how exactly Malcolm knew Sara was back in Starling City when she stopped by to visit Oliver and Laurel in the season premiere. However, as far as evil plans go this is a pretty good one.
Is it actually satisfying that Sara died simply as collateral damage in Malcolm’s quest to erase his debt with the League of Assassins?
No. Sara deserved better, especially after everything she went through last season. It always seemed like if Sara was going to die Slade Wilson needed to be involved somehow because that’s someone for whom the matter would be truly personal.
Doesn’t all of this rob Thea of that important sense of agency they had supposedly given back to her with her decision to embrace Malcolm?
Yes, it does. Making Thea a more complicit player in this saga would have been far more interesting than where they went with, which is “brainwashed assassin.” Eh. The honest-to-goodness best way to actually integrate Thea with the rest of the show is for Oliver to finally tell her that he’s the Arrow, even though that would leave only Captain Lance on the list of characters who don’t know Oliver’s secret. They don’t want to do that, though, but it’s sabotaging their own drama. That goodbye scene between Oliver and Thea could have been heartbreaking, but instead it was odd and stilted because Thea is again left the perpetual outsider, unaware that her brother is going off to die for her. This is perhaps one area where their need to fill story for a full season caused them to hold back, with Thea’s discovery of what’s actually happened kicked further down the road.
Why didn’t they just call Barry for help? Not even shirtless Ra’s Al Ghull is a match for super speed.
Because shut up that’s why.
That’s not a good answer.
It’s not a good answer because there is no real good answer just as there’s no real solid explanation for why not a single Avenger outside of Black Widow showed up to help Captain America in The Winter Soldier, or why Captain America was totally okay with letting Iron Man go solo against a villain who had kidnapped the freakin’ President of the United States in Iron Man 3.
We know the real world explanation which is that The Flash can only show up on Arrow on special, ratings-boosting occasions. From a storytelling standpoint, Barry Allen is probably not really the guy you want when the challenge at hand is a fight to the death. That’s more Oliver Queen’s bag and moral burden to carry. Plus, from a practical point of view what other option could Barry Allen’s super speed have presented them? Sure, Oliver definitely wouldn’t have “died,” but all of their other problems with the League of Assassins would have likely remained.
Are you ever going to get to the big thing everyone’s talking about – They didn’t just really kill off Oliver Queen, did they?
Game of Thrones killed off its presumptive lead character in the penultimate episode of its first season. It could have killed the show. Instead, it was catapulted into the national conversation where it has remained ever since. As a result, American TV has turned into a bloody blood bath, with characters you’d previously consider untouchable perishing left and right.
Oliver Queen is not one of those characters. You don’t kill off Arrow on Arrow just as The Flash wouldn’t kill off The Flash. The best you can do, though, is to introduce doubt. Common sense tells you that there’s no way Oliver survives that chest wound, the ensuing fall from the mountain, or the hypothermia awaiting him as a half-naked man lying on the side of a snowy mountain. However, from the looks of him there’s also no reason that Ra’s Al Ghul should be old enough to have last been challenged in a trial by combat 67 years ago, and there’s no logical reason that Malcolm Merlyn should still be alive. Technically, Slade Wilson should be dead, too. Based on past precedent, there are two ways they will resolve this. The first is they will go full-on comic book and introduce the Lazarus Pits, which contains within it life-giving liquids which prolong Ra’s life for hundreds of years. Maybe they won’t go that far but instead stick to something similarly comic book-y, ala the super soldier serum that revived Slade. The second is simply that someone, most likely his former friend from Hong Kong or Nyssa, will retrieve Oliver from the mountainside and nurse him back to health, ala the way Sylar on Heroes survived a freakin’ broad sword through the gut. They could even do something crazier and have Ra’s Al Ghul actually be the one to somehow revive Oliver, impressed enough by his skills to want him as a potential heir ala Ra’s comic book relationship with Batman.
Was that fight scene kind of a letdown?
It’s probably hard to think that what with the way it ended, but by Arrow’s high fight scene standards it could have been better. It was mostly Stephen Amell swinging swords wildly, leaving himself open to easy counterpunches and kicks. You’d expect Oliver to be better than that, but I guess swords aren’t really his thing. Frankly, when Ra’s complemented Oliver for lasting that long I laughed because it seemed as if Ra’s was mostly just humoring him and letting him survive. More importantly, though, it didn’t at all link up with the buildup which was whether or not Oliver would be able to bring himself to murder Ra’s. They put a ginormous exclamation point behind that idea during his conversation with Felicity, and if there was a point in the fight where we were supposed to believe Oliver hesitated to deliver the kill shot I didn’t see it. Instead, he got beat after briefly dropping Ra’s to his knees.
