Arrow season 2 finale review: Unthinkable

Review Caroline Preece 16 May 2014 - 15:45

Arrow tops off a stellar season with a highly satisfying finale. Here's Caroline's review of Unthinkable...

This review contains spoilers.

2.23 Unthinkable

Despite the many hanging threads leading us into next year, the second season finale of Arrow was more of a resolution to the show’s first two seasons than it was to this run of episodes alone. Everything, from Oliver’s no-kill rule and feud with Slade to the question over Olicity and Sara and Laurel’s struggles for the Canary coat, was addressed and teased in Unthinkable and, very unlike the huge cliffhanger Tommy’s death and the destruction of the Glades left us with last year, there’s a definite sense of moving forwards.

The crux of the episode was Oliver’s showdown with Slade, the question of whether he would still be able to stick to this year’s no-kill rule when confronting his old enemy and, let’s be honest, which of our heroes would meet a sticky end before the conflict was resolved. I’ll admit I was suspicious any time a character was given a heartfelt greeting/goodbye or when something nice happened, as with news of Diggle’s impending fatherhood, but thankfully we made it out of the hour without any significant fatalities. Quentin is alive until we’re told otherwise, and everyone else is forging ahead with their respective destinies.    

Arrow has never really been a show about destiny, however, and this is just one of the many ways it differentiates itself from so many other superhero narratives coming out right now. It was never Oliver’s pre-determined fate to become the Arrow and even Sara’s identity as the Canary is one that, as it was in this episode, can be lended to whoever is willing to take up the mantle. Diggle, Felicity and Roy fell into their current lives largely by accident and, with so many hero narratives focusing on how the protagonist can fight against the inevitable, that’s so refreshing.

It makes stuff like Sara’s return to the League of Assassins feel like a happy ending, and the show’s perseverance with Laurel all the more frustrating. I’m sure Laurel still has her fans despite the mess of a character arc she’s had this year, but there nonetheless seems to be a consensus that she’s in no way ready to gear up and fight alongside Oliver. Giving her the costume to wear was a step too far too soon and just felt like an excuse to give her something to do next year. Then again, maybe the writers can ease us into that particular inevitability in a way that doesn’t feel forced – I still have an open mind.

The show’s attitude towards choice vs. fate is also what makes Malcolm Merlyn a good bad guy for season three, with Thea accepting his offer of a life without constant half-truths. I have to admit that keeping Thea as the only one in the dark, existing in the background as a daughter, sister and girlfriend to more important players, definitely made this final twist for her character that much more intriguing. Could this mean that she comes back to Starling as a villain next year? It would certainly address the consistent problem the show has had with getting her character involved in the action, as well as creating an emotional conflict for Oliver to rival what he had with Slade this year.

Despite everything going on in the episode, however, one of things that’s probably going to be discussed most is the treatment of Felicity and Oliver’s relationship. Their connection has become more popular than the writers could ever have imagined and, with this finale, the show was able to have its cake and eat it. Even if some viewers might feel that the big declaration of love was a cheap trick, the truth is that Arrow couldn’t survive the two of them being together as a couple. It's way too soon and, as her own heroic moment of curing Slade proved, there’s a lot more to Felicity's character than her feelings for Oliver. They’re a team, and becoming a couple would muddle that too much.

The biggest sign that this episode was a bookend for the entire show up to this point was the switch-up in the flashback timeline. We’ve spent two seasons on the island, more often than not adding nothing to the ongoing present-day adventures but, by transporting the story to a different location with characters that Oliver will presumably be dealing with in both his past and present (aka Amanda Waller) life, this part of the show suddenly feels exciting and relevant again. As someone who’s never been a fan of the flashbacks, I didn’t expect that final scene to be the thing getting me excited for season three.

