UK TV recap: Arrow Season 5, Episode 23 (Lian Yu)
Matthew Turner | On 07, Jun 2017Reading time: 10 mins
Warning: This is a recap and contains spoilers, so do not read this until you have watched the episode. For information on how to watch it, click here.
Now that is how you do a season finale. We’ll admit, despite the fact that this season of Arrow has been generally excellent (and certainly a cut above Season 3 and 4), we’d been sceptical about whether Season 5 could stick the landing, as it were, and not go all to hell in the final half an hour, like they did last season.
Instead, the final episode of the season gives us everything you could conceivably want from a finale: terrific fight sequences, a handful of long-running story-lines brought to a close, great guest stars, powerful emotional bits and, oh yes, the mother of all cliffhangers. Awesome work, Arrow.
Last episode ended on a proper WTF moment, especially if you hadn’t been paying close attention to promos, the Internet in general, or, annoyingly, the synopsis for the episode. That’s right, the cliffhanger from last week involved Oliver recruiting none other than Season 2 Big Bad Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) to fight at his side against Black Siren (Katie Cassidy), Talia al-Ghul (Alexa Doig) and Evelyn Sharpe / Artemis (Madison McLaughlin).
Naturally, Oliver’s new allies, Malcolm and Nyssa, think he has gone off the deep end (as does literally everyone Malcolm explains himself to, although to be fair, the Mirakuru has long since worn off), particularly when Oliver decides to add Captain Boomerang (Nick Taraway) to the mix too. Who’s next? Damien D’arkh? Because it sure feels like we’re getting significant characters to stand for the previous seasons (Malcolm – S1, Slade S2, Nyssa S3 and, arguably, William, S5) in this finale, which, in case anyone had forgotten, is also bringing the five-year-long flashbacks to a close.
That’s a good enough reason to talk about Flashback Island. As we saw in the previous episode, Oliver’s return to Lian Yu (with a rescue set up and everything) hit a big of a snag, when Konstantin Kovar (Dolph Lundgren) popped up out of nowhere (back from the dead as far as Oliver was concerned, although the audience knew better), captured him and fed him a diet of mess-with-your-brain pills (that also made you re-live every wound you’d ever had or something) until Oliver killed himself. Pretty cold, Kovar.
However, Oliver wasn’t having any of that. After visits from hallucinated versions of Yao Fei and Laurel Lance, he breaks free and systematically slaughters all of Kovar’s henchmen, before defeating Kovar himself and then killing him too, for good measure, even though he doesn’t really need to. Because Season 1 Oliver was a cold-blooded killer, you see? And Season 5 Oliver isn’t. Or is he? That’s the point the showrunners are trying to hammer home, anyway, and, to be fair, the editing on the flashback sequences is top notch, matching action beats in the past and present in a way they haven’t really pulled off since the dual past and present Slade Wilson fights in Season 2.
Anyway, short version: Oliver wins and gets off the island, which means we see him re-enact all the steps we saw him take in Season 1, except now we know that his beard and long hair are fake and that he’d stashed all the stuff he needed beforehand. So the five-season-long flashbacks have now come full circle, ending on an emotional telephone reunion between Moira Queen (a surprise guest appearance from Susanna Thompson) and Oliver. Awwww. No doubt the show-runners will find some other use for the flashback format next season – The Adventures of Thea the Pill-Popping Party Girl? Quentin’s Casebook? Whatever Laurel was up to for five years? Who knows? – but for the moment, let’s appreciate the role they played in the series’ make-up. Except for the Season 3 flashbacks to Hong Kong. We still haven’t really worked out what was going on there.
So, back to the main plot. Oliver, Nyssa, Malcolm and Slade find half of Adrian’s captives and release Felicity, Thea, Curtis and the mother of Oliver’s son, Samantha (Anna Hopkins). Of course, it turns out to be a trap and Captain Boomerang reveals he’s working for Adrian, at which point he offers Slade the chance to change sides, and he does. Boooo, you can’t trust Slade, etc., except that you can and he turns on Boomerang and Talia, at which point they disappear, leaving Evelyn behind in a cage. Oliver says he’ll come back for her when it’s all over and Evelyn’s like, ‘Yeah, whatever’, like she’s read the script for the episode and knows her number’s up.
Oliver then sends Felicity, Curtis and Thea away to safety (which seems crazy – surely, at least Curtis and Thea could be useful in the arse-kicking department?), tasking Malcolm with keeping them safe. Thea still refuses to talk to her dear old dad, but before you can say noble redemptive sacrifice, she steps on a landmine and Malcolm barges her off it, taking her place against her protest. Captain Boomerang and the other goons are arriving, so Malcolm tells everyone to get the hell away from there and then he detonates the landmine just as Boomerang arrives. Now, given that we see the explosion from a distance, it’s a fair bet that Malcolm isn’t really dead, especially given the Golden Rule of Television that if you don’t see the body, they’re not really dead. But then John Barrowman has said he’s not returning next season, so who knows? Either way, it’s a fitting send-off for the character and his speech to Thea where he says she may not see him as her father, but she’ll always be his daughter is actually very moving.
