This review contains spoilers.
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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