Arrow 2.23 "Unthinkable" REVIEW

TV REVIEW: The cost of mercy

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Episode 2.23
Writers: Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim & Andrew Kreisberg
Director: John Behring

THE ONE WHERE: As Slade’s army seizes control of Starling Oliver must face his old enemy in a final, decisive confrontation…

THE VERDICT: The payoff to a consistently impressive run of episodes, “Unthinkable” proves to be a phenomenally busy season finale, one that feels in danger of buckling beneath the weight of its own expectations. The cast list alone is a crazed bid to consolidate 23 episodes’ worth of continuity – Malcolm, Nyssa, Amanda, Lyla, Shado and even the Suicide Squad are summoned for this explosive curtain call. It’s just on the verge of feeling messy – the drone strike’s ultimately an unnecessary extra level of peril while Lance’s sudden, inexplicable collapse and the revelation of Dig’s impending fatherhood feel like so much dramatic clutter, for all that they try and hook us for season three.

Still, it delivers, in pacy, propulsive style. Moving inexorably toward the showdown with Slade, it’s an episode that places Oliver firmly in the moral crucible that’s been the heart of this show over the past two years – should a hero kill? His newly developed conscience is contrasted with the warrior pragmatism of the al Ghul clan: “Your reticence to do what is necessary is why your city burns,” says Nyssa, and there’s a needling touch of truth to that which makes Oliver’s stand all the more noble. Oliver’s not entirely morally blameless, though – his use of Felicity to trap Slade verges on psychological cruelty (come on, man, don’t mess with a gal’s heart like that – or your audience!)

Make no mistake. This is – for all its unwieldy ensemble cast – the story of Oliver Queen. His climactic fight with Slade is smartly intercut with the island flashbacks, finally fusing the show’s parallel narratives and illuminating how its hero has grown. And Oliver emerges as a stronger character for his mercy: his decision to let Slade live feels like a credible victory, even if Slade’s marvelously threatening “So what now, kid?” reminds us that the game is far from over.

It’s been a strong season, and it’ll be interesting to see where Arrow goes next. Roy has a mask now and looks set for official kid sidekick duty, for all his guilt over Thea Queen’s supremely bratty exit (“I am never coming back” she vows – is her middle name Drama?). Lauren - a little ludicrously - seems in danger of becoming the new Black Canary if the heavy symbolism of the leather jacket handover means more than a cheeky, fan-baiting tease. And the Hong Kong stinger scene promises an intriguing new set of flashbacks for season three, hinting at Amanda’s secret history with Oliver and a chance to trade the desolate island locale for the colour, bustle and intrigue of the Far East…

HMM: Not convinced by the moment where Oliver tells Slade “My enemy is so distracted that he doesn’t see the real danger is right in front of him.” Bit of a high risk strategy to tip your opponent off like that, no? It’s one of those hoary comic strip conventions that doesn’t transpose too healthily into live action drama.

DID YOU SPOT?: The Giordano Tunnel is a tip of the quiver to veteran comic artist and editor Dick Giordano, who inked Neal Adams on the seminal Green Lantern/Green Arrow of the early ‘70s.

DID YOU SPOT? 2: Meltzer Avenue? That’s a shout-out to comic book writer Brad Meltzer, who wrote a six-issue Green Arrow run in 2002/3.

DID YOU SPOT? 3: ARGUS’ team of soldiers is named Easy Company. That’s the name of the unit famously commanded by WW2 hero Sgt Rock in DC continuity.

Nyssa: “I am Nyssa, daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, heir to the Demon.”
Felicity: “Felicity Smoak. MIT class of ’09.”

Arrow is broadcast in the UK on Sky 1 HD

Nick Setchfield
Editor-at-Large, SFX Magazine

Nick Setchfield is the Editor-at-Large for SFX Magazine, writing features, reviews, interviews, and more for the monthly issues. However, he is also a freelance journalist and author with Titan Books. His original novels are called The War in the Dark, and The Spider Dance. He's also written a book on James Bond called Mission Statements.