Arrow #1.9 “Year’s End” Recap & Review Arrow #1.9 “Year’s End” Recap & Review
Derek B. Gayle recaps and reviews the Arrow midseason finale. Arrow #1.9 “Year’s End” Recap & Review

Summary: The midseason finale introduces the show’s first major comic book-y villain in terrific fashion, building upon previous threads and amping up the tension for its first foray into the major conspiracy story. It’s really, really awesome.

If you have not seen this episode yet and do not wish to be spoiled, do not continue reading!

Recap

A Green Arrow copycat appears in Starling City, violently killing criminals on Oliver’s list that had been taken down before. Oliver discovers that his family hasn’t celebrated Christmas since his disappearance, and attempts to throw a lavish party to bring them together. Walter’s investigation into Moira leads to his kidnapping, and after a brutal battle between the Archers, the copycat Dark Archer is revealed to be Malcolm Merlyn, Tommy’s father. However, they’re both unaware of each other’s identities—but Oliver knows there’s someone more powerful out there.

Read an in-depth recap on our handy episode guide!

Review

As big as many of the missteps with the two Huntress episodes were, they at least continued the upward momentum the show’s had in terms of balancing its elements, increasing the fun, and upping the overall quality every week. Every time Matt or I have said something like “this what a typical good Arrow episode should be,” we’re thrown for a loop the following week, and the previous “best episodes” end up seeming weak in comparison. “Year’s End” justifies the ways we’ve been defending the show—how it’s aware of and corrected many of its own mistakes, how it’s on a planned trajectory that means it will work as the sum of its parts, and that we’re not exaggerating when we say it gets better every episode. Arrow, like this interpretation of Oliver, started off stiff and slow specifically so we could track their growth, meaning turning points like this hold more weight than just the cliffhangers.

In this case, the episode spends the hour building to turning points both plot- and character-wise, from nearly every direction. The biggest one here: Oliver loses. Maybe not as badly as he could have, as Diggle points out, but he still loses. For a while now, Oliver’s been surprisingly arrogant and cold-hearted about his mission, but he gets it pummeled into him that he’s not the best and brightest around. The island might have taught him what’s important and how to be awesome, but he unfortunately needed to be humbled after coming back.

Then there’s the addition of a good, physical long-term villain that can scare even Oliver (and Dark Archer was certainly intimidating.) It’s exciting to see the show embrace an old fashioned comic book hero/villain scenario, where the hero discovers there’s someone else on his power level. Even though there’s no genuine superpowers in this universe yet, heightened archery skills certainly rank up there. The fight, while all-too-brief, was positively brutal. Even better is the potential Spider-Man/Green Goblin relationship we could see unfold. There are so many connections (best friend’s father who is constantly disappointed in his son) that the writers had to take inspiration from those comics, but there’s still enough different facets and corners to explore that it could, ultimately, feel fresh if played out well.

I’ve already touched on why the reveal of John Barrowman’s character was good for him not being a DC guest, and even though he’s double-revealed to kind of be one here, the fact still remains that it’s the emotional relevance that’s important, not the shock factor part.  Like “Muse of Fire,” it wasn’t an entirely surprising reveal; red herring Yao Fei would have been way too obvious, his name is Malcolm Merlyn, and…there’s pretty much no one else it could be—but it’s still satisfying for what it means for the story.

Walter and Moira’s story has continued to be the most interesting B-plot of any episode. The focus on Walter’s investigation and Moira’s open admission of basically being a bad guy (though feeling pretty awful about it) built enough tension that it was a huge relief when Walter was kidnapped instead of straight-up killed off. Even so, Colin Salmon plays off of both Susanna Thompson (dramatically) and Emily Bett Rickards (comedically) very well, so it’s sad that we might not be seeing those combinations for a while.

