[This is a review of Arrow season 2, episode 23. There will be SPOILERS.]
After an incredibly strong, impressive, and sometimes surprising season 2, Arrow had a great deal riding on 'Unthinkable,' the finale that would ostensibly close this chapter of the Deathstroke saga in one way or another, while also setting the table for what's to come in season 3.
For all intents and purposes, 'Unthinkable' delivered the sort of entertaining showdown the series had been building towards all season. The build-up to Slade's final push to punish Oliver and kill everything he loved was given ample time to evolve and transform from the threat of something horrible into an active demonstration of what Deathstroke was capable of. But as thrilling as it was to watch the episode gradually coalesce into the frenetic chaos of the phenomenal tunnel sequence that put nearly every character in the admittedly large Arrow family on the page, it felt like the larger payoff came when the narrative remained true to Oliver's changed philosophy with regard to taking lives in order to save them.
In many ways, that was the underlying thread of Arrow season 2: The second transformation of Oliver Queen and his alter ego. Despite the many different story lines that were in play over the course of the season, the one that was most frequently and meaningfully called back to was the way in which the death of Tommy Merlyn helped shape the kind of hero Oliver proved himself to be during his climactic battle with Slade. And although the episode is afforded two denouements (one for Arrow and one for Oliver, basically), wherein Ollie explains he wouldn't be alive if it weren't for the efforts of the man now obsessed with taking his life, the implied reasoning of why Slade is allowed to draw breath, even in defeat, brought a very satisfying sense of cohesion to the season overall.
It is no easy task for a series to essentially alter the thinking of its protagonist and then demonstrate the progression of it – in an entertaining fashion – throughout an entire season, but the Arrow writing crew managed to do just that. Additionally, they also managed to make Oliver's journey from stone cold killer to the kind of hero people like Det. Lance would openly support convincingly feel like it was far more effort than simply flipping the guilt switch every time someone brought up the name Tommy. There were times when Oliver was tempted to take the easy way out and just kill his adversaries, and then there were moments when he was forced to face the fact that killing was his only choice. And when the season is looked back upon as a whole, those moments help strengthen the narrative, making it as much about the hero's journey to self-discovery as much as it was about the hero's journey to slay the proverbial dragon.
Such devotion to a newly adopted ethos helped add another thrilling component to the inevitable, and already multi-faceted showdown between Team Arrow and Slade's minions. 'Unthinkable' succeeded in illustrating the difficulty Oliver faced trying to live up to the standard he'd set for himself and the Arrow's reformed image by pitting his tenuous ideology against the take-no-prisoners philosophy of Sara and Nyssa al Ghul – or, basically, the entire League of Assassins. And in showing how Oliver's belief in his hurt-'em-but-don't-kill-'em stance briefly faltered, it helped ground an episode jam-packed with enormous character developments and make it feel like it had something to say beyond the resolution of Slade and Oliver's battle.
That being said, the manner in which Oliver eventually takes Slade down – thanks to some sleight of hand with the mirakuru cure and a tricky faux confession of love to Felicity – felt like it struck the right kind of balance between who this fight was really between. In other words, involving every member of Team Arrow in Slade's defeat in one way or another gave everyone in the cast a brief moment to shine, and made the victory feel larger than just one man – even if the show was named after his alter ego. So, when it came time for Oliver and Slade to duke it out, the confrontation felt like both men had wholly earned it. That, coupled with the genuine question of just how far Oliver was planning to take things certainly enhanced the titanic tussle. But it was the superb editing, which seamlessly interweaves with the brawl aboard the Amazo with the present day brouhaha, transforming the climactic moment and giving it an unexpected yet fantastic visual flourish that made the whole scene feel like twice the payoff.
Despite the urgency of the finale, and its solid effort in maintaining a consistency with the thematic elements of the season, 'Unthinkable' also brought several threads to a close, while expanding others in interesting ways. Most notable of course was Thea apparently resigning herself to the dark side by leaving town with her biological father Malcolm Merlyn, after discovering Roy was once again keeping things (like a red bow and a quiver full of arrows under his bed) from her. Meanwhile, Roy is finally free of the mirakuru as well as the Tibetan pit viper venom, and has finally joined the frontlines of Team Arrow along with Diggle and Sara. This is arguably the biggest change for Thea and Roy, as they are about to embark on larger story lines separate from the other and, conceivably, eventually in conflict with one another.
Elsewhere, Diggle finds out he and Lyla are expecting a child, while Felicity is offered the chance to acknowledge her feelings toward Oliver in an oblique enough fashion that everyone gets to save face and the door to future romance at least remains partially open. Things don't go so well for Det. Lance, however, as he collapses from wounds he suffered in a fight with one of Slade's goons, just after the series heavily foreshadowed Laurel stepping into the vigilante biz once they'd (temporarily?) bid adieu to Sara and Nyssa.
That lets Arrow give season 2 an appropriate send-off with two big questions: What will be the fate of Det. Lance and how will the reveal that Oliver left the island in the care of Amanda Waller affect their relationship down the line? Those are two big questions, but after a stellar second season like Arrow just enjoyed, it is pretty clear the series has the ability to deliver equally big answers in the coming season.
Arrow will continue with season 3 in the fall of 2014 on The CW.