All in all, this has been a stellar season of television, improving on the already-great first season, with a finale that manages to both ramp up the action and explore its characters. This balance is something that Arrow has always excelled at, with Slade’s ability to devastate Oliver both physically and mentally illustrating that perfectly, and Unthinkable leaves us in a good place ahead of season three. Will Quentin die? Will Diggle get more than one line per episode next year? Is Laurel going to start Canary training? With Roy suiting up and The Flash coming next season, Arrow’s world is only getting bigger and better.

Read Caroline's review of the previous episode, Streets Of Fire, here.

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I KNOW it's too soon and I KNOW you giving the fans what they want can be bad for a show... but poor Felicity! As she hesitantly addressed the issue on the beach and Oliver just stood there listening with a sort of patronising half-smile on his face... I hope she gets to make him insanely jealous again next season.

A fantastic finale - I loved the fight scene that intersected with the flashbacks - and it's great that they managed to tie up certain sections of the story that made it feel like the beginning, rather than a too-neat end. Thea's parentage, Roy's transformation to Red Arrow, Sarah's disappearance in both island and city time frames and Merlyn's return. I don't think Laurel is anywhere close to being a superhero but I did really like the idea of a voluntary handover of the jacket, so much more interesting than what I'd feared which was a death for Sarah and a resolution from Laurel to somehow embody her legacy from a sense of duty or revenge. At least this way there's no pressure to rush it, Sarah can always show up again, and there's not yet another tormented-hero-soul to add to the show. So open minded is the way to go here I think.

Roll on season 3!

It was an incredible episode! I loved it and am so excited to see how season 3 plays out. I was happy that they did not kill Sara, although I am disappointed that it looks like they are continuing with the idea of Laurel as the BC. Most every scene with Laurel feels forced and scripted, for me. The only time I've really appreciated her at all is recently in scenes with Sara. The pride when she called Sara the Canary. That was good. I agree - it is too soon for Oliver and Felicity to be together. Oliver is finally at a place that he can start maturing as he is now firmly on the path of a hero. I feel he is ready to leave "Ollie" and the island behind him. Oliver and Felicity's relationship is based on trust, honesty, and true caring. It is full of hope and light, and I look forward to seeing their relationship deepen over the next season. We ( and Oliver ) need to know more about Felicity and her backstory. Perhaps a solid love interest for her next season to make Oliver confront his feelings for her.... I don't need it to happen now, but Olicity needs to be the endgame :)

Maybe with Quentin near-dead or possibly dead, Laurel will feel the revenge need like a young Bruce Wayne. And like a young Bruce Wayne she will seek out training with her sister and the League of Shadows to get her into Black Canary shape. Or, since she knows all about the Arrow team, she can train with Ollie, Roy, and Diggle to her fighting abilities up (probably having to beg Ollie with a speech about protecting herself and the city to take up where her dad left off and be a hero like Sarah, blah, blah, blah..)
Great season, great episode, great series.

I've never watched this, I had assumed it would be a rehash of smallville. Is it any good?

Well, I enjoyed most seasons of Smallville so maybe I am not the best person to reply, but I haven't found myself irritated with Arrow in the same way I often was with Smallville. I think Arrow is great and definitely worth giving it a chance.