Susanna Thompson and Colin Salmon have terrific chemistry, as usual, and Thompson continues to be adept at keeping an easily unlikeable character sympathetic and enjoyable. Moira’s vulnerability and submissiveness in final confrontation with Malcolm amplified the “bad guys win” attitude this episode had, and the trapped feeling that there’s no way out for our heroes (especially since Oliver doesn’t even know this stuff is going on) is a great way to amp up suspense to keep us hooked until 2013. Even with the brisk pace the show’s been going in, there’s still going to be plenty of action and emotional stuff for over the next 14 episodes just based on who’s involved in this seemingly Watchmen-like conspiracy.

There were some hiccups, of course. Surprise, surprise—it’s another story where Laurel is irrelevant and Katie Cassidy is underused. Finding closure with Oliver was supposed to be a turning point for her, I guess, but we’ve seen her figure out she needs to get over Oliver in just about every other episode thus far.

Willa Holland has showed range throughout the show, but Thea’s story seems to be going in circles at this point. She likes partying and other Bad Teen Things, she’s bitter at Oliver, he tells her off, she feels bad about it. There were some nice spins on it in previous weeks, but this time it was almost a complete retread of her scenes in the first few episodes. It’s also a little frustrating that Oliver used his injuries as a way to guilt Thea into thinking she was partially responsible for his accident, too. As annoying as she can be, she’s still only 15; making her think she almost got her brother killed is a lame move.

I absolutely hated the CGI crane shot that ended the episode. It was poorly rendered, and tried to force faux-epic drama, when cutting to black on Amell’s close-up would have been much more intimate and effective. Also, the anvilicious Green Arrow name drop was…awful. At least in Smallville, they were so up front with their campy puns and references that it was kind of fun to see how a tights reference would be awkwardly shoehorned in. But here, it was almost malicious, as if it were saying the show is too dark and real for such a “lame” name. It’s odd, given the show’s reverence to the source material with the insane amounts of comic book references and the straight-from-the-page looks of Deathstroke, China White and Green Arrow himself.  It seems like it was a joke someone really wanted to make in the pilot specifically to differentiate it from other adaptations, only for the line to be cut and the same jerk to bring it back for episode nine. It was out of place (there wasn’t even any build-up for Oliver to out-of-the-blue talk about naming the guy) and really, really shoehorned in.

The minor problems didn’t affect the superb level of tension throughout the hour, though. “Year’s End” is the first time there’s been a real sense of constant danger permeating from multiple sides. Oliver may have been fighting mean rich people for being mean, but it’s only now that he’s realizing they aren’t mustache-twirling for the sake of mustache-twirling. Something bigger is at play, and for the first time it’s apparent that solving it won’t be as simple as shooting an arrow and obnoxiously bellowing “You have failed this city!” Threads collided as you’d expect in a midseason finale, but things are only going to get worse. The sense that things will have to be different come 2013, and the excitement that results, is what makes “Year’s End” so effective.

Odds & Ends

  • Oliver’s Christmas cheer when with his family was adorable, and another indication that Oliver’s been opening up more and more recently. It’s also nice that this tied in a Christmas theme without feeling like a cheesy Christmas episode.
  • The flashbacks didn’t add much to the thriller story this week, but it’s intriguing to learn that the island is actually a prison.
  • It’s cool to see Detective Lance bit-by-bit becoming more understanding, and this Batman/Commissioner Gordon relationship is developing nicely. Though I wish Detective Lance could have done a bit more with actively helping Green Arrow in this particular episode.
  • I’d been going back and forth about whether or not to call our vigilante Green Arrow, or go with the in-universe hood/vigilante nicknames. After this half-season, I’m leaning towards continuing to call him by his comic book name in these reviews for the sake of clarity (though at least part of it now is out of spite.)
  • I kept this out of the actual review part since it’s not really relevant to critiquing the actual episode, but David Ramsey’s “bigger than when Dexter killed Rita” comment that made us all put our tails between our legs was a pretty big overstatement. It might have amped up the tension in a way the showrunners hadn’t intended (I was terrified of Detective Lance or Walter going down just based on their increased screeentime) but it also didn’t make the episode feel as big as it should have. That might have marred the experience for many, so if you read that interview and felt underwhelmed, that’s probably the reason. Great episode, but not because of the shockers.
  • Felicity uses Windows 8? I’m assuming Queen Consolidated forced her to upgrade against her better judgement.
  • “You’re remarkable.” “Thank you for remarking on it.”

