‘Arrow’s First Christmas Episode Raised the Stakes for the Show

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The Big Picture

  • The Arrow Season 1 midseason finale delivers a relatable Christmas story with superhero action and complex plot twists.
  • Oliver Queen’s dedication to spreading holiday cheer highlights the long-term effects of his time on the island and his struggle to have a perfect Christmas.
  • Oliver’s defeat by the Dark Archer solidifies the villain as a dangerous antagonist and marks a turning point in the series’ evolution.


The continued popularity of films like Die Hard and Home Alone shows that there is a sizable group of viewers who enjoy stories that blend holiday themes with violent action. Many action-adventure television series attempt to appeal to this taste by producing holiday-themed episodes, but few have done so as effectively as Arrow did. In particular, the Arrow Season 1 midseason finale, which was released shortly before the winter holidays in 2012, managed to deliver both a relatable Christmas story and spectacular superhero action, while also revealing several key plot twists that made the series’ narrative more complex and compelling.

Arrow

When presumed-dead billionaire playboy Oliver Queen returns home to Starling City after five years stranded on a remote island in the Pacific, he hides the changes the experience had on him, while secretly seeking reconciliation with his ex, Laurel. By day he picks up where he left off, playing the carefree philanderer he used to be, but at night he dons the alter ego of Arrow and works to right the wrongs of his family and restore the city to its former glory. Complicating his mission is Laurel’s father, Detective Quentin Lance, who is determined to put the vigilante behind bars.

Release Date
October 10, 2012

Rating
TV-14

Seasons
8

Studio
The CW

Creator
Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg


What Happens in ‘Arrow’ Season 1, Episode 9?

In “Year’s End” (Arrow Season 1, Episode 9), Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) realizes that he has been so focused on his activities as the vigilante archer known as the Hood that he doesn’t notice the Christmas season beginning. He is eager to resume his family’s holiday traditions after five years as a castaway on the island of Lian Yu, but his sister Thea (Willa Holland) tells him that she and their mother Moira (Susanna Thompson) were so heartbroken that they stopped celebrating the holiday after he and his father were presumed dead. This just makes Oliver more determined, and he decides to take up his father’s tradition of throwing a lavish Christmas party at his family’s mansion, despite Thea’s obvious distaste for the idea.

Meanwhile, in the flashbacks depicting his time on the island, Oliver is put in greater danger than ever when his mentor and protector Yao Fei Gulong (Byron Mann) is captured by mercenary Edward Fyers (Sebastian Dunn) and an assassin dressed like DC Comics supervillain Deathstroke.

Oliver’s Party Doesn’t Go As Planned in “Year’s End”

Oliver, Walter, Thea, and Moira in Arrow Season 1, Episode 9
Image via The CW

Back in the present, Oliver’s bodyguard and crime-fighting partner John Diggle (David Ramsey) asks Oliver if he really thinks the party is a good idea given everything he is currently dealing with — both as a vigilante and in his civilian life. But, Oliver remains convinced that it will be good for his family, and by extension, good for him. Although it’s understandable why he would be so set on celebrating the holiday after such a horrific five years, it’s obvious to the viewer that Oliver is asking too much of both himself and his family. His obsessive dedication to spreading holiday cheer is the latest example of how he bottles up and hides the long-term mental and emotional effects of his time on the island. It’s bad enough that his belief that he needs to keep his secret identity from his family means that he can’t tell them significant portions of what he experienced while he was away, but attempting to pretend that everything is fine to have the “perfect” Christmas on top of that sets completely unrealistic expectations.

Predictably, the party does not turn out to be the uplifting experience he had hoped for. Oliver notices tension between Moira and his stepfather Walter (Colin Salmon). The two have secretly been arguing about Walter’s discovery of suspicious, possibly illegal, activity on Moira’s part. Although he tells Oliver not to worry, Walter and Moira have another argument in private. In one of the strongest scenes the series had yet delivered, Moira reveals that she is part of a dangerous conspiracy, confessing her worries that Walter continuing to investigate will get him hurt, but promising to explain everything after the party.

Thompson and Salmon had been tasked with a lot of the most interesting dramatic material in Arrow‘s early episodes, and they do predictably excellent work playing the scenes between the two in “Year’s End,” highlighting that the characters are ultimately still deeply in love with and concerned for one another, no matter how frustrated they are. Having Schuyler Fisk‘s rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” playing in the background is a genius choice, as the usually comforting song contrasts sharply with the tense content of the scene. The lyrics about reuniting with friends and family in the future emphasize how many of Arrow‘s characters, especially Walter and Moira, long for a return to normalcy in their lives — before the devastating events later in the episode show why that is no longer possible for them.

