Finally, at 21 episodes in, Arrow is beginning to move towards its finale. And with its dragging pace, to only be getting us to this point now further proves 23 episode orders for a TV series are tiresome. As I look back over this season there are so many episodes, so many villains of the week, that served no purpose other than fattening the story so the overall plot could fill 23 episodes. Can you imagine what a heart-pounding, thrilling season we could have had were they to stick with only 10 to 12 episodes? No Firefly, no overly done and unnecessary romantic subplots, and even as it pains me to say this, no Dinah Lance. I was thrilled to learn Alex Kingston was joining Arrow as Laurel’s mother, but then, that plot line only served to prove Sarah dead, like we thought, and mend some wounds within the Lance family.
Was any of that necessary for this season? Does it tie into Oliver’s (Stephen Amell) transition to vigilante? Does it set up “the undertaking”? No, and therefor wasn’t all that necessary beyond providing filler. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. There’s still two more episodes to go, and last night’s “The Undertaking” was the first step towards wrapping up this long endeavor of Malcom Merlyn’s (John Barrowman).
Like almost every episode of Arrow, there are flashbacks, but unlike all those island flashbacks this episode takes us back in time to the very beginning of “the undertaking.” Set before Oliver’s father, Robert (Jamey Sheridan) took the Queen’ Gambit out for its ill-fated journey. In a meeting of Starling City’s rich and famous, Malcolm shares his plan to wipe out The Glades, saying it must be destroyed before it can be saved. This we already knew, but what’s revealed is the true tragedy of Malcolm’s motivation. We knew his wife died of a gunshot, murdered in The Glades in fact, but the sad story he tells to Robert is far worse. While lying there, dying, his wife Rebecca called him, twice, and both times he ignored the call. After the second call he turned off his phone. He was working, and she knew he was busy. He didn’t learn she died until two police officers turned up at the office. He spent the rest of the evening listening to his wife die over and over in the voice mail messages she left him, pleading for help.
Heavy stuff. Is it an excuse to wipe out an entire neighborhood? Of course not, but the truly tragic tinge given to Malcolm’s motivation is a welcomed development. He’s still the villain, and I’m sure we’ll see his downfall by season end, but like his efforts to heal his relationship with his son, Malcolm isn’t completely cold-hearted. And through Barrowman’s always charismatic performance, you have a moment of real sympathy for the man. Robert, though also sympathetic to Malcolm’s loss, cannot sign up for “the undertaking.” And the plan goes into motion for Frank Chen (Chin Han) and Robert to buy out the rest of The Glades before Malcolm can gain full control. ‘Course, at the same time Malcolm enlists Chen to help him plant the bomb on Queen’s Gambit, and we know how that went down.
Also in the flashback sequences we witness Walter’s (Colin Salmon) – remember him? charming British fellow, abducted – first meeting with Moira (Susanna Thompson), which is Arrow‘s subtle-yet-not-so-subtle lead in to Walter’s rescue and return. Earlier, while busting the accountant for “the undertaking” Ollie and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) find information leading them to the man Malcolm hired to abduct Walter. This guy also happens to run an illegal casino where Felicity, realizing her reason for joining Team Arrow was to help find Walter, goes on a rare bit of field work posing as high stakes gambler. The plan’s for her to get busted counting cards, be reprimanded by the owner, and while in his office bug the computer. Which all happens according to plan, but when ripping out her earbud alerts Ollie he comes crashing into the casino.
It’s the first of two excellent action sequences we get this episode, and by the end of it they learn Walter’s already been killed. But he hasn’t, actually, and when Ollie returns home to break the news to his mother her complete disbelief makes him suspicious. He tails Moira to Malcolm’s office where she demands to know if Malcolm kept his word, to which he assures her Walter is perfectly fine. Contained, but fine. Oliver, listening in, now has undeniable evidence that Malcolm and his mother are involved in “the undertaking.” He also learns where Walter’s being kept and after kicking quite a few asses, frees him.
With the knowledge of his mother’s involvement in “the undertaking”, their family reunion is tense. And with Walter freed Malcolm has lost his insurance towards Moira’s continued assistance, but it doesn’t matter. Whatever the device Malcolm’s been waiting for to enact his total destruction of The Glades is already rolling in to Starling City.
– The flashbacks set earlier in Starling City give us the opportunity to see Ollie in full-on, douchebag mode, and it’s hilarious. I’m impressed with how different Amell plays the younger, more cocky Oliver and impressed with how different he can look clean shaven.
– At one moment Laurel (Katie Cassidy) comes to talk with Tommy (Colin Donnell) while he’s at work, his dad’s work, and she comments at how much he reminds her of his father. I’m hoping this is some foreshadowing we’ll see Tommy get even more involved in the family business.
– After last week’s breakup – and of course I’m talking about Ollie and Diggle (David Ramsey) – Ollie comes to apologize. The bromance is back on.
– One of this episode’s subplots is the Ollie/Laurel relationship, and last week I mentioned how quickly they’re shoving these two characters back in each others’ arms. We get more of the same, with Tommy outright telling Laurel Ollie still has feelings for her, something Ollie later one doesn’t deny. Oh! The drama! What is Laurel to do!? How will she choose between these two men!? Ugh.
– I’m still lost on how much Moira knew before Robert died. At times she seems duplicitous, but for much of the flashback she appears only supportive of Robert. We know she has the wreckage of the Queen’s Gambit somewhere in a warehouse, so maybe she didn’t learn of the bomb until after the salvage. I’m confused, but in these two remaining episodes there’ll hopefully be some clarification.
– And what of the soon-to-be-sidekick, Roy Harper (Colton Haynes)? If that is his fate, and they plan for him to be involved in whatever the climactic battle is, what with him living in The Glades, I would have expected more setup.
Next week’s episode, “Darkness on the Edge of Town” looks to be just full of revelations,
Arrow airs Wednesday at 8pm on the CW.