A SECOND OPINION

by Matt Tucker

“How about ‘Green Arrow’?”

“Lame.”

This reviewer is not a huge fan of “anvil dropping,” that thing that projects do when they are prequels or origin adaptations of popular properties where they make huge references to the known future that more closely matches the property in off-handed or thrown-away comments. As a fan of Smallville, one had to bear through them frequently, particularly in the later seasons. Makes it all the more frustrating when this series, which so far has been plotted and written better than Smallville often was, stoops to such things. Oliver giving the Huntress her trademark crossbow is an effective way to do such a thing. Having Laurel snark about wearing fishnets once and Ollie snidely dismissing the moniker “Green Arrow” is not. (Alternatively, the meta shout-out to comic legends Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams was just fun.)

Rant aside, Arrow gives us its best episode to date with a captivating story that draws together all the various elements of the series. Every one of the actors and each of the characters is spot on throughout the hour and the stakes being as high and clearly defined as they are drive the show in its leanest and meanest fashion in weeks. Stephen Amell gives his most complete and engaging performance, allowing himself some light, some dark, some anger, some humor, and many different levels in between. In fact, for the first time, the seeming lack of chemistry between Amell and Katie Cassidy as Laurel actually reads like an acting choice rather than unfortunate casting.

But the question everyone wanted to get to is answered in probably the most obvious fashion, and there is not a single thing wrong with that. When “Well-Dressed Man” was revealed as Tommy’s father, Malcolm — another had-to-be discovery — the situation that immediately presented itself was that the shady Tempest conspirator could be the flip side to Oliver’s coin in the comics that we’d all assumed Tommy was being set up to become. The Dark Archer is, indeed, Merlyn and it all fits. Barrowman is perfect in the role, it’s a meaty part worthy of the actor, and it completely washes with the scheming and controlling nature we’ve seen of the character. With the expectation of obfuscation and complication inherent in everything nowadays, the old adage to just play it straight holds up here and it’s positively welcome.

There were a lot of fun little moments and aspects of this episode that showed the writers hitting their stride. Lance’s required but reluctant use of the “Hood guy” to go after the copycat. Tommy really stepping up with Laurel and gifting her the picture with Sara and her dad that caught Papa Lance speechless. Really pushing the green of Oliver’s Arrow suit in the lighting to distinguish him from Merlyn. The costume design of Merlyn’s outfit, at that. Oliver’s explosive trick arrow to get out of the locked warehouse. Oliver’s extensive “arrow geek” knowledge. Moira opening up to Walter with the truth, if not all of the answers. Lance calling his daughter “Dee” as a nickname. Everything with Thea and Oliver’s finger directing her boy thing to hit the bricks. Walter’s soft wink and Oliver’s acknowledgment of it in the hospital. The one criticism would be relying on Felicity in the scripts to be the fount of all technical knowledge and ability. They need to distinctly define her skillset and let her know how to network properly for the things she can’t do. Yet, Felicity was in the episode, which is always a good thing.

All in all, this was a terrific chapter. As a “finale,” though, it does come up a tad bit short. Walter being taken by the Tempest group is intriguing enough, especially as he’s shaping up to be a one of the most interesting and involving of the supporting characters. Yet, while Malcolm’s reference to what he sees happening with the city six months down the line — clearly setting up the season finale in May — and his intimation that they will hold on to Walter for that long are ominous, they don’t really set the stage with something dire. Merlyn’s reveal is also obvious to the point of muting the intention of the reveal. Midseason finales don’t necessarily have to be cliffhangers but the questions left should be stronger.

Even as a slightly soft finale, ‘Year’s End’ is a winner.

Derek B. Gayle

Derek B. Gayle is a Virginia native with a BS in English, Journalism and Film from Randolph-Macon College. In addition to being an avid Power Rangers and genre TV fanatic, he also currently co-produces, writes and performs in local theatre, and critically reviews old kids' cartoons. You can check out his portfolio here.

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