‘Arrow’ Season 3 Recap, Episode 9: ‘The Climb’
The CW’s superhero series Arrow re-imagines Green Arrow for a TV audience as a tough, often ruthless vigilante bent on setting things right in his home of Starling City by punishing the wicked. ComicsAlliance’s Matt Wilson is back for the third season of the popular series in our recap feature we’re officially dubbing Pointed Commentary.
This week: Everyone lies to Captain Lance because he is a fragile porcelain figure ready to break, a murder is finally solved, and another pretty major one seemingly occurs.
Before I dig too deep into the details of poking fun at this episode and Ra's al Ghul's Game of Thrones cosplay, let me say right here, up front, that I legitimately liked this episode. It was easily the best episode in what's been a fairly rocky season so far, and it reached the heights of some of last season's best.
Now that that's out of the way, the episode opens with what I swore was a dream sequence. Captain Lance is at a police Christmas party poppin' some pain pills when he nips outside and finds a gift-wrapped crook, courtesy of Arrow. Arrow and Lance exchange pleasantries, and Lance heads back inside.
Almost on cue, a few attackers from the League of Assassins bounds into the alley and attacks Arrow, who initially mistakes the first attacker for Malcolm Merlyn. The assassins make pretty quick work of Arrow, knock him out, and drag him to Nyssa.
The whole thing just happens so fast and throws so many weird elements together that it just has this sense of, let's call it heightened reality. It's like a scene from a musical. Ollie should have started belting out "Do You Hear the People Sing?"
It's all pretty indicative of the pacing of this episode, which is pretty breakneck. There aren't very many lulls. That I am highly appreciative of.
Nyssa tells Ollie that Team Arrow has been taking way too long to solve Sara's murder and the League is getting sick of it. It's like she's a viewer. I wanted her to say something like, "Was taking down that Wildcat's old sidekick really more important than Sara's murder? That really felt like filler to me."
She gives Ollie 48 hours to bring Sara's true killer to the League, or assassins are going to start killing Starling residents at random. (This despite stepping in during last season's finale to prevent that. The League seems pretty indecisive.) To add insult to injury, Ollie's old handler from Hong Kong, Maseo, who is a card-carrying assassin, will be the one doing the killing.
Ollie hoofs it back to the Arrowcave and tells Team Arrow about the urgent taks at hand. Dig says they need a contingency plan; Ollie says they don't have one. So Smoak starts examining the one lead they have: DNA evidence on the murder weapons.
She runs the sample against a the police's database (Why oh why beyond "we had to fill seven episodes between the premiere and this" hasn't she done this before now?) and it returns our boy Ollie's face. Oh snap!
Ollie, of course, knows he didn't kill Sara, so he quickly concludes that Malcolm Merlyn must have set him up. Smoak starts digging into flight records and finds a multi-stop flight from Corto Maltese to Starling on a private plane. It landed the night before Sara was murdered. Team Arrow figures that had to be Malcolm, so they track down the pilot and scare the daylights out of him.
Despite being pretty sure that Malcolm will kill him for telling, the pilot not only says he flew the guy, but coughs up some astonishingly crisp and well-shot security footage of Malcolm and Thea getting off the plane.
That leads Dig and Smoak to the same quick conclusion: The DNA on the arrow could have been Thea's. ("You two are siblings," Dig helpfully tells another human being.) Smoak even says her weird doubts about the arrows' trajectory would make sense if Thea was the killer, because she's short.
Ollie just won't accept it, though, so he goes to the half apartment/half fireplace he shares with Thea and immediately confronts her about her relationship with Malcolm. Thea's in there trying to spread some Christmas cheer and Ollie just busts in with the third degree up in there.
Thea lies about flying back to Starling with Malcolm, but Ollie goes back to the Arrowcave and says he knows she didn't kill Sara because he could see it in her eyes. Yeah, that holds up. Dig and Smoak quite rightly both say Ollie's got a blind spot when it comes to his family, but again, he won't accept it. So Smoak suggests going back to talk to Thea one more time, but as Arrow.
And boy, does he. He comes crashing into his own home through a big bay window and starts accosting Thea about where Malcolm is. Thea jumps up and starts hitting Arrow with some martial arts moves before telling him to stay away from her father and then peacing out through that same window. Thea is pretty baller this episode.
Ollie's sitting alone in an empty Verdant when Malcolm comes in and says Thea told him about being attacked by Arrow. Ollie goes Berserker Barrage on the dude and starts threatening to kill him, despite his vow not to do that. Malcolm says Ollie may want to reconsider, because he's got to save Thea.
