This is the first and probably only ever time I’ll make this comparison, but Arrow just pulled a Melrose Place.
Oh, I know there are probably plenty of other shows which have trotted out the ole “let’s blow everyone up in the finale, and cliffhang it so you won’t know who survives” trick. Looking at you, Dynasty. However, as sad as it might be my reference point for this is Melrose Place, the soapiest of soapy 90s primetime dramas which arguably peaked when Kimberly entered the packed apartment complex courtyard in the season 3 finale and set off a series of bombs, directly threatening the lives of every major and minor character on the show. To be honest, I don’t even remember who was revealed in the season 4 premiere to have died in the blast; I just remember the utter shock and WTF of it all and the long wait over the summer to find out what happened.
Well, here we are again. Adrian Chase just stepped into Kimberly Shaw’s shoes and blew up the entire damn island of Lian Yu, leaving everyone’s life hanging in the balance, other than Oliver and William’s, of course, since they watched it all from the safety of a boat off-shore. Now we have to wait until October to find out what Arrow season 6’s cast list is going to look like, although common sense dictates the show won’t suddenly turn into a Mister Mayor domestic drama about Oliver as a single father raising William with zero support from friends and family since they all died in the explosion. No, everyone is probably going to be fine. In fact, we already know for a fact that the actors who play Rene and Dinah as well as Katie Cassidy have signed contracts to be series regulars next season, and there’s no way they’d kill off Felicity or Diggle or Thea. Jury’s out on Quentin, Curtis, Nyssa, Talia, Evelyn, hell, even Boomerang and Malcolm. But it’s the not knowing for sure that will gnaw at you if you let it.
But here I am devoting so much of my time to what was really just one minute of “Lian Yu,” the season 5 finale which most closely mirrored the season 2 finale in its sheer amount of non-stop action between costumed combatants and the way its present day and flashback fight scenes synched up perfectly to juxtapose a choice Oliver made in the past versus the choice forced on him in the present. And just like the season 2 finale that choice came down to Oliver killing someone in the past (Slade/Dolph Lundgren) as the path of least resistance to solving his problems and taking the moral high ground in the present (curing Slade/refusing to kill Chase) to better satisfy his hero’s code.
It’s impressive that amidst all of the action “Lian Yu” found the time to work in multiple character moments, such as Thea and Felicity – future sisters-in-law, potentially – bonding over their complicated relationships with their dangerous, yet loving fathers and Slade and Oliver reaching an uneasy truce and finding common ground. This was partially accomplished by Oliver showing he’d truly learned nothing from Malcolm’s speeches last week and immediately sending his loved ones away the moment he freed them, which effectively set Felicity, Thea, Curtis, Malcolm and Samantha off on their own walkabout in the woods while everyone else got to do the kung fu fighting.
I’m sure from a writing standpoint this felt like the necessary compromise to both create the opportunity for some heart-to-hearts as well as letting the more science-y half of Team Arrow discover the full length of Adrian’s plan, i.e., that he strapped enough explosives on the island to blow it to kingdom come. It’s arguable that the stakes didn’t actually need to be elevated like that. There’s already enough going on in “Lian Yu” as it is. The island didn’t really have to be one big bomb, yet it was also perfectly in keeping with the sometimes-annoying-but-often-effective pattern of Adrian always thinking two steps ahead of Team Arrow. Of course this would all lead up to yet another one of his Joker-in-The–Dark-Knight lose-lose situations, and even in death by his own hand or by Oliver’s Adrian would still have won. That crazy, sociopathic genius.
It’s a shame then that all of this in “Lian Yu” revolved around William, a character we have no real relationship with and whose jeopardization might seem like a cheap narrative ploy. Still, when Adrian claimed to have already killed William even though you suspected he was lying it was a real gut punch of, “But he’s just a kid, you evil bastard.” And Stephen Amell certainly sold the emotions of Oliver’s paternal devotion. In fact, Amell was in career-best form the entire episode.
The most annoying part of the episode was simply that it was too short, that it crammed in so many fan-pleasing moments – Canary vs. Siren, Nyssa vs. Talia, Team Arrow having their Avengers moment vs. Team Chase – and none of them quite went on as long as you’d want. Kudos to the actors, stunt doubles and fight choreographers, even if the various wide shots sometimes struggled to hide how obvious it was that we were suddenly watching stunt doubles in wigs.
