Arrow capped off its incredible fifth season with an emotional, action-packed finale that brings Oliver’s journey (almost) full circle.
Well, it’s over. Last night, a story that unfolded across five years and 115 episodes reached its conclusion. I had high expectations for the Arrow season 5 finale, and I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint.
“Lian Yu” wastes no time getting underway. It picks up where last week’s episode, “Missing,” left off, with Oliver asking Slade Wilson for help. The duo last shared a scene in season 3, and the passage of time permeates their reunion. For starters, Slade claims that the Mirakuru wore off long ago. We believe him; the hostility that drove him to invade Star City is gone, replaced by weariness and a trace of regret. “I can remember everything,” he says. “I’m not trying to escape.”
Oliver has changed too. He’s a father now. In a tacit gesture of reconciliation, he gives Slade a disk containing information on the latter’s son, including his whereabouts. Slade accepts Oliver’s offer: his allegiance in exchange for freedom. Once again, he dons the Deathstroke mask. Digger Harkness, aka Captain Boomerang, completes the tenuous partnership.
However, it doesn’t last long. They find Felicity, Thea, Curtis, and Samantha (apparently taken along with William) imprisoned in cages. Of course, it’s a trap. Talia and Evely surround them, and Harkness promptly switches sides. He urges Slade to follow suit, but the other former ASIS agent refuses. Then, Nyssa and Malcolm emerge from the forest, forcing Talia and Harkness to escape in a cloud of smoke and leave Evelyn behind.
After locking up Evelyn, the team agrees to split up. Malcolm will take the newly freed hostages to Adrian’s plane, while Oliver, Nyssa, and Slade search for the others. The trek gives the characters an excuse to talk. Slade tells Oliver that he will only be able to move on if he forgives himself for his father’s death – his original sin, so to speak. Samantha asks Felicity if she and Oliver broke up because of William. Thea continues to shun Malcolm.
The interlude comes to an end with a click. Caught up in her argument with Malcolm, Thea has stepped on a land mine. Unfortunately, the trigger has rusted over, meaning they can’t disarm the device. Never one to pass up an opportunity, Malcolm takes his daughter’s place, reiterating his desire to protect her. For the first time, we believe him. He waits for Harkness to get close before stepping off.
Meanwhile, Oliver and company arrive at an ancient temple. Inside, they split up again, with Nyssa reluctantly going a different direction. “She doesn’t trust me,” Slade remarks. He knocks out Oliver and brings him to Black Siren, who has been guarding Diggle, Quentin, Rene, and Dinah.
Damn it, Slade, we were rooting for you.
But it turns out that Oliver has learned a thing or two from Adrian. When Black Siren and Slade leave the room, he gives Dinah the sound modulator that Curtis made, allowing her to bypass the dampeners. She uses her cry to break their chains.
Elsewhere in the temple, Nyssa runs into Talia. Their exchange is slightly clunky, tasked with explaining a relationship between two characters that we have never seen interact before (sample dialogue: “It was your selfishness that forced me to grow up alone”). Their fight, on the other hand, is a blast, the cacophony of clashing swords juxtaposed with the warm golden lighting. As Talia’s henchmen prepare to intervene, Slade appears and fells them with three strokes. So, his “betrayal” was part of the plan, a way for Oliver to get to the hostages.
Now, everybody is accounted for except William. Only one person knows where he is. Adrian emerges, with a small army behind him. “Hello, Oliver,” he says. “Welcome back to purgatory.”
All hell breaks loose. Director Jesse Warn films the battle in sweeping long takes, conveying the chaos without lingering on it. Eventually, we focus on Oliver, as he tries to extract William’s location from Adrian with increasing violence. Their duel is cross-cut with the flashbacks, which show Oliver fighting Kovar. The editing creates parallels between the two sequences; in both instances, Oliver manages to get his opponent in a throttlehold.
In the end, though, they diverge. Whereas Oliver breaks Kovar’s back, he resists the temptation to kill Adrian. Not only would that prevent him from finding William, but it would also reinforce Adrian’s perception of him as a killer.
“That’s who I was,” Oliver declares. “That’s not who I am now.”
He lets go.
On the other side of Lian Yu, Felicity discovers that Adrian has scattered hundreds of remotely linked explosives across the island. If he dies, a dead man’s switch will automatically detonate them. So, sparing him was definitely the right move.
While the others go to the plane, Oliver pursues Adrian to a boat. As they float at sea, Adrian finally brings out William. He gives Oliver a choice: if he shoots, his son lives but his team dies; if he doesn’t shoot, his team lives, but William dies. The past or the future?
Oliver lowers his bow – and releases. The arrow hits Adrian in the foot. He falls down, letting go of William. Father and son embrace, and for a moment, you forget they barely know one another. It seems as though everything is going to be okay.
Nope. Adrian takes out a gun, puts it to his own head, and pulls the trigger. Even before the gunshot fades, explosions fill the air. Oliver turns around to see Lian Yu erupting in smoke and flames – his prison symbolically destroyed. At last, after 10 long years, he is free.
Moira, talking to Oliver on the phone after he gets rescued from Lian Yu: “Oh, my beautiful boy.”
So, that’s a wrap on Arrow season 5. It’s been a wild ride, full of tension, heartbreak, surprise, and even joy. I can’t wait to see where the show goes next.