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Arrow, Ep. 2.23, “Unthinkable” brings a much-improved sophomore effort to a satisfying close

Arrow, Ep. 2.23, “Unthinkable” brings a much-improved sophomore effort to a satisfying close

Unthinkable

Arrow Season 2, Episode 23 “Unthinkable”
Written by Greg Berlanti (story), Marc Guggenheim & Andrew Kreisberg (teleplay)
Directed by John Behring
Aired 5/14/14 on The CW

 

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Arrow‘s exciting second season finale really likes to hit the nail directly on the head with its main character in a number of scenes –  so it’s no surprise the most effective moment of the entire season is when Arrow stops explaining Oliver’s transformation from vigilante to hero and just shows it to us. The scene inter cutting Arrow and Deathstroke’s fight in the present with their altercation on The Amazo is a defining moment for the show’s hero, and the series as a whole: it brings the two big story lines of the show together in epic fashion – and more importantly, defines just how different Oliver on Lian Yu, differs from the hero we see saving Starling City throughout “Unthinkable”.

Simply put, the last fifteen minutes of “Unthinkable” are pure genius, a testament to the story Arrow‘s meticulously constructed through its second season. The conflict between Slade and Arrow might’ve been built around hurt feelings, but in “Unthinkable”, it becomes the hero’s challenge it was designed to be, directly contrasting an Oliver channeling hatred in murder (along with Waller’s plan to deal with Slade’s army, representing the “easy”, morally compromising choice), and the hero of Starling City, who would rather risk Deathstroke escaping an A.R.G.U.S. prison on Lian Yu than deal with more blood on his hands.

Over 23 episodes, Arrow built to that showdown between Slade and Oliver – and it’s wildly satisfying, a fulfilling end to the transformation Oliver’s embraced since The Undertaking decimated his city and left his best friend dead in his arms. Unlike last season’s finale, “Unthinkable” is designed around resolution, representing a completion of a specific journey – rather than last year’s “Sacrifice”, which built to Oliver looking in the mirror and realizing what he’d become, an inherently less cathartic conclusion to a long-running narrative. And even though it has two seasons’ worth of pressure in delivering a conclusive finish to the many long-running stories, “Unthinkable” pulls it off confidentially, pushing Arrow to the brink of killing again, with Nyssa’s quick dismissal of Isabel showing just how simple and effective murdering someone can be, when morality isn’t a concern.

That particular moment felt like a weak spot upon first viewing – it’s an anticlimactic end to Summer Glau’s run on the show, ending an underwhelming story arc that still has major implications for the future of the show (lest we forget, Oliver’s still broke from her takeover of the company). But upon a second viewing, it becomes an important litmus test for Oliver’s character: it forces Oliver to consider doing the ‘unthinkable’, Slade’s challenges frustrating him to the point he’s willing to abandon everything he’s fought so hard to change over the last 22 episodes – Isabel’s death is so quick and ends her threat so effectively, it challenges Oliver to consider the “easy way out” – which, as he’s learned, is never going to be the right way for a hero.

There are a few moments in “Unthinkable” that fall flat, mostly because of the episode’s limited 42-minute (barely) running time: Diggle and Lyla having a baby is mostly an afterthought, and Sara’s arc through the season (which came screeching to a halt after her lame “I’m a hero now!” mini-arc last week) comes to an unceremonious close, heading back to the League of Assassins because… she wants to (wait… whaaaat???). It’s never really explained, which leaves it all feeling as unresolved and trite as Quentin’s internal bleeding near the episode’s conclusion: Sara had to leave, just as there had to be some kind of drama carried over into the third season premiere – unfortunately, the way it goes about those two things (in the same scene) are a bit unflattering (you can add Waller’s apperances in the past and present here, too: I’m glad we’re off the island, but in Hong Kong with A.R.G.U.S.? Not sure how much that matters to me) .

But these are small complaints: overall, “Unthinkable” delivers on everything it’s alluded to over the season, right down to some SERIOUS Olicity teases (in fact, his “fake”profession of love for Felicity is the season’s most important moment, plot-wise) and Roy donning a red mask for the first time (Mirakuru virus works! Huzzah!). Best of all, it finally gives meaningful context to Arrow’s journey on Lian Yu where season one ultimately failed: like everything that happened in Starling City during the first season, everything with Fyers, Shado, and the rest was mere precursor to the true hero’s journey, an Odyssey that concludes in spectacular fashion during the entire third act of this season. Where does the show go from now? Nobody knows; but after a season that catapulted Arrow from middling CW drama to one of TV’s premiere shows, I couldn’t be more excited for season three to start.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– If you missed it, there’s an extended The Flash trailer making the rounds today; it looks fantastic.

– Thea joins Malcolm because everyone lies to her (including him). Of the two half-baked resolutions in this episode (Sara’s being the other), this one bothers me more: as a main character making a massive switch of alliances and ideologies, her story deserved the same attention as Oliver’s. Instead, she gets praised by her father for trying to kill him, and leaves Roy when she finds his collection of arrows: justified actions, but moments that don’t quite convey the bubbling rage within the young Queen.

– So Oliver didn’t actually watch Sara die, as he stated so many episodes ago: he just saw her float away, exactly like she did when the yacht crashed in the pilot. While I like the parallel nature it gives to her first “death” (like Slade and Oliver’s two battles mirroring each other, right down to punches and throat grabs), it doesn’t quite feel as big of a moment as it sounded earlier this year.

– “I am Nyssa, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, and Heir to the Demon.” “I’m Felicity, MIT Class of ’09.” Just stamp my lifetime membership card to Team Felicity already, will you?

– someone really needs to write better dialogue for Laurel – “It fits” falls in the same boat as “These rocks have fallen on me, and now I’m stuck!”.

– I can’t say enough how much I love that Deathstroke stays alive. Arrow really embraced its comic book roots this season – and with the episode opening on an unexplained arrival of Lyla (on a helicopter, with a fucking rocket launcher, no less), the return of many DC-related guest characters throughout the episode, and the closing reveal of Slade’s punishment, everything in “Unthinkable” feels like a comic book brought to life. Really great stuff.

– ok, Oliver knowing about the cameras in Slade’s house is a little convenient – one would think he could’ve used this information earlier to save his mother’s life, no?

– and so ends our journey through Arrow‘s awesome second season. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading/watching along with me – we’ll see you in the fall for season three of Arrow AND the debut of The Flash.