That's when Ollie's phone buzzes. He pops it open and watches yet another crystal-clear video of Thea killing Sara. Malcolm explains that Thea was under the influence of a mind-control drug at the time and doesn't remember it, but Ra's and Nyssa sure don't know that.
So he strikes a bargain: Ollie will go tell the League that he killed Sara and challenge Ra's to a duel. If Ra's dies, Malcolm's blood debt to the League is then absolved. Ollie agrees.
Ollie goes to the League's Mobile Command Center (just a warehouse full of torches, from what I can tell) and asks where Ra's is. After some scoffing about how Ra's wouldn't travel from Nanda Parbat at his whim, Nyssa take Ollie to him. I honestly love Nyssa's needless grandstanding.
Ollie refuses to bow for Ra's, and then tells him he killed Sara because "she begged me to" so she could be out of the League forever. Finally, Ollie's dickishness is being used for good. Nobody--not Ra's, not Nyssa, not Maseo--believes him, but they let him challenge Ra's to the duel anyway. Ra's accepts.
The (Literal) Cliffhanger
This is still "the action," as it were, but it's such a big-seeming deal I thought it deserved its own section.
The "climb" of the title describes Ollie's ascent --bare-handed and with no equipment of any kind-- up a cliff. Scenes of him making the climb bookend each commercial break as a sort of foreshadowing of what's coming. Despite very little happening in those act breaks ("He kinda slipped! But he's OK!") it's a nice effect.
Turns out Ollie's headed to "consecrated ground" that can serve as a neutral place for he and Ra's to duel. When Ollie finally reaches the top, Maseo tells him to pick a weapon from a rack. Ollie quite presumptuously pulls out two swords. Maseo also tells him to take off his shirt, because that's the only way to duel Ra's al Ghul. Decades of Batman comics have taught us that if nothing else.
Ra's stands on the edge of the cliff and tells Ollie about the first time he killed a man, way back when he was 11-years-old (he says the last time he dueled someone was 67 years ago, so this is definitely centuries-old, comic book Ra's, as opposed to the distinctly mortal Liam Neeson version from the Dark Knight Trilogy). As Nyssa removes his Night's Watch clothes, he says this pretty amazing line: "I had replaced evil with death and that is what the League exists to do."
I still think Matt Nable is woefully miscast as Ra's; he lacks a gravity I think the character requires, and he looks like an apartment building superintendent. That said, the visual of him and Stephen Amell as two ripped shirtless guys standing on a mountaintop getting ready to kill each other is about all you can ask for in a climactic moment in your CW superhero TV show.
It's Arrow's triumphant return to beefcake after a half-season of almost none of it. A friend of mine posited the theory that Ollie's been shirtless a lot less this season because the makeup people just got sick of putting the scars and tattoos on him every time he had to do a workout. That seems like it might be true. It was worth it this time, though.
Ra's and Ollie start to fight, with Ra's starting out unarmed. Ra's eventually grabs a sword, but Ollie seems to hold his own for a bit. It's a pretty well-choreographed fight; probably the best of the season so far. Also cool: There's no music over it. That really adds to it feeling like a big moment.
Ra's eventually gets the better of Ollie and holds a sword up to his neck. He congratulates Ollie on lasting longer than most, but Ollie's like eff that and pulls a nasty counter move, knocking the sword out of Ra's hand.
Then Ra's does a crazy one-tap move that incapacitates Ollie. He grabs Ollie's sword and stabs him in the side with it. Ra's says a prayer for Ollie's soul in Arabic, stabs him in the chest, and kicks him off the cliff.
It's everything I wanted.
Laurel only gets to do two things this episode: Lie to people and tell them that her dad would fall apart if they found out Sara was dead.
We first see her sitting in front of Sara's grave, talking to it about Christmas. Thea, who's also at the cemetery, overhears and goes over to ask Laurel who the heck she's talking to.
Laurel lies terribly in response: "I just come out here and talk sometimes." And then Thea answers that with the weirdest possible response: "Even though Sara's still alive?" It's a mind-boggling exchange. Sure, they're saying things that make a degree of sense, but who would say it that way?
Anyway, Laurel says Sara is actually dead and Thea seems genuinely surprised by it. Laurel makes Thea promise not to tell anyone, because it would "kill" her dad to find out. She says Thea can't even tell Ollie for some reason.
Later, Laurel's mom, Dinah, shows up at police headquarters for Christmas and to show everyone how her American accent hasn't improved. Laurel is more than uncomfortable to see her, and both she and her dad lie about Sara's whereabouts, though Captain Lance thinks Sara's only out doing assassin and/or hero stuff.
