This time, Oliver gets the point.

Welcome to the mid-season finale, which promises drama, action, adventure and fun, all the things to help us forget any missteps from the first half of the season we might have noticed and focus on all the goodness that is ‘Arrow.’

Ok, let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first, i.e. the actual “climb” mentioned in the episode title. Seems every act break this week was designed to start with shots of Oliver Queen climbing a massive mountain in the cold, until at last, at the end, he reaches the top.

As for flashbacks this week, we see Maseo and Oliver go on a mission to steal a vial of OMEGA, which promises to destroy entire cities if released, from the hands of China White (based on information gleaned from Oliver’s handy new interrogation techniques.) They attempt to steal the vial, but discover China White had an inside man who already stole it for her. Maseo and Oliver kidnap the man and interrogate him, but soon discover he has no memory of helping China White because he was under the influence of a mind-control drug called Vortura. While they realize their efforts were fruitless, China White herself shows up at Maseo’s house in search of the man, and brawls with Tatsu. When Maseo and Oliver return home, they discover Tatsu has been taken by China White, and have left Maseo’s son home alone and frightened.

And now for the meat of the episode:  Santa-Arrow is dropping off a criminal gift-wrapped for Captain Lance in the back-alley behind SCPD. Right after Lance returns inside with the criminal, the Arrow is ambushed by dozens of members of the League of Assassins, who kidnap him. (Am I the only one who thinks SCPD should install security cameras in the alley behind the station? This is not the first crime to occur there this season.)

Oliver is brought to Nyssa and her goons, including a new member of the League named “Sarab,” who is actually Maseo from the flashbacks! Nyssa informs Oliver he has taken too long to find Sara’s killer, and says he has 48 hours to produce the killer or the League will start killing innocent Starling City folk. Things just got real.

We then jump to Laurel at Sara’s grave, where she is found talking to her dead sister by Thea, who is there visiting her mom’s grave. Laurel tells Thea that Sara is actually dead, but smartly makes her promise not to tell Oliver, as everyone is very careful to maintain Oliver’s lie about his secret identity to his little sister. I’m sure that won’t come back to bite him in the butt anytime soon.

Meanwhile at Palmer Technologies, we see some of the fall-out from Ray’s kiss and flee with Felicity a few episodes ago, as she has definitely cooled on him. Before they can get things sorted out, Oliver summons Felicity back to the Arrow Cave with an urgent 911 text. Once there, Oliver fills in the rest of the Quiver Crew on what’s going on, as Felicity calls the S.T.A.R. labs crew, catches up on the events of their own mid-season finale (and what an episode that was!), and has them expedite the DNA tests they were running. When she gets the results, the team is shocked to discover the DNA belonged to Oliver Queen!  Oliver realizes it’s a set-up, and suddenly believes that Malcolm Merlyn was behind it all along, setting up Oliver from the beginning.

In the story of the Lance family this episode (well, those members still alive), Dinah Lance comes to town to celebrates the holidays, and using her own super-mom powers, deduces that Sara is no longer alive, and Laurel knows what happened. Laurel makes her promise not to tell Captain Lance, but also promises her mom that she will find Sara’s killer and make him pay. Chillingly enough, mother Lance is fine with that, and tells Laurel to also make sure the killer suffers. (Maybe the girls got their killer instinct from their mom.)

At the Arrow Cave, Felicity and Oliver are tracking flights that Merlyn might have been on when they spot a flight that landed in Starling City the night before Sara was murdered. The Arrow goes to investigate with the Arsenal in tow (the only suited up scene for the sidekick this week), and after some interrogation, they get information from the pilot who flew Merlyn.  Soon enough they get their hands on security footage from the airport, and Oliver is shocked to see Thea exit the plane with Merlyn. Now he knows he’s not the only one keeping secrets in the Queen family.

Much to Oliver’s chagrin, the Quiver Crew discusses the possibility of Thea being the killer, with Felicity pointing out that her autopsy did point to an archer shooting not from an average height, and how Thea’s height would fit the scenario. While in discussion, Palmer calls Felicity and admits he tracked her to Verdant by pinging her phone, and she goes upstairs to deal with him. Ray tells her the story about his fiancé being murdered during Slade’s siege of the city a few months back, and how guilt about her is what caused him to recoil from his kiss with Felicity.

