We open in a snowstorm atop a mountain. The camera searches and comes upon a figure climbing up the mountainside. It is Oliver scaling the craggy rock with nothing but his hands as the snow and wind pound at him.
Flashback to…Starling City, 48 hours earlier.
Captain Lance walks into the alley behind the precinct to find the gift of subdued thugs courtesy of the Arrow. After signaling thanks, Lance perp walks the perp inside and the Arrow looks to move on for the night when he’s attacked and subdued by several skilled warriors from the League of Assassins!
Regaining consciousness in undisclosed but candlelit location, Oliver comes face to face with Nyssa who informs him that her father, you know, The Demon’s Head, is not pleased with Oliver not delivering Sara’s killer as instructed. So here’s the deal – until Oliver produces the murderer, the LoA will take out 50 random people of Starling every day. And overseeing this bloody enterprise?
A cloaked figure steps forward and removes his hood. Maseo!? Or as he’s currently known in the League, Sareb. Oliver is shocked and awed and wonders WTH to his former colleague but Maseo/Sarab appears to have drunk the LoA Kool Aid and isn’t in a chatty reunion mood. Oliver pleads with Nyssa to not do this but Nyssa is done with Oliver’s dilly-dallying on finding Sara’s killer. Find her killer or they start dropping bodies.
Laurel angsts over Sara’s grave to be interrupted by Thea who was visiting her mother’s grave. Poor Tommy gets diddly acknowledgement in an obvious scene despite having saved the life of one woman and being the recently revealed brother of the other. Kind of wish we’d get Malcolm talking to his son’s tombstone to get inside his head on if he has any regrets or love for the boy he abandoned and indirectly killed.
Anyhoo, I digress. The point of this scene is that Laurel brings Thea in on the secret of Sara being really dead this time AND makes her promise to lie to her father, Captain Lance. How Laurel doesn’t see this making her betrayal all the worse when her father finds out, I have no clue.
Palmer Technologies! Ray visits Felicity who gives him the cold shoulder after running away from her like she had cooties the last time they met. Yeah, that was awkward. Ray realizes he needs to explain to Felicity about why he left so abruptly but Felicity supplies the answer rather than actually allow him to answer and then leaves for the Arrow lair when she gets a 911 from Oliver-
Who informs Team Arrow of Nyssa’s threat: 48 hours to find Sara’s killer or people die. GULP.
Flashback! Hong Kong! Oliver comes home from a day of ‘interviewing’, which Maseo immediately gleans. He asks if Oliver came up with anything that was worth the look on Oliver’s face. Oliver reveals he’s learned about a bioweapon that China White wants to acquire and knows where it is. Maseo reassures Oliver he did what he had to do: one man’s agony is not worth the lives of an entire city. Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a theme we’re to keep in mind for the season.
Back to 48 hours-ish ago. Team Flash has sent Felicity their work up on the blood markers left at the scene of Sara’s death. Survey says? The blood marker matches one Oliver Queen. Say whaaaat?
Flashforward! The mountain. Oliver stumbles in the windy snow but continues to climb.
Flashback to 36ish (?) hours earlier as Team Arrow spins at the blood marker news. Oliver believes Malcolm set him up. Felicity works to prove Malcolm was in town to set him up.
Flashback! Hong Kong! Maseo and Oliver storm their way into a secret lab to steal the bioweapon only they realize that China White beat them to it. D’oh!
Back to the present 36ish hours. Dinah surprises Laurel (but not Quentin since he set this all up) with a visit and immediately can tell something is wrong with Laurel. Quentin however remains clueless to pretty much everything.
At the Arrow Lair, Felicity finds Malcolm’s flight plan and determines he was in town the day before Sara’s death. The retrieved security footage shows Malcolm and Thea (!) get off the plane together. Oliver is bummed that Thea lied about her association with Malcolm. Diggle puts it together and suggests that the blood sample is actually Thea’s. Of course to Oliver that’s crazy talk but for sake of argument if she could, what’s the motive? Roy hilarious says maybe she’s just evil. She is Malcolm’s daughter. Felicity reluctantly supports the majority, the evidence points to Thea. Oliver remains in denial and stalks off.
Felicity is prevented from going after him when she gets a call from Ray who has stalked Felicity to the club (pinged her phone) and they sit down for him to enlighten her on why he pulled away from the kiss: The short of it: he’s still mourning the fiancé, Anna, that was killed in front of him during the Mirakuru army attack of last year. Nice work by Routh as Ray gets a bit of depth to flesh him out as more than a genius, rapid talking billionaire.
Meanwhile, Oliver pays a visit to his sister’s loft where she’s in a good mood decorating the Christmas tree. Oliver confronts Thea on knowing about Malcolm being alive and asks her about their relationship hoping she’d tell him the full truth. Or that she has an evil twin that killed Sara. Instead she sticks to her story of not knowing he was alive and not being in contact with him. Oliver pouts at his sister’s lies.
Flashback! Hong Kong! Maseo and Oliver track the stolen vile of the bioweapon. Moving along…
Present Day: Laurel tries to have a civilized coffee date with her mother. Dinah cuts to it: something is wrong with Sara and you know what it is. Laurel confirms the worst: Sara is dead. As Dinah tries to process this, Laurel begs Dinah not to tell Quentin because he doesn’t know. Dinah’s able to pull out of her grief to give Laurel a look of ‘WTH is wrong with you’ but doesn’t firmly tell her no dice which means of course she’s going to go along with this stupid lie.
