Wednesday, May 24, 2017

REVIEW: 'Arrow' - Oliver Returns to the Island and Teams Up with Some Familiar Faces in 'Lian Yu'

The CW's Arrow - Episode 5.23 "Lian Yu"

The battle between Oliver and Adrian Chase culminates in a final epic battle on Lian Yu. After recent events, Oliver decides to recruit a group of unlikely allies - Slade, Nyssa, Merlyn and Digger Harkness - to defeat Chase. However, Chase has his own army - Black Siren, Evelyn Sharp and Talia al Ghul - and the forces collide.

This season of Arrow definitely had a feeling of being the final season of the show. It was a feeling apparent from the early going because it was clear this was going to be the final season with the flashback framing device. Oliver's five year experience away from his family was coming to a close. As such, "Lian Yu" feels like the end of a very significant part of Oliver Queen's life. It feels like more than just a simple season finale though. It feels like a series finale. This season brought so many long-simmering conflicts and stories to the forefront. It forced Oliver to reckon with his past and reflect on whether or not he really is a good man or hero. At times, it was difficult to watch. At other times, it was the show hitting the same basic themes it's done for a number of seasons now. But this ending has a strong amount of finality to it. It brings a decisive end to this part of Oliver's life. He's made his full journey from survivor to killer to vigilante to hero. It's been a long and arduous journey. One that has seen a number of friends and allies die in the process. He's been in love and in pain. It's been difficult most of the time. But now, things come to a close once again on the island that took him away from his family in the first place. It's a nice full circle quality that is strong throughout this finale.

Of course, it's also a little weird that "Lian Yu" doesn't really do a great job at wrapping up the stories that were inherently important to this specific season of Arrow. In the premiere, it was important for Oliver to learn to trust the new team. He had to let them into his life and join him on this crusade to protect Star City from the people who wish it harm. And now, the finale is all about him assembling a team of allies he's worked with or faced off with over the course of the entire series. This final battle is all about Oliver teaming up with Slade Wilson, Malcolm Merlyn and Nyssa al Ghul. Those characters have a long and rich history on this show. It's fine that the show foregoes having Oliver work alongside his new team in favor of the complicated dynamic that comes from these returning faces. The audience has a strong understanding of who these characters are and why they could potentially betray Oliver at any possible moment. That increases the tension throughout this finale. Oliver isn't working with people he trusts. He's just working with the people he currently finds himself aligned with.

But again, Slade, Malcolm and Nyssa just ooze so much charisma. A certain amount of it is scenery chewing by the actors. There is an over-the-top quality to the performances. But their relationship to Oliver is grounded and emotional as well. There is just so much history that is hard to ignore. When Oliver meets up with his friends again, they question how he could possibly set Slade Wilson free when he killed his mother. It just once again proves that Oliver is quick to forgive others when it's hard for him to forgive himself. Right now, he needs Slade's help and Slade is no longer crazy because of the mirakuru. Oliver needs Nyssa's help because her sister, Talia, has a trained army of assassins working with Adrian Chase as well. Meanwhile, Malcolm tags along because Thea is in danger. Whenever that's the case, he appears to be the loving and supportive father he always wishes himself to be. He wants to prove that he can be a good father to Thea. In the end, he does that. He sacrifices himself so that Thea and the rest of the group can live. It's a heroic moment but one that doesn't overwhelm all of the horrible things he's done in the past either.

