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There were some elements of “The Climb” that worked really well. There were other elements that didn’t. So, in that regard, “The Climb” was a fair representation of the first half of Arrow‘s third season: uneven.
The crowning achievement of the episode was, as promised, the fight between Ra’s and Oliver. After all, if you introduce Ra’s in act one, he better have a completely badass shirtless fight scene with Oliver Queen by act three. The only problem with the scene was that there were no real stakes. Sure, Oliver was fighting to protect Thea from Ra’s potential wrath (more on that “twist” later), but going in, we all knew that Oliver wasn’t about to die and that the writers weren’t about to kill Ra’s after only his second appearance on the show. They worked too hard to get the rights to use Ra’s and the show is named Arrow, so it was a sound bet that both men were going to live to clash another day (in a fight that I hope involves Ra’s and Oliver teaming up to take down Merlyn, because just imagine how awesome that fight will be).
I will give the writers major kudos for staging a cliffhanger on an actual cliff, but the only remaining suspense is in finding out who will be the one rescuing Oliver from certain death on the side of the mountain. My best guess at this moment is that Maseo will save Oliver’s life, as I have a hard time believing he’s really as loyal to the League as he’s saying (and, why introduce him into Oliver’s present storyline if not for him to play a major role there).
Speaking of Maseo and the Hong Kong flashbacks, they’ve finally started getting interesting, and they gave us another amazing fight sequence this week between Tatsu (Rila Fukushima) and Chien Na Wei (Kelly Hu). My only complaint with that scene was that it wasn’t longer. After all, when you cast Fukushima and Hu in something, you want to see them demonstrate their stellar fighting abilities as much as humanly possible.
Outside of these elements, the rest of “The Climb” was a bit of a drag. The reveal that Thea killed Sara was interesting, but then the writers had to decide that Thea killed Sara under the influence of a plant-based mind control drug supplied by Merlyn, bringing us right back into the realm of last year’s Mirakuru made me do it nonsense. I understand that Thea is supposed to be one of the good guys, but making her an innocent victim in this situation is no different than what the show did last season in making Roy an innocent victim in his crimes. I would have much rather have had Merlyn use his charm and role as Thea’s dad to poison her against Sara. I mean, it can’t be all that hard to convince Thea that Sara is dangerous or a killer. We’ve never seen any evidence that Thea and Sara were particularly close. I assume the show is waiting to use this tactic when Merlyn inevitably tells Thea that Oliver is the Arrow (and, more importantly, that he’s killed people and lied to her for years about it- making her the only person in a 100 mile radius who doesn’t know Oliver is the Arrow).
But this was a really interesting chance for the show to do something revolutionary with Thea. Willa Holland has proven this season that she has the acting chops to take on darker and more complex stories. She could handle taking Thea into a dark place where she has killed someone for what she believed to be just reasons (much like Oliver in the show’s first season). The parallel would have been interesting to see play out. Instead, we’ll get to see the Roy guilt storyline 2.0, where Thea is racked with guilt over actions that were outside of her control. I would like to see someone other that Oliver embrace his or her own agency on the show, make a poor decision, and play out the consequences. Moira Queen did in the second season, and while her jail storyline might not have been quite as engaging as one might have hoped, it helped turn her into a complex and interesting character. Thea was right on the verge of making a similar leap, but I’m afraid this storyline has set her back quite a bit.
That being said, there is still quite a bit of interesting future story hinted at within the episode. Ray Palmer’s ATOM suit is almost ready to test out, which will be pretty darn cool. And once that’s up and running, it’s only a matter of time before he and Oliver are teaming up to protect Starling City (after all, they’re both going to be using Felicity as tech support, so it only makes sense to combine resources, right?). Laurel’s transformation into Canary is coming as well, although I’m still less than thrilled at that prospect. And, finally, we’ll have to have the real final showdown between Oliver and Ra’s (and Oliver and Merlyn). I’m looking forward to that most of all.
— The Lance family Christmas story was by far the weakest element of the whole episode. Why is Dinah Lance coming to Starling for the holidays without her previously mentioned serious boyfriend? I mean, it was a pretty big development in the Captain Lance storyline last season. Also, as much as I love Alex Kingston, her American accent is absolutely dreadful. I’m not a huge fan of Paul Blackthorne’s either, but at least he’s putting on some semblance of a New York accent to mask his native English one. Kingston’s isn’t anywhere near that successful.
— How is Thea still in the dark about Oliver? Like, really. The entire Flash support team knows. Oliver has to know that despite any promises to the contrary, Merlyn will not hesitate to use this information against him. Why not get out in front of things and confess?
— Arrow returns from its holiday hiatus on January 21, 2015.