For the first time in a long time on Arrow, I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, and that’s a great feeling. Yes, that has something to do with the fact that the Season 5 finale seemingly blew up most of the cast. But, on a deeper level, it has everything to do with the fact that Arrow just severed its connection to the past in a pretty visceral way. “That’s who I was before. That’s not who I am now,” Oliver tells Chase in the episode’s defining moment. Arrow just ended one chapter. What story will it decide to be now?
The end of an era
For five seasons, Oliver has defined himself by the time he spent on Lian Yu. The show has defined itself — for good and for bad (and, boy, has there been stome bad) — by Oliver’s past. With the Season 5 finale, aptly named “Lian Yu,” that identity crutch, force, whatever you want to call it has come to an end. Chase both literally and thematically destroyed Oliver’s connection to his past when he planted hundreds of bombs on Oliver’s own personal purgatory and blew it up. Presumably, he blew Oliver’s loved ones up along with it. (But not really because there’s such a thing as actor contracts.)
Of course, Oliver’s release of the past came before Chase’s dire action. It came when Oliver, once again, chose not to kill Chase, instead choosing to forgive himself for his father’s death. With that forgiveness, Oliver seemingly lost that will to kill, or more accurately the anger and guilt inside of himself that made him feel like his soul wasn’t worth saving. Instead, he used the scraps of that soul to “right wrongs,” to kill whomever he thought deserved killing. To kill monsters like him.
A lesson learned
Of course, this insight, though gradually learned over the course of years, came in a succinct nutshell from the one and only Slade Wilson. Slade has always been Oliver’s best mentor, even more so when he is not. It makes sense that Slade would understand Oliver so well: he was there when Oliver became the man he is today, when he transitioned from a spoiled rich kid to a survivor. It was that survivor status that Oliver has never quite been able to accept. You have “survivor’s guilt,” Slade tells him, matter-of-factly. Presumably, Slade has survivor’s guilt, too. The mirakuru saved him, in some sense of the word, but it couldn’t save Shado.
The lesson was also delivered by Adrian Chase, although not intentionally. Chase was trying to teach Oliver a different lesson. It didn’t take. To the very end, all Chase cared about was teaching Oliver a lesson. He kidnapped all of his loved ones and locked them up in cages to prove the point. Did he win? I’ve been thinking about this a lot since finishing this episode. I don’t think he did. Because Oliver and everyone who sided with him chose love. Even Malcolm Merlyn chose love. If that’s not a victory, then I don’t know what is.
All of the characters
“Lian Yu” felt like one, big family reunion. Season 5 has most thrived as a story when it has strived to tell a story that utilizes not just Season 5, but everything that has come before. The finale was the pinnacle of that effort and it paid off, bringing back everyone from Slade to Malcolm, Nyssa to Moira. (Did anyone really care about Harkness? No.)
It was Moira’s cameo that really packed a punch. Susanna Thompson’s Moira Queen was one of the consistent strengths of this show from the pilot episode, at a time when the show didn’t have everything figured out. Moira’s character is not only excellent in her own right, but brings out a different side of Oliver. In a flashback, we see Oliver call home right after being picked up off of Lian Yu. At this point in Oliver’s arc, he is hardened and he is determined and he doesn’t see himself worthy of love. But his mother automatically breaks through all that. Even when Oliver was at his worst, he loved and was loved. This is where his salvation has always lain.
Love trumps hate
Oliver’s going to need that love moving forward, given that he is seemingly now the sole parent of a child he doesn’t know with almost no support system. (Except Lyla, I guess?) I know that Arrow didn’t really just kill off most of its cast, but I would love to see a delay in their return (maybe they ended up on a different “deserted” island nearby?) just so we can see Oliver raising his son and angsting a little bit over the hiatus. Is that cruel? Maybe, but it is also a great narrative decision.
In the end, Chase pulls a Moriarty, killing himself to enact the ultimate revenge on Oliver. Chase plans everything down to this final moment. He even seems to predict Oliver shooting him in the foot rather than in a major artery. He kills himself roughly in the way and place that Oliver’s father did five years prior. The difference is: Robert Queen killed himself for love (and maybe a little guilt). Adrian Chase killed himself for hate. And that’s why he lost, even when he seemingly took (almost) everything from Oliver.
Episode Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Season Rating: ★★★ Good