Say what you will about Arrow, but they sure know how to deliver a great, year-end finale. And while “Unthinkable” may not quite match the pure emotional intensity of last year’s “Sacrifice,” it’s only because that episode was attempting to do something very different. Season one introduced us to Oliver as a broken man whose time on an Island had led him to pursue vigilantism as a necessary means of achieving justice. By the season’s end, it seemed only natural that Oliver’s path of destruction would lead to the death of someone close to him. Season two, on the other hand, mostly centered on our hero confronting the mistakes of his past and becoming a better hero to his city in the process. In year one Oliver was becoming a crime fighter; in year two he’s becoming a superhero.
The episode opens with Roy, having been administered the Mirakuru cure in the previous episode, finally waking up from his coma. Conveniently, he has no memory of his past rampages, but is all too ready to jump into action. Oliver responds by giving him a red mask, thus completing Roy’s long-teased transformation into the Arsenal/Speedy character. Also joining Oliver’s army is the returning Nyssa al Ghul, who brings along a couple of her League of Assassins associates to help.
Elsewhere in Starling City, Thea has just attempted to shoot Malcolm Merlyn (I admit, I was wrong, she was aiming for him). The ever-prepared Malcolm reveals his bullet proof vest. Far from being turned off by Thea’s murderous intent, he commends her for it, even going as far as to say she’s the child he wished Tommy had been. After the two spend what seems like an inordinately long time walking around the train station, Malcolm points out how many people in her inner circle have betrayed and/or lied to her over the past two years. He subsequently offers her the chance to come with him. At that moment, however, Thea receives an apologetic call from the revived Roy, who asks that they meet up. Meanwhile, Laurel once again finds herself as the damsel in distress when one of Slade/Deathstroke’s men abducts her. Yep, this finale does a lot of things right, but developing Laurel’s character beyond this tired act doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
All this culminates in an all-out brawl between Oliver’s mini-army and Deathstroke’s cronies. Before heading into battle, however, Oliver drops Felicity off at the now-abandoned Queen mansion. When Felicity protests, Oliver—in a moment that probably caused every “Olicity” shipper to squeal their lungs out—“confesses” his love for her and, furthermore, says he couldn’t live with himself if any harm should come to her. It’s certainly a jaw-dropping moment, made all the more endearing by Felicity’s befuddled “oh…” response. Of course, as we later learn, all is not as it seems.
At last, we come to the point where Team Arrow/League of Assassins, all equipped with the weaponized Mirakuru cure, make their way towards Deathstroke’s super army. It’s a confrontation the show has been building towards for some time and the sequence does not disappoint. While the show’s budgetary restrictions can be glaringly obvious at times, this set piece really captures the kind of epic, cinematic feel you would find in a blockbuster action movie, with every character getting their own moment to shine. Hanging over this chaos is the fact that Amanda Waller and A.R.G.U.S. are prepping to incinerate the city to prevent the army from escaping into the world. This plan is put on hold when Diggle and Layla come barreling into the control room. The two successfully halt Waller’s deadly contingency plan, however, the A.R.G.U.S. leader gets in one shot at the couple by revealing that Layla is pregnant, meaning that Diggle is going to be a dad. Scandal.
Eventually the fight concludes with all of the soldiers incapacitated. It’s here that Oliver gets a message from Deathstroke—he apparently now has both Felicity and Laurel in captivity. Oliver goes to meet his nemesis in yet another one of the endless warehouses that populate the city. As Deathstroke puts his blade to Felicity’s neck and threatens to kill Oliver’s “true love,” our hero gives the signal to Felicity and unveils his con. Felicity grabs a hidden syringe of Mirakuru cure and injects it into Deathstroke’s throat. Yes, Oliver knew that Deathstroke was monitoring his house (and why shouldn’t he—the bugging equipment in this show is about as subtle as a T-Rex in Times Square) and concocted the whole dog-and-pony act involving his “love confession” so that his opponent would kidnap Felicity and put himself in this compromising position. Overly convoluted? Sure. But it somehow makes sense in the context of a show like Arrow. Also, I am very happy the show didn’t resort to the “you must choose which one will die” shtick that it has in the past.
With Deathstroke now de-powered to regular ol’ Slade, he and The Arrow launch into their final fight. Here’s another point where the past and present begin to parallel. As The Arrow and Deathstroke battle, the footage is intercut with flashbacks of Oliver and Slade duking it out on the freighter several years prior. If the previous brawl was notable for its sheer scope, this fight scene should be celebrated for its seamless integration of two separate battles from two different timelines. The juxtaposed scenes build to a crescendo, with Arrow/Oliver gaining the upper hand in both versions. Whereas the Oliver of the past inevitably stabs Slade in the eye for fear of retribution, however, the Oliver of the present allows his adversary to live. He’s not a killer anymore.
With the season’s Big Bad vanquished, the remainder of the show wraps up several loose subplots. Sara takes off with her League counterparts, but not before gifting Laurel with her Black Canary jacket. No sooner has Sara departed, however, than the girls’ father collapses due to what appears to be some kind of serious abdominal injury. Whether he’s alive or dead is left up in the air. Personally, given the show’s tendency for giving main characters big, showy deaths, I’d venture that he’ll be alive come season three. Also in a tough spot is Thea, who goes to meet up with Roy only to find a quiver full of arrows and a bow. Realizing Roy’s deception, Thea takes Malcolm up on his offer and leaves Starling City in his limo.
Finally, we get our last look at Slade, who is now locked up in an underground A.R.G.U.S. jail cell back on the Island. Before leaving his foe to a world of isolation, Oliver delivers one last speech. He reiterates to Slade that, despite the fact that Slade turned him into a killer, it was what Oliver needed to survive the Island, return to his city and become The Arrow. By that logic, Oliver intones, Slade inadvertently helped save Starling City. Our hero promptly exits the jail cell and joins Diggle and Felicity at the surface. As Diggle runs ahead, Oliver and Felicity share a brief moment. The two proceed to discuss their encounter in the mansion with a mix of humor and genuine tenderness. Unfortunately, it looks as though the Olicity shippers will not be getting their wish anytime soon.
Never one to end an episode without a big tease, however, we are treated to one final flashback. An unconscious Oliver wakes up from his encounter with Slade to find himself in an unknown place. A few agents take him outside where he meets Amanda Waller. The camera then pulls back and we realize that Oliver is in Hong Kong. So much for the whole “five years on a hellish island” bullcrap.
“Unthinkable” does what any great finale should—it expertly ties up several ongoing storylines while opening up the world for new, bigger adventures. Arrow will never be viewed as at all comparable with a prestige drama, but—like the better seasons of 24, Smallville or The Vampire Diaries, it stands as the best kind of pulpy, serialized TV. Certainly, the writers and cast should be commended for putting their best foot forward every time and never letting themselves fall into complacency. In a world where even a 13-episode season can be exhausting, producing a 23-episode season can be downright soul-sucking. And while the show inevitably stumbled here and there, season two overall has been nothing short of an incredible roller coaster that I’m sad to see end. Here’s to whatever crazy shenanigans the writers come up with for season three.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.