Oliver mixes it up with former friends and foes as he tries to rescue his friends from the island

By Sara Netzley
May 24, 2017 at 09:00 PM EDT
Dean Buscher /The CW
S5 E23
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Arrow’s fifth season finale features explosive action, explosive emotions, and then just… explosives. Let’s recap.

Last week, we left Oliver mid-recruitment of Slade Wilson, who’s now Mirakuru-free and is incredulous that Oliver would want his help. Oliver, in turn, offers Slade a jump drive with his son’s location and a brand-new Death Stroke mask. (Oliver’s mask guy must ask zero questions when a new order rolls in.) Slade actually takes a step back when he sees the mask, then rasps, “You and me, kid. Like old times.”

So Oliver leaves the A.R.G.U.S. island supermax with Slade and, as a bonus, Digger Harkness, a.k.a. Boomerang, to fight on his side. They join Malcolm and Nyssa on the beach, and nobody’s terribly happy to be working with anybody else. However, their bickering stops when an RPG drops from the sky to destroy their plane.

Flashback: Kovar’s shocked to find that Oliver didn’t kill himself and sends his men to find him, while Oliver and his wig race to the hidden cache of supplies, where he straps on a watch counting down to the arrival of his escape boat.

In the present, Nyssa and Malcolm check out the source of the RPG, while Oliver, Slade, and Digger track William’s call. Digger complains about not being given a weapon, but Oliver makes it clear he only trusts the man with the eyepatch.

Oliver’s group stumbles across Felicity, Curtis, Thea, and Samantha locked in cages, but of course, it’s a trap, and Talia and Evelyn leap into the clearing. Before you can say, “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal,” Digger pulls a gun Chase gave him earlier and asks Slade to join the winning side. Slade declines, and when Nyssa and Malcolm arrive, Talia throws a smoke bomb so she and Boomerang can disappear.

Poor stupid Evelyn ends up locked in a cage, and Felicity and Thea are understandably displeased that Oliver’s working with Slade. (Thea even reminds Oliver that they’re orphans because of him and Malcolm.) But Oliver’s more focused on getting everyone off the island. He tells Felicity that he can’t focus until she’s out of harm’s way and begs Thea to go with Curtis and Malcolm to keep Felicity and Samantha safe, even invoking her nickname: “I need your help, Speedy.”

Before they depart, Oliver gives Curtis comms — “Just in case something goes wrong” — and Felicity satellite images of the island, again “just in case.” Felicity, in turn, leans in and kisses him. When he asks what that was for, she replies, “Just in case.” She regrets many things about their relationship but didn’t want to add not kissing him to the list. They promise to discuss the State of Olicity in greater depth when they’re off the island, and folks, the kiss may have been more chaste than some fans might’ve liked, but the sentiment behind it, and the conversation to come, is not.

Elsewhere on the island, Black Siren leads John and Quentin into the temple, where they join the already chained Rene and Dinah, who’s frustrated by a sonic dampener that shuts down her power. Black Siren winks and leaves, and I’ll say it again: Evil Katie Cassidy is the best Katie Cassidy.

While Nyssa tracks Talia and Boomerang through the jungle, Oliver and Slade pass a skeleton in relatively fresh clothes (hmmm, wonder if we’ll circle back to this) and Slade tries to catch up: “So instead of marrying the blonde, you married Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter?” When he learns why Oliver’s beefing with Chase, Slade declares that it all comes back to Oliver’s past and urges him to stop blaming himself for his father’s suicide and everything that came after it. “You need to forgive yourself for your sins,” he says, even though “it’s the hardest thing in this world.” After all, Slade’s a guy who understands the importance (and difficulty) of self-forgiveness.

In the horribly awkward conversation part of the island, Samantha announces that she’s not leaving without William, then asks Felicity if her ultimatum to Oliver is the reason they broke up. Felicity’s gracious and says the reasons were complicated. Thea, meanwhile, is so busy telling Malcolm that his paternal feelings mean nothing to her that she steps on a landmine. She’s clearly terrified but refuses to let Malcolm take her place, so he simply knocks her aside. Thea realizes he’s on a suicide mission and tells him he doesn’t have to prove anything to her.

“From the moment you were born, all I ever wanted was to protect you,” he tells her. “You may not think of me as your father, Thea, but you’ll always be my daughter.”

