On the D/L – Arrow
Season 3 Episode 9 – “The Climb”
Last Arrow episode 0f 2014 and we finally get some answers on the subject of Sara’s killer as well as having a significant Ra’s Al Ghul appearance.
This season of Arrow has gotten off to a pretty rocky start on the whole. Many of the episodes have lacked the pace or urgency of season 1 and 2 and there have been some questionably handled plot points throughout. It has still been more than watchable but not up to the standards set by the previous seasons.
I felt that this episode was very much a return to form for the series and capped off the first half of the season excellently. The story was very tightly focused and simple. Keeping everything centered on finding Sara’s killer was a good idea as the story had somewhat lost momentum over the past few episodes. I was pretty surprised to find that they reopened the Malcolm Merlyn suspicion after supposedly removing that possibility back in “The Magician” but I found it actually worked really well.
The episode throws us a curveball when the DNA evidence points to Oliver being the killer. Obviously it can’t be him because we know Oliver and we know that he wouldn’t kill her. It is after that point that Team Arrow instantly leap to Malcolm Merlyn performing a frame job to get Oliver in the League of Assassins’ sights. Makes sense so far but it’s complicated when security footage that proves Malcolm was in Starling City the day Sara was killed also shows Thea.
From here the pieces start to fit together. The reason Roy seemed like such a likely suspect back in “Guilty” was the impact points of the arrows not matching an archer of average height taking the shot. Roy is shorter than Oliver so the angle would be consistent there and his lack of character development makes it at least likely that he could have done it. Turns out Thea is about that height too and makes up for that discrepancy which quickly pegs her as a suspect.
Oliver is completely unable to accept that Thea would be capable of such a thing and dismisses it outright. This leads to a really great moment where Diggle and Felicity gang up on him to drill into him that he has a familial blind spot that clouds his judgement in all cases. It’s completely true and consistent with Oliver’s prior behaviour. His biggest limitation is how stubborn he is and in this case it prevents him from being able to see the truth of the situation.
I really liked how Oliver approached confronting Thea about it. First he tries as Oliver but doesn’t get a confession out of her. She does admit to being with Malcolm in Corto Maltese but doesn’t admit to being in Starling City on the day of Sara’s murder. Oliver knows for a fact that she was in Starling on that day so is forced to confront her as The Arrow. This doesn’t go according to plan as Thea is more than capable of defending herself. Oliver doesn’t know about her training and is taken completely by surprise when she capably fights back. It doesn’t look like she’s any match for Oliver but the element of surprise works in her favour.
All of this shows that Thea is completely in control of their relationship. She only tells the truth to him when she is forced to and when she does it’s a variation of it so as not to give too much away. It is a clever direction for their relationship to go and it has been working well despite the fact that it has had limited development so far.
Oliver and Malcolm’s interaction sheds yet more light on this. Malcolm admits that he’s responsible and used Thea to do it. There is a magical plant that leaves people susceptible to suggestion that was used on her as part of a bigger plan by Malcolm. He did this to take advantage of Oliver’s devotion to his family so that he would take responsibility and face trial by combat from Ra’s Al Ghul. The reason for this is that the death of Ra’s Al Ghul wipes out any blood debt associated with him. Malcolm has manipulated this situation to maneuver Oliver into a confrontation with Ra’s Al Ghul that will hopefully result in Malcolm’s debt being wiped.
This plan might seem flawed in some ways given that there’s no guarantee that Oliver could beat Ra’s Al Ghul but Malcolm does win in some way even if he doesn’t. If Oliver is killed as a result of this then Malcolm loses a significant thorn in his side and if Ra’s Al Ghul is killed then the League of Assassins will leave him alone. Either way he gains something out of it. The fact that he uses Thea to manipulate this situation shows just how ruthless he is and really adds complications to all the claims he has made about having Thea’s best interests at heart. Making his daughter kill for his own interests is such a cold thing to do. Thea doesn’t remember what she did but blood is still on her hands. I wonder if the show will have her regain her memory of doing this at some point or if she will otherwise find out what she did. I also wonder if Nyssa would accept this and let it go.
Oliver decides that he’s going to have to make an exception to his no killing rule for the good of his sister despite the fact that he’s doing what Malcolm wants him to do. He is in an impossible situation with the League of Assassins threatening to kill 50 people unless Sara’s killer is delivered to them and Thea being the one they want. To make all of this go away Ra’s Al Ghul has to die and he has to be the one to do it.
I really liked the scenes surrounding this decision. Oliver realising that he has a chance as he knows what he’s fighting for is a nice callback to season 1 when Malcolm told him that he doesn’t have the conviction necessary to accomplish his mission. There was also a nice Team Arrow moment when Diggle tries to tell him that he shouldn’t do this alone and Roy promises to look after the city should Oliver not make it back. They really have gelled together nicely as a unit and the implicit trust they have for one another is great to see.