However, this finale is still ultimately about the final confrontation between Oliver and Chase. This entire season Chase has been trying to get Oliver to admit that he's a killer and he enjoys it. Oliver has been refusing to comply because he believes he's been better than that. Meanwhile, the flashbacks show just how he came to be that man in the first place. This season once again proved that Oliver basically reached the end of his character journey in regards to the flashbacks in the second season. That was the year he became a killer. The years since have just been refining his skill set and giving him new enemies to fight against. The flashbacks this season weren't any different than the past. They started and ended strong while the middle was just lame and boring. Anatoly was a major part of them. That was a good thing. But it's all building to that showdown between Oliver and Konstantin Kovar. It's a fight for survival. Oliver needs to kill in order to escape this purgatory. He needs to kill one more person and then he can reunite with his friends and family back home. In the end, he's successful in this venture. He kills Kovar with enough time to catch the attention of a local fishing boat. The big reunion is then with Moira. He calls her in the aftermath of being "rescued." It's a strong and emotional scene. It's the most surprising return of the finale. One that feels incredibly earned too because it reminds the audience of the power of this entire journey on all of these characters.

Of course, Moira has long been dead and Oliver has had plenty of other villains to face in Star City. But Chase seems to be bringing about a sense of closure for the series. The final fight once again intercuts the action of the present with the past. With Kovar, Oliver was able to kill him. He was rewarded for doing so. With Chase, he's unable to kill him despite how much Chase is begging him to. He doesn't want to prove this homicidal maniac right. He needs to believe he's better than that. He can no longer be the killer he once was. He's something better. He needs to be in order to be a hero for the city and the world around him. When the moment comes to it, he refuses to kill Chase. That moment proves that he is no longer the same person he was. This time though he's punished for doing the honorable thing. He is able to save all of his friends from Chase. And then, he's able to rescue William as well. In doing so though, he condemns the rest of the cast to an uncertain future. It's an explosive statement to make. The show is literally putting an end to this chapter in Oliver's life. Lian Yu is gone. Chase destroys it with all of the C4 he has wired up. He kills himself to condemn Oliver to a life with his son but none of his friends. It's a huge cliffhanger ending for the series. It's a different type of ending than the show usually does. Most of the time, it builds to the big confrontation. It gets a ton of resolution and the characters deal with the fallout. Here, the explosive resolution is the final beat of the episode. It leaves the fates of so many characters in limbo. The show probably won't kill off all of the cast except Oliver. But it's a big way to show that the series is heading into a new era in its main story.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Lian Yu" was written by Wendy Mericle & Marc Guggenheim and directed by Jesse Warn.
  • It's somewhat anti-climatic that Oliver is able to save William simply by shooting an arrow into Chase's foot. It's just not the most inspired or original way to get out of that precarious situation. It was the only action moment of this finale that didn't work though. The rest was pretty awesome and cinematic to watch.
  • The fight between Nyssa and Talia felt a little rushed. It could have been a little longer. It's the two daughters of Ra's al Ghul facing off with different mentalities towards what has happened over the past few years. The brief fight was cool. I just wanted more. Fortunately, Nyssa spares Talia's life. So, they could have a rematch in the future.
  • Why did the show bring Digger Harkness back? He didn't really serve a purpose other than to show that Oliver really can't trust any of his new allies. That was an inherent part of this story though. It didn't need to actually happen to up the stakes further.
  • Thea and Felicity have a nice bonding moment over evil fathers they have complicated feelings about. It's noble that Malcolm replaces Thea on the landmine. An explosion is heard. It's likely that Malcolm is killed - especially since John Barrowman said he'd be taking time away from the series. But the audience doesn't actually see his body. Plus, it's Malcolm! He always finds a way to survive.
  • Felicity kisses Oliver before they go their separate ways as well. So, that coupling is officially back on. That seemed pretty clear last week when they agreed to take things slow and figure out what things actually mean. It's a sweet moment that shows that the future is still bright for them despite the uncertainty of the situation.
  • Again, it seems doubtful that the show will kill any major characters in that cliffhanger. Some should die. I don't see how it's possible that Evelyn survives when she's locked in a cage. But Felicity and Diggle are too important to die. Meanwhile, it's already been announced that Rick Gonzalez, Juliana Harkavy and Katie Cassidy will be series regulars next season. So that means Rene, Dinah and Black Siren are safe as well.