Moreover, it feels like the first time we meet Ra’s al Guhl should not have been in the episode in which he killed Oliver. This was a Slade Wilson vs. Oliver Queen-level main event, but it ended up feeling like the undercard with too little build-up. Then again, the lack of build-up, by which I mean something stretched across multiple episodes, maybe made it doubly surprising that Oliver lost.
Don’t you have anything to say about Felicity?
Eh. She got a sob story and cry for help from stalker Ray Palmer, and a kiss on the head and a genuine “I love you” from Oliver. Otherwise, she was tech girl on the computer, and “voice of reason” in Team Arrow arguments, her usual roles. I’m actually impressed that they didn’t make her goodbye scene with Oliver more dramatic than they did.
Are we seriously looking at an extended stretch of Arrow that will really be focused on Black Canary and A.T.O.M.?
Sigh. Yes, we are. This might be a good time to take a couple episodes away from Arrow coming back whenever Oliver is inevitably returned from the “dead.” There’s going to be a lot of face time with Laurel, building up to her eventual reckoning with either Thea or Malcolm or both. It doesn’t sound all that fascinating, even after Laurel’s mom, a better detective than her ex-husband, approved of her quest for vengeance. As for Ray, I am a little lost on exactly how he means to use his super shrinking suit to protect the people in the city. The dude apparently lost the love of his life to a mirakuru thug last season. Now, he wants to be strong. Broad strokes, I get it. The actual specifics of how his suit will help I’m a little less then enthused about.
I am more interested to see what becomes of Team Arrow while Oliver is gone. Do they disband, take up Oliver’s cause going forward as a trio, throw in with Black Canary, or something totally different?
Are the flashbacks finally interesting?
The flashbacks finally got good once we learned more about Katana, but there was a lot to get through before that. The trick of revealing that Oliver’s Hong Kong handler from the past now works with the League in the present is pretty much the same thing they did last year with Slade, but there it worked better because we’d had so long with Slade in the flashbacks prior to that. Here, it feels more like a Hail Mary to save the least effective aspect of the season. It does throw us comic book nerds for a loop, though, because in the classic origin story it is Katana’s husband and son who die. Now, clearly the husband didn’t die, and it certainly seems like either Katana or the son or both are doomed to die in those flashbacks. That all being said, the actor playing Katana’s husband has been doing a fine job with the role, and I enjoyed how neither he nor anyone else in the League truly believed that Oliver killed Sara.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There are some workable ideas in “The Climb,” but because there were so many of them going on at the same time I don’t know that it ever really gelled together. Prior to this, they had devoted nearly half season to the mystery surrounding Sara’s murder, but one of the downsides is that the payoff better be worth it. I don’t think that it was since while I can see arguments for why Thea is a perfect choice my initial instinct is still, “Thea killed Sara? That’s just stupid.” Or at least it’s definitely stupid that she did and doesn’t remember because she was under mind control, borrowing a page from how Marvel used Sharon Carter to kill off Captain America not too long ago.
1. That bit with Diggle arguing about Oliver’s blind spot with his family – Remember when Diggle used to say that type of thing to Oliver about Laurel?
2. Where exactly was that mountain located?
3. I kind of loved that Oliver expected Ra’s Al Ghul would show up in Starling City just to see him and then turn out to be totally right about that, annoying Nyssa in the process.
4. Roy didn’t seem nearly as conflicted about Thea’s apparent guilt in the murder than you would expect.
5. Just like to put in a good word for John Diggle. Sometimes the show remembers he’s a character on this show, other times it forgets. I predict that Oliver will be back in time to be best man at his wedding.
6. It will be interesting to see how everyone reacts when they learn that Oliver is “dead.” I bet you that John Diggle and Roy won’t cry on the outside, but they’ll definitely cry on on the inside.
7. UPDATE: It just occurred to me – I wonder if The Flash will acknowledge Oliver Queen’s apparent demise.
ScreenCrush.com – “From a geek standpoint, one can’t deny the thrill of seeing Oliver face off with Ra’s al Ghul in an impressively epic duel, though the underdevelopment of Ra’s and the head-scratching cliffhanger don’t quite land as well as they should. I’m eager to see where ‘Arrow’ season 3 goes next, with Starling left unguarded, Sara’s murder solved, and Oliver mortally wounded, though the unfocused buildup of prior episodes somewhat hampered an otherwise effective and emotional outing.
TV.com – “Then again, perhaps Oliver’s flashing to those he loved as he knelt on that mountaintop, with the sun rising behind him, was exactly the type of closure he needed: the notion that he had, in fact, done everything he could to honor their memories and keep them safe, and at the cost of his own life. It’s a form of closure and also a type release from those burdens, the expectations, and that trauma. Really, deep down, it is all Oliver has ever wanted.”
I’m done with my ramble. What about you?