ARROW MEETS X-MEN 3 THE LAST STAND: THIS WAS ONE VILLAIN TAKEDOWN THAT WAS WAY TO EASY: I am truly sorry. But the Arrow season finale Unthinkable was the biggest screw job if there ever was one. And the screw job began with Streets of Fire and ended with Unthinkable. But given the lackluster writing that passes for television these days, this is not surprising. An epic season finale or movie is written so that A. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and B. Makes you believe that the bad guys really have a chance to win in the end. Arrow’s Unthinkable did neither of those. Yes, the actors/actresses did the best they could with what they had to work with but there were plenty of other episodes that did a much better job of keeping one on the edge of their seat and making us think that the bad guys could actually win. Season one delivered on both of these premises and was much better than season 2 and the season one finale was leagues better than what they came up with last Wednesday. Here is the laundry list of plot holes and screw ups that made Arrow, Unthinkable, an average episode at best.
First, as I mentioned, the screw job began with Streets of Fire. Simply being handed the mirakuru cure on a silver platter set the stage for the rest of the screw job that followed. One would think that the only thing that could stop Slade and his army would be under serious lock and key, if not flat out destroyed. Having Sebastian Blood simply walk out of the building with it uncontested was a travesty. At the very least, the writers could have staged an action scene where Team Arrow would have had to fight for the mirakuru cure, losing Sara or Roy or Diggle in the process. It is impossible to believe that, in battling an army of super soldiers, that Team Arrow came out on top, completely unscathed, without a scratch. No one from Team Arrow died, or even suffered any injuries for that matter, save for Detective Lance at the end, a consolation prize of sorts, to the bad guys. Drama Overload: There was far too much lovy dovy soapy stuff. With the fate of an entire city with over 576,000 lives at stake, and everyone pointing guns at each other, the main piece of news that catches everyone’s attention: Amanda Waller reveals that Diggle made Lyla pregnant and will be a father soon. Who friggin’ cares about that at this point? Lyla is a useless character anyway who serves no real useful purpose and should have been shot in the stand-off with Waller. And for her act of attempted genocide, Amanda Waller should be sharing the same cell with Slade Wilson. Oliver telling Felicity he loves her, Diggle telling Lyla he loves her, Roy and Thea love each other. Give me a break. Cut to the Chase: Just how did Nyssa Al Ghul ascertain the whereabouts of Slade and his army while just strolling into town while Oliver and company, being in the city since day one, couldn’t find him? Real lazy writing people. Slade’s strategy and tactics: During the “fight scene” at the Queen building, which lasted about 30 seconds, Slade is wearing full Deathstroke gear. No cure Arrows can touch him. And what does he do? He abandons Isabel and leaves her to die at the hands of Nyssa. Isabel had the mirakuru in her and therefore should have put up a much harder fight against Nyssa and Sara. She dies far too easily and way too early in the show and it has no impact. Isn’t the right hand/second in command supposed to be the last to die/be captured before the main villain falls? When Diggle kills Isabel in Man Under the Hood, Slade looks despondent that Isabel is dead. Which is why he gives her a blood transfusion to bring her back. And then he decides to abandon her when the final fighting begins. Really Slade? Isabel was your right hand and you do this? See why so many women hate men. No real man would abandon his woman to die, period. That made Deathstroke/Slade Wilson look very cowardly by doing that. Putting all of your men in one tunnel so they could all be decimated at once in one fell swoop? Seriously people? Slade is a master tactician and strategist given his time in the Australian Intelligence service. NO ONE IS THAT STUPID. And if Slade knew that Waller would destroy the city, why bother trying to leave at all? Waller’s men in the tunnels and around the city would have died as well. And on top of that, the fight scene in the tunnel was lackluster at best. It only consisted of men getting stuck with cure arrows and then falling down. And again, no one from Team Arrow/League of Assassins suffered any losses or injuries. Oliver’s reveal: When did he have time to find all the cameras that Slade planted in the house to spy on him and his family anyway? And if he knew, why not stop Slade earlier by doing the exact opposite of what he thinks you would do? If I know my enemy is spying on me, I won't do what he thinks, but the exact opposite, much earlier. Oliver’s plan: Juvenile in scope, it should have never worked. When Slade battles, he usually dresses in full Deathstroke gear, including face mask. Why not so during the last fight scene against Oliver? If he had, then Felicity could not have stuck him with the cure. And it certainly would not have worked if he had tied her and Laurel up, which is what he did with Moira and Thea when he kidnapped them and tried to make Oliver choose who would live and who would die. So everything that Slade did up to this point in destroying Oliver piece by piece prior to, in Unthinkable, he does the exact opposite, which allows Oliver to win. Lame excuse given for this? Oliver claims that Slade was “distracted” and therefore could not see the danger in front of him. Very few people who pulled off the intricate plans that Slade carried out are “distracted”. Again, seriously lame writing. The final battle between Slade and Oliver was average at best and not the epic showdown that we all had been waiting for. The fight did not live up to the hype. It should have ended with about five explosive arrows blowing the factory up, with no signs of Slade’s body being found. (IS HE DEAD OR IS HE ALIVE???) That would have been a good way to end this season finale, instead of taking the mirakuru out of him, putting him in an underground ARGUS jail while Oliver gloats. Given this, and all the other stuff that wasn’t necessary but just had to be crammed in anyway (Thea leaving with Malcom/Sara saying goodbye to her family happily sailing off with the very woman who poisoned her sister and kidnapped and threatened to kill her mother. So why was Laurel and Detective Lance so happy with Sara's decision? Seriously, Arrow writers?/Oliver having a last conversation with Slade in the underground prison feeding his own ego (Oliver's second mistake, he should have killed Slade instead of letting him live, his first mistake being he tried to kill him 5 years ago instead of curing him), meaning, Oliver's decision on how to deal with Slade in the present should have been based on what he SHOULD HAVE DONE 5 YEARS AGO AND NOT ON WHAT HE ACTUALLY DID DO. Anyone seriously trust Queen Genocide Amanda Waller to leave a mass murderer like Slade Wilson locked up? I think not. Slade is perfect Suicide Squad material. Just ask Deadshot. Given all these plot holes, inconsistencies, irrational and illogical scenarios, I must rate Arrow, Season 2 Finale, Unthinkable, as 2.5 stars out of 5.0.

