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Arrow - The Climb - Review - "Fall Finale Sized!"

The series with the best literal fall finale cliffhanger is hands down Arrow with “The Climb.” The episode was written by the team of Jake Coburn and Keto Shimizu, and it speaks to the depth of the talent of the writing team for the show that the episode can touch on so many core themes without even being written by one of the showrunners. The episode was directed by Thor Freudenthal whose credits include Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The episode has two fantastic fight sequences – a shout out for a terrific first half of the season to James Bamford, JJ Makaro, Jon Kralt and the army of stunt performers that make Arrow the best action show on television (cable, network or otherwise!). There’s also a terrific Olicity scene and terrific performances from the whole cast.

As I said, the episode is carefully crafted, and at the beginning of each segment of “The Climb”, we see Oliver (Stephen Amell) climbing the cliff – to the top of the mountain on which he will fight Ra’s al Ghul (Matt Nable). The title would suggest that the real importance of this episode lies in the journey, not the destination. Oliver has climbed a metaphorical cliff to get here after all. He has gone from being a vigilante to being a hero. He would appear to have lost this fight against evil, if his being stabbed through the chest and kicked over a cliff is any indication, but it’s highly unlikely that he is actually dead. It’s also nice structurally that we begin the first half of the season with Sara’s (Caity Lotz) death and end it with Oliver’s.

While I don’t for a minute believe that Oliver is dead – and the show didn’t really want us to think that given that we see his body on an outcropping of cliff with a mysterious person heading his way in the scenes for the next episode – I do believe we may not see him in the present storyline for some time come the second half of the season. Oliver’s absence is necessary to allow a number of the other storylines to move ahead. Stephen Amell certainly had a “mysterious” amount of time off from filming in November to pursue some other projects. Amell has been cagey about what happens next. He posted a fan picture of an arm and arrow emerging from the Lazarus Pit – the secret rejuvenation method of Ra’s – but later pointed out that he’d be unlikely to post something that would so obviously reveal the secret. My money is on Maseo (Karl Yune) coming to Oliver’s aide – or maybe even Malcolm (John Barrowman). After all, if someone did throw him in the Lazarus Pit, he’d hardly be missing for long, right?

From our initial shots of Oliver climbing the cliff, we are taken back to 48 hours earlier. The Arrow has dropped off a Christmas present for Quentin (Paul Blackthorne). If I had a complaint about the first half of this season, it’s how little of Quentin Lance that we’ve seen. Unfortunately, Blackthorne’s social media presence makes it look like that isn’t going to change any time soon. We do see that he’s brought Dinah (Alex Kingston) to town for Christmas for Laurel (Katie Cassidy).

       But the Lance scenes that are really important in this episode are between Dinah and Laurel. Dinah immediately picks up on Laurel lying about Sara’s whereabouts and tells Laurel that her intuition that once told her Sara was alive is now telling her, Sara isn’t. Laurel tells her mother about Sara’s death but swears her to secrecy because of the dangerous people Sara was involved with and because it will kill Quentin.

Laurel actually confesses Sara’s death to two people – and has two major scenes in the graveyard. When Thea (Willa Holland) bumps into Laurel at Sara’s grave, she’s curious as to why she’s there. Thea seems genuinely shocked and upset by news of Sara’s death – and this is explained nicely later in the episode. Holland is really terrific in this scene. Cassidy really shines in the second cemetery scene with Kingston. Dinah tells Laurel that Sara deserved better, and this opens the door for Laurel to tell her mother that she’s going to find whoever did it and make them pay. Rather than dissuade her, Laurel finally gets someone who believes in her, and Dinah tells her, “You make them pay, and you make them suffer.” This is the kind of reinforcement that will steel her resolve going forward.