Over in Nanda Parbat we see Ra’s! He does some fancy fighting and gets an update from Nyssa. Countdown to the deadline is nearly complete. Ra’s tells Nyssa to make good on their threat and but good.
Back in Starling, Oliver admits to Team Arrow that Thea is still lying – but they don’t know about what. Still, perhaps a visit from the Arrow will make her a bit more forthcoming.
Except Thea’s gotten a lot tougher in the last year. The Arrow crashing through her window doesn’t scare her. Instead it’s Thea time as she takes on the Arrow in her sparkly MC Hammer pants before jumping over the balcony to escape leaving the Arrow – Oliver – gaping after her absolutely stunned.
BTW, in the Flashforward Oliver’s still climbing that mountain.
Oliver is still trying to absorb that he nearly got his butt kicked by his little sister when he is paid a visit by Malcolm. It is in this scene where Sara’s killer is revealed and one of the most convoluted cold-blooded schemes to cover your butt I’ve ever seen a villain execute. Apparently Malcolm drugged Thea to kill Sara (the act of which he has a convenient recording of) all so he could force Oliver to fight Ra’s on Thea’s (and Malcolm’s) behalf to wipe out the blood debt hanging over their heads. Kill Malcolm now (as Oliver is tempted to do) and the video goes to Ra’s who will send his people after Thea. As it stands, the League doesn’t know about Thea’s involvement and Oliver can keep it that way by agreeing to challenge Ra’s.
Which unfortunately is what Oliver later tells Team Arrow that he is going to do.
Flashback! Hong Kong! Maseo and Oliver realize the poor stooge they’re torturing was brainwashed. Oliver is skeptical. (Oh, to still be so naïve!) Maseo realizes China White may now be looking for them. Indeed, China White pays Tatsu and Akio a visit at the Yamashiro homestead. Tatsu and China White do battle while a hidden Akio watches.
Back in present day-ish Starling City, Oliver meets Nyssa and Ra’s –dressed pretty fly in his robes and rings – and Oliver says he killed Sara and wants to challenge Ra’s to a trial by combat. Ra’s can’t well refuse the offer even as Nyssa bristles and accepts the duel to the death..
Flashforward! The Mountain! Oliver has made it to the top!
Back in Starling, Maseo, er, Sarab and Oliver chat. Oliver wonders what happened. Sarab remains mum on his issues and focuses on Oliver’s – he’s totally gonna lose against Ra’s. But a challenge is a challenge and so Sarab gives Oliver the info on where to meet his maker, er Ra’s. If he makes it up the mountain, and few do, the fight will be on.
Speaking of death, cut to Laurel and Dinah at Sara’s grave. Dinah mourns her lost daughter, Laurel respecting Dinah’s right to mourn but not her father’s apparently.
At Thea’s loft, Oliver comes home to Thea paying off the window installer (that guy has to be making hand over fist since the Arrow came on the scene) and lying about how it got broken. Oliver tries to drive home to Thea that Malcolm is a bad dude, but Thea continues to be stupid for plot reasons and warns her brother not to make her choose. Oliver says he won’t. He loves her no matter what.
Flashback! Hong Kong! Maseo and Oliver come home to find only Akio. China White has taken Tatsu!
Back in Starling closer to Present time, Felicity finds Ray in the lab and when he gets furtive and skittish, she threatens to walk, because she doesn’t like secrets, which is laughable considering all the secrets she keeps, but Ray’s a guest star, not a regular like Felicity so she can be a little hypocritical. Ray folds and shows Felicity his awesome ATOM suit schematics and asks her to help him make the suit a reality so he can protect the people of this city. Felicity doesn’t look too thrilled at the prospect.
The Arrow Lair. Oliver settles his affairs and says his good-byes to Diggle and Roy. Felicity shows up at last and she asks Oliver to make sure to kill Ra’s. Oliver isn’t sure he’s a killer anymore (puh-leeze) but he knows two things: He will do whatever it takes to save his sister. Oh, and he loves Felicity. Yeah, tell us something we don’t know!
Back to the mountain as we are now caught up to present time. Oliver arrives and is greeted by Sarab and Nyssa who tell him to take off his shirt as is custom for these death duals. Apparently, you can keep on your pants.
Maseo tells Oliver he has one last chance to back out. Oliver grabs his weapons in answer. Ra’s fills the time telling Oliver a story of his first kill. At 11. Dude is hard core.
Throwing off his robe like for Nyssa to hold, Ra’s approaches Oliver sans blades. Yep, he’s so good he doesn’t need his own weapons. He’s going to take Oliver’s from him.
The fight is pretty much over before it begins. Oliver gets schooled. Hard. Ra’s pretty much toys with him taking first one blade, then breaking the other, punching Oliver in the throat, and then a sword in the side and then the chest. Oliver falls to his knees, bleeding out, to his back the edge of a cliff, before him, Ra’s.
The Demon’s Head prays over Oliver to send him on to the afterlife. As he does, Oliver flashes back to the most important people in his life: his father, mother, sister, and finally Felicity.
Then with a final kick, Ra’s sends Oliver over the edge of the cliff and throws down his bloodied sword to mark the fallen fighter’s grave.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is your Arrow mid season three cliffhanger!
(Only not really because we know there is no way in heck Oliver is dead)
Next up: Team Arrow mourns. Malcolm continues not make any kind of sense even for a comic book supervillain.