As “Arrow” caps off the first half of it’s freshman year and gears up for 2013, now seems like a good time for reflection on all that the show has achieved thus far. While there’s still plenty of room for improvement, I get the sense that the show’s creators know that, especially with Marc Guggenheim tweeting “He’s not a hero yet. He’s a vigilante. He’ll become a hero, so keep watching (please).” And even though “Year’s End” is a step down from the previous two episodes, there’s still plenty of must-see action to keep viewers excited for the show’s return in the new year.
This week we discover that because every day on the island was Don’t Get Killed Day, Oliver hasn’t been much for holidays of any kind for quite some time. Soon he’s shocked to learn that his family hasn’t had much of a Christmas in his absence either, and hopes to make up for this by throwing an honest-to-goodness holiday party at the Queen estate. What I love is that Oliver is completely sincere about this. He really sinks his teeth into this chance to bring his loved ones a little closer together. It’s got nothing to do with the List, and he’s not out to create an alibi for his alter ego.
He’s still got plenty to worry about on that front, as another archer is cutting down Oliver’s previous marks from the List with extreme prejudice, and Quentin, because he’s awesome, sees right away that they’re dealing with a cold-blooded copycat. But that doesn’t stop the police chief from ordering him to hush up the fact that there are two archers running around and pin the whole thing on the Hood if he has to.
Oliver (as the Hood of course) eventually talks Quentin into letting him take a look at the murder arrow, which he shows to the always entertaining Felicity Smoak, complete with another lame cover story about a friend who’s into archery (“Apparently it’s all the rage these days.”) In one of the show’s most laughable scenes to date, Felicity’s traces the source of the arrow in about two seconds using super hacker voodoo magic, and even has the courtesy not to press him on the matter. Oliver’s still kind of a bad liar when it comes to asking her for help.
“Year’s End” doesn’t make for much of a cliffhanger, but it still works as an effective mid-season finale by giving all the major characters something to do, even in the flashback scenes. Laurel mostly just stands around and acts as a foil for her Dad and Tommy, but the scene where she unwraps the gift from Tommy in front of her Dad is genuinely touching.
But the real highlight comes when Oliver squares off with the black archer after the villain takes hostages just to get our hero’s attention. It’s only a couple of minutes, but it’s easily the most thrilling fight of the series yet (I feel like I say that a lot), not the least of which because Oliver’s nemesis is working specifically to kill him. And most amazing of all, I never once had trouble telling who was who, despite all the fast cutting and the similarities in the costumes.
Since the series started I’ve wondered how Tommy would become the black archer that shares his name in the comics, but it turns out he didn’t have to. The writers just introduced his father and had him do it. Not that I’m complaining, especially because even with my knowledge of the comics and my prognostications from last episode, they still managed to keep me guessing as to who was behind the mask. Malcolm Merlyn seems obvious in retrospect, but I couldn’t help wondering if it was going to be Yao Fei, the only other expert archer we’ve seen so far, or possibly Deathstroke, which would’ve made for a boring reveal.
Speaking of which, some interesting developments in the flashbacks too (though still few revelations) as Yao Fei attempts to turn the tables on the man that captured and tortured Oliver, leading to another tussle with Deathstroke that results in Yao Fei getting taken prisoner. Even though he hasn’t said a word yet, it’s great seeing Deathstroke on screen, and not some simplified, watered-down TV-ready version like we got with Deadshot or the Royal Flush Gang. The costume is all there, and the mask doesn’t look nearly so dorky when he’s deflecting arrows with his blade. I’m still wondering, after the situation with Deathstroke and the drug runners was taken care of, what did Oliver do for the other four years and eleven months? Off the top of my head, I’m guessing at some point a boat exploded that would’ve gotten Oliver off the island sooner.
Something occurred to me that I should’ve realized much sooner: Moira and Malcolm aren’t on the List. We can be sure of this because Oliver definitely has the List memorized, since the island wasn’t exactly stocked with reading material. And with what he’s gleaned about the List from the black archer, it’s likely his next move won’t involve striking off more names like he was before. He may not know what the List’s authors are planning (something about killing thousands of people), but he knows the conspiracy goes far beyond the names in that little book. I look forward to Oliver putting the List aside and setting his sights on Starling City’s real heart of darkness.
-The words “Green Arrow” are finally spoken as Malcolm offers up the moniker as an alternative to “The Hood” during a dinner party. Oliver calls it lame. Show, I grant you a most sincere “tee-hee-hee”.
-Oliver calling Diggle for help after getting shot was a nice Batman Begins callback.
-I didn’t mention Walter, who’s drugged and kidnapped by episode’s end at the behest of Malcolm. Since Moira is in on the whole thing, I’m not sure what to expect when next we see Walter, other than at some point he’ll likely cross paths with Oliver’s alter ego when trying to recover his stolen memories.
-I wonder if Malcolm will have to account for that limp.