Blimey. What an ending.
But we’ll get there, just like Oliver ascending the mountain in those oh so tantalising scenes that cryptically punctuate this mid-season finale (we’re used to flashbacks on Arrow but are these the first flash-forwards the show’s given us?).
The long, threatening shadow of Ra’s al Ghul provides the main dramatic thrust of “The Climb”. Despite its title, this episode’s all about the destination, not the journey. And, in truth, some of the storytelling choices that take us to that fateful confrontation don’t quite work. The scenes between Laurel and her mother are especially problematic – Dinah’s declaration of “mother’s intuition” doesn’t convince; it feels like an all too convenient way for the writers’ room to manoeuvre Laurel into confessing that Sara’s dead. Laurel’s revelation to Thea at the graveside comes across as equally pat.
But these are minor wobbles. The 48 hour countdown lends a juicy sense of urgency, made even more compelling because we know the League doesn’t make idle threats (we’ve seen their idea of “cleansing” in Batman Begins, after all). There’s a welcome touch of detective work in the race to identify the DNA and the revelation that it belongs to Oliver makes for a genuinely unexpected twist.
A subtler crossover with The Flash this week – Felicity’s reading a news story with the headline “Mysterious Yellow Blur Attacks STAR Labs”, a nod to contemporaneous Flash episode “The Man In The Yellow Suit”.
But it’s all so much set-up. The final face-off between Oliver and Ra’s delivers one of the greatest, most heart-stopping moments Arrow’s ever given us. Homaging the Dark Knight’s legendary desert duel with the Demon’s Head in Batman 244, it’s an immaculately staged piece of theatre, from the great shot of Ra’s silhouetted on the icy precipice to Oliver’s astonished reaction to his opponent’s sudden, sharp blow to his windpipe. There’s a wonderful directorial touch as the familiar Arrow theme kicks in, seemingly signifying Oliver’s victory, only to be cut off as Ra’s skewers our hero with a blade. For a moment Ra’s seems powerful enough to defy the conventions of TV storytelling itself. And then he kicks Oliver off the mountain, the perfect capper to this epic fight. It’s not even a cliffhanger. It’s a clifftumbler, damn it.
Anyone who knows the comic books can make an educated guess as to how Oliver might survive this one, of course. But for now let’s leave this delicious mid-season teaser unspoiled, in all its viewer-punching glory.
Did You Spot?
Did the Omega Virus sound familiar? For once it’s not a rip from the DC Universe. It’s the name of the bio-weapon Blofeld threatened to unleash from his Swiss lair in 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Coincidence or homage?
Did You Also Spot?
Ra’s declares “It’s been 67 years since a man challenged me,” a clear statement that, like his comic book counterpart, he’s functionally immortal. The world of Arrow continues to jettison its early Nolanesque trappings to embrace the more fantastical side of the DCU…
You have to smile at Ray’s acronym for ATOM: “Advanced Technology Operating Mechanism”. Well, that’s nice and specific, isn’t it? Maybe “A Thing That Does Stuff” didn’t acronymise too well…
Arrow is broadcast in the UK on Sky 1 HD