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TV REVIEW: ‘Arrow’ S3E9 – “The Climb”

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After last week’s crossover with The Flash, Arrow might be more than a little amped up and energized, but in the face of the midseason finale the show had a lot of work to do to get back on track. A number of provocative pieces were laid out in the first couple of episodes of the season, and it all seemed to get buried under secret origins, crossovers, DC Comics Easter Egg hunting and turning Laurel Lance into the Black Canary. But what about Sara’s murder? Or the coming vengeance of Ra’s al Ghul? Or the fact that Quentin Lance is in the dark about his youngest daughter’s death? Or the game Malcolm Merlyn is playing, and how much Oliver’s sister Thea knows and/or is a part of it? Most importantly though is just what the heck does all this pointless meandering around Hong Kong have to do with anything?* (*Just kidding, it’s entirely pointless.)

Okay, not “entirely pointless.” In short, Maseo is alive in the present and a member of the League of Assassins. Metaphorically speaking, Maseo is dead, he tells Oliver, and five years ago in Hong Kong we learn that China White (Welcome back, Kelly Hu!) was after a virus called Omega and while Oliver and Maseo interrogated her inside man, she raided Maseo’s home and kidnapped Tatsu. One might infer that Tatsu is dead, but in Arrow you’re not dead till we’ve seen your cold dead body, so Maseo maybe a League of Assassins stooge on false pretenses. Having said that though, I could still care less about Hong Kong.

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If “The Climb” had a Batman Begins-ish feeling, I can only assume it’s intentional. From Ra’s al Ghul’s ninja fight class, to his penchant for snowy battlefields, to his instance that mountain climbing be part of the experience, it’s enough to make you wonder if the only Demon’s Head you need to know is the one created by Christopher Nolan in his 2005 reboot of the Batman legend. Matt Nable had about triple the screen time versus his last appearance in “The Magician,” and while I’m not entirely sold on his reading of the character, he at least made more of a positive impression, so I’m willing to indulge him further. Still, one can’t help but read some Liam Neeson in the way Nable carries himself, but having been reared on Batman: The Animated Series, I really miss David Warner‘s voice for the character.

“The Climb” itself was a big old info-dump of explanations to some of the questions posed above. We learned who killed Sara and why, and we learned Malcolm Merlyn’s game plan in manipulating Thea, Oliver and the League. The murder investigation is put back on the front burner when Nyssa al Ghul returns to town with Maseo and an ultimatum: in 48 hours either Oliver would turn over Sara’s killer, or the League, as per ye ole League tradition, will kill 50 people a day in Starling City until the guilty party is found.

Somewhere between last week’s crossover and last night’s fight with the Reverse Flash, Caitlin was able to finish the DNA analysis on one of the arrow’s that killed Sara, and the evidence points to Oliver. The immediate assumption was that Malcolm framed Oliver, but in learning that Malcolm was back in town the night before Sara’s murder, Team Arrow finds out that the Dark Archer didn’t come back to Starling City for a one-night only break from Corto Maltese alone. Thea was along for the ride.

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Kudos to Diggle for going there first, accusing Thea as the possible assailant based on familial relations, but it was weird how Felicity and Roy piled on real quick to the “Thea did it” theory. What has Thea done to justify all this lost in trust except take Malcolm’s money for a fancy apartment and to reopen the club? Sounds like a typical twentysomething heiress to me and not a mass murder’s apprentice. It’s not like we’ve spent a lot of time with Thea to judge her current mental state,  but to say that something shifty was going on would be something of an understatement.

In the end, it’s Malcolm that provides the incriminating evidence against Thea because – You guessed it! – Thea killed Sara on Malcolm’s command, albeit while under some kind of drug-induced suggestion. As much it’s handy to tell us that “hypnotism did it,” it robs the story and the direction of Thea’s character of some dramatic heft because she’s not the one driving her own actions. As off-putting as it might be for Thea to become a mini-Malcolm assassin, it would have made the story more powerful if Thea was Malcolm’s willing accomplice, thus making Oliver’s decision to sacrifice himself to the League and Ra’s both more nebulous and more selfless. In that version of events, Thea may be  guilty, but it was only after she was driven to the arms of the enemy because of Oliver’s desire to be secretive.

On Malcolm’s end, he was looking for a way to get out from under the League. He knew making Thea the killer of a League member would force Oliver to take on Ra’s al Ghul in “trial by combat,” and with his sister’s life in the balance, Oliver will be driven hard to kill Ra’s and thus erasing Thea’s debt, not to mention her birth father’s. As much as John Barrowman is wonderfully oily and manipulative as Malcolm, I’m still not sure the value of having him as a member of the regular cast. What’s Malcolm’s next step after Oliver, presumably, kills Ra’s? Or, worse still, if he doesn’t?

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Speaking of other characters with murky motivations , we learn that Ray Palmer’s drive to build Star City comes from a place familiar to many heroes: personal tragedy. Palmer’s finance Anna was killed by Slade Wilson’s super-rioters, so he decided to put everything he had into the idea of protection by creating the OMAC, or Palmer’s preferred named, the Advanced Technical Operation Mechanism (that’s A.T.O.M. to you). The point of A.T.O.M. is to do more with technology by shrinking it, and we have to assume he means that literally and not just miniaturizing the technology. It’s nice to know that Palmer’s motives are altruistic, but there’s still no idea how this storyline connects to the others, and by this time last year we at least had some idea how Slade, Blood and Mirakuru might all be related. Plus, combining OMAC and Atom? I don’t know…

Obviously the main event was Ra’s and Oliver’s mountain top showdown. Ra’s reveals that no one’s challenged him to combat in 67 years, thus suggesting that in the world of Arrow there is such a thing as a Lazarus Pit. Good thing for Oliver because clearly the bad ass reputation of Ra’s al Ghul is well earned, and Oliver seems more toyed with than being a genuine threat to the League of Assassin’s head. The midseason doesn’t so much end with a cliffhanger as it ends with a fall of a cliff. Oliver, after being skewered by Ra’s al Ghul, starts to plummet back to the ground before the screen cuts to the title card. Silently. Almost like how 24 had the silent clock whenever a main character was killed.

To the credit of the Arrow team you couldn’t help but stare stunned at the screen for a couple of minutes after that. Any previous thoughts about Lazarus Pits and their wonderfully crazy restorative properties are forced out of your mind for a second as you deal with the Arrow’s brutal, brutal defeat. Even though its something of a foregone conclusion that Oliver will be back in January, the show’s undoubtedly raised the physical stakes for Oliver, but that’s like judging the outcome of the whole triathlon by looking just at how a guy rides his bike. The question remains: where is this all going, and who’s the bad guy here that’s more bad, Malcolm or Ra’s al Ghul?

Arrow returns on January 21, 2015.

Category: Comics, Featured, reviews, TV

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