Things get worse for Felicity, Curtis and Samantha, though, because when they arrive at the shore, they find that the boat has been compromised. Ruh roh! This will be Important For Later.
Meanwhile, Nyssa tracks the remaining captives to an old temple. It’s another trap, of course, and this time, Slade knocks out Oliver and tells Black Siren to tell Slade he has a gift for him. Boooo, you can’t trust Slade, etc., except you can and it turns out it was all a pre-planned ruse to gain access to wherever Adrian was holding Rene, Dinah, Quentin and Diggle. Oh, and Oliver’s son William, except Adrian’s too smart for that and has William hidden away somewhere else.
With Slade back on side and Dinah now in possession of a sonic scream-enhancer thingy (Slade’s ruse being a distraction aimed at giving her said doohickey), we get a terrific central fight sequence that it’s safe to say we’ve been waiting for all season long. Highlights include Black Canary and Black Siren blasting each other across the room with their respective sonic screams, and Nyssa facing off against her sister, Talia, in an exciting sword fight. It is, admittedly, a bit of a cop-out to have Quentin stop the Canary fight short by knocking out Black Siren, but it’s hard to begrudge him the closure it brings in the process. There’s also a lovely moment where Quentin anoints Dinah as the new Canary – Rene says “Sing, Canary, sing”, as she gets her new voice enhancer and Quentin says, “That’s BLACK Canary”. Well, maybe you had to be there, but it’s a great character moment.
The fight choreography is exceptional, particularly during a bravura single shot that tracks across an entire room of people fighting – fair play to director Jesse Warn. The remaining big fight is, of course, Adrian vs Oliver. Adrian still won’t tell Oliver where William is, and Oliver still won’t kill Adrian, no matter how much he begs and taunts him, so eventually Oliver lets Adrian leave and then follows him to a boat, as he’s attempting to leave the island. It’s there, on board, that Adrian reveals his master plan – if he dies, everyone on the island (including, at this point, basically everyone Oliver knows and loves) will be blown to smithereens, thanks to a network of bombs linked to a dead man’s switch on Adrian’s person. Fine, says Oliver, I won’t kill you, except Adrian then produces William from inside the boat and says either Oliver kills Adrian (and, by extension, everyone on the island), or Adrian kills William and either way, Oliver loses. Bwa ha ha, etc.
It’s an impossible situation, right enough, and if you’re paying attention to the show’s running time, you’ve probably realised it isn’t going to end well. Oliver shoots Prometheus in the foot (or possibly the kneecap, it isn’t entirely clear) and retrieves William, thinking he’s won. Of course, Prometheus is insane, so he pulls out a gun and kills himself, triggering a massive network of explosions on the island and the cliffhanger for the season.
So how will they escape? The last we saw of them, which was about a minute before Adrian died, they were abandoning the boat and intending to head to the other side of the island and an alternative escape route. Clearly, not all of them are going to make it (we know Rene survives, because he’s been announced as a Season 6 regular) and you can bet the producers are doing some shrewd contract renegotiation right about now, just as they used to do with the soap stars on Dynasty after a big is-everyone-dead episode.
Anyway, as finales go, this is cracking stuff, closing the circle on both the flashback cycle and, arguably, the first 10 years of Arrow (five years in the past, plus five in the present), as well as making all the weighty stuff about the sins of the past and so on really pay off. The explosion offers the producers the chance of an almost total reset for the series, but that would be a terrible waste of one of the better supporting casts on TV, so we’re saying it’s unlikely. Besides, no one wants to watch a show where Oliver teaches his son how to shoot a bow and arrow, do they? Maybe they do.
It is worth noting that it’s extremely refreshing not to have poor old Star City under threat for once. Take a break, Star City – you earned it. No doubt you’ll be attacked by another Big Bad next season.
So, that about wraps it up for Season 5. Come back in October for… well, Oliver, William and whoever’s left of the supporting cast. And, hey, we guess Roy and Ragman are still alive too?
Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
– Even allowing for all the good guys to escape, Talia and Black Siren were both knocked unconscious and Evelyn was in a cage when the island blew up, so are they going to make it too, or will they have been conveniently forgotten? Place bets now! Etc.
– In the how-do-they-get-out-of-that stakes, our money’s on a cheesy last-minute teleportation from a meta-human, a magic spell, or Barry Allen running everyone off the island and across the water at super-speed. Either that or everyone really is dead.
– Arrow, listen to us. Whatever you’re planning to do with William next season, please think again. He was given precious little screen time or dialogue (even after Oliver rescued him), which bodes well, at least.
– There is, of course, no word yet on what might be happening next season, and, aside from Oliver, the only recurring characters we know for sure are Rene, Black Canary and Black Siren, all of whom have been upgraded to series regulars for Season 6. Whatever happens, the Season 6 promos should be interesting. See you in October!