Ah, Christmastime in Starling City. The snow was falling. The lights were twinkling. And bombs were going off in clearly addressed warehouses.
In "Year's End," Last week's vague discussion of vengeance and justice continued to meander down a path of the oblique and the tangential, although the conversation changed partners. The new villain in town is the Dark Archer and he has taken to finishing what Oliver cannot: killing the rich white dudes. This makes for an interesting discussion since Oliver is prone to just handing the actual people on the list over to The Law while peons whose contributions to failing the Starling City are infinitesimally smaller are okay to spear.
It makes the gray area in which Oliver operates more black and white: Hunt them down and eliminate them instead of hunting them down and hoping they'll get what they deserve, regardless of the fact that they have the means to manipulate a system. Seemingly, the Dark Archer's dedication is more fervent than Oliver's, since he sees list entries' total removal from this mortal coil as the only way to set things right... as opposed to the Hood, who will only go so far as to send them off to rehabilitation. At the very least, it's an argument that can be made.
Obviously, Malcolm Merlyn hasn't shown any interest in being the good guy, and knocking off criminals for the sake of justice probably isn't in his game plan. That's why I think the more interesting thing about this episode is not so much that the Dark Archer is way better and stronger than Oliver, nor that Merlyn's taking care of business in a way that Oliver refuses to, but that the source of the list is now in question.
All this time, Oliver has believed the list came from the pen of Robert Queen. A few arrows to the back and leg and some clunky dialogue were enough for him to turn on its source, going from honoring the list's creator to adopting a steely determination to bring him down. I don't question how quickly he made the decision because getting clobbered like Arrow did would make anyone this side of Gandhi willing to exact some revenge. But now the switch is flipped, the list is secondary to its creator, and we can drift away from knocking people off it in pursuit of a bigger bad, the ultimate failure of Starling City.
While I'm willing to allow that the turn on the list is smart, how we got there was not. Maybe it's my strong belief that a vigilante hero, no matter how lacking in superpowers, has no business casually walking into a situation, particularly an abandoned warehouse situation, but I feel like the trap on Wharf was the pinnacle of clunkiness for the episode. He got there and basically just opened the door and strolled in like he was meeting a buddy for coffee. No stealth, no making sure there wasn't a beaker of explosives waiting for him. He was just all, "I'm here. Come and get me!" There was an arrow planted under a spotlight in the middle of the room and we were waiting for the signal to reach Oliver's brain that it was a trap. And when someone did go get him, the Dark Archer intended to blow him up—so Oliver escaped by creating a smaller explosion in front while the bigger explosion followed him.
This set off nothing but a series of clumsy plotting. Hostages to get our guy's attention? You almost blew him up. Consider his focus shifted. Also, is that all any archer wants? To see who's better? "Let's see what you look like without it?" If the Dark Archer is going to be Oliver's nemesis, he's got to get better lines than that.
And Oliver's reminders that he spent five years on an island were just as tiresome this week. The flashbacks did, however, mirror the sentiment of the list, that the person Oliver assumes to be good could just as well be the bad guy. Nothing is exactly as it seems, especially for a man whose perspective on life has been gradually eroded by injustice and the evaporation of his shelter. His worldview has shifted twice, first in adjusting to the island without family or modern conveniences and now to the realization that battling his father's foes isn't exactly as he thought it would be. It's hard to tell who's naughty or nice.
Segue to the Christmas party! Oliver's personal and family drama took a backseat as Thea continued to be ornery and then sweet, Laurel continued to be awkward but able to fill out a dress, and Moira continued to be shady (she's now in cahoots with the Dark Archer). I couldn't hold with Oliver's need for a Christmas party especially since he didn't even know it was that time of year. There may be a universe where a city in America is not Christmas Crazy, but it doesn't appear that Starling City is one of them. I would also assume that five years of not observing Christmas because he was stuck on a desert island—plus all that vengeance and justice on his mind—would dull the need to celebrate, but whatever, call up the posse. Let's have a party.
Other than Walter getting closer to the truth (and, subsequently, getting himself kidnapped) and Laurel figuring out that Oliver is holding her back (?), nothing really progressed in "Year's End." There weren't enough scenes for emotional development. There weren't even really any moments to remind us of our connection to the characters, let alone for them to interact. And when is Oliver going to eat more ice cream with Diggle, dang it?!
While we got some interesting plot points, it was a disappointing outing overall. The Christmas party was not only a trivial part of the episode, it stole time from scenes that could've been improved with the Dark Archer sequences, and the proceedings were hampered by uninspired conversation and incremental (at best) narrative progression. I was happy to see Deathstroke, and Yao Fei getting spirited away is an interesting development, but there wasn't enough to really sustain.
For an end-of-the-year episode, this was no Christmas meal.
– Did Thea just admit to be the best at a sucking contest?
– "How about Green Arrow?" "Lame." Yeah, you say that now, Oliver. But wait until YOU think of it!
– "The guy is a— the guy is a legitimate archer." If you're going to be a guy who goes around killing people with a bow and arrow, you really need to be a legitimate archer. Otherwise, you just look like a jackass.
– "We rob banks and smoke crack together."
– Felicity, I think you're adorable and awesome. But how dumb do you think Oliver is that you have to explain Sagittarius?
– So, we're all in agreement that Merlyn's plan for Starling City is a weather machine, right?
– Noel should be back next episode (which doesn't air until January!) with his academic terminology and Green Arrow insight. He is the legitimate archer to my thrower of suction-cup darts.