Then it turned out that some of those fight scenes were as short as they were because the episode needed to save the time to show us a scene we never knew we always needed to see – Oliver’s first phone call home to his mom after being rescued from Lian Yu five years ago. Turns out, Moira was the surprise cameo Stephen Amell had been teasing beforehand, and the heartbreaking reunion induced many an ugly cry meme on Twitter. Admirably, the episode worked hard to connect Moira’s love for Oliver to Oliver’s newfound love for his own son meaning her cameo served a larger purpose.
And then Oliver refused to kill Chase and watched the entire island blow up real nice. No real closure. He loses; Adrian wins, even in death. Olicity will have to wait to see if Emily Rickards renewed her contract. As we cynically assume the cliffhanger will amount to no one of importance actually dying we’re forgetting a larger implication of the finale: William might be an actual character on this show next season. He knows Oliver is his dad now, and Arrow might be gearing up to head into a new era with Oliver as an actual father. That…well, that frankly sounds like a terrible idea because the history of genre shows doing this mid-stream is not encouraging *cough* Connor on Angel *cough*. However, it would mean William might turn into a character and not a prop. So…no. Still don’t like it.
Let’s put a pin in that for now, and simply step back to appreciate not just the gonzo fun of “Lian Yu” but also Arrow’s complete season 5 turnaround. This still is not the show it once was, and Adrian’s frequent callbacks to season 1 often served to unintentionally illustrate how much brighter and goofier things are now in season 5. However, season 5 returned Arrow to its core identity as the grounded, street-level branch of the Arrowverse, setting our heroes up against a season-long murder mystery which led to some genuinely surprising twists and repetitive, but effective explorations of Oliver’s ongoing moral dilemmas.
Sure, there was also that well-intentioned, but toothless gun control episode, and for a season so intent on bringing everything full circle it was surprising how often the writers seemed to forget the show’s own history. But I’d take all of that over the embarrassment of season 4. Much as Oliver is fond of saying, Arrow had become something else, something unrecognizable and almost unwatchable. Season 5, thankfully, was Arrow getting back to being Arrow, as much as it could at least. And if they wanted to go out with a Melrose Place bang, well, they’ve earned it.
My theory: Malcolm tricked Boomerang into switching places on the land mine, raced to commandeer the ARGUS boat and sailed in just in time to rescue almost everyone. So, sorry Evelyn.
Backup theory: Samantha saves them all. I don’t know, but that scene of her telling Felicity she wouldn’t leave without her son had to be there for a reason. As it is, it had no payoff.
Second backup theory: Slade rushed everyone to his Argus prison, which was really a war bunker where they could all survive the blast but now need help escaping from the rubble.
1. Season 5 Loose End: So, I guess the real Vigilante died after Prometheus pushed him off that roof at mid-season? Because he sure as shit never came back.
2. Season 5 Loose End: Oliver didn’t think to call Rory? Would have been nice to add a meta (or someone with meta-like abilities) to his makeshift Suicide Squad on Lian Yu.
3. “You’re not her type.” – Malcolm was on fire this episode with the one-liners, and then he was literally on fire what with blowing up and everything. Stupid land mine.
4. “If the two of you are done relaxing I found the trail” – Nyssa’s put-downs are always the best.
5. “You blame yourself for your father’s death” – A bit rich coming from the man who killed Oliver’s mother.
6. Two episodes in a row in which former big bads – first Malcolm, now Slade – psychoanalyzed Oliver to his face and offered him sage life advice. If even his greatest villains are pointing out his pattern of poor decisions maybe he should change his ways.
7.Am I the only one who thought Oliver’s opening voice-over about Lian Yu meant there’d be some consistent or at least bookending voice-over from him in the episode?
8. Just what use did Oliver think Captain Boomerang could serve on his Suicide Squad without a weapon?
9. I’m oddly obsessed with knowing when, where and how Oliver lost that wig after being rescued from Lian Lu. Somewhere along the ride home he presumably just asked for a razor to shave, went to a bathroom and immediately chucked that wig out a window.
10. Good for them, finally circling back to Slade’s search for his son.
11. Sane Slade Wilson should stick around either on Arrow next season or maybe join Legends of Tomorrow since that show attracts former Arrow big bads.
12. Not gonna lie – got a nostalgic grin every time Slade called Oliver “kid.”
13. And that’s a wrap on season 5. What did you think of “Lian Yu” and of the season as a whole?