I realize there’s been a lot of negative response to Laurel attempting to take over as Black Canary, even though the comic version had Dinah as the original Black Canary with Laurel taking over (more or less – it’s complicated – which is ironically what Laurel tells Thea about Sara’s life). There is a 3 episode arc coming up in the new year that will focus on Laurel’s journey, so this sets us up for that. Oliver’s absence creates a void in Starling City – both for the city’s protection and for the present day storyline. With Oliver away, it will give Laurel a chance to step up – with Diggle (David Ramsey), Roy (Colton Haynes), and possibly even Felicity’s (Emily Bett Rickard) help. I hope people will wait for this story to play out before deciding whether they like it or not.

I still feel like the writers may have put the brakes on Laurel becoming Black Canary in the first season once they realized they were a hit and would have time to tease it out. On the other hand, it seems to have backfired as fans have gotten firmly behind Olicity, thus creating backlash for Laurel on the romantic front and fans also got behind Caity Lotz as Black Canary, creating resistance for anyone else picking up the mask. Interestingly, on The Flash, Barry (Grant Gustin) has already declared his love for Iris (Candice Patton), even though she is clearly with Eddie (Rick Cosnett). All of which is in the comics – though there are other deviations from The Flash comic in the show. It does feel like they’ve done things a little differently with their lead characters.

Oliver’s absence also paves the way for Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) to play a bigger role in Starling. He finally approaches Felicity about their kiss. Fall finales have come to either be cliffhangers or holiday specials. This episode has a fairly heavy Christmas feel – mainly due to Thea’s gigantic tree, but there’s also a subtle reminder that that is not the only December holiday celebrated by our team. Felicity has a menorah sitting on her desk at Palmer Technologies. I loved the scene at the beginning of the episode when Ray tries to explain but is cut off by both the elevator and Felicity’s phone. I haven’t been overly impressed with Routh before this episode, but I loved his face when Felicity tells him she has to go – “Work!” and he points out that she’s already at work.

It’s a little creepy when he “pings” her phone and GPS’s her to Verdant. He’s a smart guy. How long until he realizes that Verdant is the Arrow’s lair? However, this was a great scene as Ray finally tells Felicity – and us! – what happened. His fiancĂ©, Anna, was killed during the Siege and he wasn’t able to stop the mirakuru soldiers from breaking her neck right in front of him. He feels guilty, even though they’d broken his leg, and he vowed that he’d never kiss anyone again… and until Felicity, he hadn’t. Routh is great in this scene as we see him be more than the goofy, eccentric super-smart billionaire. Rickards is also terrific as we see her starting to fall for him.

Lest we forget, however, Felicity is nobody’s idiot either, and she follows Ray back to Palmer Technologies to find out why exactly he bought Queen Consolidated. She knows he’s still hiding a secret from her. He tells her he can’t tell her, but he’ll show her. There’s a great shot of Felicity’s face as she listens to Ray geek-talk that’s just priceless – these are the sweet-nothings she likes to hear.
        He tell her that he’s taken all of the military grade technology of Queen Consolidated  and made it small enough to fit in your hand – and he’s designed a super suit with it – the ATOM (advanced technology operating mechanism). He tells her he’s going to use the suit to protect the people of Starling city. And then he tells her he wants her help to do it. With a long-suffering look – that’s just perfect – Felicity wonders why this keeps happening to her.

It’s Felicity who tells Oliver that when it comes to his family, he ends up feeling guilty for their mistakes. She tries to tell him he’s not responsible for what Thea did. It’s clear that just as Oliver returned to Starling to avenge his father’s death, it’s important for Ray to avenge Anna’s. With Oliver missing, there will be more opportunity for Ray to step in with the ATOM to help keep the city safe. It will be interesting to see if Felicity will try to consolidate the superheros that she is helping – will she tell Diggle and Roy about Ray or vice versa?
Nyssa (Katrina Law) comes back to Starling to tell Oliver he now has only 48 hours to produce Sara’s killer. Oliver thinks they are Malcolm at first, and it’s a good reminder that Malcolm’s beginnigns were with the League and he still dresses as one of them. She brings Maseo with her only he is now calling himself Sarab or Phantom. Maseo is the one who is charged with killing 50 people a day if Oliver fails to produce the killer. We also learn that Maseo arrived at the League of Assassins at the same time as Sara and went there after “it” happened. We don’t know exactly what “it” was, but the flashbacks may shed light on the event. Maseo must have arrived at Nanda Parbat not long after the events of the flashback.

