ARROW Review 5.23 “Lian Yu”


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Last week we spent a moment or two wondering if the finale of Arrow would be able to top its immediate predecessor. It seems that more often than not, penultimate episodes have been bringing the fire that finales once did, especially on the CW. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. Supergirl’s finale was exceptional. But even Legends of Tomorrow, who certainly wins the “Most Improved” trophy of the network, fell into this trap. Arrow has suffered from some difficult times, and some downright terrible finales. So far as they go, this one is solidly in the middle.

Things start off great. As a matter of fact, Arrow was on course to have its best finale yet. Unfortunately, the show falls on its face in the last seconds of its runtime, adding a sour taste to all of the solid interactions and story that came prior.

The premise is pretty simple. Beat Chase, get friends, family, and son back, and don’t kill anyone. In the process of all that we’re given some exceptional character interactions from players old and new. In fact, every character is given a solid moment or two, except for Curtis. We’ve discussed his awkwardness before, but in prior episodes it was used to break up less emotional moments. The fact that it was a tool to interrupt the bad-dad talk between Felicty and Thea managed to be annoying while cheapening the emotional response to the sacrifice. Malcolm Merlyn is the reason his son died and has committed a thousand unspeakable acts, but his love for his children has always been real. Just like Moira’s.

Speaking of, what a lovely cameo. By the time Moira Queen was stabbed in season two, it was difficult not to all but cheer Slade on when he did it. Despite her many unsettling qualities, her scene tonight with a wigged-out and recently rescued Oliver was heartfelt and moving. A solid way to close out the flashbacks! Let’s never do them again! Okay? Okay.

Episode MVPs often go to the villains. Tonight’s episode of Arrow stayed true to that, but with a twist. Merlyn and Moira are joined by a recovered Slade Wilson. Now that he’s no longer under the influence of the Mirakuru, he’s a lot less, well, crazy pants. Sitting in a cell in a deserted island for three years gives a man a lot of time to think, and it shows. While Oliver and Felicity do get a nice moment before the team splits up, it’s nice to see the pep talk coming from someone other than her and Dig. Those moments are some of the best, but you’ve gotta switch things up every once and a while, and Slade’s talk about forgiveness was perfectly articulated and, somehow, came from just the right person. The Slade we meet now is both introspective and apologetic, but still just as crafty as he once was. He must have been sparring that lone guard in his spare time, because the guy fights like a champ after chilling out in a ten-by-ten cell for that long.

“Lian Yu” didn’t just bring Oliver’s murderous arc to an end, it gave closure in one way or another to many of the team. The fight between Nyssa and Talia appears to have been decades in the making. It’s short, but fun to watch none the less. We’ve already discussed Merlyn and Thea’s closure. We also finally get a little something for Quentin Lance. That family has been through the ringer again and again, but from those ashes rose a mostly functional and loveable father figure who will straight up beat down anyone who impersonates his daughter and tries to hurt his friends. While it would have been nice for Dinah to have a chance to really show her stuff, she’ll have her moment next season. It’s Quentin’s time!

Dinah may not have been the one to finish the battle with Black Siren, but we did get to watch her ascend to her full moniker. Black Canary is finally passed on, and done so by the only man with any right to do so. Quentin Lance is getting to do all the fun stuff this episode! He’s obviously still having a bad day, but story-wise, it’s nice to see him get a few great moments after going through so much.

Through all of this character building, Lian Yu is still basically one giant block of C4. That’s never great, but it’s even worse when it’s Adrian Chase holding the trigger. After realizing that he won’t be getting Oliver to kill him through traditional means, Chase hops a boat and heads away from the island. The episode is filled with Oliver screaming the same line over and over again, but hey, he really wanted to know where his kid was. Predictably, William’s in the cockpit and Oliver is faced with a choice. Kill Adrian, and as a result kill all of his friends and family who cannot escape Lian Yu, or let Adrian kill William, and live with the fact that he couldn’t protect his son for the rest of his life. In a crafty loophole (it’s not crafty, Oliver shoots Chase in the foot), Oliver wins the day! He gets his son back and everything’s okay and everyone’s happy and oh wait Chase has a gun. Do you see where this episode’s starting to unravel?

Oliver gets William back and does what any horrified father would do. The problem is less that Oliver doesn’t act reasonably and more what happens after the fact. The entire episode culminates in what may have been the most pointless cliffhanger in existence. After Chase shoots himself in the head and triggers all the C4, “Lian Yu” cuts to the credits. The big “OH NO” here is supposed to be the worry over the safety of the team. The problem is that there’s no payoff if we all know that the team is fine. This leaves the big worry for the start of season six to return to Oliver’s roots! How’s the team going to get off this island? How are we going to fix that annoying wound that one of our beloved characters acquired in the explosion? How will we ever fend off the bad guys that also inevitably survived the explosion?

Listen, y’all. Season five has been a vast improvement on prior seasons. It was this close to having a good finale.“Lian Yu” wasn’t terrible; it simply suffered from one deeply terrible moment. The issue is that the deeply terrible moment is supposed to be the hook for the next season. Despite that, there’s still plenty to look forward to. If you had a favorite moment, I obviously want to hear about it! You know what to do.