After last week’s episode, I decided that, so long as “The Undertaking” didn’t leave me wanting to jab a sharp object into my eye, it would be a raving success. Imagine my surprise to find the pendulum of quality is back on the upswing. The writers again went the more traditional route of writing with a word processor and not a sledgehammer, there was genuine plot movement and a nice reminder of how far we’ve actually come with these characters. Sometimes, it’s easy to lose sight of this, especially when you’re doing week-to-week reviews and don’t have the luxury of hindsight to put everything into perspective.
I’m convinced it’s Walter. He just makes the Arrow universe a better place.
As someone who has grown bored with the attention to the events of Flashback Island, I was glad that tonight’s flashbacks predated them. We spent more time with the late Robert Queen. We finally figured out the specifics of the Undertaking. We saw an actually sympathetic motive developed for Malcolm Merlyn’s evil deeds. But, perhaps most importantly, we saw the difference between Oliver before the island and the Oliver of today (something I certainly needed to put this show back into focus after last week).
In the back half of the season, we’ve learned a lot about the Merlyn family’s history. Rebecca Merlyn, wife of Malcolm and mother of Tommy, was murdered in the Glades. Tonight, we saw Malcolm gathering his peers for the birth of the Undertaking. What is the Undertaking, you might ask? Well, it’s this little plan to kill a few thousand people by leveling the Glades. He plans on buying up properties (we’re told as of the sinking of the Queen’s Gambit, he owns one-third of the Glades) and rebuilding it as an extension of the higher-class section of Starling City.
Of course, working against Malcolm got Robert killed, but I have to commend Barrowman on his performance. He almost sold Malcolm’s motivation for doing what he’s doing, even though it’s entirely psychotic. I bought him as the grieving widower who snapped and wanted to tear down the people he considers responsible for losing his wife, but there was also this slight undercurrent of … or, is this just an excuse? I like that. They could have gone in two other directions – making him seem like a liar or turning him into a mush – but they rode it right down the middle line. That leaves questions, a nagging doubt that maybe everything isn’t as sentimental as it’s been played. After the sledgehammering last week, I found that layering of both story and performance very refreshing.
This was a good episode for both of our archers. After last week, which was presented as if it were a backdoor pilot for a spinoff called “Oliver Loves Laurel,” I like that this week reminded us just how much progress Oliver has made as a character. I’d almost forgotten what a jerk he was. I felt very bad for Laurel, probably because I think every girl has been there at some point in time – hopelessly in love and clueless that your beloved is just not that into the whole relationship thing. Honestly, it was heartbreaking to see her all doe-eyed over a guy who seemed more into the pizza than her.
The only thing that rung false to me about the flashback portion of the episode was the end bit at the Queen’s Gambit with Robert and Oliver. Knowing he was headed to China (and why), I can’t imagine him wanting Oliver to come along for that. Nor can I imagine him being so onboard (pun not intended) with Oliver blowing off school and inviting his girlfriend’s sister along. Then again, considering Robert wasn’t exactly the poster child for fidelity…
On the whole, the flashbacks served to actually lay the groundwork for where we’re going in the final few episodes. That’s what flashbacks should do. These were engaging and informed the plot. If there must be flashbacks (which some can argue is just lazy storytelling), this is what they should achieve. They should never feel like filler.
Walter’s presence has been sorely lacking ever since he got shafted in the elevator at Queen. Like Felicity, I’ve missed him terribly. He and Malcolm are two of the better parts of the show, in my humble opinion. So, of course when we had ten minutes or so of Walter being “dead,” you can imagine some of the colorful words peppering my notes on this episode. Thankfully, he wasn’t.
Know what is dead? Oliver’s rose colored glasses that he wears around Moira. A well-placed eavesdropper arrow ripped those suckers off his face and smashed them to smithereens. Not only did he find out Moira was part of the Undertaking (and part of Walter’s disappearance), he also learned his BFF’s papa was the ringleader. Considering the lengths Oliver went to in order to save Malcolm’s life (including outing himself to Tommy and essentially destroying that relationship), I could almost hear his face cracking as the realization hit him.
The only thing I didn’t like – though it was authentic to who Oliver is becoming in light of these revelations – was his final scene with Laurel. While I loved that she wants Tommy back, I was a little upset that Oliver is okay with telling a million lies to preserve the life he’s leading, but he draws the line at a very simple lie to help Laurel get back together with Tommy. He’s totally that guy on Divorce Court, the one who’s a serial cheater, has a couple of different baby mamas and justifies it by saying he’s a man and men have needs, blah blah blah. Then, he files for divorce because his wife smiled at someone else while waiting in line at the IHOP. Can’t say it was out of character, though. The flashbacks illustrated nicely that being less self-centered doesn’t necessarily make one less selfish.
Walter’s back. Moira and Malcolm have been outed. There’s a Very Bad Thing in a Box making its way into Starling City. THIS is how you set up the final episodes of your season. It’s almost enough to make me forget last week even happened.
Instead of Final Thoughts, I thought I would close this review with predictions for how the rest of the season will play out. These are completely off-the-wall and I expect none of them to happen. However, I’m still going to share them because if I leave them in my head, they’ll fester. Here goes:
I think Laurel is pregnant (what did she want to talk to Tommy about right before he dumped her and was that coffee in a bar thing a subtle hint?). I also think something is going to happen to her. If she is with child, I expect her to lose the baby in a tragic fashion, maybe wind up in a coma (and come out of it next season as a certain bird we’re all expecting to show up). Meanwhile, this will give Tommy Rebecca-like incentive to follow in Daddy Dearest’s footsteps.
I also anticipate Oliver putting Malcolm down, thereby cementing a season two war with Tommy.
This is probably why no one is beating down my door, begging me to write for this program.