In the flashbacks, we see Maseo and Oliver try to obtain a vial of a virus before China White (Kelly Hu) can. We see that Oliver has come far in his torture lessons, but they still can’t get the guy they saw steal it on tape confess. Conveniently, this is where we learn about the drug Malcolm used on Thea to control her and wipe her memory. Meanwhile, China White has followed their own trail back to the apartment. We have another great sword fight between China White and Tatsu (Rila Fukushima). I wish this had been shot better, however. While the interesting angles and views from Akio’s (Brandon Nomura) hiding place provide texture to the scene, they don’t really showcase it very well. I found myself wanting to get the camera out of my way to be able to watch. When Oliver and Maseo return, Tatsu has been taken and there is blood all over Akio’s drawings. Is she dead? Is this what turned Maseo to the League?

Oliver’s investigation leads him to Thea, yet he still refuses to believe it could be her. Diggle suggests maybe it was Thea, and Roy points out that Malcolm is her father. I loved the look between Haynes and Amell when he said this. Felicity tells Oliver that she knows how much he loves his family but he has to look at the facts. Once again the virtual autopsy comes into play. Oliver insists on going to talk to Thea. She admits to having spent time getting to know Malcolm, but denies ever leaving Corto Maltese. Of course, as far as she remembers due to the drug, she didn’t leave. She isn’t lying because she doesn’t remember doing it.

Diggle points out that Oliver has a blind spot when it comes to his family, and Felicity tells him that’s why he shouldn’t be the one asking the questions. Oliver takes his advice and goes to visit Thea as the Arrow. I’m not sure it was 100% necessary for him to punch in the window that way, but it did seem to throw Thea off for a moment…. Until she pulled out her new moves and got away! I loved the look on Oliver’s face as she hopped over the balcony!

It’s not really until Oliver is visited by Malcolm that he really believes it was his sister. Malcolm actually has footage of Thea killing Sara. It’s going to be interesting to watch this all play out when the truth comes out. Thea will be racked with guilt, but what will Laurel do? Will she blame Thea or will she blame Malcolm or maybe both. She grew up with Thea like a little sister after all and Malcolm was Tommy’s father too. The scene with Barrowman is simply amazing. It’s been fantastic to watch Barrowman strut his dramatic stuff. It’s quite a departure from how he played Jack Harkness – he inhabits Malcolm with such darkness – and madness just at the edges.

Malcolm points out that Ra’s will never forgive Thea’s crime because she fired the arrow regardless of whether Malcolm was controlling her. He’s set Oliver up perfectly. Oliver has to fight Ra’s or lose his sister. Malcolm’s plan is a win-win for him. If Oliver wins, Ra’s blood blood debts are all wiped out – his own and Thea’s included. If Oliver loses, Thea is still safe and Malcolm is no worse off than he is anyway. Oliver accuses him of giving Thea a death sentence, but Malcolm maintains he’s just given Oliver incentive to fight Ra’s. Once again, Malcolm proves he’s an astute observer.

Naturally, the team doesn’t want Oliver to fight Ra’s, but they accept that he has to. Once again, the writing here is terrific as the episode loops back to the Undertaking in the first season. Oliver tells them that Malcolm told him that he couldn’t win because he didn’t know what he was fighting for – but now he does. He’s fighting for Thea.

