Arrow Review: “The Undertaking” (Season 1, Episode 21)

Emily Bett Rickards in Arrow
Unlike Digg waiting two weeks after finding out Deadshot is alive to do something about it, Felicity risking life and limb at the first sign of Walter is organic, because saving him has been her motivation as a part of Team Arrow from the start. Oliver explosively bailing Felicity out of the den of inequity is almost unnecessary, considering how entertaining her scenes are on their own, but it’s a bloody cheery on top to see Oliver dispatching of goons with even more prejudice than usual. The thematic issue of Oliver killing people still rankles, but hey, the squishing noise made when Oliver popped a guy off screen was pretty sickeningly enjoyable, no?

Turns out that was just a warmup. After parachuting (just go with it) into a protected kidnapper’s compound in The Glades, Oliver engages in a hallway fight with numerous street toughs, one that plays like an extended homage to last year’s balls-out awesome action movie The Raid: Redemption, knocking the reference home with each smack of the last thug’s head against a concrete wall. Oh, and then, just for giggles, they show Oliver walking away from the carpet of broken bones and bruised baddies he’s left in his path, just like Oh Dae-su does in Oldboy. I don’t know who decided this week would be when Arrow pays tribute to two of the best Asian action films of the last decade, but that person deserves a raise.

In less visceral ways though, “The Undertaking” still manages to strike true and with purpose. While you could quibble with Oliver telling Moira and Thea that Walter is dead based on the word of a back alley hustler, it leads to the much anticipated moment in which Oliver finds out why Moira and Malcolm spend so much time together. Amell plays the discovery, and the fallout from it, with appropriate devastation, anger, and fear. He’s just gotten a nasty reminder of what it’s like to love someone who’s life is dedicated to a lie, something Oliver has struggled to ensure no one else has to experience due to his actions. That might explain why he’s suddenly so open with his true feelings for Laurel, who as it turns out, is the only person who doesn’t realize those feelings exist.

And, yeah, Laurel. I don’t even know what to say at this point, as the continued swinging of the Will They, Won’t They pendulum toward the former has been so rushed of late, there’s nothing resembling a payoff, because nothing worth investing in was ever established. In an hour of really excellent action and story development, Laurel’s character remains the last vestige of the early soap opera elements that rear their glassy-eyed, maudlin head whenever the shippers need to be placated, or the episode seems like it could really use a five year-old Leona Lewis song.

Laurel proves equally oblivious to Oliver’s real feelings in the flashbacks, though those scenes help to establish that, like Malcolm, Oliver was an asshole long before his sea change in self-awareness. The running parallel between the two goes deep in “The Undertaking,” digging into the mission that drives each hood, and the means by which they will achieve their ends. Most importantly at the moment, is that both refuse to believe rule of law, and a belief in mercy will deliver justice. Violence is their weapon; the minor difference is in whom they choose for targets, both in terms of background, and volume.

The bigger distinction is whether each man can learn from his mistakes. Malcolm is so far off the deep end he needs scuba gear, but Oliver hasn’t sunk to that level of brazen commitment to the cause just yet. The unveiling of Moira’s true involvement in Walter’s disappearance shakes Oliver’s confidence in his judgment, leading him to Digg’s door. Unlike Malcolm, Oliver is learning to accept that he isn’t Starling City’s avenging angel, much less its righteous judge. He is fallible, and he can be wrong. All the more reason to make sure that the people he can trust to tell him so are nearby when the approaching storm finally hits. “The Undertaking” is an extremely entertaining hour through and through, where most episodes offer mere flashes of inspiration. After a season of buildup, a hard rain is about to fall on Starling City. Following tonight’s episode, I’m more confident than ever that, when it comes time to, Arrow will bring the thunder.

  • Stray Thoughts

-Digg owns a saxophone. I repeat: DIGG OWNS A SAXOPHONE

-Great night for Emily Bett Rickards. Her introductions to Laurel and the Queen family were charming, and it figures she would be the one to steal a bad guy’s “here are the origins of this esoteric phrase,” speech.

-Oliver deflecting a bodyguard’s bullets pointblank using a steel briefcase was dumb. But, also great. But, also dumb. But, also great.

-Dear production designer: there exists no sweater stripe-y and colourful enough, nor jeans so casual as to make Kaite Cassidy look like a teenager. At least Amell can shave, and have his hair made appropriately boyish.

-Sorta source material nod: I think Digg’s apartment number is 616 (the last digit is hard to make out), which is the number of the core universe in Marvel comics.