The Tension Between Oliver and Thea Comes to a Head

Oliver Queen and Thea Queen in 'Arrow' Season 1
Image via The CW

Later, after an awkward encounter with his ex-girlfriend Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), Oliver finds Thea starting to have sex with her boyfriend. Oliver kicks him out, and then he and Thea get into an argument. Oliver is upset that Thea doesn’t appreciate the party he threw for her, but she argues that throwing the party was selfish and hypocritical of him. It forces her to relive memories she wants to forget, even though Oliver himself continues to resist her attempts to talk to him about what happened on the island. Thea then states that things will never return to the way they had been before the shipwreck.

This is one of many examples of how Arrow shows people reacting to trauma in different ways. Thea’s practice of pushing away the memories of her family troubles doesn’t seem like the most healthy approach in the long run, and the character only really starts to make serious progress in healing when she confronts her challenges more directly after her substance abuse story later in the season, but Oliver also shouldn’t have forced her to try to recapture the past with him because it’s what he thinks is best.

“Year’s End” Delivers One of ‘Arrow’s Most Memorable Fights

The Dark Archer in Arrow
Image via The CW

When a villainous archer, later to be known as the Dark Archer, takes hostages in an abandoned warehouse and publicly challenges the Hood, Oliver leaves his party to confront him. Oliver frees the hostages, who escape to safety outside the building, but he is then attacked by the other archer. The two men engage in an elaborate duel, with the archer eventually shooting Oliver in the shoulder with multiple arrows and brutally beating him. He references the list of names Oliver’s father gave him before his death, which Oliver uses to pick his targets, stating that “the man who authored it wants you dead!” Oliver manages to stab the other archer in the leg and make a narrow escape before desperately calling Diggle for help.

Until this point, present-day Oliver had been presented as a nearly unstoppable force of nature in combat with the skills he learned during his time on the island, far outclassing those of the criminals he fought as the Hood. He even alluded to this himself before the fight, dismissing Diggle’s concerns about the danger the archer posed by saying, “There wasn’t anything on the island that wasn’t twice as dangerous as this pretender, and I survived there for five years.” Because of this, Oliver’s defeat was a dramatic shock that solidified the other archer as an unbelievably dangerous antagonist moving forward.

“Year’s End” Is a Great Christmas Story and a Turning Point for ‘Arrow’

After the fight, Oliver wakes up in a hospital. Diggle lets his family in to visit, telling them that Oliver had been in a motorcycle accident. Moira and Thea are confused about why he would leave his own party, but he notes how hosting it in the beginning had been a bad idea. Walter acknowledges that Oliver obviously wanted the party to bring them closer together, and reassures him that he has succeeded in a way. After their parents leave, Thea recognizes that she has been hard on him, but also mentions that they are both different people than before the shipwreck. He asks if they can accept each other “for the people we are now,” to which she agrees. Thea then pulls out two candy canes, so they can resume their childhood Christmas tradition of seeing who can eat one faster.

To close the episode, a scene of the other archer reveals Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) under the hood, who is (as we know by this point) a family friend to the Queens and head of the conspiracy Moira is a part of — a story that changes the show, and what would become known as the Arrowverse, forever. Aware of Walter’s suspicions, Malcolm has him kidnapped, which is the only way Moira persuades Malcolm not to kill him. Elsewhere, Oliver feels he failed the city by losing to the other archer, but Diggle points out that the hostages are only home enjoying the holidays because of him. Oliver tells Diggle about the archer mentioning the list, causing him to doubt his assumption that his father wrote it, but Oliver resolves to defeat both the man who did and the other archer (not realizing that they are both Malcolm).

Oliver’s defeat and Walter’s abduction may make “Year’s End” seem like an oddly depressing episode for the holidays, but Oliver’s determination at the end and Diggle’s point about the hostages maintain a necessary amount of optimism. Plus, Oliver and Thea’s reconciliation is the heart of the episode, completing their shared arc from the first half of the season and helping the episode make its point about the holidays. Oliver tries to suppress his emotions and avoid acknowledging life’s difficulties to have what he thinks will be a perfect Christmas — which is something a lot of people do at all holidays — and the drama it provokes among the Queen family showcases why it’s a bad idea. The simple joy of the candy cane scene reminds viewers to be flexible and appreciate the time they spend with family during the holidays, even if it comes in unexpected, non-traditional forms. Likewise, Diggle’s initial point about it not being the right time for a party, and the fact that Oliver does eventually have to leave to fight Malcolm, emphasize that people can’t always put all their responsibilities and problems on hold during the holidays and shouldn’t necessarily try to.

In addition to making a relatable point about the holiday season, “Year’s End” was also instrumental in the series’ evolution. The battle scenes continue to stand out among Arrow’s (and the Arrowverse’s) large assortment of impressive fights, while the various narrative twists altered the show in several crucial ways. Deepening the mystery of the list, isolating Oliver in the flashbacks, Walter being taken, and revealing Malcolm’s secret identity allowed the series to move from its largely episodic beginnings to a more heavily serialized story, while also setting the stage for an even more intense back half of the season.

Arrow is streaming on Netflix in the U.S.

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