Arrow Season 5 Episode 23 Review: Lian Yu

The battle of Lian Yu rages on in the Arrow Season 5 finale.

This Arrow review contains spoilers.

Arrow Season 5 Episode 23

After a year of twists, turns, false flags and some seriously angsty drama, the Arrow season 5 finale is its most climactic and costume-heavy episode to date. Not only did the finale pack enough hardcore action to satisfy any average fan’s bloodlust, but the aging series found yet another compelling way to leave fans on the hook until Arrow Season 6 kicks off in October.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the battle on Lian Yu or the ultimate Arrow cliffhanger, let’s acknowledge for one final time the shoehorned existence of the flashbacks. It will be strange to see what happens to the format of the series next year now that its gimmick of showing fans what happened during the five years that Oliver was allegedly stranded on the island, but odds are good it won’t be missed. Even in its final whimper, which took us back to the very first shots of the series but gave them a completely different context, it felt a little stretched and perfunctory.

To recap, Oliver was captured on the island two days before he’d arranged a rescue for himself. Although his nemesis, Konstantin Kovar, thought he’d convinced the hero to kill himself, the final flashbacks consisted mostly of Oliver killing all his men and ultimately throwing down with him before snapping his neck. All-in-all, there wasn’t much to write home about, except for Stephen Amell’s best acting moment on the show to date – calling his mom to let her know that he’s alive, his father isn’t and that he’s coming home. It was subtle, beautiful and Amell really rose to the occasion.

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Five years later, the hero finds himself back on Lian Yu, with no mother but an ally responsible for killing her. That’s right, as teased at the end of last week’s episode, Slade Wilson is back in action, but can he be trusted? It turns out, yes, but the episode really milked that mystery for all that it was worth. Also joining the fray was Captain Boomerang, A.K.A. Digger Harkness, a fellow inmate on Lian Yu. This episode was riddled with returning guest stars and high-concept characters. Too often shows like Arrow and even The Flash bend over backwards to not show fully costumed characters duking it out. It was refreshing to see everyone’s fully-realized personas in action. If only there was a way to have Diggle, Wild Dog and Curtis in their getups as well, I’d be fully happy.

Speaking of fully realized characters, it’s time to take a moment of silence for the episode’s potential casualty (aside from that big cliffhanger, of course. Don’t get ahead of me). After saving a portion of the hostages from Evelyn Sharpe and Talia al Ghul, Green Arrow makes the decision to send them away with Malcolm Merlyn so that he can focus on the battle. It’s worth pointing out here that Curtis, Thea, and Merlyn could have been incredibly valuable assets in said battle, but who am I to question Ol’Ollie Queen?

While escorting them back, Merlyn tries to get some quality time in with his daughter, but she’s not interested… that is until she finds herself standing atop an active landmine. As previously established, Lian Yu is lousy with them. In the most sympathetic act we’ve ever seen from him, which is saying something considering he spent the better part of 2016 as a member of the Legion of Doom, Merlyn takes her place. Captain Boomerang and some assassins approach and there’s an explosion in the distance. Sure, this is Arrow, we all know that no one on this show dies for good assuming the actor or actress still wants a job. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Merlyn, but the show wants us to think he’s dead and I’m willing to play along for a bit – so godspeed Malcolm. In an episode that ties us back to Season 1, it seems only fitting that its first big bad lays down his life.

What followed was a cavalcade of action-packed battles. Nyssa and Talia had their impressive one-on-one, Slade Wilson routinely cut his way through three men at once, Black Siren had a sing-off with Black Canary that ended with Quentin being a badass and Oliver took on Chase one last time. The highlight of the episode, without a doubt, was the static shot that panned through these heroes, and many more, as they cast a decided victory over all of Chase’s redshirts.

As for the big bad of Season 5… things don’t turn out well. In his most sinister and clever ruse yet, he orchestrates a scenario in which Oliver has to decide to save his son, William, or literally everyone else he’s ever known. If he chooses William and kills Chase, his friends die. If he does nothing, William dies. In what felt like a cheat, Oliver knee-caps the villain and thinks that he’s won. However, in his final act of villainous psychopathy, Chase shoots himself, triggering the explosion of Oliver’s precious Lian Yu… oh, and all his friends.

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Here’s what we know, everyone is on that island. Heroes, villains, a Felicity who seems pretty keen to get back together with the Green Arrow on the mainland, William’s mom… everyone. However, despite Chase’s final jab at Oliver, we don’t know for sure that any of these people actually died. Sadly, it seems as though we’ll have to wait until Arrow Season 6… which hopefully isn’t a really boring show about Oliver being a dad.

So here we are loyal readers, the end of yet another season of Arrow. It was a mixed bag to say the least, but it really came together in the end. Season 5 had a lot riding on it, especially after the shark-jumping events of Season 4 (for real, magic?). In the end, the show did its job and delivered a complicated crime drama that factored masked heroes in as key cogs in the larger machine – with some aliens thrown in for good measure.

Sure, Season 5 was a far cry from the grounded, albeit less colorful, show we were introduced to in 2012. In fact, that’s never been more apparent thanks to the constant callbacks to Season 1. But, when we digest the show as a whole, there’s simply no denying that you care about everyone whose life was left hanging in the balance. In some small way, over the course of these 5 years, you’ve grown invested in at least one of those handsome devils and you can’t deny your curiosity regarding their fate. When it’s all said and done, isn’t that what TV shows are all about?


4.5 out of 5