A review of tonight's “Arrow” coming up just as soon as I get a Christmas tree inversely proportional to the size of my family…
Numerically, “The Climb” isn't the mid-point of “Arrow” season 3, but scheduling-wise, it's being treated that way, and as a result had to feel like a culmination of what's happened so far this season. The problem is that a lot of what's happened so far this season hasn't been entirely working, which resulted in a “winter finale” with a clear dichotomy: whenever people were fighting(*), or whenever Felicity was on-screen, it was really excellent, and whenever neither of those things was happening, it was a slog.
(*) One exception to that: the unintentionally hilarious Arrow/Thea fight, which was hurt both by Willa Holland's nascent stage combat skills, and by the sparkly MC Hammer pants the wardrobe team decided to put her in for the fight.
So the Oliver/Ra's al-Ghul trial by combat was everything I could have hoped for, up to and including Ra's running sword through Oliver and kicking him off the mountain. If this weren't a superhero show called “Arrow” – and if I hadn't ready many comic books featuring Ra's – I might wonder if Ray Palmer (or, heaven help us, Roy) was about to become the main character, but this is part and parcel of the genre and of this set of characters in particular, so I'll be curious to see how exactly the creative team chooses to make him non-dead when we return. And the various other fight scenes involving various combinations of Oliver, Ra's, League of Assassins members, China White and Maseo's wife Tatsu were all exciting and well-choreographed.
The Felicity/Ray material also worked well, both in giving Ray a backstory and motivation for his inevitable superheroics, and at having Felicity (the show's funniest and most self-aware-to-the-point-of-meta character) wonder how she keeps winding up in this circumstance. With the ATOM suit so close to completion at the same time Oliver is busy being dead, I wonder if the show might actually try to go a couple of episodes with Ray functioning as Starling's primary hero while Oliver's being made less dead. Brandon Routh certainly has the charisma for it(**). And Felicity and Oliver's goodbye scene in the Arrow-Cave crackled, as pretty much any of their scenes do on those rare occasions when they get to interact these days.
(**) The relative failure of “Superman Returns” feels a bit like the Timothy Dalton James Bond movies; Routh made a perfectly fine Superman, but because he was stuck in a movie that was both slavishly faithful to the Richard Donner films and too serious by half, he was stuck in a no-win scenario where he got blamed for flaws in the movie that had nothing to do with his performance.
“The Climb” also had to deal with some tedious Lance family drama, and the Hong Kong material still not feeling urgent even now that Maseo has been revealed to be a present-day League member. Even the family tension between Thea's brother and her father didn't really click, because it's dependent on Oliver keeping his identity secret from Thea for no good reason, and therefore he can't say, “Your father drugged you into murdering Sara, showed me the videotape and is threatening to turn you into the League of Assassins.” Half the city knows Oliver is the Arrow by this point, but he can't find some way to tell the one surviving member of his family? I've said it before and I'll say it again: secret identities are one of those tropes that's more often than not better off left in the pages of the comic books.
But that Oliver/Ra's fight – and the literal cliffhanger that followed? That was pretty sweet, and a good note to go into the break on. I just hope the other parts of the season start coming into better focus in 2015.
What did everybody else think?