This emotional moment’s cut short by a Digger boomerang embedding itself into a nearby tree. Malcolm yells at his daughter and her friends to run. Digger can’t understand why Malcolm’s just standing out in the open, and Malcolm gives one last smirk. “Let me show you.” The next thing we see is an explosion in the background as Thea, Felicity, Curtis, and Samantha dash through the woods. But… Malcolm… Malcolm couldn’t have… NOOOOOO!
(Recap continues on page 2)

A shocked Thea tries to process her father’s sacrifice, mourning the fact that she got a glimpse of the father he could’ve been but now won’t get to be. She asks Felicity if it’s possible to miss someone you hated, and Felicity reminds her that she knows a thing or two about evil dads. (Which, for my money, pretty much confirms that Papa Smoak’s going to turn out to be the evil head of Helix next season.) Curtis’ truly terrible Tattoo impression of “de plane!” interrupts, but before they can decide who’s going to pilot the aircraft, they discover hundreds of networked bombs covering the island. Ruh roh.

En route to the temple, Oliver and Slade spot a familiar plane wreck. Once inside, Nyssa splits off to explore, leaving Slade free to knock Oliver out cold and offer him as a gift to Chase when Black Siren rounds the corner. It’s like you can’t even trust former frenemies you pull from an A.R.G.U.S. prison! Oliver joins John, Quentin, Dinah, and Rene in chains. But hey, Oliver just happens to have the dampener-defeating device that Curtis mocked up for the Canary. “Actually, it’s Black Canary,” Quentin corrects (aww!) as Dinah does her thing to free them all.

Talia hears the Canary Cry, but before she can investigate, Nyssa rolls in. They circle each other and air grievances about their crappy childhoods. Nyssa’s never gotten over Talia leaving her in the grips of their terrible father, while Talia argues that forging her own path was the only option. It’s all very Gamora/Nebula from Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

Then the women draw their swords and fight. Nyssa gains the upper hand, causing Talia’s minions to move in, but Slade stops them. Nyssa knocks her sister out and snaps at Slade, “You’re late.” Ooh, triple cross! Slade’s pretend betrayal allowed Oliver to give Dinah the Canary device and let Slade search for William.

And at last, Adrian Chase enters the scene, complete with Prometheus music. Oliver vows that he’ll never give Chase the satisfaction of killing him. “Never say never,” Chase replies, and then the assembled troops unleash the kraken, “the kraken” being one of the best fight scenes of the season. Chase, his lieutenant Black Siren, and the rest of his goons take on Oliver’s crew — where, it must be said, Rene’s civilian plaid shirt looks comically out of place among all the black leather. The camera roams across the battlefield, which is a flurry of precisely choreographed action.

Flashback: Oliver kills Kovar’s goons and then guns downs a helicopter, as you do. He finds Kovar in the wreckage, and when he tries to fire the fatal shot, his gun is out of bullets. So he tosses it aside and prepares for a bare-knuckle brawl to the death. Unfortunately, Kovar’s got a knife. He stabs the left side of Oliver’s torso, burns his right pectoral with the hot muzzle of a just-fired gun, and throws him against the burning fuselage, which I believe explains two unaccounted for scars and the wicked burn across Oliver’s lower back. Kovar gloats that he doesn’t have to kill Oliver; he just has to keep him from making it to the rescue boat.

Now we cut to present-day fighting. Dinah and Black Siren’s competing Canary Cries blow them in opposite directions, Newton’s Law-style. Black Siren gets to her feet first, gloating, “You thought you could replace me? That’s cute.” But before she can strike a final blow, Quentin knocks her out, apparently having grasped the concepts of doppelgängers in a multiverse. Seriously, that poor man has gone on a journey over the last few hours.

The Oliver/Chase fight is vicious, and it’s intercut with flashbacks to Oliver’s equally intense fight with Kovar five years ago. Both fights end with Oliver wrapping his arms around his opponent’s neck in the spine-snapping position.

In the present, Oliver screams at Chase to tell him where William is. In the past, Oliver’s watch signals the arrival of the rescue boat, and when Kovar tells him he’ll never make it, Oliver snaps his neck. (And whaddya know, the jacket on the island skeleton looks a lot like Kovar’s.)

In the present, Oliver’s team have defeated their opponents and stand arrayed in front of Oliver and Chase, who urges Oliver to kill him and show his team who he really is. But thanks to his emotional and psychological growth —  not just this season, but over the last five — Oliver lets Chase go, bellowing, “That’s who I was before. That’s not who I am now.” He tells Chase that he can blame Oliver for the death of his father all he wants, but “I’m done blaming myself for mine.” Oooh, buddy, I hope this character development sticks in season 6. Imagine an Oliver Queen unburdened by mountains of guilt. Gives you chills, doesn’t it?

