Written by Marisa Carpico
The Climb Plot:
When Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable) issues an ultimatum, Oliver (Stephen Amell) must find Sara’s (Caity Lotz) killer within 48 hours or the League of Assassins will start killing Starling City’s citizens. After the crew at Star Labs sends over the results of the DNA tests, Team Arrow is horrified to learn that it matches Oliver himself. He quickly suspects Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) planted his DNA to set Oliver against the League, but soon realizes the true killer may be even closer to home.
Arrow has always been good at setup. Its weakness has been the payoff. Sometimes the writers stall so long that when the end of a storyline finally comes, it feels long overdue. The first season resolved everything in the final two episodes but felt aimless and often boring in the preceding episodes. Season 2 did a slightly better job with Slade (Manu Bennett), but failed miserably with Isobel Rochev (Summer Glau). Season 3 was on a similar track. Look at an episode like “Guilty.” Here we had all these great unanswered questions (Who is Sara’s killer? What is Malcolm Merlyn’s endgame with Thea (Willa Holland)? What is Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) up to? When would Ra’s al Ghul and Oliver finally meet?), but, instead, got backstory on Ted Grant (J.R. Ramirez)—a character we haven’t seen since. I worried they would stall all season, so I couldn’t be more thrilled that “The Climb” gave us real movement on every front.
Let’s start with Sara’s killer. As I said in my discussion with Matt in last week’s Arrow/Flash crossover column, I’ve thought Thea was the killer for a while. I’d always assumed she had wanted to kill Sara—maybe getting back at Oliver for his lying to her. Instead, Malcolm reveals that he had basically drugged her into doing the deed and she had no memory of it. While that little twist essentially takes away her guilt and places it wholly on Malcolm, I’m a little sad that Thea–who left Starling because she wanted more control of her life–essentially lost her agency so profoundly that she was forced to kill. Still, I can’t wait to see all the fallout from this turn.
How is Laurel (Katie Cassidy) going to react? She promised her mother, Dinah (the always wonderful Alex Kingston) she would make the people responsible for Sara’s death pay. Obviously, that means Malcolm, but what about Thea? I doubt she would kill her, but it’s a question she’ll have to ask and one that could put her in direct conflict with Team Arrow. What about Thea? Is she going to find out she’s a murderer? She looked pretty upset to learn of Sara’s death when she saw Laurel in the cemetery (wow, that scene is perverse considering what we found out later), so that’s going to be a pretty devastating discovery. I hope she gets to kill Malcolm. A lot of people have a reason to, but I’d love if Thea got to use the training he gave her against him. She’s already putting them to use — throwing glass in the Arrow’s face, kicking him and then jumping out of a penthouse window without a discernible way of keeping herself from plummeting to her death–all while wearing sparkly harem pants–was simultaneously the most insane and kickass thing I’ve ever seen.
While we’ll have to wait until after the hiatus to find out how things play out, the effect of the truth on Oliver’s life was immediate. Oliver has always expected, almost wanted, to die for his cause and he actually did last night. I’ve no doubt Oliver will survive, look at the name of the show, but man was it shocking to watch Ra’s al Ghul run a sword through his chest and then kick him off a cliff. If the brief promo for the next episode is any indication, someone is going to find Oliver and nurse him back to life *cough* Lazarus Pit *cough*, but I hope his return to Starling City is a hard road.
It would sort of negate the gravity of what happened if he returned immediately. Plus, he’s probably got to stay in hiding for a bit because you know Ra’s al Ghul would come after him the moment he found out Oliver was alive. Think how much development there will be for the other characters if they think he’s dead. Roy (Colton Haynes) will have to become the principle masked vigilante of Starling City. Diggle may be driven to take up the hood, as he has in the past. Thea will have to come to terms with who her father is and what associating with him means. Laurel may finally become the hero she so desperately wants to be, or at least start the process. And Ray, with Felicity’s help (her line about this always happening to her was a bright spot in an otherwise dark episode), may become Starling City’s new principle vigilante. I hope we get to see at least some of that.
Despite its title, Arrow has become an ensemble show. Last night’s episode was just a taste of what the show could be, for a few episodes, without Oliver at its center. Every character was given something to do in “The Climb” and the show has maybe never been more exciting. In fact, that just might be the best mid-season finale I’ve ever seen.