Arrow season one was excellent. Arrow season two the first 10 episodes was good. Not as good as season one. After episode 10 Arrow season 2 faltered, and the season 2 episode Streets of fire, along with the season 2 finale Unthinkable, was a monumental screw job. Didn't like it at all. Hope season 3 is as good as season one.

Is it inevitable that Laurel becomes the Black Canary? Is that something from the comic books? She needs a personality overhaul, not some black latex!

I found season two to be a lot weaker than season one.
I got the impression that it was less focused and moving away from what the first season great

I enjoyed this season somewhat. There were problems though, like some terrible dialogue and way too many conversations conveniently interrupted. Most of all though I was deeply disappointed by Arrow's new no kill rule, no Oliver it doesn't make you better, it makes you worse at what you are doing. It's one of the things I loved about season 1, if a person kills an innocent in cold blood then they deserve to die, no question. This season we saw plenty of civilians, cops and guards get killed and he thinks it's ok to simply let the people who did it live? Bullshit, and it never really is clear why he decides this, it simply can't be rationally justified and surely he has noticed how much trouble the city has keeping the prisoners locked up even if he sends them there. Not once did he actually help the city either, everything that happened was his fault and he was simply playing clean-up, rather aptly the only person he accused of failing the city this season was himself. Also if Laurel becomes BC next season or Thea comes back as a villain (complete with fighting capability) it will be stupid, it took 4 years of living and breathing training for Sara to get to the level she was at. I might never know though because I'm not quite sure I'll be tuning in for season 3.

Honestly, I do see where you are coming from, but there's one small but significantly discrediting mistake that you keep making------Amanda Waller, as horrible as her actions were, did not plan on committing genocide, so she is NOT "Queen Genocide," lol. There are 8 distinctive qualities that are involved in order to make an event an official genocide:

Classification
Symbolization
Dehumanization
Organization
Polarization
Preparation
Extermination
Denial

ALL 8 of these steps must be present and in this order for an event to be labeled genocide and it's not something to be taken lightly or labeled easily. I just wanted to point this out to you so you don't make the same mistake again because it makes your otherwise trenchant argument weak. :)

Mr. Forbes, history teacher at Corona del Sol High School

I agree with what you're saying Reed. I was very disappointed with season 2's finale. What would you have done differently or how would you have made it end if you were directing/writing the show? I ask because you are one of the few people that sees the glaring flaws with Arrow's season ending. Too many people are content to let it slide. I write fan fiction and am working on my own version of the finale. If would really appreciate some ideas or your hearing your opinion. Thanks.

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