I was a little surprised by Felicity’s insistence that Oliver kills Ra’s Al Ghul as it seemed a little extreme for her. It makes sense for her character as she doesn’t want to lose Oliver and wants Sara’s death to be avenged. The scene between the two of them was great and gave a nice summary of their relationship as it has developed this season.
Just like the rest of the internet I should get to talking about the ending. Oliver takes on Ra’s Al Ghul and the fight doesn’t go quite according to plan. Oliver is fatally stabbed and thrown off the mountain after a fight where he consistently gets his ass kicked by a far superior opponent. I must say that I’m not all that shocked by this cliffhanger -or should that be cliff faller- ending given that there’s no way that the lead character in this show will be killed off. If it had been Roy or Diggle I might have been more shocked but Oliver is the least expendable member of the cast.
It also seems clear how he’ll be brought back through the clues given. Maseo Yamashiro’s presence as a member of the League of Assassins who has to bear witness to the combat as well as the mention that Ra’s Al Ghul hasn’t been challenged to trial by combat in 67 years tells me everything I need to know.
Maseo seemed to be full of regret throughout the episode and warned Oliver against doing this since he didn’t want to see Oliver killed which suggests that he might try to do something about the fact that Oliver was killed. Combine this with the confirmation that Ra’s Al Ghul uses a Lazarus Pit to keep himself young and it seems obvious what is going to happen next. However that doesn’t make the ending bad, just not as shocking as people are suggesting. Also there’s scope for drama with an Oliver who has been resurrected. Maybe he comes back a completely different man as in the comics the pit has been known to make people insane -at least temporarily- when they return from the dead.
Matt Nable’s Ra’s Al Ghul is really good despite the fact that the actor seems miscast to look at him. Nable proves himself as a great fit for the character in this episode. Everything about the way he conducts himself works and he more than holds his own physically against Stephen Amell. It’s believable that this guy is impossibly old and has a a wisdom that comes from having lived such a long life.
The fight between Oliver and Ra’s Al Ghul was fantastic. There was a great sense of futility about it as Oliver was constantly struggling to keep up while Ra’s Al Ghul effortlessly dominated throughout. Having the fight completely lack music with the only soundtrack being the clashing of swords and the wind completely setting the atmosphere. As a side note I thought cutting back and forth to Oliver climbing the mountain was a really effective way of helping to increase the tension. The marrying of more information being revealed with Oliver’s ascent was structurally a great choice and helped to show Oliver getting closer to his inevitable confrontation.
Laurel’s development is continued nicely in this episode. The return of her mother adds an interesting element to this plot as she immediately sees through Laurel’s lies. The motherly intuition justification seems a little silly but it works in driving the plot forward. Laurel’s relationship with her mother is very different to the one she has with her father. It’s clear that Quentin would tell Laurel that seeking revenge on Sara’s killer is the wrong thing to do as it’s not something that she can come back from but her mother has the opposite view. She is blinded by grief as much as Laurel is and thinks that bringing the killer to justice will help to resolve that.
I’ve said a lot in this review so I’ll keep my discussion about Ray Palmer’s part of the episode brief. I liked this plot in general but it did seem out of place with the rest of the narrative. Brandon Routh is great in this role and probably gives his best performance here. He got to be the charming CEO type as well as injecting some great emotional depth into the character.
His admission to Felicity that he lost his fiancé in the siege was a great scene that really helps to underpin Palmer’s unusual rich guy desire to help others. Routh played this excellently with great pain in his voice as he recounted this. It also makes sense that he would overcompensate with this by acting so charmingly extroverted around others. Felicity is the first person he’s met since then that he feels more at ease with. His reveal of the development of the A.T.O.M (Advanced Technology Operating Mechanism) suit to Felicity was also a great moment culminating in the hilarious moment where Felicity questions why this keeps happening to her. It seems that every budding superhero comes her way.
I think if this plot was left until the next episode it might have been more effective as it slightly slowed down the pace of the episode. It was still interesting stuff but seemed at odds with what else was going on. Similarly the flashbacks were only tangentially relevant though the foreshadowing of Maseo’s tragedy was nicely done and helped to explain what caused him to join the League of Assassins.
A true return to form for the series with a compelling midseason finale that wrapped up the plot of Sara’s killer in an interesting way.
The reveal of Sara’s killer wasn’t disappointing and added a really sinister edge to Malcolm Merlyn beyond what morally questionable attributes he has already. His agenda is a really complex one but he manipulates the situation very well and clearly thinks steps ahead of everyone else.
I didn’t find the ending as shocking as many others seem to but that’s probably because I can see an immediate solution to the problem. It was an effective ending that shows how powerless Oliver is against some of the challenges he has to face at times. Ra’s Al Ghul is the ultimate opponent for him and Matt Nable is perfect in this role.
Ray Palmer’s development into a character with emotional death was well done but really at odds with the rest of the episode tonally and brought the pace down slightly. I feel that these scenes should have been kept until next year but they were effective for what they were.
A strong end to 2014 and I look forward to the return in 2015.