Arrow Season 3, Episode 10 “The Climb”
Written by Jake Coburn & Keto Shimizu
Directed by Thor Freudenthal
Airs Wednesdays at 8pm ET on The CW (returns 1/21)
With the League of Assassins arriving in Starling City and demanding answers about Sara’s murder, it’s clear from the beginning that “The Climb” is ready to kick season three of Arrow into high gear – and it couldn’t happen soon enough: the lack of delay tactics in “The Climb” breaks the show wide open, allowing characters the freedom to both emote and take action, the latter of which has been sorely missing at points in recent weeks. Ending with a series-shaking moment, “The Climb” ends an up-and-down start to Arrow‘s third season on an exciting high note.
That’s not to say it’s not an episode without a few striking flaws; what Arrow does best, however, is rise above said flaws with exciting action and deft storytelling decisions, both of which are on full display in “The Climb”. The revelation that Thea killed Sara isn’t necessarily the most surprising reveal – how Merlyn’s been manipulating the situation since last season sure is impressive though, a twist that doesn’t feel as manipulative and out-of-left-field as it might seem on paper. One of the only things season one did really well was establish Merlyn as an antagonist for Oliver, someone who can torment and challenge him, yet always remain at arm’s length (plus from the beginning, John Barrowman’s passionate, over-the-top performance has been a highlight). His plan to drive Oliver into the arms of Ghul is pure brilliance, and the way Merlyn delivers the news to Oliver, playing to his humanity by convincing him he can beat R’as (something Merlyn knows he couldn’t do himself, nor Oliver), effectively guiding him to his death atop The Mountain of Shirtless Blood Duels.
Merlyn’s trickery is the understated highlight of the episode: however, the most lasting moments are those that haven’t happened yet, stories that kick into gear the moment R’as kicks Oliver’s ass, guts him with a sword, and boots him off a cliff. Ray Palmer, driven by the death of the woman he lives, will don the A.T.O.M. suit to protect Starling City; Diggle and Arsenal will be challenged to fill Oliver’s shoes; Laurel will be driven even harder than she was by her mom (“You make them suffer!” she coldly tells Laurel about Sara’s killer) to become the Canary; Thea’s new loyalty to her father will be challenged (if she can figure out that her brother is The Arrow, which is 50/50, at best)… the possibilities are endless for Arrow‘s next three episodes – 3.14 is titled “The Return”, which can only mean Oliver will be back by then – allowing the writers to explore an alternate reality where The Arrow is dead, and Barry’s speech about Oliver Queen being an inspiration come true.
Of course, we all know that Arrow isn’t dead (after all, this show isn’t changing its name to A.T.O.M., The Adventures of Merlyn & Deathstroke, or Superhero Bachelorette featuring Felicity Smoak… and why is that? One of the things that goes synonymous with the mention of R’as al Ghul (besides “LIAM NEESONS!”) is the Lazarus Pit, a magical pool that resurrects the dead, a bath of darkness that I’d imagine a very broken, bloodless Oliver Queen is going to take in a few weeks (who saves him?… my money’s on Maseo). It’s the reason R’as al Ghul is centuries old, and why he’s able to kick Oliver’s ass so brutally and effortlessly: he’s not tied down by the trappings of mortality, a man who has “replaced evil with death” and spent decades fighting men stronger and more experienced than Oliver (who kind of flails around like an idiot in this fight… either way, R’as would beat him down, even if he brought his A game)… this is a man without a soul, a new type of darkness that Deathstroke, The Undertaking, or the Omega virus can’t match.
As awesome as the episode’s conclusion is, it doesn’t get there without a few glaring issues: the potential use of fridging re: Katana and Maseo is disappointing to see, though I suppose there was no other way to get to the “a man can’t live by two names” story. But it’s the lesser of two flaws: the only real flaw of “The Climb” comes with Merlyn’s bullshit explanation of a “suggestive” plant that drugs people into doing bad shit and not remembering it, a plot convenience that only works to lessen the emotional impact of Thea killing Sara. It’s a scapegoat device, one that actually undermines the tragic irony Oliver points out in the episode, that Oliver’s attempts to protect Thea only drove her to darkness: unfortunately, that story only works if Thea knowingly assassinated Sara as part of her training with Merlyn, something that the episode quickly backs away from with Merlyn’s explanation (and Maseo’s confirmation of such magical chemicals in the episode’s flashback, in a scene that seems to contradict last week’s ideals about the lack of value in torture).
Besides that one scene (and the horrible stunt work done in Thea and The Arrow’s brief fight scene), “The Climb” piggybacks on last week’s episode to end Arrow‘s 2014 on a strong note, a year that saw rapid expansion in the show’s universe, but not at the sake of the show’s quality, in fact getting better as it got bigger, a rare feat for any kind of drama. And boy, does it end on a doozy of a cliffhanger (insert cliffhanger pun here): after some mildly discouraging episodes earlier this season, I’m as excited as ever for Arrow to return in January (in six weeks… six motherf-ing weeks!!!).