Arrow Review: “Sacrifice” (Season 1, Episode 23)

David Ramsey in Arrow

Within the 30,000 or so words I’ve written about Arrow since it premiered in the way, way back of 2012, I don’t know if I ever gave the show proper credit for just how good it’s been at making you want to see another episode, week after week. The 11th hour conspiracy twist that closed out the pilot was the moment that I realized I was in for at least one more hour of Arrow, a moment that would repeat itself often during the uneven early days of the first season. Few weeks of the show ever opened half so strongly as they closed, so the intriguing teases at the end of even particularly bad weeks became like a cruel joke. Fool me once with a good cliffhanger, Arrow, shame on you; fool me twenty-two times, shame on me.

But it wasn’t twenty-two times, and not just because we’ll have to wait until October to see whether or not Arrow does capitalize on its fittingly spectacular cliffhanger for the season. The major reservations I’d had with the show gradually started to soften over the course of its run; the episode list for the back half of the season reads like a murderer’s row of standouts compared to the leaner selection of highlights from the front half. In twenty-three episodes, Arrow has improved by a significantly wide margin, such that when I rewatched the pilot last night, once tolerable moments of poor exposition and writing were literally cringe-worthy in light of the much surer handling of both the show is capable of now (to be fair, there’s just as much to cringe at when reading the first review I wrote for the show).

This is, of course, the beauty of television, and longform storytelling as a whole. The more time you spend with a show, the deeper the characterizations develop, the more interesting the relationships grow to be, and the firmer the creative vision and direction becomes. It’s hard to imagine when creators Berlanti, Guggenheim and Kreisberg decided they wanted the show’s first season to end on an image of a half-destroyed Glades, with Oliver having lost his best friend, and failed his mission, but I’d wager it was right around the time Arrow got picked up for a second season. Luckily, that was fairly early on in the season’s run; instead of desperately blowing its load early in a bid for ratings, the show had more time to spend fortifying itself for the long haul, an investment that paid off hugely, especially tonight.

Amell, whose presence I compared to that of a Barbie doll in the pilot, morphed into an engaging leading man, and became the nucleus around which the show’s more legitimately interesting elements formed. In David Ramsey and Emily Bett Rickards, the show developed a dynamic base to fill out the Team Arrow triangle, and while the love triangle felt more like a noose at times, the near-total resuscitation of Tommy Merlyn proved that almost no TV character is beyond redemption. Add in some much needed grounding from Susanna Thompson, some much needed un-grounding from Paul Blackthorne and John Barrowman, pepper with solid action scenes, blend for an hour each week, and you wound up with a show that became more consistent the longer it had time to settle, and figure itself out.

And for as much as Arrow has gelled over its first season, one of the most compelling reasons to be excited for year two is that the show still has plenty of other places it can still improve. Arrow is often in such a rush to get to its next cool plot point, that it doesn’t have much time for common sense (tonight, three SWAT guys come to arrest Malcolm. That’s it). And to the bitter end, weekly cliffhangers gave way to weekly anticlimaxes, as the many predicaments left dangling at the end of last week are resolved in perfunctory fashion. Oliver escapes from Malcolm’s clutches with relative ease (with a wholly unnecessary deus ex introduced via a shoe tracking device), Felicity doesn’t get arrested because Detective Lance has better things to do, the Island crew being shot has no impact on their escape, and Malcolm’s concern over finding out Oliver is the vigilante doesn’t get much of an explanation.

In fact, Malcolm in general may be the finale’s biggest stumbling point, depending on what’s coming down the pipe. Having exacted his vengeance against The Glades, what purpose does a living Malcolm have going forward? If it’s revenge for Tommy’s death, he ought to bear in mind that crushing people using the earthquake machines (redundancies proving to be the Dark Archer’s true superpower) was his plan all along. We’re going to have to find out at some point how it is Malcolm became such an expert marksman and martial artist, and John Barrowman is always a treat to have around, so it’s maybe not too hard to envision some mileage remaining in the character, now that Tommy is gone (if nothing else, the sidestepping of the Spider-Man Harry Osborn arc, which Tommy seemed destined for, is a nice relief).

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