Arrow’ season 3 lets loose its ninth installment of the year with midseason finale “The Climb,” as Oliver faces off with Ra’s al Ghul over the identity of Sara’s killer, while Laurel is forced to confront her family with the truth, and Felicity discovers the scope of Ray Palmer’s plans for Starling City.

Last week’s installment “The Brave and the Bold” saw ‘The Flash’ coming to town to aid Oliver in pursuit of a boomerang-throwing killer, only to find the spree had deeper ties to A.R.G.U.S. and Diggle’s wife Lyla, so what does the ninth episode of ‘Arrow’ season 3 bring? Can Oliver be both himself and the ‘Arrow’ vigilante?

Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘Arrow’ season 3, episode 9, midseason finale “The Climb!”

Apart from thrills inherent to its ‘Flash’ crossover, the third season of ‘Arrow’ has proven somewhat difficult to navigate, lacking the immediate urgency of its predecessors. The writers sought to return a bit of mystery to the fold at the expense of Sara’s death, though who-dunnits generally only go so far from a storytelling standpoint, relying on one specific answer that logic dictates won’t arrive until a crucial moment, and must expose a larger significance to the story. Adding to that lacking oomph is the fact that we haven’t gotten to know Ra’s al Ghul as a character beyond his physical prowess yet, and two seasons worth of teasing and an uncertain endgame can’t quite rival the personal touch that unveiled Slade’s survival last year.

“The Climb” does its best to combine either thread into a payoff of the season to date, but still somewhat lacks the kind of gravity that gives Oliver’s ultimate sacrifice the shock it deserves. By the same token, the snowy duel’s resolution offers up an intriguing surprise, though not quite with the same level of suspense as with a character the audience might actually believe to have a chance at death. Even in a world where we’ve seen Barry Allen battling all-manner of super-powered foes throughout, the allusions to Ra’s age or the mysterious prayer bring with them suggestions that Oliver may yet be saved through some deus ex machina, and my only hope would be that ‘Arrow’ doesn’t use Oliver's “resurrection” to stretch its grittier credit to the breaking point.

Many had predicted that Thea might turn out to be Sara’s killer, as one of the only characters of appropriate height who might provide enough surprise to justify the mystery’s buildup, though I’ll admit that her hypnotic suggestion and Malcolm Merlyn’s intricate planning provided an unexpected little curveball. The fact that we don’t have the strongest handle on the seemingly-wise Ra’s al Ghul just yet does somewhat beg the question of why no one would earnestly attempt to plead Thea’s innocence, given the League didn’t exactly need extra incentive to kill Merlyn, and at least one member* well-knows of the mind-controlling toxin—though the message seems to be that Oliver stubbornly refuses to risk anyone’s safety in place of his own.

*Maseo's reveal as a current-day League of Shadows member probably would have carried much more weight if the promotional photos hadn't blatantly spoiled it.

Not only that, but “The Climb” might have done better to follow suit with its predecessors in doing away with emphasis on Oliver’s secret identity, something Thea remains one of the few holdouts on. The revelations of mind control (“Really? That’s a thing?”) somewhat explain away Thea’s duplicity against Oliver of late, but the fact that Thea never learns the depth of Oliver’s sacrifice, or her own culpability in the matter somewhat robs the effectiveness of her scenes with Oliver. At the very least, we do get a demonstration of her fighting skills against the Arrow, albeit in some distractingly spangly pants.

A tactic Oliver would later regret not trying for himself.

And while the various conflicts of “The Climb” end up feeling a touch manufactured, whether by Barry’s adventures last week pulling focus, or ‘Arrow’ itself’s uncertainty where to point the mystery in previous episodes, the underlying emotions mostly ring true. Stephen Amell, as always, sells the true and destructive determination to protect family at all costs, simultaneously exposing vulnerabilities in his goodbyes to Thea or Felicity. Running through the B-story meanwhile, it still seems something of a cheat to keep Quentin out of the loop on Sara’s death, but the gravitas of returning guest star Alex Kingston gave an imposing twist to Laurel confessing Sara’s death, as the Lance matriarch surprisingly urged her daughter to seek the vengeance she’d desired

A bit less effective this week was Ray Palmer’s presence, as the grave danger wrought from Oliver’s situation (as well as the two-week gap) made Ray and Felicity’s burgeoning relationship feel somewhat atomized (heh) in comparison. Giving Ray a suddenly-fridged former love interest as a shortcut to character development doesn’t exactly help matters, though I imagine the full functions and necessity of his A.T.O.M. suit will come to light when Starling suddenly finds itself in need of a new hero.

There was a lot to take in this week overall, and unlike ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ we won’t have to wait quite so long to deal with the ramifications, though I can’t help feeling somewhat underwhelmed by “The Climb.” The emotional undercurrent was there, and Malcolm’s use of Thea in Sara’s murder definitely provided an interesting answer to the mystery we’ve been picking at for eight episodes, though the narrative never quite offered any other possibilities that might fit.

From a geek standpoint, one can’t deny the thrill of seeing Oliver face off with Ra’s al Ghul in an impressively epic duel, though the underdevelopment of Ra’s and the head-scratching cliffhanger don’t quite land as well as they should. I’m eager to see where ‘Arrow’ season 3 goes next, with Starling left unguarded, Sara’s murder solved, and Oliver mortally wounded, though the unfocused buildup of prior episodes somewhat hampered an otherwise effective and emotional outing.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • I admittedly scoffed at ‘Arrow’ offering another “X Hours Earlier” opening so soon after last night’s “Flash,” though considering how late in the hour “The Climb” pushed Oliver and Ra’s’ duel, it made sense to skip over the journey to the mountain, which itself would have proven uneventful in one sequence.
  • Killing 50 innocents to find one killer seems somewhat silly. Liam Neeson Ra’s would not approve.
  • That’s some impressively layered deception, that Laurel has to tell Thea of Sara’s death, asking her not to tell Oliver, despite either’s knowledge of Oliver’s double life.
  • So…does the A.T.O.M. suit make military tech smaller for use in a single apparatus? Is that how we’re incorporating “shrinking,” and simultaneously patching over from Ray Palmer’s original ‘Arrow’ conception as Ted Kord?
  • We can presume that Tatsu (and likely Akio) eventually died, if Maseo could only find solace in the League, though hopefully we see more of Tatsu’s fighting skills, given the DC character’s pedigree.
  • I adore that Oliver tells Felicity he loves her, and genuinely means it this time, though one wonders if the showrunners will ever actually commit to them as a couple for any stretch.
  • I completely understand why writers wouldn’t want to broach the “should we just call Barry for help?” question, but shame on them if we don’t get to see The Flash throwing down with Ra’s al Ghul at some point in either series.

Well, what say you? Did ‘Arrow’ hit the mark with its ninth season 3 installment? How did you feel about Oliver’s big showdown with Ra’s and the League of Assassins? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and check back next month for our review of ‘Arrow’ season 3’s 2015 premiere, “Left Behind” on The CW!