Oliver turns himself in to Ra’s. I loved him taunting Ra’s, telling him that he killed Sara because she begged him to. He tells Ra’s that having met him, he can see why. It’s clear that Ra’s and Oliver haven’t met before. Ra’s tells Oliver that he should have him killed “not for killing my daughter’s beloved but for thinking me a fool.” There’s a great reaction shot here as Nyssa sees how little her feelings have played into her father’s actions. Ra’s also says that he hasn’t been challenged in over 67 years! So how old is he? We learn later in the episode that he’s killed thousands. Of course, in one of the other great fight scenes in the episode, we see him “practicing” his sword fighting – by fighting to the death.

Maseo comments on Oliver’s perpetual stubbornness. Oliver reminds Maseo that he once told him a man could not live by two names. Maseo says he doesn’t – Maseo is dead. Oliver is still trying to live by two names. Though it would seem that he is slowly letting go of Oliver Queen.
Oliver returns to say his goodbyes. Thea senses something’s up though she lies again by telling him a bird broke the window. I love the scenes between Holland and Amell. I’m really looking forward to the time when she actually joins his team. He tells her that Malcolm doesn’t really love her, but he also says he won’t force her to choose. Instead, he tells her there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to protect her, and that he loves her – no matter what. I suspect she’s really going to need that no matter what…

Diggle tells Oliver it’s killing him to let Oliver go in alone, and Oliver tells Roy to watch out for Thea. And that just left Felicity. Felicity knows she can’t stop him from going, so surprisingly, the one thing she does ask is that he kill Ra’s al Ghul. She tells him she’s afraid that his humanity may make him hesitate and that may cost him his life. Oliver tells her he’s not sure that he is a killer any more. And then he tells her that he does know two things – that he’ll do anything to save his sister. Felicity has to prompt him for the second thing – which is that he loves her. ARGH! Sweet torture between these two!

The fight between Ra’s and Oliver was decently shot, and like the Ra’s sparring scene had some nice crane shots. However, it felt like Oliver was suddenly holding back or a bit sloppy. Amell pointed out in a recent Q&A that Oliver doesn’t know how to fight with swords, but I’d rather have seen Oliver a little more fluid and controlled and Ra’s just that much better. The scene itself was shot on Grouse Point Mountain just outside of Vancouver and the temperature was hovering around 2 Celsius or 35 Fahrenheit. If you watch the scene carefully, you can see Amell shivering.

We learn once again that not all villains are simply evil. Ra’s tells Oliver that he made his first kill at 11. He tells Oliver that he felt ashamed because he’d stolen a life, “But I also felt pride because I had taken up arms against someone who had sought to do ill against my family.” He also tells Oliver that he had “replaced evil with death and that is what the League was set up to do.” In his own way, Ra’s is trying to solve the ills of the world to make it safer for average people – what Oliver is trying to do in Starling.

Oliver arms himself with two swords, and is puzzled when Ra’s picks up none. He tells Oliver that he will simply use Oliver’s when he’s through with them. As Ra’s apparently kills Oliver, Oliver sees his father, mother, Thea, and Felicity as he loses consciousness – all those he loves the most. Ra’s tells him not to be afraid and consider his death an honorable exit. He’s clearly impressed that Oliver not only challenged him and made it up the cliff but lasted as long as he did. He says a prayer over Oliver before sliding him off his sword and kicking him over the cliff: “Forgive and have mercy upon him… Excuse and pardon him… Make honorable his reception… Protect him from the punishment of the grave… And the torment of the fire.” And then he kicks him off the cliff – to be re-born yet again.

This was a terrific fall finale with great action, writing, and acting. Do you think it was a mistake for Laurel to tell Thea and Dinah about Laurel? Is Oliver’s absence, and no doubt expected death, going to drive Felicity into Ray’s arms? Do you think Oliver is dead? If you do, how do you think he’ll come back? Are you excited to see some of the other team members get a little more screen time? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Arrow returns on January 21, 2015. If you  need more Arrow before then, come back to read my reviews of the comic - my review of Volumes 1-3 of Arrow 2.5 will be up on the site shortly!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Forever, Defiance, Bitten, Glee, and a few others! Highlights of this past year include covering San Diego Comic Con as press and a set visit to Bitten. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.

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