Chase’s next gambit is announcing that William is dead. Oliver calls his bluff as an attempt to manipulate Oliver into murder. But again he says, “I am never going to be the person you want me to be. Not ever.” Felicity then contacts the team to warn them about the bombs spread across the island. Worse, she’s discovered that they’re linked to a dead man’s switch. If Chase dies, they all die. The ever-prepared Chase uses a smoke bomb to escape, and I really want to believe that part of his vengeance prep involved going to a magic shop and saying in his intense gravelly voice, “Give me all your smoke bombs.”
(Recap continues on page 3)

As Oliver gives chase, we flash back to five years ago when Oliver raced to his supply cache to don an even worse wig and his rags from the pilot. Rubbing himself with dirt, he transforms into someone who’s been cast away for five years. With no time to spare, he ignites his rescue bonfire and catches the attention of the Anatoly-supplied fishing boat.

Today, he runs along the same path and witnesses Chase escaping on a boat. Oliver races down the pier and leaps aboard, and the two men have a boat fight, which is a two-word phrase I never expected to type. Chase gasps out, “For an absentee father, your devotion is impressive.”

And okay, let’s take a moment to discuss the weak point in an otherwise outstanding finale: William. Oliver’s son hasn’t been part of the Arrow narrative in any meaningful way, appearing in a smattering of episodes and existing primarily as a wedge between Oliver and Felicity and a tool for Chase. Sure, nobody wants to see a child in danger, and we all understand a character leaping to protect his son, but the writers are relying on these storytelling shortcuts to create unearned stakes in the finale. Stephen Amell acts the hell out of this, but imagine the emotional resonance of Chase placing, say, Thea in this position instead. You’ve still got that familial bond, but it’s imbued with five seasons of audience connection, too.

Anyway, Chase taunts Oliver for thinking that his loved ones will be able to escape when the only plane left on the island is Chase’s. And sure enough, we see the team realize that the plane’s been sabotaged. Via the comms, Oliver instructs Slade to lead them to an A.R.G.U.S. supply ship on the other side of the island, where they can escape.

Chase isn’t done, though, and he pulls William out of the cockpit, offering Oliver a Sophie’s choice: Kill Chase and all his friends die thanks to the dead man’s switch, or let Chase kill William and all of his friends get to live. Either way, Chase wants to prove his argument that everything Oliver touches dies. In the end, Oliver shoots Chase in the leg and pulls William into his arms.

And then we get a flashback Arrow fans have waited five years to see: Oliver, on board the fishing boat, calling Moira Queen to tell her he’s alive. She’s dressed for an evening out and at first thinks it’s a cruel prank. Tears streak through the dirt on Oliver’s face as he explains that he didn’t die five years ago. “Oh, my beautiful boy,” she breathes as she starts to let herself believe. She can barely choke out the words to ask if her husband is still alive, and Oliver has to tell her that Robert and Sara are dead. He assures her that he’s coming home. They cry and exchange “I love you”s, and it’s as raw and emotional as any of us could’ve hoped.

In the present, Oliver continues to hug William as Chase explains that William has learned who his father is, just like Oliver learned about his own father in these same waters. Then Chase calmly says it’s good that Oliver and William have each other because they’re both going to be lonely without Felicity or Samantha. Before Oliver can react, Chase lifts a gun and shoots himself in the head, just like Oliver’s father did. And Lian Yu erupts in great geysers of flames.

Arrow for your quiver

  • What a cliffhanger, no? On the one hand, Lian Yu is a big island, and it doesn’t seem like the team had enough time to make it to the other side before the big bang. On the other hand, well, the show’s not going to kill off everyone. So the cliffhanger likely isn’t “OMG, did everybody die?” but “Did any particular characters not make it?” Like, it doesn’t look good for Evelyn, right?
  • I greatly enjoyed the physical proximity of the flashbacks and the present-day events. The parallels were powerful, visceral, and visual. If this is the end of the flashbacks now that we’ve seen Oliver’s return home, it was one heck of a goodbye.
  • Speaking of goodbyes: Farewell, John Barrowman. That looked like a permanent death, and you’ll be sorely missed. Here’s hoping we see you again thanks to the time travel aspects of the DCTV-verse!
  • Well, here endeth season 5, which was a bit of a roller coaster. The Russia flashbacks were a marked improvement over the season 4 flashbacks and Josh Segarra played a great villain, but the new team members were a bit of a mixed bag. Rene struggled to get beyond “grating,” while Rory showed great promise before vanishing. And while Dinah’s a welcome addition, let us never speak of reporter Susan again. Looking ahead, I’m hoping for a big bad who can top Adrian Chase, more Dinah, a swift resolution to Rene’s custody battle, the return of Rory, Thea back full time, and a happy, drama-free Olicity in season 6.
  • What about you? What’s on your wish list for next season? Let me know in the comments!

Billionaire Oliver Queen — under the vigilante persona of Arrow — tries to right the wrongs of his family and fight the ills of society.
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