Here’s a little bit of behind-the-scenes information about what it’s like to review TV episodes in advance: Often times, a network or studio will include a list of DNR’s, or Do-Not-Reveals, asking us not to spoil or ruin the biggest parts of an episode.
The DNR list for Arrow’s season finale “Lian Yu,” airing tonight on The CW, contained nearly 20 plot points.
Yes, this episode is big. It also happens to be one of the most exciting and satisfying episodes of the entire series, and quite possibly the best season finale for the series yet.
(Yes, better than Season 2).
To tie in with the wrapping up of Oliver’s “five years in Hell” in the flashbacks, the present day story also goes to Lian Yu, with a collection of all-star guests, including the long-awaited return of Manu Bennett as Slade. While Bennett’s Twitter activity denying that he was in the episode is a bit puzzling, it’s all worth it as his material is among the best in the episode. Also a welcome sight this week, who we also saw a little bit last week, is Katrina Law as Nyssa. Some of her scenes with Malcolm tonight make me wish for a sitcom spinoff for the two. In all seriousness, though, while the show cast already is a bit large, I would love to see Manu Bennett and Katrina Law on Arrow on a more permanent and regular basis — assuming they make it out of the season alive — as they both elevate the material and the action.
It’s also interesting, as Slade was arguably the best and most realistically threatening villain Oliver had faced prior to this season, that he’s back for the final showdown with Adrian Chase, a.k.a. Prometheus. As played by Josh Segarra, Chase has been a monster, and that does not let up in this finale, as he’s always steps ahead of Oliver and his team. As evil as Slade got — I mean, he killed Moira (spoiler warning!) — at least he seemed to have a soul and a conscience. Not so for Adrian, who is just downright sadistic.
There’s a lot of action this week, as is probably to be expected from an Arrow season finale, but the episode also works because of a collection of conversations and character moments. Oliver and Chase. Oliver and Slade. Oliver and Digger Harkness. Oliver and Felicity. Felicity and Samantha. Laurel and Dinah. Nyssa and Talia. Malcolm and Thea. Malcolm and Nyssa. Thea and Oliver. Oliver and… well, you get the picture, and we can’t give every conversation away. These are relationships built over 5 seasons and 115 episodes, and these are moments earned. Some of these moments and conversations are things we’ve been waiting for a while to see. I do sometimes wonder why Lyla and a team from ARGUS weren’t called in as backup, but I can only imagine it’s because Oliver wanted to keep things from escalating to a point that his loved ones would be in even more danger.
One criticism of Arrow, especially at season finale time some years, is that some fan groups or viewers feel left out. I think almost every group will be satisfied — maybe one could argue that the finale needed more Black Siren, but she does get one of the best lines of the entire hour, she does have some pretty juicy scenes in the finale, and she is a series regular next year, so I’m sure we’ll have more of her. Some of the newer recruits like Curtis, Rene, and Dinah may have less to do than many others too, but hey, there’s a lot to juggle this week, and again, every character that does show up serves a purpose in one way or another.
It’s the end of the island flashbacks, which will give viewers nostalgic Arrow pilot episode feels. I think I may want to go watch the pilot again next. And finally, there’s at least one moment in the finale that will probably leave you in tears. You’ll know it when you see it, but I will say that Stephen Amell especially performed excellently in that scene. Oh, and keep your eyes open for some very clear visual ties between the flashbacks of 5 years ago and the things that are happening in present day.
“Lian Yu” is a reminder of the show we all fell in love with, the capper on what I feel has been a successful fifth season. It is by far the best of the four DCTV finales on The CW this season. It will leave audiences wondering what exactly the future of this world will entail, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
The Arrow season finale “Lian Yu” airs tonight (May 24) at 8PM ET/PT on The CW. Extras including photos, screencaps, trailers, clips and more can be found here.