Laurel and her mom go (without Captain Lance) to drink coffee at a cafe and Dinah intuits, with no stated information at all, that Sara is dead. She just looks at Laurel's face and knows it. On the one hand, it seems like there could be a little more to that. On the other, narrative expediency is a good thing.
Laurel once again swears someone to secrecy because Captain Lance finding out about Sara's death would destroy him.
And look, I'm sure it would be tough, but at this point it seems like literally everyone else knows. Even the cast of The Flash knows. Captain Lance is going to have to find out and face this down sometime. And honestly? He thought Sara was dead for years. He knew she was a member of a League of Assassins. That's their name. He had to kind of be expecting this.
Later, Dinah and Laurel go to Sarah's grave and share some Christmas memories before talking hardcore vengeance. Laurel vows to find the killer and "make them pay." Dinah says she wants them to suffer, too. That seemed implicit in "pay," but sure, Mama Lance.
The Romance and Business
Ray Palmer and Smoak start things off in a shaky place this week, what with them kissing a couple weeks back and Palmer immediately running away afterwards.
Palmer tries to talk to Smoak about it at the office, but she ain't hearin' that, so he creepily tracks her to Verdant via her phone. Not really the best move on his part.
Nonetheless, Smoak goes upstairs from the Arrowcave to talk to him, and he reveals the reason he ran away after that kiss: He felt guilty. See, he was supposed to marry his fiancee, Anna (who seems to totally be a creation of the show's, since Palmer's comics wife was the ruined-by-Identity-Crisis Jean Loring), but she was killed by the Deathstroke army in last season's finale.
"Anna was supposed to be the last woman I ever kissed," Palmer says. Smoak takes his hand, forgiving him for his serious creep move earlier.
Later, at Palmer Tech, Smoak asks why Palmer actually bought Queen Consolidated. Palmer first dodges with an "It was for sale," but then he shows Smoak what he covets: the 3D schematic for his Iron Man A.T.O.M. armor, which he reveals is an acronym for Advanced Technology Operating Mechanism, which is about as generic a name as there is for anything. It really just means "a mechanical thing."
He also reveals that when this was a QC project, it was called OMAC. Guys. What if this had been Buddy Blank instead of Ray Palmer. What if.
Saints be praised, stuff actually happens in the flashbacks this week.
Ollie returns home from last week's torture and tells Maseo that he found out China White was looking to steal a bio-weapon called Omega. Is China White working for Darkseid? Does she have the Anti-Life equation? Probably not, but let's hope.
After Ollie and Maseo talk about whether the torture from last week was "necessary" (shockingly relevant!), they go to a biotech firm and kill a whole bunch of guards to try to get Omega before China does. They're too late, though. Security footage shows a scientist absconding with it.
So the duo tracks down the scientist and immediately sets to do some enhanced interrogation on him. Interrogation that includes just plain shooting him with an arrow. They get nothing, though, because the scientist has been dosed with that mind-control drug that Malcolm used on Thea.
Meanwhile, China strolls right into Maseo's home and starts up a pretty great sword fight with Katana. It is an excellent way to assure this episode passes the Bechdel test.
Maseo and Ollie return to find that China has kidnapped Katana, but left behind their kid. Somebody had to deliver the message, I suppose.
A few other items:
- After busting through the window as Arrow, Ollie comes back to his and Thea's apartment and asks what happened to the window. Thea says a bird did it. A 180-pound bird.
- There's a mostly frivolous scene of Ra's sparring with like a dozen assassins and then killing one of them just because he can. It occasionally feels like Ra's is just like, Slade Wilson's older brother or something.
- Maseo (who happened to join the League at the same time as Sara) gives Ollie 12 hours to get his affairs in order. That leads to Ollie actually being nice to people: He tells Thea he loves her no matter what, he bros down with Dig and Roy, and he tells Smoak how he really feels about her. Maybe Ollie should constatly be on his way to an unwinnable death match.
So yeah: This one was good. Ollie seemingly dying at the end of the episode was a legit jaw-dropper and a heck of a way to end this half of the season. It's comic booky as all get out, and that's a big plus.
Certainly the writers will figure out a way to bring Ollie back from the brink of death. After all, this is Ra's al Ghul, the guy with magic resurrection pits, we're talking about. But that's all part of the comic book charm.
I just hope that, now that the Sara murder mystery is mostly dealt with (or at least the big question is answered), the rest of the season has the same propulsive feel as this episode did. The seven villain-of-the-week episodes leading up to this one felt like a regression after last season's big improvements and ever-building metaplot. I hope this sets the tone for what's to come.