Meanwhile, Oliver returns to the Queen apartment to ask Thea some questions, but is instead met by his sister decorating a massive tree, trimming it with more lies and defenses of Malcolm Merlyn, despite the fact that Oliver called her out for still being in contact with the man. Oliver returns to HQ and the team is very skeptical about Thea. Diggle and Oliver argue some more about Oliver’s blind spot when it comes to family, and then Felicity suggests that Oliver shouldn’t be questioning Thea, that the Arrow should do it.

Taking Felicity’s advice, the Arrow breaks into the Queen apartment and confronts Thea, but she fights back, literally, bewildering Oliver enough for Thea to escape out the broken window. Daddy Merlyn finds out about the visit and confronts Oliver at Verdant, finally revealing his master plan. He used Vortura on Thea to get her to kill Sara, and Merlyn has video evidence of the killing, a killing Thea has no memory of, and was not truly responsible for. His plan is for Oliver to take the blame for the kill and challenge Ras Al Ghul to one on one combat to save his sister. Why you might ask? Because Merlyn owes a blood debt to the League, and if Ras dies, that debt is erased.

Oliver explains the situation to the team, knowing he has no choice but to follow Merlyn’s plan in order to save Thea. However, he and the team are confident he can take down Ras Al Ghul, especially since he is fighting to save his sister. He goes to meet with the League contingent in Starling City, including Ras Al Ghul himself, and Oliver Queen finally meets the demon, and takes the blame for killing Sara Lance.

Ras is unimpressed by Oliver, calling him a boy, and is amused at the idea of trial by combat as he has not been in a trial for over 67 years. Ras accepts the challenge, even though Nyssa and the rest seem skeptical that Oliver actually killed Sara. Left alone, Maseo warns Oliver about Ras, and tells him he has 12 hours to settle his affairs before he must meet Ras at a sacred battleground where Trial by Combat takes place, atop a mountain. (hence the continuous climbing shots peppering the episode)

Oliver visits Thea, who has returned to the apartment and set about fixing the broken window, lying to Oliver about how it happened. Oliver warns her again about Malcolm Merlyn, and she tells Oliver not to make her choose between her father and her brother. Oliver does not, and instead tells her that he loves her and gives her what could be their last hug. Yet another perfect moment to tell her the truth about his identity that he wastes.

Felicity meanwhile confronts Ray Palmer about his motivations for buying Queen Consolidated. Ray explains his plans to use the ATOM suit (formerly OMAC before he bought the company) to miniaturize military weapons so they can fit in his hand, and then use that power to protect the people of Starling City. At the end of his speech he asks Felicity to help him in that cause, which causes her to utter my favorite line of the night, “Why does this keep happening to me?”

Back at the Arrow Cave, Oliver is saying his goodbyes to Roy and Diggle, reminding Roy to take care of Thea in his absence. Felicity returns just then, and her and Oliver are left alone. She begs Oliver to break his rule and make sure to kill Ras Al Ghul, worried the demon might take advantage of Oliver’s humanity. Oliver replies that he knows two things about himself: First, that he will do whatever it takes to save Thea. Second, that he loves Felicity. They have a tender (albeit brief) moment, and then Oliver is gone, off to scale the mountain and face the demon.

The climax of the episode has Ras Al Ghul and Oliver face off atop the cold mountain, both shirtless (as is custom apparently). Ras begins by pontificating about his first kill, and the pride he felt at replacing evil with death. Oliver is tasked with choosing his weapon for the battle, and he chooses two swords, while Ras does not take a weapon.

Uh oh.

In an amazingly choreographed fight, it is clear that Ras has the upper hand, managing to take one of the swords from Oliver and deftly avoiding Oliver’s blows, and outmaneuvering our hero every step of the way. At the end, it almost seems as though Oliver might have been holding back, and is about to win, but the moment is short lived. Ras stabs Oliver through the chest, and pushes him over the cliff and down the mountain. Long live the Arrow.


*Clearly Oliver won’t stay dead for long, the show is named for him after all. My guess? If Ras is as old as he claims, the Arrow universe is sure to contain some Lazarus Pits, which in the comics were key to keeping Ras Al Ghul young and bringing him back from the dead time and again. Most likely Maseo or another ally will find Oliver’s body on the mountain and save him this way.

* Now that we know Palmer officially wants to be a super-hero, he might be joining Team Arrow this season, for at least a few episodes. It’s a good thing Felicity had that 3rd costume mannequin installed last episode…

Well that’s it for the first half of ‘Arrow’ season 3! It’s been fun recapping, and I look forward to jumping back in when ‘Arrow’ returns in January! Until then, feel free to hit the comment boards with any questions or theories.